Species name : Chamaeleo calyptratus
Lifespan : Male, 7 years. Females, 5 years.
Origin : Yemen and Saudi Arabia
Adult size : 9 in – 11 in
Caging : Chameleons are arboreal so their enclosure should have more vertical space than horizontal space. The cage should be made out of screen – glass tanks are not appropriate for veiled chameleons. An adult chameleon should have a cage that is at least 36 inches high. We recommend the Reptibreeze XL 24x24x48.
Two of our rescue chameleon set-ups.
Chameleons should be provided with lots of foliage for climbing and hiding. Live plants are the perfect decor for chameleons. Some of our favorites include pothos and scheffleras. Fake plants can also be used to provide additional coverage. Chameleons are arobeal and will appreciate decor they can climb like the Exo Terra Jungle Vine, Flukers Bend-A-Branch, and reptile hammocks. Natural non-pine, non-conifer wood branches can also be used. Branches collected from outside should be thoroughly washed, left outside to dry in the sun, and sanded if necessary. The upper third of the cage should be left relatively empty, while the bottom two thirds of the cage should be dense with foliage. They should have two basking spots approximately 10 inches away from their UVB light and a basking spot 12 inches directly under their heat lamp.
Beginner keepers should use paper towels at the bottom of their cage. These are easy to replace when soiled and allow you to closely monitor their waste. Chameleons can be kept on a bioactive soil mix, but this should only be attempted by experienced chameleon keepers.
Chameleons are extremely susceptible to Metabolic Bone Disorder, so their UVB lighting needs to be perfect. They require a T5 linear UVB bulb that is at least 24 inches long. Popular choices include the Zoo Med Reptisun T5HO 10.0 and the Arcadia T5 12%.
Chameleons are suspceptible to burns if their heat lamps are too strong or too close to their basking spot. NEVER use reptile basking bulbs from the pet store, they are too strong. The only bulbs we recommend are incandescent BR30 or BR40 household flood bulbs – they can be purchased from your local hardware store or online. Flood bulbs should be used in conjuction with a deep dome.
One of volunteer’s chameleon enclosure.
A bioactive chameleon enclosure that one of our adopter’s set-up.
Burns caused by a reptile-branded heat bulb.
The humidity level should range between 40% and 90%. It should be reduced during the day and increased during the morning and evening. To achieve this, mist in the morning and night – but never during the day. A dry-out period during the day is crucial to their health. The misting can be done manually with a reptile pressure sprayer or with an automatic misting system. Popular misting systems include the ReptiRain, MistKing, and ExoTerra Monsoon. Some keepers choose to use a fogger as well, however it is not strictly necessary and should only be used for 1-2 hours late at night.
Chameleons will only drink moving water, so a bowl of water is not necessary. Hydration is provided with the morning and evening misting. A dripper (like the ZooMed Big Dripper) should also be provided. A common mistake with beginner keepers is to the let the dripper run all day – this will flood your cage. Fill the dripper with only 1 cup of water and allow it to drip at 1 drop per second during the morning and/or evening. The dripper should be placed so that the drops fall onto a plant or into an empty bowl.
As is the case with many reptiles, the key to a healthy diet is variety! Dubia roaches, crickets, superworms, moths, black soldier fly larvae, silkworms, and flies can all be fed regularly. Many keepes procure moths by allowing waxworms and hornworms to pupate. Hornworms and waxworms can also be fed as occassional treats. Butterworms and mealworms are not recommended for chameleons. Very young chameleons should be fed daily and the frequency of feeding should gradually decrease. By the time they are fully grown adults, they only need to be fed 3-4 days a week. Chameleons will sometimes consume produce, but it is not necessary to their diet. It can be offered occasionally, but insects should make up the vast majority fo their diet. Their insects should be gut-loaded prior to feed them to your chameleon.
Insects should be dusted with calcium WITHOUT D3 before every feeding. A multivitamin should be used twice a month. Appropriate multivitamins include Reptivite with D3, Repashy Calcium Plus, or Repashy Calcium Plus LoD. Powdered bee pollen can also be added to their calcium without D3, but is not required. Mix it into the calcium without D3 at 1:8 ratio – so for every 1 teaspoon of calcium, add 1/8 teaspoon of bee pollen.
Aberforth, a chameleon that was surrendered to us with a vitamin A deficiency and recovered - though he does suffer from vision loss.
Repashy Calcium Plus is one of our favorite products!
Male chameleons have a larger casque and a noticeable tarsal spur. A tarsal spur is a bump on the back of the hind feet.
