Hurry Up and Wait: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons

Way back when (it does seem like an age ago), I wrote about candling reptile eggs.  Remember this picture?

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This is pretty cool. The dark dots are called blood spots. Note the veining to the left. Things are happening here!

This egg is from an Oustalet’s Chameleon, the largest species of chameleon in the world. The egg is smaller than it looks. The light shining on it is 1/4in wide. These eggs are small, about the size of my pinkie fingernail.

Many species of lizards hatch in about 60 days. These eggs were laid way back in July 2014, and the first signs of development weren’t seen until six months later. We knew this lengthy incubation was normal for Oustalet’s Chameleons, but we didn’t know much else. So often, species that are considered to have adequate numbers in the wild are overlooked for captive breeding programs, sometimes until their numbers drop and it’s too late to turn things around. Those who do breed them are often private keepers, and they don’t always think to take the best notes.

This is our zoo’s first clutch of Oustalet’s Chameleons, and I’d like to share what I have learned, the good, the bad, and the things that will give you grey hairs.

There doesn’t seem to be much obvious courtship. The guy finds an agreeable lady and does his thing. A female who is not carrying eggs is bright green with white spots down her sides. Once breeding has completed and the female is gravid (carrying eggs), she turns greenish or tan with ribbons of red. This coloration is a visible cue to any passing males that she is officially off the market. Click photos to enlarge. Resolution and color is enhanced when the pics are larger. Weird.

The female carries the eggs for a couple of months, and then she deposits the clutch, which my consist of as many as 60 eggs, in a hole she has dug with her hind feet. They dig deep, too. A foot of substrate is ideal for her to work with. Though the eggs show no signs of development for many months, it’s easy to pick out the healthy, fertile ones. After a few weeks, the infertile eggs collapse and turn rather yellow, while the good ones stay nice and plump and turn white (known as “chalking up” in the trade).

The eggs may develop at different rates. We have no idea why. Our tray of eggs was incubated at room temperature (our Main Area ranges between 76-78 degrees), but some eggs began to show their first sign of development (see photo) well before others. Same temps, same box, same relative humidity, but a few eggs were quicker to begin developing.

Fast forward to late May. We began to find these:


The first sign the egg is about to hatch is sweating. What is inside is about to come outside.

A sweating egg means hatching is imminent. But even after ten months of incubation, nothing happens quickly. The egg  with the goo on it did produce a live hatchling, but not for an entire week. After two days, the egg began to collapse. A day after that, slits appeared in one end where the baby chameleon used its egg tooth to shred it’s way out.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That's its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

The chameleon breaks out of the end of its egg. See that pink bit? That’s its TONGUE! It laps water before it hatches.

And then we waited some more. The baby spent its remaining time within the egg resting and absorbing its yolk. Three days after the first slits appeared, we had our hatchling.

Stay tuned for Part II on Monday. I have so many images to share, I couldn’t fit them all into one post. Trust me when I say it’s worth the wait.

33 thoughts on “Hurry Up and Wait: Hatching Oustalet’s Chameleons

  1. Way cool. I think all species should have that color coding. Even humans and the females should be able to change at will depending on their mood. ha! Great post. I will be in Illinois visiting C when next you post.

  2. This is only slightly off-topic. 🙂 I’m interested in getting a turtle for a pet. Here in Texas, we have a lot of red-eared sliders; they’re quite popular, and we had some years ago. We also had what I think was a box tortoise; I’m not totally sure because it was a stray that someone asked us to take in. These were lovely pets until they were — I kid you not — turtle-napped, most likely by one of the adolescent miscreants in our (old) neighborhood. (There was circumstantial evidence but we couldn’t prove anything.)

    Fast forward a decade, and we want to get another turtle for our new house. Our kids are 10 and 8. Are there any species of turtle that would make good pets who could withstand and possibly even enjoy being played with? I’m not expecting a turtle to be like a dog or to have to withstand rough or abusive playing, of course. But are there any species that are especially gregarious?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Check your local laws. Some places make it illegal to have such things (my state is one). I do not recommend red-eared sliders. Tortoises may be a better option, and there may be some rescue organizations you can work with to rehome an animal in need.

      • Okay, thanks! Turtles are not an uncommon pet here, but I’ll double-check the local laws, anyway. Most of the turtles we’ve ever had have been rescue pets.

        Out of curiosity, why no on the sliders? I’m not arguing, just wondering because they’re the most common type of pet here. I know they can live a really long time (maybe not long for a turtle in general), but otherwise, what’s up with them?

  3. I had no idea about the color-changing – that is so fascinating! And yay for the eggs – I love the one with the little tongue! “Here I am! Coming out! Well, in a little bit. But I am! SOON!”

  4. 1/4″ wide…the egg? As many as 60 eggs in one brood?!

    What percentage of the eggs make it to hatchlings? I’m guessing not that many, otherwise there’s no need to lay so many.

    She the mom chameleon may lay as many as 60 eggs after she digs about a foot deep with her legs to do so. I have problems digging a hole a foot deep with a shovel in my backyard. Amazing.

    (I was listening to NPR the other day, which did a report on birds and whether they had a limit as to the number of eggs they might lay each time. Certain species of birds will stop after a certain number, regardless of how many are lost, but they cited an experiment with a poor Flicker, which over 70 – SEVENTY!!- eggs, because scientists kept taking one egg from the nest everyday to see how far she could go. I suppose they stopped before killing the poor thing.)

    Definitely looking forward to updates!

    • SO many things eat the babies, so it’s good they make a lot of them. Probably two out of a clutch would be expected to survive to adulthood.

      I can’t believe they’d continue the experiment for that long. I’m willing to bet the bird died of brittle bone disease after giving all her calcium up to shell her eggs. Wow.

  5. Pingback: Word Words | coffee and a blank page

A penny for your thoughts! And by penny, I mean a warm-fuzzy in your heart.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s