’s Chameleon Care
Photos by Susan
Horton, DVM as marked
’s chameleons have become increasingly popular pets due to their
beautiful green coloration and the males three horn like appendages
on the face. Typically,
chameleons are an observation only pet and typically tolerate
’s chameleons are frequently given up due to their extensive
husbandry requirements. These
lizards can be a hefty financial investment and an investment of
time as well.
’s chameleons are found primarily in
where they are protected from collection and
in limited areas. Introduction
has resulted in an invasive species of lizard that is thriving much
like the Veiled chameleons.
’s, like most chameleons, rarely venture on to the forest floor
where their specially designed feet and body shape hinder any
version of fast locomotion.
’s chameleons can reach 14 inches in length with the males being
larger than the females. Color
changing is a form of communication that relays invaluable
information to the owner (and other chameleons) regarding sexual
readiness, health, and environmental factors.
Chameleons have amazing adaptations especially concerning the
eyes which pivot on turrets and can look in two different directions
at once! The tongue of
’s chameleon is roughly two and a half times the length of the
body during full extension to secure food.
Care must be taken with feeding though.
If a chameleon were to extend its tongue and hit a glass or
plastic wall rather than the insect it could potentially sprain or
severely injure the tongue. These
serious injuries could potentially be permanent disabilities for
your pet and require hand feeding for the rest of their life.
The tail is prehensile and acts as a fifth leg for the lizard
offering stabilization and a more secure hold on branches.
The feet have toes that are bundled together thus offering a
very strong and secure grip when coupled with the sharp nails.
Females are smaller in size and rarely have horns except when
they are very small. As
they mature, males will grow prominent horns.
Chameleons in general are notorious for being intolerant
towards other chameleons, including their own species.
Males will stress themselves to the point of illness if in
constant visual contact of another male.
When a chameleon meets another chameleon the threat displays
(the amazingly bright patterns) light up their bodies and fighting
will begin shortly after. Glass
aquariums are avoided with chameleons, males in particular, due to
the reflection causing some lizards to perceive another male.
If an aquarium must be used for very young or sick
individuals, cover three sides and the top of the cage with a towel
or newspaper to keep the reflections at bay.
An adult chameleon needs space to roam and an enclosure with
screen sides is best. The
minimum recommended cage is 24 inches long by 24 inches wide and 36
inches tall to allow for a full range of vertical movements.
As with all animals, safety is important.
An enclosure with a locking mechanism is strongly
Branches should be of varying shapes, lengths, and wood.
Cotton rope avian perches are not a good branching system for
your chameleon as their long toe nails start to fray and unravel
pieces of the rope. If a
piece of that string gets around your chameleons toes a constriction
can occur and the toes could potentially be lost.
Place the branches in such a way that the chameleon has
access to the greatest amount of climbing opportunities.
Slightly springy wooden perches should be used to allow the
feet to stretch and rest a bit on a softer surface.
For this purpose, reptile vine products are an excellent
idea. Live non-toxic
plants such as pathos and fichus can be used for enrichment in the
enclosure and to provide nice young branches for your Panther
chameleon to climb around. Foliage
is a must for your chameleon to feel secure and should be added.
The foliage, whether fake or real, will provide excellent
coverage but also a water drip system as most chameleons will not
drink from standing water.
Normally in the wild, chameleons, like most reptiles, bask in
the sun to warm up and retreat to a cooler, shady area to escape
high temperatures. A
basking light can be provided using a reptile heat lamp, spot light
or ceramic heat emitter. The
basking spot will be around 85-90 F but care should be taken to make
sure your pet can not access the bulb or the lamp.
The ambient temperature (air temperature) should range
between the 55-85 F during the day making these animals one of the
best chameleons to keep in captivity.
A photoperiod of 10-12 hours is essential for normal
behavior. A chameleon
with the lights constantly on can become overly stressed and
possibly fall ill.
Along with heat lamps and regular day lights, a
UVB light (ultra-violet B) should be supplied.