Female chameleons will lay infertile clutches without ever being exposed to a male. If you suspect your female chameleon is gravid, you will need to provide it with a lay bin. The ideal lay bin should be approximately 10-12 inches wide and at least 12 inches deep. Choose an opaque container so your chameleon feels secure. Fill the lay bin to the top with a mixture of sand, soil, and a little water. The mixture should be damp, but not dripping. The substrate should be able to hold a tunnel, as your female will dig to the bottom of lay bin before laying her clutch. We like to place the lay bin under some foliage to provide it with some cover. Some keepers choose to keep a lay bin in the enclosure at all times.
This chameleon laid two clutches of eggs during her time with us - this clutch had 34 infertile eggs!
Cohabitate: Chameleons are solitary animals and once they reach adulthood they should not be cohabitated with other chameleons. Keeping two chameleons in the same enclosure can cause stress and often aggression. Even breeders typically introduce their pairs for only a short while before separating them.
Use a Reptile-Branded Heat Bulb: Do not buy your heat bulb from a pet store. While these bulbs are appropriate for many species, they are too strong and concentrated for chameleons. The chameleon pictured on the right had a heat lamp that was too strong and too close to his basking spot. Despite months of rehabilitation and a partial casque amputation, his burns were non-recoverable and he needed to be euthanized.
Over-Handle: Chameleons are typically NOT sociable reptiles. There are exceptions to every rule, but the majority of chameleons do not enjoy being handled by humans. When handled, some chameleons will puff up, hiss, close their eyes, or act lifeless. All of these behaviors are indicators of stress. Some chameleons will even fall asleep while being handled – while this may be a sign of trust in other species, it’s actually a sort of defense mechanism for chameleons. While minimal handling is OK and your chameleon may get more used to you over time, think of veiled chameleons as more of a “display pet.” These do NOT make good program animals and are inappropriate pets for most children.
Johannes was found outside with old burns to his casque and along his spine.
Montgomery was surrendered with 5th degree burns.
Metabolic Bone Disease: Metabolic bone disease is most commonly seen in pet reptiles and is caused by nutritional deficiencies. Captive chameleons require supplemental calcium fed on their feeder insects, as well as a high powered ultraviolet light. Not only do they need calcium, they also need low amounts of phosphorus. Phosphorus is a mineral that can prevent calcium from being taken up by the animal. There should be twice as much calcium in the diet as phosphorus. Vitamin D3 is also needed in conjunction with calcium, or else the animal cannot process the calcium internally, and ultraviolet light is the safest source of vitamin D3, as the animal can self regulate. MBD is unfortunately very common in chameleons, and we have seen many MBD chameleons surrendered to us over the years. The “chameleon kits” sold in pet stores do NOT contain the correct UVB light, among other issues. Because of this, many pet store chameleons end up developing MBD – in fact, we’ve even had a pet store surrender a chameleon with MBD to us.
Signs of MBD include curved legs, a curved or soft jawbone, lethargy, poor tongue function, and anorexia. If you think your chameleon may have MBD, seek veterinary assistance IMMEDIATELY. Your veterinarian will give you a special prescription liquid calcium and may want to take X-rays to check for fractures in your chameleon’s bones. You should immediately fix all husbandry issues and start following the above diet, supplementation schedule, and light source exactly. Buy a brand new 10% T5HO UVB bulb, as they do stop output between 6-12 months. Please contact us if you have any questions on the specifics or don’t know where to buy specific supplements and equipment.
A chameleon surrendered to us with advanced MBD.
Curved limbs due to MBD.
Gout: Chameleons do not drink water from a dish like most pets, so they are prone to dehydration and kidney issues in captivity. Chronic kidney issues can lead to the formation of uric acid crystals that form in the tissues. These are commonly seen in the joints, see the pictures to the right of a chameleon with severe gout that ended up being fatal. Gout can also be caused by diets that are too high in protein. Make sure that you are feeding your feeder insects an appropriate diet that includes grain-based insect feed and fresh vegetables, not a high-protein feed such as dog or cat food. If your chameleon has swollen joints, is lethargic, anorexic, or not walking well, see your veterinarian immediately. They might do X-rays or take a fine needle aspirate of one of the masses, which they can look at under the microscope to see uric acid crystals. If you catch this early, sometimes the chameleon can be healed with allopurinol and proper hydration. However, in advanced cases typically this isn’t curable. Time is of the essence, work with your veterinarian closely to manage this as soon as possible.
A chameleon with advanced gout.
Renal disease: Like stated above, chameleons do not drink water from a dish and need alternative water sources. You should use a dripper and a mister to ensure your chameleon is getting proper hydration. Signs of kidney disease include lethargy, sunken in eyes, problems shedding, and anorexia. This can be fatal, so seek veterinary assistance immediately if you suspect your chameleon has kidney disease. Your veterinarian will run a blood test and may prescribe extra fluids for hydration.
