Easily one of the most vexing and contentious aspects of chameleon husbandry is supplementation. Few things can arouse such vociferous opinions as those ultra-fine powders in which we dust our insects . As we continuously add information to this site, we will explore supplementation in more detail. For now, I'd like to share some thoughts about what supplementation should accomplish, and how different supplementation regimes fit in chameleon husbandry.
To supplement something is to add components to it that are lacking, insufficient are otherwise missing. Dietary supplements are there to fill nutritional gaps in the diet. Someone who rarely eats fish, eggs or other sources of the omega fats, might supplement their regular diet with capsules of omega fats. In chameleon keeping, this is what our powdered vitamin supplements are for. They are not the means by which we supply our chameleons with the majority of their nutrition. Otherwise, they would not be supplements, they would be the main diet, and the insects would be the supplements.
So, the goal of supplementation is to fill nutritional gaps in the captive diet. Those with excellent husbandry in the areas of feeder variety, gut loading, UVB, hydration and temperature, will have fewer nutritional gaps than those who are less advanced. If you're feeding only crickets, gutloaded on orange cubes and your UVB light is insufficient, then you will have wider and more numerous nutritional gaps.
Supplements are usually powders containing one or more vitamins/minerals, with which we dust our feeders just before feeding. These include:
integrated schedule products
targeted single vitamin products
Calcium powders are generally 25-40% calcium carbonate, and may or may not contain vitamin d3 and may or may not contain phosphorus. Since we don’t typically need to add phosphorus to our chameleons’ diet (insects have plenty), calcium powders that contain phosphorus are not useful for us. The two that are of interest to us are calcium WITH D3, and calcium WITHOUT D3. Every keeper should have plain calcium without D3 on hand all the time. However, depending on which supplement schedule you choose to follow, calcium WITH D3 might be necessary every 2-4 weeks, depending on the species.
Multivitamins are typically used once every 2 – 4 weeks, depending on the species, and may or may not contain vitamin d3, and/or preformed vitamin A—two fat-soluble vitamins of particular importance to chameleon keepers. Multivitamins often also contain a number of essential minerals (although there is some debate about whether, when kept together, vitamins and minerals degrade one another). Popular brands with both vitamins and minerals include ZooMed Reptivite (with or without D3) and Rep-Cal Herptivite (note there is no Vitamin A here). Repashy Supervite is a vitamin-only formulation that appears to require additional mineral supplementation.
All-in-one productsare designed to give all the essential vitamins and minerals at very decreased levels, so that they can be used everyday. While the original intent of these products was for everyday use, some chameleon owners have found using all-in-one products as a multivitamin (every 2-4 weeks) is sufficient for their chameleon’s needs. Similarly, others have found everyday use of some of these products to be too much for some individuals/species. This speaks to exactly how much we do not know about supplementation! Popular Brands include Repashy Calcium Plus and Calcium Plus LoD.
Integrated Schedule Products
Integrated Schedule Products are a combination of several individual formulations to be used on a repeating schedule according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Perhaps the most popular of these is the Arcadia EarthPro regime, that makes use of three basic products: EarthPro A (EPA), Calcium Pro MG (CPMG), and ReVitalizeD3 (RD3). In fact, each of these three products falls into one of the above categories as well. EPA is a calcium-based product that contains many (most?) essential vitamins and minerals with the exception of the fat soluble vitamins D3 and A (although it has vitamin K), and is used at every feeding. CPMG is another calcium-based product with enhanced levels of magnesium. I have used it every 10 feedings. RD3 is an additional supplement that contains low levels of D3 and A, and can be safely used every 10-14 feedings (less for sensitive/montane species).
Targeted, Single Vitamin Products
Targeted, Single Vitamin Products are just that: (usually) a massive dose of a single vitamin used very occasionally to correct deficiencies, or in an integrated schedule. An example is Repashy vitamin A plus. This is an incredibly potent product, so please use caution! For further reading on Vitamin A, and the problems is poses for captive chameleon husbandry see:
Dierenfeld, E., Norkus, E., Carroll, K., & Ferguson, G. (2002). Carotenoids, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E Concentrations During Egg Development in Panther Chameleons (Furcifer pardalis). ZOO BIOLOGY, 21, 295-303.
Ferguson, G., Jones, J., Gehrmann, W., Hammack, S., Talent, L., Hudson, R., et al. (1996). Indoor Husbandry of the Panther Chameleon Chamaeleo [Furcier] pardalis: Effects of Dietary Vitamins A and D and Ultraviolet Irradiation on Pathology and Life-History Traits. ZOO BIOLOGY, 15, 279-299.
From some combination of these items, several supplementation schedules can be devised, which include popular, safe and easy to follow supplementation schedules with a proven track record, such as:
And more advanced regiments such as: