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Chameleons: Colorful, Misunderstood and in Demand


June 1, 2016

While much of the attention within the reptile trade focuses on bearded dragons, crested geckos or any number of snakes, some of the biggest up-and-comers within the reptile family are chameleons. However, even as they grow in both popularity and availability, many consumers still hold misconceptions about these lovely lizards. Overcoming these misconceptions may provide new inroads for profitability and great pet-relationships.

Chameleons are members of the family Chameleonidae, which includes approximately 200 species across numerous continents in the eastern hemisphere. Chameleons are most often identified by their zygodactylous feet, prehensile tails, independently-moving eyes and long sticky tongues. The most common types of chameleons found within the pet trade are veiled and panther chameleons, with other species, including carpet, Jackson’s, and Fischer’s chameleons, being available.

Individual chameleon care varies from species to species, but most chameleons thrive in a relatively humid environment with a good deal of airflow. Most cages built specifically for chameleons feature mesh sides, rather than glass ones, to allow for better airflow and circulation for the animal itself.

Most chameleons are arboreal creatures, which provides unique opportunities for both displaying these reptiles and for sales of plants meant for their habitations. A well-decorated cage catches the eyes of customers, making them more likely to pursue decorations for their own reptiles. However, do ensure that you stock the correct plants. Veiled chameleons, especially, will tend to nibble or eat leaves from plants kept within their enclosure, so ensure that these plants are not poisonous or artificial.

But why are chameleons experiencing such a meteoric rise in sales? Much of this increase comes down to simple availability. As veiled and panther chameleons have been becoming increasingly available throughout the year, prices have dropped significantly thanks to captive-breeding programs. National retail average for veiled chameleons has dropped by about $25-30, providing additional opportunities for customers to enter the world of reptiles.

However, this rise has occurred in the face of numerous misconceptions. One of the most prevalent of these misconceptions is that chameleons tend to be advanced animals, suitable only for experienced reptile owners who are already familiar with various procedures and protocols. Chameleons tend to be viewed as fragile, becoming easily diseased or injured, even under proper care. However, the exact opposite is true: veiled chameleons, particularly those that have been captive-bred, are among the hardier species of reptile out there.

Much of this perception tends to stem from another misconception that chameleons tend to be temperamental or aggressive. One of the basic defense mechanisms chameleons use against predators is to hiss, showing a widely-opened mouth and occasionally biting or snapping at any intruder. Captive breeding programs initially show this to be a genetic trait, which could slowly be bred out over time.

There is the fact that chameleons overall tend to dislike handling or petting. Doing so may lead to aggressive reactions, which would contribute to the perception of aggression or poor temperament. When suggesting a chameleon as a pet, especially for a first-time reptile owner, ensure that the customer understands the disposition and emotional responses natural to that chameleon species. A well-educated customer makes for a happy customer, and happy customers become repeat customers.

Those repeat customers, naturally, become key to establishing a continual cycle of food purchases. Chameleons typically thrive on a diet of crickets, mealworms or waxworms and require food every day. As we have emphasized in the past, this can ensure that a well-satisfied customer returns to your store on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, simply to purchase food for their reptile, which simply cannot be purchased at the local big-box store.

Ensure also that the food that you stock for your chameleons comes with all necessary supplements. Calcium dust and other supplements ensure chameleons’ continual health, providing the animals with necessary vitamins and minerals not available from crickets alone.

If you intend to stock chameleons in the coming days, one strategy you may wish to employ is to bundle the animal itself together with necessary caging and other elements. Consider even offering a reptile for free, with the purchase of an enclosure and other necessary caging elements. Not only does this foster both additional sales and good-will towards your new customers, but doing so also provides the opportunity to move stock and ensure that your customers have exactly the appropriate materials to care for those animals.

As you look at expanding your reptile repertoire, consider the chameleon as an alternative to the more typical snakes, frogs and lizards. Your bottom line just may thank you!

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