Gular Edema: This is essentially fluid swelling in the throat area. Gular edema is a complex condition that can have many different causes. This is often caused by over-supplementing vitamins A and D3; as a reminder, vitamins A and D3 should only be offered twice a month. If you are following the correct supplementation schedule and are still seeing gular edema, use only calcium for at least a month, while still offering healthy, gut-loaded feeder insects. Gular edema can also be caused by dehydration, so ensure that your chameleon has access to a mister and dripper daily. Some females will apparently have gular edema when they are heavily gravid or laying eggs, which should go away by itself within a few weeks. If your chameleon has gular edema, first try cutting back on supplements and making sure it has the correct water sources. If this issue persists, see a veterinarian for blood tests and a full examination.
A chameleon that was surrendered to us in end stage renal failure.
A female chameleon displaying gular edema.
Egg Binding/Dystocia: Female chameleons typically lay infertile eggs yearly, which takes a toll on their bodies and shortens their lifespans. If you have a female chameleon, you should be prepared for her to lay a clutch of eggs every summer by providing her a large laybox with appropriate substrate. Under appropriate conditions, most chameleons lay their eggs just fine. However, they may become “egg bound” or have dystocia, particularly if they are already having the following issues: metabolic bone disease, calcium deficiency, overfeeding, and lack of an appropriate lay box. If your chameleon is obviously gravid but her health has started to decline and she has not laid her eggs, she may be egg bound. Symptoms can include anorexia, weight loss, dark color, and sunken in eyes as they lose energy and refrain from eating or drinking. If the eggs or follicles stay in her for too long, it’s also possible for them to become infected, which can lead to sepsis. If your chameleon is gravid, not laying eggs, and has declining health, bring her to an experienced exotics veterinarian IMMEDIATELY. The veterinarian will take X-rays to determine the condition of the eggs and to see if they’re completely calcified or not, and may prescribe you supportive care such as fluids, medication to induce laying such as calcium and oxytocin, or suggest a surgery to remove the eggs and possibly spay the chameleon. Surgeries are required in some cases.
A chameleon that was surrendered to us gravid with infertile eggs. She laid shortly after this photo was taken!
Hypovitaminosis A: Just like calcium, chameleons need supplemental vitamin A in their diets. In chameleons, this typically presents as eye problems, including swollen eyes, squinting, and mucous. The chameleon may also have issues shedding completely and may have abrasions or irritation around the lips. When there isn’t enough vitamin A, cells start to thicken and many of the glandular or mucosal areas, such as the eyes, mouth, and tongue, become more keratinized. If your chameleon’s tongue is no longer sticky or if it cannot use its tongue, it’s possible he has hypovitaminosis A. These symptoms can result in systemic problems for the animal, such as chronic eye infections, anorexia, and problems shedding. If you suspect your chameleon may have hypovitaminosis A, bring it to an experienced exotics veterinarian immediately for an examination. The vet may want to do bloodwork to assess vitamin A levels, though low vitamin A levels in the blood are only detectable when the animal has a severe deficiency. Your veterinarian will probably prescribe a vitamin A supplement and may give you an antibiotic solution for the eye to prevent secondary infection. Chameleons can go downhill VERY quickly, so it’s important to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.
A chameleon surrendered with hypovitaminosis A. She had a significant amount of cellular material in her eyes.
Parasites: Chameleons can carry many different types of parasites, including pinworms, coccidia, spirochetes, and protozoans. It is common for chameleons to have a small level of parasites, this is normal for their gut flora. However, when a chameleon is sick or stressed, the parasites can take over and cause diarrhea, weight loss, and anorexia. This can become serious, so bring a fecal to your veterinarian if your chameleon is exhibiting the above signs. If your chameleon was purchased from a pet store, it is likely wild-caught and more likely to carry parasites. Wild caught reptiles should have fecals done when they are brought home.
P rolapse: Cloacal prolapses can happen in both male and female chameleons, but male chameleons are prone to get hemipenal prolapses. A prolapse is an emergency that should see a veterinarian immediately. If it is recent, sometimes the vet can push the prolapsed tissue back in and place a temporary suture, but advanced prolapses can become infected and necrotic. Some prolapses will require amputation, especially if they are not treated quickly.
Mouth Rot: Mouth rot is a condition where the mouth develops a bacterial infection. This can be due to a dirty water source or dirty enclosure, a wound in the mouth that becomes infected, or stuck shed around the face. Mouth rot can quickly become serious, as it is painful and will cause the chameleon to not want to eat. You should see a veterinarian to clean out the mouth and start an antibiotic regimen. Make sure to always maintain a clean environment.
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We work exclusively with pet reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. If you find injured wildlife, please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
We are unable to take in yellow-bellied sliders and iguanas due to space restrictions. We are unable to take in red-eared sliders, as they are illegal to own in NC without a Restricted Species permit.