THE FEEDER CUP - the controversy


Feeder cups become more and more popular, and are recommended by various sources, especially by their producers. They can be very simply made out of a deli cup, jar or glass, but they can be also made from various natural materials like wood, bamboo, bark, or printed from plastic in various designs and colors by 3-D printers.

Almost no one mentions, that there is a huge controversy in using feeder cups. Let us analyze all the aspects so that you can make a vise to and informed decision whether to go for it or whether not.

Positives of the feeder cups and their rational justification:

1. They CONCENTRATE the feeders at one place, which is situated to be easily accessible for the chameleon to come and feed.

2. The FEEDERS STAY in the feeder cup, and do not hide in the inaccessible parts of the cage, such as at the bottom, in the bioactive floor, under plant pots, leaves etc.

3. The feeders STAY in the feeder cup AT NIGHT, do not crawl around in the cage and munch on the plants, neither will they attack the chameleon and bite it and cause hard to heal wounds.

4. The feeders stay in the cup, usually together with the SUPPLEMENTS, and either feed on it, or keep the body polluted with the powdered minerals, vitamins, and bee pollen.

5. The feeders can be given a small amount of food, like bee pollen, hay, carrot, and continue the GUTLOADING process.

6. For YOUNG chameleons, the feeder cup can be a good solution to ease the process if FINDING FOOD in their first days and/or in a big cage.

7. When LEAVING home for several days, feeder cup can be used for the chameleons to feed even in your absence while leaving some feeders in the cup with some food for them too.

8. When having a breeding facility or many terrariums, the feeder cups can make the feeding process more EFFICIENT and save time.

Unfortunately, all these potential positives are very relative and most have also their heavy downside. Besides of it, the potential positive effects can always be reached by an easy alternative way.

1. Concentrating feeders at one spot is very unnatural. Chameleons are hunters that actively need to seek for food and hunt and placing the food at one spot make them lazy and prone to obesity. They also might refuse the food from other source if used to feed a cup for too long.

2. If you feed the correct amount of food, they will be hardly remaining feeders left, so, there is hardly a use for a feeder cup. If healthy chameleons refuse food, they are usually (heavily) overfed. Otherwise, they tend to eat all you give them immediately.

3. Same argument as above: there should not be remaining feeders to stay in the cage and even if, it is easy to leave some food for them on the floor preventing them from munching on the plants and biting the chameleon.

4. Same argument as above plus there is never 100% certainty that the feeders will not escape. They anyway will. The only way how to prevent it is to feed the chameleons controlled way and not too big amounts and/or feed predominantly with flying insects and/or diurnal insects, which do not hide (which is also natural a they feed naturally on diurnal insects, not on nocturnal).

5. The feeders do not need to be gutloaded in the cage, they need to be gutloaded prior to their feeding to the chameleon and then they should be eaten and not stay in the cage.

6. Concentrating food for small young chameleons in a feeder cup is not natural. In the wild, it also does not happen, young chameleons are forced to seek for food and hunt. If you make it too simple for them, they might become lazy or you might raise specimens, which would not survive in the wild, because they are too weak to hunt. This, if then included in the reproduction, will inevitably pollute the captive population of chameleons with weak genetics, and lead to deterioration of the quality of the genome of the captive population.

7. When leaving home for up to two weeks, chameleons can easily survive this pause in feeding without any harm. On contrary, it may have even positive influence on the digestion and will to hunt. Leaving feeders for a long time in the feeder cup will inevitably lead to the death of some of them. The result might be bad smell or the chameleon may eat the decaying bodies incidentally and get poisoned.

8. Big facility with many cages can be managed also different way than by the use of feeder cups easily, so there is no imminent need for them, it is rather personal preference and choice, driving it.

There are also some clear disadvantages and dangers of using feeder cups (some of which have already been mentioned), which can turn to arguments against their using:

1. It is not natural. There are no such feeders concentrations in the wild and despite seasonally, the offer of food can be concentrated e.g. around a blooming branch, it is just temporary. Chameleons naturally move for food and hunt. The search for food is one of the few reasons when they have to move.

2. Feeder cups make chameleons lazy and prone to overfeeding and obesity, which leads to other health issues.

3. Feeder cups force the chameleons to shoot on short distance and modify their feeding behavior. This can lead to injuries and inability to feed normally.

4. Feeder cups made of plastics support intoxication by toxic solvents and microplastics. The plastics are deteriorated by the UV and high temperature more intensively, the feeders scratch on their surface and create tiny microplastics which shorten the life of chameleons if inhaled or digested. I was accused by some unethical commercial breeders that they have never had any issues with microplastics, their reaction was very aggressive. The problem is that the breeders have the interest to get rid of the babies in the third month of age (or even sooner) to maintain the P&L ratio of the business on the positive side, and have no interest in longevity of the animals. On the contrary, their interest is, that the chameleon will die as soon as possible so that they can sell another chameleon to you. Now, the effect of microplastics is of course not immediate, but it's long-term. At three months age, when you obtain the offspring from the breeder, of course no negative effects is yet to be seen, and analyzed, but the chameleon will die young, that is for sure, if exposed to the toxic plastics and microplastics. With exposition of your chameleons to microplastics you do the same disservice with same health issues also for you and members of your family sharing the same home, as the microplastics become part of the dust and poison you too.

5. Feeder cups 3D printed of PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol) are a little more stable, as PETG is known for its UV resistance compared to other plastics like PLA. However, prolonged exposure to UV radiation can still cause some degradation in PETG over time. It is recommended to limit direct UV exposure to maintain the quality and longevity of PETG materials. And you can hardly limit the UV exposure so, it is a concern.

6. Some feeder cups are produced in fancy colors for esthetic purposes of the keepers, not taking into consideration, that some colors are either irritating for the chameleons (eg red) or too dark (eg black) and they will very likely have problems to feed from them or will refuse it. The solution is easy: never use the plastic feeder cups, if at all, use those made of natural or neutral materials such as wood, bark, glass, pottery.

7. Some feeder cups are equipped with strong magnets to keep them in a certain position on the glass or mesh. Strong magnetic fields can affect living organisms, including humans, in various ways: Induced currents can heat tissues and potentially cause burns. Neural effects may cause seizures and muscle contractions. Cardiovascular effects can impact heart and blood vessel function. Interference with electronic devices like pacemakers can be life-threatening. There is no way how to shield, the magnets must be removed to prevent the named negative effects.

So, you only decide whether you will take a risk of using the feeder cups which are in fact quite dangerous and bring only questionable effects that are hardly offset with their negative influence on the chameleons and you.

I have just experimented with some feeder cups for short period and consider them unnecessary and unnecessarily risky, therefore, I have never really used them in the last 35years…

Ultimately, the decision to use feeder cups will depend on individual circumstances and preferences. It's important to consider the natural hunting behavior of chameleons and ensure that feeding practices align with their needs. Monitoring the chameleon's health and behavior can help determine if feeder cups are a suitable feeding method for your specific situation.

Better safe than sorry

Author: Petr Nečas