Dog Breed Info Center(R) DBIC

Keeping Chameleons as Pets

Information and Pictures

Close up side view - A Veiled Chameleon is standing on a rug and looking to the left. His mouth is slightly open.

Chong the veiled chameleon at about 5 months

Type

Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)

The most common variety of chameleon available for purchase as a pet is the veiled chameleon. This chameleon comes from Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia. Its popularity is due to the facts that it is beautifully colored, rather hardy, fairly large and prolific even under captive conditions.

Its hardiness is due to the fact that they are found in a variety of natural habitats that vary in temperature and humidity.

The term "pet" is used loosely with veiled chameleons as they do not like being played with nor do they care for handling, and may be aggressive. In fact, handling or playing with your chameleon can stress the reptile so much that it may cause illness or even death. Most veiled chameleons will bite when provoked. Handling your chameleon should only be done when they need to be moved out of their cage for cleaning, or if they need to be taken to the vet. In general, they are display animals rather than pets that are to be "played with."

Besides their ability to change color, the appearance of the veiled chameleon is quite attractive for a reptile. They can be spotted, banded and strikingly colored. Their colors will vary from very pale to almost black, and every color in between. The color of a chameleon is a good indicator of its overall condition. A chameleon that is dark and drab may be stressed by something in its environment, sick or too cold. They have a large cranial casque (fin-shaped shield) that is more predominant on the males than the females. This casque is a tiny swelling as a hatchling, but grows to two inches in height as an adult.

Veiled chameleons have prehensile tails. This means that they can use their tail as another "hand" for grasping limbs and changing position.

Temperament

The veiled chameleon is not a playful pet. It prefers not to be picked up and handled. Doing so may stress it so much that it may kill it. Your pet chameleon will be somewhat more of an observation pet. They tend to be aggressive and will hiss if you get too close or startle them. Upon startling them you may notice that they also change colors, becoming darker as they feel threatened, while some may display bright, threatening colors. When they are relaxing and comfortable in their habitat they will assume the colors of their surroundings, becoming camouflaged to capture prey. They tend not to eat when stressed.

The veiled chameleon prefers to be solitary and is very territorial. Introducing another chameleon to its cage will cause them to display at each other. This causes them to expend a large amount of energy. The stress of another chameleon can cause them to stop eating and drinking. Keep this reaction in mind when you place your pet in its environment. If you purchase an enclosure with glass sides it may see its reflection and become stressed.

Size

Veiled chameleons grow to an average length of approximately 21 inches, with females being somewhat smaller.

Housing

The more space you can provide for your adult chameleon, the better. They require rather spacious enclosures. A chameleon’s enclosure should be well ventilated. An all-glass aquarium is not recommended for these pets because they tend to get stagnant air. This will create a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus that may kill your pet. Your chameleon will need an enclosure that is preferably made out of screen or mesh. This will aid air movement as well as provide climbing material for your pet. Its cage should be at least 48 inches tall for adults with the sides measuring approximately 36". The more room, the better. Some owners will recommend 1 or 2 sides being glass to help hold heat. This will depend on your home environment and what temperatures you are able to maintain for your pet via heat lamps. The base of your cage can be covered with the simplest of materials—newspaper, paper towels, etc.; whatever is easiest to clean up.

Important note: Do not use sand, bark, dried moss or gravel. Your pet could ingest these and cause it to have serious health issues.

Inside your cage you will need to provide several key items:

A heat lamp for basking:
Chameleons are reptiles. Reptiles’ body temperatures are controlled by the environment, not internally. When they become too cool they must find an area to increase their body temperature. An incandescent light bulb or ceramic heat emitter can be used to heat the cage. Unlike other reptiles, chameleons do not use heat rocks to warm themselves. They prefer to bask and then move to an area to cool themselves if they become too warm. If possible, two basking sites should be provided. One near the top of the cage and one closer to the middle with more foliage around. One should be warmer than the other. This can be achieved by using different wattage bulbs. The temperature range should be between 90° F and 105° F. (The ambient temperature in the cage should stay between 75° F and 85° F.) You can regulate the temperatures with a dimmer thermostat with a heat-sensitive probe. This will ensure your pet’s safety. Leave these lights on for 12 hours a day to simulate a day/night pattern.

UVB lighting:
Chameleons (as all reptiles) need UVB lighting so that their bodies can process calcium. It is recommended that you provide your pet with a bulb that runs the length of the cage so that no matter where he is, he still receives the benefit of the UVB radiation. Check your local pet store for recommendations.

