My chameleon doesn't drink! I have never seen him drink. Why doesn't he drink? Is he going to be all right?
No, I am not trying to be sarcastic or insensitive. These are just some of the things I have heard whenever this subject comes up. Watering always seems to be a topic of great concern. And rightly so. Without it, we would all perish rather quickly (including our scaly little friends).
What is the best water delivery method for your chameleon? This is a rather tricky question since there seems to be some disagreement on the 'absolute best way' to keep your chameleon properly hydrated. Rather than face the wrath of hordes of very knowledgeable chameleon keepers and breeders, I will simply lay out a few methods for you, and leave you to your decision. My best advice is try a few methods and combinations of methods until you are satisfied with the results.
Please remember that whatever technique you decide on, it is imperative to observe proper sanitary conditions. You must make sure to clean out and disinfect any water receptacles on a regular basis, as well as occasionally change any rubber tubing or lines in your water system. Bacteria can build up quite quickly and make you chameleon pretty ill.
Also, keep in mind that while water is a good thing, too much can bring you new problems. Make sure that there is not too much excess moisture in the bottom of the enclosure for any extended periods of time.
If you are concerned about the quality of water coming from your tap, you might want to consider using a water conditioner such as ZooMed Reptisafe. This will remove chlorine, chloramines, and ammonia, while adding essential electrolytes, stimulating the protective slime coat development and reducing pH. Several companies offer their own variety of this.
The drip system is exactly what the name implies. A receptacle is used to contain a given amount of water and release it over time. The kind of drip system you set up can range from the extremely simple, to the amazingly elaborate. The nice thing about a drip system however, is regardless of its complexity, water is made available to your chameleon over a long period of time.
Spraying / Misting
- Ice Cubes
This method, which I did not originally include (intentionally) was recently brought to my attention as a drip system alternative. The method involves placing an ice cube on roof the enclosure and to simply allow it to melt, thus creating a slow drip. I do not care for this method for a few reasons. First, the water is still quite cold when it drips into the enclosure. This may bother your chameleon if it drips onto his/her skin. Second, your chameleon may not enjoy such a cool drink (as much as we do). Lastly, as drip systems go, it does not really perform the main function of such a system, which is to provide a slow, steady, moving water supply over a long period of time. However, if your chameleon responds well to this method, then by all means continue to use it.
- The Paper/Plastic Cup
The most basic of methods is the paper or plastic cup with a very small hole in the bottom. These are extremely simple to set up and cost virtually nothing. After you make the hole, you place the cup on the roof of your enclosure and fill it with water. Place the cup in a location where the water can cascade off a few leaves. This will mimic the manner in which a chameleon gets its water in the wild. The water should drip at a rate of about 1or 2 drops per second. Make sure that you place a receptacle at the bottom of the enclosure to catch the drippings. This will prevent excess moisture on the floor of your enclosure.
- The Commercial Drip System
These are basically the same concept as the paper/plastic cup with a few notable exceptions. They usually come with a lid which if kept closed, will keep out any unwanted particles or foreign matter. They are usually quite durable, making them easy to clean. Also, they feature an adjustable dripper valve which allows you to control the drip speed. There is also a rubber tube, which, if you cut a small slit in the roof of your enclosure, you can slide into you chameleon's dwelling, and allow him to drink off the end of the tube as the water drips out. Several companies make their own variations of these. The model shown also has a handy carrying handle which allows you to suspend the unit if desired.
Definitely, one of the preferred methods of water delivery for most chameleon owners, spraying/misting can involve a simple spray bottle, to a more robust pressure (garden) sprayer, to and automated misting system hooked up to your home's water supply. Whichever method of spraying you choose, it is probably the best overall method to water your chameleon.
