Does a color-changing lizard that comes in almost every color of the rainbow sound too good to be true? Meet the panther chameleon.
This vibrant chameleon is well known for its beautiful colors and exotic appearance.
Panther chameleons are one of the best species to keep as pets. Their popularity comes from their beautiful shades of blue, purple, orange, red and green.
Has this panther caught your eye?
Keep reading for husbandry tips, species information, and our beginner care guide.
|Common Name||Panther chameleon|
|Scientific Name||Furcifer pardalis|
|Range||Eastern and northeastern Madagascar|
|Size||10 to 20 inches|
|Color||Green, red, blue, purple, pink, peach and orange|
|Lifespan||3 to 7 years|
|Diet||Insects and other small invertebrates|
|Temperature||75-80°F (cool side); 95°F (warm side)|
|Humidity||50-60% (daytime); 75-100% (nighttime)|
Panther Chameleon Overview
Out of the 202 species known worldwide, the panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is one of the most popular type of pet chameleon.
Their popularity over other species stems from their larger size and brighter colors.
Panthers grow up to 20 inches long and come in almost every color of the rainbow. You can find these reptiles patterned with green, red, blue, purple, pink, peach and orange.
Males are larger than females, typically have longer lifespans and brighter colors, and are hardier. These characteristics make males more expensive, but many owners agree that these benefits are worth the extra cost.
They also have the distinctive long tongue, independently rotating eyes and head crest of other species.
Their scientific name (Furcifer pardalis) roughly translates to “forked leopard”. This is because of their unique, grasping toes and spotted pattern.
In the past, most pet specimens were found in the forested grasslands of Madagascar and exported.
Now, changes to Madagascar’s exportation laws, and better husbandry practices, have resulted in more captive-bred individuals becoming available.
Captive-bred individuals have longer lifespans and are healthier than wild-caught.
Panthers can thrive as pets, if given the right setup. However, juveniles are tricky and finicky.
Many die within their first few weeks of life as pets due to their sensitivity to the environment. They need very specific temperatures, humidity, and lighting to thrive.
For this reason, we recommend these lizards only for people who have prior experience caring for delicate tropical reptiles. A good intermediate step is the Leachianus Gecko.
A single adult needs an airy, 50-gallon tall tank with the right balance of décor and open space.
Temperatures should be warm and humidity high to mimic the environment of tropical Madagascar.
Branches and plants should be added to create a natural feel and give your chameleon plenty of places to climb, bask and hide.
Panther Chameleon As Pets
|Beautiful and diverse colors and patterns||Relatively short lifespan|
|Unique lifestyle, movements and behavior||Should not be handled|
|Hardier than other species||Can get sick and die without warning|
|Calm, quiet, and peaceful to keep||Complex husbandry and care requirements|
Owning a panther chameleon is challenging, but can be done successfully with attention to detail.
Panthers are the most commonly kept chameleon because they tend to be hardier and live longer than more delicate species like Veiled or Jackson’s.
They make a tempting purchase for any enthusiast, but these lizards are not good pets for everyone. They are not a good species for beginners because of their sensitivity and complex husbandry requirements.
We only recommend them for keepers with extensive experience with keeping tropical reptiles.
Though one of the tougher chameleons, panthers are still very fragile and can develop serious illnesses with little notice. Signs of sickness include lack of appetite, dull color, lethargy, not pooping and open-mouthed breathing.
Chameleons in general are not well suited for handling and quickly become stressed when removed from their enclosure. Luckily, their fantastic colors and calm behaviors make them endlessly entertaining to watch from outside their tank.
To keep one healthy and happy, you must provide a highly specific diet and tank setup.
If done right, many owners find that keeping one is an incredibly rewarding experience.
These lizards are some of the most beautiful and unique reptiles around. Owning one, though no easy task, is a lifetime goal for many herpetologists.
A panther chameleon will cost between $150 and $600. Their price depends on age, subspecies, color and gender.
The most expensive chameleons are brightly colored males who are at least 7 months old.
Females are in lower demand due to their less-striking colors, smaller size and shorter lifespan.
However, many breeders still sell females for people interested in breeding their own, or for those keepers who don’t mind a slightly less vibrant reptile.
Juveniles and babies are usually cheaper than adults because they are more delicate and often unsexed.
Panther chameleon price varies between breeders and their subspecies.
Brighter individuals will always fetch higher prices than plainer ones, no matter where they are from.
The Ambilobe and Nosy Be subspecies are the most popular varieties and are therefore the most expensive. Panthers from these subspecies are more likely to cost in the $500 range, especially if they are males and exceptionally colorful.
Panthers are easier to breed in captivity than other chameleons. This makes them more widely available and less expensive.
Captive-bred individuals are healthier and more ecologically friendly than wild-caught.
Importing chameleons from the wild is a costly and often illegal process.
Keeping a panther chameleon requires an extensive knowledge of reptile behavior and care.
You will also need some accurate and precise gear like hygrometers, thermostats and misters.
They are a beautiful species to keep, but their environmental, dietary, and husbandry requirements are complex and specific.