Plant/Climbing Material:
Your enclosure will need ample material to camouflage and exercise your pet. Include such items as live plants, branches and dowel rods of different diameters and angles. (Make sure the material you use is sturdy enough to withstand your pet’s weight as a fall can injure or possibly kill them.) This will help to exercise your pet’s feet and leg muscles along with his prehensile tail. Be sure the live plants you use are not poisonous to your chameleon as they will sometimes tend to eat their environment. Fake plants can also be used. Keep in mind that chameleons like to get their water in the form of drops from the foliage, so misting your foliage will be necessary. You can also implement a drip system in your habitat. Ensure that you have either a drainage system or a catch basin to avoid flooding and over-saturation. Don’t use plants that don’t like to be wet/moist.

Some plants to consider:
Ficus
Pothos
Hibiscus

Humidity:
Spray the habitat daily (twice or more in dry weather) to increase and maintain humidity. This also provides moisture droplets. These droplets (whether they are on the leaves or the pet itself) will provide the drinking water your chameleon will need. Chameleons do not lap water like other animals so providing a drinking bowl is not necessary. When misting, ensure that the water you use is quite warm, as misting can drop the temperature of your habitat dramatically. Test the water by spritzing it on your hand from the distance of about 1 foot. If it feels cool, use warmer water until you can feel the warmth on your hand. Potted plants will also help supply humidity.

Clean-up

Fresh plants and insects should be given each day along with removal of old/dead food. The substrate in your cage should be changed weekly or more often if necessary. Your cage will need to be cleaned regularly to avoid bacteria and fungus growth. Plan on cleaning your cage thoroughly once a month. Remove or rearrange the plants if possible to effectively clean any glass that may have build-up of debris.

Feeding

For the most part, veiled chameleons aren’t overly particular when it comes to their diet. They will eat a wide variety of foods. Adult chameleons should have a main staple diet of crickets, eating approximately 10 a day. Provide juvenile crickets as these will most likely not bite your chameleon while it is sleeping. Larger crickets may bite and stress your pet.

Insects you can feed your veiled chameleon:
(Insects should be gut-loaded and dusted with calcium supplement every other day to daily. Dusting with vitamin supplement should be implemented 1 to 2 times a week.)

crickets
grasshoppers
flies
spiders
small flying beetles
earthworms
cockroaches
moths
silkworms
pinky mice *(these are not insects, but newborn mice)

PLANTS you can feed your veiled chameleon:
Romaine lettuce
mustard greens
collard greens
safe flowering plants
pothos
grated carrots
dandelion leaves
watercress
sweet potato
spring greens

*(Chameleons will eat plants during the dry season to get water. If you find your chameleon devouring its habitat, increase the frequency of waterings or mistings per day by 1 or more until he levels off)

Exercise

As mentioned before, your chameleon should not be handled or played with but while you are cleaning its cage you could give it some supervised "recess" time to encourage exercise.

Life Expectancy

Female veiled chameleons can live for four to five years with males living up to eight years.

Health Problems

When purchasing your chameleon look for a specimen with a firm grasp and straight limbs. One with "bowlegs" may indicate a bone disease due to calcium deficiency. This disease may also manifest itself by a crooked jaw, misshapen back or altered gait.

Its eyes should look around constantly and be open during the day. If they are closed or sunken the animal may be stressed or dehydrated. Dehydration is common in younger/adolescent chameleons and they should be watered several times a day.

The inside of your prospective chameleon should be free of mucous or cheesy-looking matter. To check your chameleon’s mouth is rather simple. By approaching him closely he should readily "hiss" by gaping his mouth open.

It has been recommended that all imported chameleons should be "avoided at all costs. Imported chameleons may carry a large parasite load, and usually are dehydrated and stressed from the importation process."

Provide your chameleon with the proper nutrition along with essential vitamins and minerals by dusting their feeder insects. Consult your local reptile store for the proper products needed.

Gestation

Chameleons can reach sexual maturity by the age of 5 months. When breeding chameleons it is suitable to have them in the same cage for a brief period of time. Keep this time to just a few hours. Remove immediately after mating. After a successful mating the female will turn colors within 18 hours.

Approximately 30 days later the female will dig a cavity in the warm ground and lay 30 to 85 eggs that will take about 6 months to hatch. She can perform this task up to three times a year whether she has been fertilized or not.

Origin

Veiled chameleons are native to the Arabian Peninsula; more precisely Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and have been imported to the U.S. and bred for pet sale.

They are from varied habitats such as mountains, lush forests, river valleys and dry plateaus.

Facts

Males can be distinguished by the spur on the hind foot which resembles a pimple.

Chameleons are known for their ability to change color and their long tongues that they use to catch prey.

Their tongue can be longer than their body length.