Erica Mede, CVT
Photos and editing by Susan Horton, DVM
Pictured above is a female
Veiled chameleons have become increasingly popular pets due
to their jewel coloration and popularity in movies.
Typically, chameleons are an observation only pet and
tolerate handling poorly, though some individuals when raised from
a young age are accepting of more frequent handling.
Veiled chameleons are frequently given up due to their
extensive husbandry requirements.
Veiled chameleons are found primarily in the grasslands and
plateau of Yemen. This
species is still abundant in the wild and are considered invasive
after individuals escaped homes of owners.
Veileds, like most chameleons, rarely venture on to the
forest floor where their specially designed feet and body shape
hinder any version of fast locomotion.
This is one of the hardiest chameleon species available.
Veiled chameleons typically range between 10-17 inches 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 the environment.
Chameleons have amazing adaptations especially concerning
the eyes which pivot on turrets and can look in two different
directions at once! The
tongue of the Veiled 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.
Males possess a tarsal spur on the rear feet.
Tarsal spurs are small fleshy triangles found on what would
typically be considered the ankle.
The casque, the appendage found on the top of both the male
and the females’ heads is larger in males.
Males are brighter colored, typically displaying bright
greens and yellows. Females
are usually green with little to no pattern being displayed.
Males are also typically larger in size than females in
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, 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
Pictured above is a chameleon with
pododermititis. This occurs when the chameleon is kept in an
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 ficus can be used for enrichment in the
enclosure and to provide nice young branches for your Veiled to
climb around. Foliage
is a must for chameleons to feel secure, and should be added to
all enclosures. The
foliage, whether artifical or real, will not only provide
excellent coverage, but also a water drip system as most
chameleons will not drink from standing water.
Pictured above is a chameleon
with burns from an inappropriately place heat lamp.
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 90-95 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 mid 70’s and mid 80’s during the day and decrease
to the mid-70’s at night. 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 (ultra-violet) should be supplied.
These bulbs give off UVB rays which help the chameleon to
synthesize vitamin D into vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is necessary to properly metabolize calcium. Without
these bulbs your chameleon may succumb to abnormal behaviors,
metabolic bone disease (MBD), fractured legs, etc.
One bulb will make a world of difference to your pet!
Pictured above are some examples of MBD in chameleons.
Fractures occur at the joints of the limbs first.
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.
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 urate output.
The humidity in the enclosure should be 80-90% since
Veileds 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. Pictured
above is a chameleon with severe eye infections. This often
is a result of contaminated water sources and/or insufficient
humidity. Pictured below is a chameleon with gout.
Gout is the end product of kidney disease and appears as raised
lumps under the skin. This has been associated with
inappropriate humidity (too low) among other causes.
It is best to approach Veiled chameleons 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
Veileds eat vegetation and invertebrates (crickets,
mealworms, etc.) in the wild.
As with all reptiles, variety is key to a balanced diet and
a healthy animal. Some
chameleons may eat dark leafy green vegetables two to three times
a week in a dish or hanging from the side with a clip.
Leafy greens to consider are mustard and collard greens as
well as romaine lettuce and green leaf lettuce.
The invertebrate portion of the diet should consist of
high-quality crickets, earth worms (may need to be cut up), meal
worms, silk 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 although it
is generally recommended to offer a fresh diet.
Offering the prey items in a plastic cup or container is
considered the best feeding method.
Container feeding allows visualization of prey consumed and
helps decrease the number of invertebrate escapes.
The 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.
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 essential.
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 week.
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)
[ !! Emergency Care !! ] [ About Us ] [ Care sheets ] [ Contact ] [ Vets, Externs & Shelters ] [ Products ] [ Links ] [ Happy Turtle Stories ] [ Katrina Refugees ] [ Year of the Turtle ]