11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA 98011
(425) 486-9000 PHONE (425) 486-9002 fax
Veiled chameleons, Chamaeleo calyptratus, are found in the Middle East countries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Males grow larger than females, up to 24 inches in length but with an average between 14-18 inches; females average just under 12 inches in length. As adults, the casque, or bony growth atop the head of the chameleon, will be much taller in a male than a female. Males will also have ‘spurs’ on the backs of their rear feet, while females will not. Life span in the wild rarely exceeds 7-8 years, with unspayed females often living only 2-3 years.
Solitary animals in the wild, veiled chameleons will only tolerate the presence of another animal during breeding season. Males in particular can be very territorial, so it is important to keep them separated unless trying to breed. If you have multiple chameleons in separate cages, the cages should be arranged so they cannot see each other.
As they are primarily tree dwellers, vertical space is important in this chameleon’s enclosure. For a full grown adult, the cage should be 4’H x 2’W x 2’L. It should be constructed of vinyl-coated metal mesh if at all possible; glass enclosures can overheat, and rougher mesh can be damaging to their feet. Mesh enclosures also allow for good ventilation, and permit UV light to filter in – UV light is totally blocked by glass and plastic. Sitting the cage itself up on a stand or table so that the top is at least 6 feet off the ground will also give the chameleon a feeling of security, as he/she will be able to get high enough to look over everything in the immediate area. However, chameleons can be very sensitive to drafts, and should not be placed near heating/AC ducts or close to windows or doors.
In the wild, plants allow the animal a place to feel secure and hidden. Chameleons also drink water running off of leaves, and will almost always ignore a bowl of water. You can provide cover, hiding spots, and drinking surfaces by using either fake plants or certain species of live plants that are safe for the chameleon. These include Ficus, Hibiscus, Bougainvillaea, ivy (and fake ivy), Pothos, Schefflera, and ferns. A variety of solid climbing branches with different diameters should be provided to mimic their natural environment. Rope perches such as those made for birds can start to fray, and pieces can wrap around the chameleons’ toes and cause injuries.
The bottom of the cage should be lined with a solid substrate such as newspaper, butcher paper or paper towels. Sands, gravels, dirt, and other particulates are difficult to keep clean and sanitary, whereas newspaper and paper towels are safe and very easy to clean.
Temperature and Lighting
A basking spot of up to 105 degrees F should be the hottest part of your chameleon’s cage. The rest of the cage should fall somewhere between 80-85 degrees F, never dropping below about 72F. Appropriate heating elements are ceramic heat emitters or various heat bulbs (provided that any light-emitting heat bulbs are turned off at night), or under tank heaters attached to thermostats. The heat source should be kept outside the cage where the animal can’t get close to it, and be around 8-12 inches from the basking spot itself. It is important to purchase a temperature gun, or digital thermometers that possess probes, for accurate temperature readings. Plastic dial thermometers, or any thermometer with a fixed placement, are unreliable, and do not adequately gauge thermal gradients inside entire enclosures.
The best source of UV light is always natural, unfiltered, sunlight. In weather that is warmer than 75 degrees F, it is ideal to allow a chameleon 1-2 hours a day of outside time. A bird cage is ideal for this, as they allow plenty of sun exposure. Indoors, a 5.0 to 10.0 UVB fluorescent bulb is recommended. Alternatively, a mercury vapor bulb can be used, but these bulbs also produce heat, so it is important to make sure that your chameleon’s enclosure is not getting too hot in the basking area.
All types of UV bulbs may continue to produce visible light after the UV-producing portion has failed, so it is important to change them regularly. Replacing the bulb every 3-4 months should ensure constant UV supply. Alternatively, you can purchase a UV meter to measure when the bulb stops producing UV light, and replace it at that time.
It is important to allow the your chameleon to get within 12 inches of any UVB light source you do provide, as the distance of the light can greatly affect the amount of UVB absorbed.
Regardless of what artificial light you provide, nothing beats the power of the sun. Supervised outdoor time during warm summer days will benefit your chameleon tremendously.
Humidity and Water
In the wild, chameleons drink from drops of water on leaves. Water bowls will often be ignored in the cage. Misting the entire cage 4-6 times a day should be enough to provide enough run off along the leaves and furnishings for the pet’s needs. A veiled chameleon should be kept around 60-80% relative humidity. Timed automatic misting systems or drip sets are available commercially, and can provide a good water source without too much work on your part. For reptile supplies, we recommend The Bean Farm (www.thebeanfarm.com) as a reasonably priced source for all your pet’s needs.
Veiled chameleons are ambush predators. Their eyes move independently of each other to track their prey, which they then capture with their long, sticky, tongue. They will occasionally eat some vegetation, but insects are their primary food source. To avoid nutritional imbalances, they should be fed a variety of different types of insects. Roaches, crickets, meal worms and grain beetles (adult meal worms), wax worms, silk worms, superworms and beetles, hornworms and walking sticks are all reasonable choices.
The insects themselves should also be well fed according to what each species needs, as this is the best way to make sure they are providing a good source of nutrition for your lizard. If you are just buying insects as you need them and not raising them yourself, make sure to gut load them for 24-48 hours and dust them with a commercial calcium supplement immediately before feeding to the chameleon. If raising them yourself, providing a calcium source, as well as calcium rich food items such as collard and mustard greens, along with Vitamin A rich foods like carrots and squash, is the best way to prepare the insects to be part of a balanced diet.
- Calcium: Chameleons require additional calcium supplementation. Calcium powder is manufactured by many different brands on the market (Fluker’s, Exo-Terra, Rep-Cal, etc; whatever brand you choose, select a product that does not contain phosphorous or vitamin D3. It should be sprinkled onto the food 3-4 times weekly for chameleons less than 1 year old, and 2-3 times weekly for adults.
- Multivitamin: Vitamins are also important to promote healthy body function. There are many brands that make multivitamins appropriate for reptiles (Herptivite, Reptivite, Vionate, etc). Vitamins (especially fat soluble vitamins such as A and D) are easy to overdose, and too much vitamin supplementation can actually be harmful. As a general rule, a reptile multivitamin supplement should be sprinkled on the food once weekly for chameleons less than 1 year old, and twice monthly for adults.
Common Medical Conditions
Calcium/Phosphorous Disorders: Lack of sufficient UV light and imbalance of calcium and phosphorous in the diet can cause serious problems including stunted growth, brittle bones and severe kidney disease. It is one of the most commonly seen health problems in many lizards. Symptoms range from the mild (lethargy, lack of appetite) to the severe (rubbery bones, spinal deformities, tremors and twitching of the extremities).
Respiratory Disease: Reptiles in general are very susceptible to infections of the lungs. Maintaining a good temperature range, UV supply, and healthy diet will keep your chameleon’s immune system strong. Good ventilation of the cage and frequent cleanings to maintain good sanitation are also very important.
Vitamin Deficiency: Low Vitamin A in particular can also be a problem in captive chameleons, and lead to issues such as serious eye and mouth disease.
Gastrointestinal Parasites: Chameleons can get a variety of parasites in their GI tract, from worms to single-cell protozoa. These are often transmitted through their food items. We recommend a fecal check every 6 months to look for these infections.
Reproductive Disease (Females): Even in the wild, female veiled chameleons will often have a much shorter life span than males do to the incredible demands placed on their body from egg production. Many females in captivity do not survive past 2-3 years of age. This problem can be avoided by having your female chameleon spayed. It is a major surgery, but can result in many more years of good quality life for your pet.
March 30, 2015
Content of this Care Sheet Courtesy of:
The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine
11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA 98011
(425) 486-9000 PHONE (425) 486-9002 fax