One of the most common questions regarding the care of Yemen chameleons is: "How many insects should they be fed?"

And somewhere, someone came up with the following answer as the truth, and it is mindlessly repeated endlessly:

"Feed the juvenile unlimited amounts of food until they reach one year of age, then feed the adult one cricket per day..."

However, this rule is nonsense and has led to obese chameleons and exhausted females laying unnecessary and often large clutches of unfertilized eggs, which can result in egg retention or the female becoming weakened.

Why is this the case? Because the rule is simply not true.

More experienced keepers modify the rule to a slightly better version:

"Feed unlimited amounts of food until the chameleon reaches 40 cm in total length, then feed one cricket per day."

The cricket is meant symbolically, representing the volume of one adult banana cricket, which can be replaces with a different number of insects of varying sizes. And this rule applies only to chameleons kept at temperatures below 25°C with a significant nighttime drop. Overheated individuals require more food due to their faster temperature-dependent metabolism.

In practice, the correct and universal answer is a bit more complicated:

"Stop feeding unlimited amounts of food when the chameleon's growth significantly slows down, but they continue to gain weight."

To correctly identify this period, it is necessary to regularly measure and weigh the chameleon or at least observe them very carefully.

The most common mistake is the one-year limit that some people present as the point where unlimited feeding should stop. However, this is imprecise and misleading because chameleons in captivity grow at different rates. Various factors, such as captive conditions (including poor ones), temperature dependence, water intake, food energy value, health, immune system robustness, and genetic quality, as well as simple individual variability, can influence their growth. Therefore, it can happen that a chameleon is still in the growth stage at one year of age, and restricting their food intake can hinder their development or, more commonly, they have already reached their maximum length and become excessively overweight due to surplus food.

You might argue that they have a self-regulatory instinct and can manage it themselves. No, they cannot. They have evolved for millions of years in an environment that forced them to rapidly grow within a few months after hatching to reach adulthood, mate, and lay eggs before the harsh dry period arrives. Mother nature has programmed them to be literal eating machines, investing all their energy into rapid growth during their youth and then trying to consume as much as possible to survive the long period of drought without food or water. In the wild, situations where overeating leads to obesity and other inappropriate conditions do not occur. However, it is different in captivity. The chameleon wants to eat and eats, and the owner keeps giving him more and more, only to see the slim male chameleon turn into an obese monster, incapable of reproduction or movement, and eventually even life. The females transform into unattractive swollen and shapeless sacks full of dozens of eggs that they cannot even lay.

By the way, the right moment to stop feeding "ad libitum" can occur as early as 4-5 months of age. On the other hand, due to genetic degeneration of the captive population of this species, not all individuals will reach the mentioned 40cm. Typically and on average, the change occurs between 6-8 months with a total length of males being 35-40cm and females being 25-30cm.

An experienced breeder can easily recognize this state, but if you are unsure, present a photo of your chameleon here, and we will advise you.

Author: Petr Nečas