Chameleons are insectivores, and a diet of 100% insects can see every chameleon to a healthy old age. The problem with feeders in Canada is that we have access to very little variety. It is getting better, but it is far from perfect.
Feeding Your Chameleon
The rule of thumb for feeder size is that food items should be no wider than the space between a chameleon's eyes. If your chameleon is 6 months old or less, feed daily as much as they will eat. At 6 months of age, veiled chameleons should be stepped down to 3 food items every other day. At 9 months veiled chameleons do best with 1-3 medium sized food items, 3 times/week. All other species can be fed as much as they will eat up to 9 months. At 9 months, meals can be tapered down to every other day, or 3 times/week, and 2-3 medium sized food items. All food items should be gutloaded where possible.
Staple feeders are food items given regularly as part of a healthy chameleon diet. While best practices are to have as large a variety of feeders as possible, the staple feeders below can safely occupy 50% of your chameleon's diet. To be clear, in a perfect world, we would be feeding our chameleons honeybees, wasps, locusts, flower beetles, and other more natural food items. However, this is not something easily replicated indoors in Canada. So...:
This is by far the most common feeder for chameleons. In Canada, we have easy access to both the Brown House Cricket (Acheta domestica), and the Brown Banded Cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus). The plus side with these guys is that they are generally active, they gut load easily, and are fairly nutritious when properly fed. If properly fed and hydrated, crickets are 65-75% moisture, 18% protein, 6% fat. Their biggest nutritional downfall is their abysmal calcium to phosphorus ratio, which stand somewhere between 1:9 and 1:15, depending on your source.
While there is a blanket ban on the sale of tropical cockraoch species in Canada, at least two appear to be OK: The Surinam and the Australian cockroach. Both are "greenhouse roaches" that have established breeding populations in many commercial greenhouses. They need humidity levels in the high 70's and temperatures around 30 degrees to breed, and so are not an infestation risk for your home. Insect breeders have collected both species from Canadian greenhouses, and have produced captive breeding populations from them . I prefer the Surinam roach myself, but either species is suitable. Surinam roaches are also parthenogenic--they do not require males to reproduce, and most colonies are composed entirely of females. They make meatier morsels than crickets and once you have a colony going, you have free feeders for life! While I don't have specific nutritional data on either of these species, most tropical cockroaches are around 60-65% moisture, 20-23% protein, 7-10% fat, and have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of ~1:3--a marked improvement over crickets in all respects. If you're interested in taking the cockroach plunge, hit up Jordan at Ontario Invert Farm.
Near Staple feeders are food items that, for one reason or another, should/can only represent between 15% and 20% of the captive diet. Some are very soft bodied, some are cost-prohibitive, some are just hard to find, and some are nutritionally less than ideal.
Black Soldier Fly Larva (BSFL):
Nutritionally, these are the only common feeder type to be in the golden calcium to phosphorus ratio of ~2:1. They are about 65% moisture, 17% protein, ans 11% fat. The biggest downside here is their softness. I know everyone wants a less chitinous feeder, but several researchers think chitin is the insectivore’s version of dietary fibre, and needs to be there to aid in digestion by helping to pull softer items through the g.i. tract. Many hobbyists also find “pinning”necessary. This is the process of stabbing the feeder with a pin so the chameleon’s digestive juices can actually get inside the grub. Chameleons who swallow these little maggots whole can poop them out undigested. Another downfall is that they are typically expensive here, making them out of reach as a staple item for many hobbyists. All that being said, these are nevertheless a very nutritious food item, and can be left to pupate and turn into harmless flies that your chameleon will love!
While relatively nutritious, silkworms are a lower protein option that shares many of the same downfalls of BSFL. Their ultra soft bodies can make for loose stools and undigested worms. They are also hard to keep alive long term, as they can only survive on the leaves of the white mulberry or else a chow made from those leaves. Silkworms are ~80% moisture, 13% protein, 2% fat, and have one of the better calcium to phosphorus ratios of 1:2.5—just slightly better than roaches.
Snail shells are composed of calcium carbonate, and therefore provide huge amounts of calcium. The snails themselves are about 75% moisture, 20% protein and 1% fat. While I do not have an accurate calcium to phosphorus ratio, my guess is that in-the-shell snails will blow BSFL out of the water. It is important to note that only land snails should be fed, and there is a lot of debate about possible parasite transmission. An easy way to get around this is to collect adult snails, let them lay eggs, and remove the eggs to a separate hatching/rearing container. Feed the babies at your leisure!
They look a bit menacing, and can give a little pinch to those who have soft delicate hands. They are the larval form of a member of the darkling beetle family. There are a few reasons why superworms should be fed sparingly. First, for whatever reason, chameleons seem to love them enough to shun other more nutritious food sources if they are offered too frequently. Second, they are not great gutloaders. They will eat fruits and veggies, but they don’t appear to consume anything with the kind of fervour of crickets or roaches. Moreover, they don’t appear to have much of a digestive tract for storing anything they do eat. Nutritionally, they are worse than crickets, boasting ~60% moisture, 19% protein, 16% fat, and a calcium to phosphorus ration of ~ 1:15.
These little critters are actually crustaceans, and can boast a calcium to phosphorus ratio of up to 12:1! However, they are reported to be relatively high in ash, so I have chosen not to include them as staple feeders. I hope to have more nutritional information on isopods soon.
Mantids and Stick Bugs:
When you can find them, your chameleon will relish these big scary insects! However, adults are relatively large, so are only suitable for large chameleons.
Hornworms are nutritious, but can get big fast. Their grip strength is impressive and tongue injuries have been reported, so hand feeding these is safer. They are basically big bags of water, and are thus excellent for hydration. While they are only 9% protein, they are upwards of 85% water, and only 3% fat. They have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:3.
Ocassional/Treats are feeders that should comprise no more than 5% of your chameleon’s diet.
These are the larval form of the wax moth, which is a pest for beekeepers, so please be responsible. They contain about 60% moisture, 14% protein, and a whopping 24% fat--treat only! They have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:8.
Nutritionally similar to waxworms, butterworms are the larval form of the Chilean moth. They are composed of 60% moisture, 15% protein, and 25% fat, with a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:18. There have been reports of adverse reactions to butterworms in chameleons, so use with caution. I have fed them on occasion without a problem.