3D printing and Chameleon keeping are two of my favorite hobbies and they go together better than you might expect. As a chameleon keeper I have often found myself faced with issues that there should be a fix for but the products on the market just don’t meet my expectations. This has been especially true for chameleon hydration and feeding products. By designing and printing my own parts, I have improved my experience as a keeper and hopefully the health and quality of life of my animals. Don’t be intimidated yet by the “designing and printing” comment. It’s not as difficult as you might expect and there are more free resources available today than ever before.
My Hydration Fix
Chameleon hydration indoors usually falls under one of three categories: misting, fogging, or dripping. Misting systems are great but can be impractical if you have one chameleon or have a group of chameleons away from others that could not be connected to the misting system due to distance. Foggers on timers are also good if used properly, but tubing can be cumbersome and commercial foggers have not been sufficient for multiple chameleons in my experience. Finally, that brings us to the drip system. Drippers are great, when they work. WHEN being the keyword. Using the commonly available drippers available from most pet stores, I found the valve drip rate to be wildly irregular and usually tend to be a on a thin stream flow or not dripping at all. I would often check the drippers hours later only to find that the dripper that had worked the day before had not worked at all today leaving the reservoir full and a thirsty chameleon. In addition to the frustrating valves, the drippers had the problem of always leaving about ½ inch of water in the bottom of the container due to the placement of the valve on the reservoir. Stagnant water is a haven for bacteria, and this was creating a system in which water would always be present at some point for days until the dripper was removed and cleaned manually. This wouldn’t be an issue until you begin to consider doing this for 10, 20, or more cages every day. This is when I began to experiment with ice on top of the cage. Ice has the benefit of always melting as a generally predictable rate and my chameleons didn’t seem to mind the cold water. This worked for a time until I was observing some inconsistencies with the dripping through the screen. I tried placing the ice directly on the top of the screen cage and I also tried putting ice in a cup with a small hole in it on top of the cage as well. With both methods, I would occasionally see the water pool up around the ice and either not drip at all though the screen or come through all at once defeating the purpose of the intended drip rate. This was due a physical property of water which has a high surface tension, making it resistant to easily flow through the small screen holes.
Enter 3D printed solution! What I needed was something that I could easily connect a small piece of tubing to that could run through the cage to an easily accessible location for a chameleon to drink the drips. I also wanted to water to completely flow through and leave no puddles for bacteria to possibly grow. My design consisted of a simple hollow cube with a ¼ inch hole in the bottom with an internal slope that forced all the water into the drain tube. Simple, but effective and reproducible. On my Ender3 PLA printer I was able to print 9 drip cubes at a time with only a limited amount of printing filament. Fast forward a couple days and I have dozens of drip cubes working flawlessly where I can add 1-2 ice cubes and get 2-4 hours of dripping. Some of my chameleons took to it right away and others took some time to learn where the hydration source was. In the photo above you can see one of my Nosy Bes going in for a drink. Great success in my mind!
The Food Fix
I am not a big fan of free ranging insects in a cage and prefer to feed directly from a sanitary container. This gives me as a chameleon keeper more control and oversight in my chameleon’s nutrition. I get to see how often my chameleon is eating, it prevents the insects from hiding in the cage for weeks, and it prevents the insects from munching on droppings and being later ingested by the chameleon. Any container with walls high enough to prevent insect escape and shallow enough for the contents to be easily accessible for a chameleon will do. I found common deli containers to be perfect for this because they are inexpensive and come in a variety of depths which is useful for different sized chameleons. Two issues I was having with placing these on the floor of the cages was the chameleon would sometime knock over the container allowing the insects to escape into the cage. Another issue I was having is sometimes to chameleons would poop directly into the container which made the issue I was trying to prevent even worse.
3D printing for the win! What I ended up coming up with was a uniform ring with two spikes on one side of the ring. Deli cups have the advantage of all being the same top width despite having different depths. By measuring this width just below the lip of the deli cups, I was able to make my design work in a way that the deli cup fit securely into the holder without falling through. This eliminated the tipping over problem. The spikes on the edge of the ring cup holder were designed in a way so that they could either be fastened to the screen side walls of the cage with fishing line or hot glue, or they could be stuck into the plant top and overhang off the edge of the plant pot. Both options have worked great for me. I still get the occasional chameleon poop in the cups, but by locating these in a less “targeted” area, I have been able to limit these occurrences. In the photos above, you can see both applications in use.
Other Chameleon Prints
I also made a clip that can be used to clamp screen cages together to give them a bit more rigidity together. This worked well for an outdoor season but could use some refinement because it was a little too difficult to put on and take off. Worked as intended once on though.
Is there anything you have experienced that you knew could be improved but wasn’t available? Let us know.