Kevin Stanford is an academic adviser for undergraduate students in the Kania School of Management at the University of Scranton. He is passionate about chameleons, which he breeds and sells. He has been featured in podcasts on chameleonbreeder.com, and his chameleons were featured in a National Geographic video “Beautiful Footage: Chameleons Are Amazing.” A graduate of Western Wayne High School, Stanford earned a degree in business from Penn State University and plans to receive his master’s degree in business administration from U of S this spring. He lives in Scranton with his boyfriend, Brian.
Meet Kevin Stanford…
What is working with dozens of undergraduate students every day like?
I love it. It definitely felt like I found my niche when I found this job. I’ve known I wanted to get into higher education for quite a few years, but I didn’t know specifically what job, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What is your favorite part about being an academic adviser?
Seeing someone come in as a freshman and then completely changing into a grown-up and how much they mature and everything that they’ve done, then watching them walk across the stage at graduation.
What about chameleons interests you?
Just how different they are. I love the fact that they change color and they have long tongues and they have oven mitt-looking hands and their eyes look in different directions at once, so they’re not just the typical reptile.
Why did you get into chameleon breeding?
Specifically chameleons was about 15 years ago. I had lots of snakes, lizards, frogs and all sorts of things growing up, which was kind of a mixture of my parents because my mom kept fuzzy animals and my dad brought home stuff like snakes. I liked the challenge of chameleons, because they’re a lot harder to keep and breed than other groups of reptiles.
What are some challenges that make chameleons difficult to breed?
The eggs can take up to a year to hatch. Some of them require cooling, so I may need to hibernate the eggs after a month and a half at room temperature. I’ll lower the temperature to 50 degrees for the next month and a half, then back to room temperature. Once the hatchlings come out of the eggs, just raising them can be a challenge, too. One of the most frustrating things, and it used to happen a lot, was realizing that there wasn’t enough vitamin A in the parents for the Carpet Chameleons, so the babies would incubate for the entire 12 months and the eggs would be ready to hatch, but instead of breaking open, the baby would die full-term inside. It took me a couple years, with about a 10-percent success rate, to figure out that was what I was missing. That was really frustrating, especially when you wait a year to see something and there was nothing you could do at that point.
What is the breeding process like?
Once I have an adult pair, you test the female for being receptive. When they are, they’ll get mellow colors. After breeding, you separate them immediately because they don’t like each other. The female is usually pregnant for about a month. Once she’s around her due date, you can either see or feel the eggs in her abdomen. You put her in a garbage can or bucket with about eight inches of moist sand, and she’ll dig a tunnel and lay her eggs, then cover them up. Then you dig up the eggs and put them in something called vermiculite. Most of the species I have lay between 10 to 20 eggs at one time. I put the eggs in a vermiculite and spring-water mixture and put them in deli cups to incubate them for nine to 12 months.
What is something you want people to know about chameleons?
As far as pets go, if you’re going to get one, do a lot of research beforehand, because they’re more high-maintenance than other animals. I have automated misting systems that go off six times a day and require drainage. I have ultrasonic humidifiers in the cages that go off for three hours at night and in the morning. I have expensive ultraviolet lights that come from overseas. The insects (chameleons eat) need to be fed the proper stuff before you feed it to the chameleon; they call it gutloading. A lot of this overlaps with other animals, but chameleons are less-forgiving of mistakes.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Being successful at something that is a challenge, (and) when you do well in areas that maybe a lot of people don’t. I spend a lot of time in the room with chameleons just watching them. It’s sort of like my Zen garden and relaxing.
Why do chameleons change color?
It’s a popular thought that the reason chameleons change color is to match their surroundings, but that’s not the case. They change for different physiological and psychological reasons. If a female is not receptive to a male, she’ll get really bright colors and patterns. She might lighten her colors to show that she is receptive. Males will do the same thing when they’re fighting with other males. Also, if it’s really hot, they’ll get really light colored, just like if you would wear light-colored clothing to reflect the heat in a warm climate. If they’re cold, they could get really dark to absorb the heat from the sun.
What are your hobbies outside of breeding chameleons?
I like the gym, and I love the outdoors. Ever since I was little, my dad took me hiking. I was in eighth grade when I saw my first rattlesnake, and I was super excited. That kind of got me hooked, so I like to be outdoors as much as I can.
For more on Kevin Stanford’s chameleons check out his Facebook page Kevin Stanford Chameleons
Photos by Emma Black