If their needs are not met, these reptiles can very quickly become ill and die unexpectedly.
With the right care they make one of the most interesting pet reptiles in the world.
The best panther chameleon enclosure should match their wild Madagascan grassland environment as closely as possible.
An adult needs a well-ventilated, 50-gallon tank that is taller than it is wide.
This spacious enclosure should have two mesh sides and a mesh top for optimal airflow and UVB light penetration. If your house is dry or cool, keep three sides of the enclosure glass to help retain heat and humidity.
These lizards are adapted for life in the treetops, and their home should reflect that.
Fill the enclosure with vines, branches and live or fake plants.
The more foliage you use, the better. Chameleons are generally healthier and feel more comfortable if they have lots of privacy. Some parts of the tank should be completely obscured to give them a place to hide.
Keep the substrate simple with a layer of paper towels or keep the bottom of the tank bare.
- Tank: 50-gallon tall tank with two mesh sides.
- Substrate: Simple with a layer of paper towels.
- Décor: Vines, branches and live or fake plants.
- Lighting: 75-watt UVB bulb.
- Temperature: Basking spot of 95°F; ambient temperature of 75-80°F.
- Humidity: 60%.
To help your lizard regulate its body temperature, the tank should have a warm side and a cool side.
This heat gradient should run from the top of the tank to the bottom. Use two thermometers to measure the temperature at each side of the enclosure.
Panther chameleon tank temperatures should range from 75-95°F during the day.
The basking spot should reach close to 95°F, while the cooler side should have an ambient temperature of 75-80°F.
At night, temperatures can dip by 5°F without an issue.
If possible, the humidity in your chameleon’s tank should be different between day and night.
During the day, keep the tank between 60%. At night, increase the humidity to 75-100%.
Humidity can be controlled with a reptile mister machine set on a timer. To start, try misting every 4 hours for 2 minutes each time. You can always hand mist to increase humidity while you are finding a good routine for the mister.
Panther chameleons need a strong UVB light to synthesize vitamin D.
Use a 75-watt UVB bulb on the top of the tank, set on a 12-hour timer.
A day cycle from 9:00 – 9:00 is a good start.
UVB bulbs should be replaced every 6 months as their output decreases.
Chameleons will self-regulate the amount of UVB exposure they receive. Make sure there are shaded areas away from the basking spot with plenty of foliage for privacy.
Chameleons are known for their unique hunting style that sets them apart from other reptiles like Iguanas.
Panthers have a 360-degree field of vision which they use, along with their keen eyesight, to pick out insects.
Their left and right eyes can move and see independently of one another, so these lizards can see behind and in front of themselves at the same time!
When using both eyes to focus on a target, chameleons can see small insects from 5-10 meters away.
Once prey is in sight, they launch out their sticky tongue, which traps the insect, and pulls it into their mouth.
Their tongues can be longer than their own body. They launch their tongues towards their prey, which becomes stuck to its sticky surface.
Chameleons’ mouths are lined with small, sharp teeth designed for biting through tough exoskeletons.
Panther chameleons are carnivores that only eat invertebrates:
Panther chameleons as pets need a varied diet of live insects. Crickets, dubia cockroaches, mealworms, waxworms, silkworms and hornworms should be fed on a rotating schedule to provide a diversity of food.
All insects should be dusted with a calcium D3 and multivitamin supplement every other mealtime.
Insects should also be gut-loaded several days before being fed. Gut-loading is essential to help your chameleon get all the nutrients it needs from its diet.
The frequency and size of feedings depends on age.
Young individuals under 7 months should be fed as much as they can eat within 20 minutes each day.
Adults can eat 5 medium-sized insects every other day.
Offer insects in a small dish or with tongs. Never let insects roam free in your chameleon’s tank.
Panthers rarely drink standing water, they sip droplets that form from dew or rain.
Keeping your chameleon healthy is a matter of top-quality husbandry and the right setup.
In the wild males typically live for 3-4 years, while females live 1-2 years.
Disease, parasites, competition and predation all contribute to the short lives of wild chameleons.
As pets, however, male panther chameleons can reach 7 years old and females can survive up to 6 years if not bred.
Regular care from an exotic veterinarian is one of the keys to ensuring your lizard lives a long life.
Panthers are sensitive to their environment and are easily stressed by suboptimal temperatures, diet, humidity, or handling. Stressed chameleons can quickly develop health problems, and unfortunately this species is known to die unexpectedly.
The most common panther chameleon illnesses include:
- Metabolic bone disease – This condition is caused by a lack of UVB light and causes bones to weaken and deform. One of the early signs is a soft or uneven head crest.
- Hypovitaminosis A – Too little vitamin A from an improper diet which leads to swelling around the eyes, nose, and mouth, spinal deformities, dull skin, and loss of coordination.
- Respiratory infections – This infection is caused when humidity and temperatures are too high or too low. They are especially susceptible to upper respiratory conditions. Symptoms include open-mouthed breathing, wheezing, or bubbling around the mouth and nose.
Their short lifespans mean they must reproduce quickly and early.