These bulbs give off UVB rays which help the chameleon to
synthesize vitamin D into D3. This is the active form of
vitamin D which is necessary for calcium metabolism.
Without these bulbs your chameleon may succumb to abnormal
behaviors, metabolic bone disease, fractured legs, etc.
One bulb will make a world of difference to your pet!
Juveniles need a stronger amount of UVB than adults in
theory. Healthy adults,
especially ones allowed 1-2 hours of natural unfiltered (no glass or
plastic between sun light and your chameleon) sun light can be
maintained with a 5.0 UVB such as Repti-Sun.
Juveniles and ill or debilitated chameleons will require a
10.0 UVB bulb. Regardless
of bulb strength, all UVB bulbs must be replaced every 6 months.
Even though the bulb still emits light it may not be emitting
the proper amount of UVB.
Pictured below is a Jackson's with a severe
sinus infection which lead to a severe eye infection. Proper
environment and nutrition always play an important role in causing
these sorts of problems.
Substrate for chameleon cages is easily maintained if
newspaper, butcher paper, or indoor/outdoor carpet.
If particulate substrate is used there is a risk that the
chameleon will accidentally ingest the substrate along with the prey
item. Solid substrate
also affords easier visualization of the chameleons’ feces and
The humidity in the enclosure should be 75-100% since
’s chameleons receive most of their body fluids from breathing in
humid air. Hatchlings
should have access to water droplets twice a day if not more.
Adults can be misted several times a day taking care to leave
droplets on the leaves of foliage.
Hand misters work well enough but a fog or mist system is
preferred. There are
many products geared towards humidifying chameleon enclosures
including drip systems to help provide water at all times.
Remember to clean your humidifiers and/or drip systems weekly
to prevent the build-up of bacteria and molds.
Soaking your chameleon one to two times a week for 10 minutes
a piece helps with hydration and reduces the risk of kidney diseases
caused by chronic dehydration.
’s chameleons it is best to approach with deliberate slow
movements. Position one
hand under the front half of the body and carefully unwind the tail
with the other hand. Chameleons
do not have the autonomy ability (ability to self amputate the tail)
and if the tail is injured or broken it will not regenerate.
Push your fingers under the front feet and once the chameleon
is grasping your fingers lift up.
Never pull your chameleon off a branch or your hand
’s chameleons eat invertebrates (crickets, mealworms, etc) in the
wild. As with all
reptiles, variety is key to a balanced diet and a healthy animal.
Offer high-quality crickets, earth worms, meal worms, and
even cockroaches such as the Madagascar Hissing cockroach.
All insects, except earth worms, must be “gut loaded”
(fed a high calcium diet to negate the naturally high phosphorous
level in insects). Gut
loading is simple enough. Offer
the live prey high calcium greens (collard, mustard, endive) and
vitamin A rich vegetables (carrots, squash) for 24 prior to feeding
your pet. Gut loading
can also be accomplished with enriched chicken feed or cricket diets
created for the purpose of gut loading.
The offering of prey can be daunting to some owners.
Most people do not want their lizards food wandering their
home because it escaped the enclosure.
Offering the prey items in a plastic cup or container helps
tongue of the chameleon is long enough to reach in and grasp the
insect without as many escaped insects.
This will also allow for easier food consumption monitoring.
It should be noted that chameleons are prone to over eating
and will do so whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Most chameleons will eat every day with larger ones able to
eat every other day.
Hatchlings and juveniles are typically fed pinhead crickets.
These are harder to keep confined and escapes are likely.
However, a small plastic container may help but the
hatchlings may be less inclined to use the feeding station.
Close monitoring of consumption in the cage is thus
A calcium supplement free of phosphorous should be dusted on
the prey items three to four times a week and a multi-vitamin once a
If you have any questions please call us at
Sources and Suggested
The Chameleon Handbook,
Francois LeBerre (2000)
Chameleons: Their Care and Breeding,
Linda J. Davison (1997)
Care and Breeding of Chameleons,
Philippe de Vosjoli and Gary Ferguson (1995)
Masters of Disguise:
A Natural History of Chameleons,
James Martin (1992)
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