Manual Watering Techniques
- Spray Bottles
Probably the most common and cost effective (with the exception of the paper cup) method of water delivery , the spray bottle allows you to not only quench your chameleon's thirst, but also to water the plants living in your chameleon's enclosure as well as increase the overall humidity level in the enclosure. NEVER TRY TO SALVAGE AN OLD GLASS CLEANER BOTTLE (OR SOMETHING SIMILAR). BUY A NEW SPRAY BOTTLE AND CLEAN IT OUT PROPERLY BEFORE USING IT. Chameleons will usually drink the water off the leaves as it cascades through the plants to the floor of your enclosure. They will also in many cases, stand there and gulp it down as you spray the enclosure sometimes just allowing themselves to be sprayed directly (make an effort to try and not spray too hard or to spray in the eyes). Use hot water to spray them with at a distance of 2 - 2½ feet away from the chameleon. Not boiling, but hot. The water will cool to room temperature as it jets out of the sprayer. Try it on your arm if you're not sure.
- Pressure (Garden) Sprayer
These are available at your local hardware store and are relatively inexpensive to buy. The only real advantage over the spray bottle is that you can pressurize the water bottle with the onboard pump before watering your chameleon so that you do not have to continuously keep spraying. Typically, these will allow you to set a very fine mist while spraying, which your chameleon might prefer to a sudden blast of water in the face (I know I wouldn't like that very much).
- Automated Misting Systems
Quite frankly, unless you're planning to raise many chameleons, and really need a method to get everything done more time efficiently, I don't really like these (just my opinion). They are pretty expensive (comparatively) and can be a bit of a hassle to set up. They can be purchased from companies such as Ecologic Technologies (Click Here to visit their website).
Some people (even myself a times) are not satisfied unless they they actually see their chameleon drink. While it is not always necessary to stand there and and make sure you chameleon is drinking (except under certain circumstances), it can be somewhat of a relief to witness your chameleon doing so. In addition, manual watering techniques are a good way to make sure that some of the larger species are in fact getting enough water.
- Oral Syringe
On oral syringe is basically a syringe without a needle attached to it. NEVER USE A SYRINGE WITH A NEEDLE ATTACHED TO IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. These are available at your local pharmacy in varying sizes. You simply fill the syringe with tepid water, and drip it out slowly near your chameleon's mouth. You can let a few drops land on the side of his/her mouth to get him/her started. It will however, require that you stand there patiently for a few minutes. If your chameleon does not drink by the time 1 or 2 syringes have emptied, chances are that he/she won't (at least not this time - maybe next time). There is no guarantee that your chameleon will drink in this fashion, but I have had reasonable success with this method.
- Rodent Bottle
This is a delivery method similar to the oral syringe method except that you use a commercial rodent bottle (the kind with the metal tube with a ball bearing in the tip). The presentation is done the same way. The shine of the ball tip (as well as the dripping water) is supposed to attract the chameleon. Make sure to use fresh water every time. Also, empty and dry out your bottle each time.
Here are a few other techniques which have been used. Try them and see for yourself whether or not your little buddy responds well to them.
- Water Dishes
The traditional method of water delivery (for most pets) does not usually work with chameleons. They (for the most part) are not fond of standing water, preferring moving (dripping) water. I have heard of some cases of chameleons drinking from a water dish, but for the most part, you would be better to choose another method since this one would prove unreliable at best.
A plant is placed in a shower stall or bathtub and using lukewarm water, you simply shower the plant (very lightly while your chameleon in on it. Typically this is performed for 30-60 minutes at a time. While this will definitely keep your little guy/gal hydrated you must make very certain that he/she is not over-stressed by this technique. If your chameleon is too frightened it can fall off the plant and severely harm itself. If you choose to try this method, observe your pet's reactions closely in order to determine whether or not you should continue. Never leave you chameleon unsupervised.
While this technique does not provide enough water to be considered a primary hydration technique, it can serve to improve overall humidity in dry locations. Simply use a room humidifier (one which uses warm water is best) near the chameleon's enclosure to provide extra humidity. Probably the best approach is to buy a timer switch (these are very inexpensive for simple models) and set it to go off once or twice per day for 30-60 minutes between your regular watering times. This will greatly improve the overall humidity in the enclosure. You can even use plumber's pipe (PVC or ABS) to route the mist into the enclosure (leave the humidifier on a little less time if you do this).