Hedera helix - the beautiful deadly trap


An awesome environment can be created using living plants in terrariums. It is not only the aesthetic value, but mainly the positive influence of living plants, as integral and natural part of the environment of chameleons in the wild and many many interactions, starting from moderating humidity and exchange, positive influence of etheric oils, to antiseptic properties of plants etc etc.

however, using living plants can be a potentially deadly trap.

A great example of it is the poison ivy (Hedera helix and its about 15 sister species, commonly known as Ivies). It is toxic, not only for digestion but also for touching it!

The main irritants allergens and poisons are falcarinol and hederin.

If digested, they cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, hyperactivity, breathing difficulty, coma, fever, polydipsia, dilated pupils, muscular weakness, and lack of coordination.

If touched and in contact with the sap, ivies cause skin irritations or even erosive lesions or even necroses of the affected skin.

If a chameleon eats it (mainly Yemen Chameleons do it intentionally but others can swallow a leaf by accident too), they can poison themself and throw up, became restless (a very active chameleon is - in contradiction to the common belief - that's a healthy and fit - in stress and discomfort: a happy chameleon, as a rule, sits at his place, and does not move too much), lose coordination or even die.

The insects-feeders can munch on the leaves (it is not toxic for them), and then, being eaten by the chameleon, they can also cause intoxication.

If the chameleon crawls over ivy, it can leave its soles poisoned and as result, either light discomfort and itchiness is the outcome, or the skin of soles may fall off and leave unhealable wounds that may result in extreme pain and even death of the chameleon. I have seen a few panthers and smaller species poisoned and even a Parson's

Chameleon killed by one of the ivies. The animal was hyperactive and tired and we found out the reason only once she reported blood traces all over the branches. You can not imagine how terrible it looks when a chameleon walks on exposed flesh

The ivies are NOT native to subsaharan Africa, neither to Madagascar. Therefore, chameleons have no evolutionary experience with them and therefore, their instincts do no work well here. As introduced, ivies a cause issues for wild chameleons too - in Tanzania eg for Kinyongia multituberculata.

Please, do not risk it, if you unknowingly decorated the cage with an ivy, remove it and never use it (again).

Author: Petr Nečas