They reach sexual maturity at just 7 months of age.
Panther chameleons are fast-growing, large lizards.
Though they hatch from their egg at only an inch long, they reach their full size by their first year of age!
Full-grown panther chameleons range from 10 to 20 inches.
Males are larger than females, reaching 20 inches in length and weighing up to 7.8 ounces.
Females rarely exceed 14 inches long and usually top out at 3.5 ounces in weight. They are also less colorful than males because they do not have to compete during the breeding season.
Panther Chameleon Colors
Out of all the different chameleon species, panthers are the brightest and most colorful.
Depending on where they come from, you can find these chameleons in brilliant shades of blue, red, orange, yellow, green and purple.
Instead of using colors for camouflage, their colors are a response to temperatures, sunlight, and other chameleons.
These lizards use their colors for social displays to communicate between rivals or future mates. When they become excited or agitated their colors darken and become bolder.
Panther chameleons are one of the most iconic of all lizards.
They are large, tree-climbing reptiles with grasping hands and feet, curling tails, narrow bodies, and a triangular head.
These colorful reptiles have several unique features that help them survive in the jungle treetops of Madagascar:
- Turret-like eyes that can look independently in different directions. This gives them stereoscopic vision with a 360° view and depth perception.
- Zygodactyl feet that function like a pincer and can easily grip branches and vines.
- Prehensile tails that they use as an extra limb to hold onto branches and tree limbs. Their curling tails are another of their signature characteristics.
These adaptations set panther chameleons apart from other tree-dwelling lizards like geckos.
Types of Panther Chameleon
Panther chameleons have different colors and patterns depending on where in Madagascar they are from.
These different varieties, called locales, may have drastically different colors and patterns, but are all part of the same species.
Nosy Be panther chameleons are native to the island Nosy Be, off Madagascar’s northwestern coast.
Species from this region are bright blue, teal, and aqua with darker blue and white side striping and yellow markings around the mouth and eyes.
When excited their dark blue stripes deepen to black, and they develop orange and red speckles.
Ambilobe panther chameleons come from the northernmost district in Madagascar.
They are beautifully multi-colored with shades of purple, green, and blue overlaid on a base hue of red and orange.
The Ambilobe locale is one of the most popular and expensive varieties because of its rainbow colors.
The Ambanja panther chameleon is native to the western Ambanja district of Madagascar. They are commonly found in cocoa plantations and forests on the edges of cities.
Ambanjas are primarily blue, like the Nosy Be locale.
Typically, they have a light blue base color with deep blue stripes and a pale, horizontal slash down each side of their bodies.
Species from the eastern Sambava district are known as Sambava panthers.
They are yellow or green with orange and red stripes, red eyelids, and the typical white side marking.
Relaxed individuals are usually greener, with dark red banding. Once excited, the green shifts to bright orange and yellow, and the dark red bands flush to a richer, purplish red.
Tamatave panthers are found on the east coast of Madagascar.
These chameleons have a bright red base coloration with white speckles and less distinct stripes than other locales.
The wild population of all of these locales is remaining steady, despite the deforestation of Madagascar’s jungles.
Male vs Female Differences
Adult male and female panther chameleons are quite easy to tell apart.
However, the differences between males and females are only easy to see after 7 months of age. As juveniles the differences are much more subtle.
To determine whether an adult chameleon is male or female, look at their:
- Tail bulge
Male panther chameleons are larger and heavier than females.
Females typically grow to 8-14 inches in length and weigh about 3.5 ounces.
On the other hand, males reach 12-20 inches long and weigh between 4.9 and 7.8 ounces. The larger size of males helps them during combat with rivals.
Males are much more colorful than females, just as they are larger.
No matter where they are from, female panther chameleons are drab shades of pink, light green, and tan. Males are stunning shades of blue, orange, red and purple.
Finally, like slider turtles, males have two bulges near their cloaca for their reproductive organs. These bulges are absent in females, whose reproductive organs are inside the body.
Wild panthers are solitary, elusive and prefer to live alone in the jungle treetops of Madagascar.
Each male stakes out a territory, usually a stand of trees, and aggressively wards off any rivals who come too close by puffing up their bodies, hissing and darkening their colors.
Most confrontations end without violence, but males will bite each other if neither backs down.
These lizards communicate with each other through color changes and body language. These are used both as hostile displays and signals for mating.
As pets, panther chameleons are docile, slow-moving and quiet.
They are a diurnal species so are most active during the day. However, these reptiles have very low activity levels and spend much of their time clinging to a branch.
Though beautiful, they are not ideal for someone looking for an active, friendly reptile that enjoys interaction (in that case, we recommend a crested gecko).
The panther is a beautiful and exotic reptile that is one of the most popular chameleon species.
Panther chameleons have incredibly varied colors depending on where in Madagascar they are from.
You can find them in beautiful shades of blue, purple, orange, red and green.
This species is not for beginners and needs a specific diet and tank setup to stay healthy.
Even with good care, they are a challenge to keep and are best suited for experienced herpetologists.
What do you love about panther chameleons? Let us know in the comments.