We spend a great deal of time focusing on what goes into the mouth of our chameleons, but there is just as much happening at the other end of the system. And sometimes things can go wrong. Today, Dr. Rob Coke comes back on and we talk about prolapse, sperm plugs, and constipation. This is not the episode to play while eat dinner!
When a chameleon keeper first experiences prolapse or even just the expression of the hemipenes in their chameleon it is generally a panic situation. There is a big pink thing coming out of my chameleon’s butt. What in the world do I do? If it is a simple expression of the hemipenes, that is the male reproductive organ in chameleons, and it retracts back in the cloaca, then all is good. If it is stuck out or, worse, part of the inner digestive or female reproductive tracts is sticking out then this is a serious situation and you need to get to a vet. For some strange reason, this generally happens in the evenings or weekend when your vet is not in the office so knowing what to do is just as important as having the number of a 24 hour emergency veterinary office.
But first things first. I will give a basic definition of terms that we will be using. And then Dr. Coke will come on and we will discuss the different conditions we can run into on the backside of the system
Cloaca – This is the exit at the end of the digestive tract where the feces and sexual organs emerge from the body.
Vent – is another word for cloaca
Hemipenes – In reptiles, the male reproductive organ is a two pronged organ that is stored in the base of the tail. To reproduce, this pink, elaborately shaped organ is pushed out the cloaca and is used to transport sperm.
Oviduct – female chameleons have two oviducts which when eggs are ready to be laid, these tubes carry the egg to the cloaca and out of the body.
Prolapse – Is the condition where internal organs are pushed through the cloaca. This is often associated with some blockage or condition where the attempt to push, for example a large mass of dehydrated feces, actually tears the colon and the force pushes the colon out. This is an emergency situation as the organ will start to dry and tissue with die and the feces will still be coming through this now open ripped internal structure.
So it is important for us to know what is normal and what is dangerous. And, of course, what do we do when we see it happen.
Dr. Rob Coke is the Director of Veterinary Medicine at the San Antonio Zoo and is responsible for managing the health care of over 800 species of exotic animals. He has a personal love for chameleons and has written a number of papers regarding their medical care. I am pleased to be able to bring him back on to talk about this topic.
Hemipenes are the male reproductive organs. They are stored inside the base of the tail. Occasionally a male chameleon will “air out the bits” where he will push them out, flex them about, and then bring them back in. This is completely natural and nothing to be worried about. Hemipenes are elaborately shaped and are unique to species to the point where they are used to identify similar species from each other.
It is when hemipenes are stuck outside that there is an issue. If the chameleon cannot retract them they will dry out and would have to be amputated. This is an emergency situation and is deserving of a same day vet visit.
This Jackson’s Chameleon is simply flexing his hemipenes. He drew them in soon after. This is a natural action.
This Panther Chameleon could not draw his hemipenes back in and required veterinary assistance.
The male hemipenes carry sperm through a groove in the structure. Sometimes in normal life activity this groove gets excess sperm or waxy secretions. This has a multitude of other names such as hemipenal plugs, waxy plugs, or seminal plugs. Often this “plug” just pops out or will seen out as a white object. The hemipenes actually shed just like the rest of the chameleon’s skin and so this can add to the objects in the area.
Sperm plug being removed from a male lizard.
Prolapse is a serious condition where a part of the digestive tract or reproductive organs has been pushed out of the body. This organ will need to be reinserted and reattached. This is an emergency situation and is deserving of a same day vet visit.
This Dwarf Chameleon has a prolapse which required a veterinary visit