Chameleon Care Sheet
Substrate – (Cork Bark, Artificial Grass or Large Stones)
Thermometers and Hygrometer
Branches and artificial plants
Food (crickets, locusts, mealworms, waxworms, grass-hoppers – mealworm dish)
Calcium and D3 Supplement
Book on Chameleons
The majority of Chameleons are found in Africa and most commonly, Madagascar. They can also be found, albeit less commonly, in Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal and Greece), Saudi Arabia, India and Sri Lanka. Their habitats can differ considerably and can be found in wooded forests, grasslands, mountainous regions and also shrubby savannahs. They are mainly arboreal but a few species are known to be mainly ground dwellers, such as the Namaqua Chameleon. Chameleons are one of the most fascinating reptiles. They have many anatomical features that set them aside from other reptiles offered in the pet trade. For example, the ability to adapt their colour to the surroundings, a tongue that can extend itself to the length of their bodies, eyes that are able to operate in opposite directions and a prehensile tail which allows it to drop from a tree and catch a branch mid air to stop itself from falling further. The ability to camouflage gives the chameleon an edge, not only over its predators, but also over its prey. All in all the chameleon is a truly magnificent, powerful yet elegant creature.
Chameleons are a fascinating reptile to keep. It should be noted that they are less tolerant to being handled than reptiles such as Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos. Nevertheless, this does not mean that it has to be confined to its vivarium. Once it has got used to its new environment and home it will probably become fairly inquisitive, sometimes even coming to the vivarium doors ‘asking to come out’. They are very keen climbers and some species spend their whole lives in trees and never come into contact with the ground. They will enjoy climbing onto your hand and making its way up to perching on your head but will also let you know if they aren’t in the mood to be held (as with other reptiles). Chameleons (with perhaps few exceptions) prefer solitary life and therefore it is advisable to keep just one Chameleon. The only time you tend to find pairs is during mating courtship.
Housing - Lighting/Heating/Substrates/Décor
Chameleons require an arboreal vivarium (viv), meaning that the height of the enclosure is imperative. By having a tall vivarium it allows the Chameleon to climb branches and display behaviour as it would in the wild. As previously stated there are many different habitats where these creatures live so there isn’t a general set up suitable for every species of Chameleon offered in the pet trade. Nevertheless, there are certain general practices that should be adhered to. When it comes to the actual vivarium there are different options available, from wooden vivs to glass vivs and also different sizes. One of the most important factors to take into account when looking to buy a vivarium for a Chameleon is the ventilation. They require do a humid environment, however, if the humidity levels become too high it can result in respiratory problems. If purchasing a glass viv make sure that there is either a whole panel that is mesh or at least one of the glass panels is split in two with mesh between them. Furthermore, it is best practice for the top opening to be mesh as this will also result in better ventilation. If the air becomes too stagnant, bacteria and fungus will develop and this can cause health problems for your Chameleon. A great way to monitor the humidity is by using a hygrometer. They are a diurnal species which means that in the wild they are most active during the day and therefore require plenty of light and UVB. Do take into consideration that the UV bulb should be changed every 6-8 months. The reason being is that even though the bulb will still be giving out plenty of light, it is the intensity of the UV which will decrease over time. (UVB monitors are available to buy to check the levels.) Should the levels drop below a certain point the Chameleon wont be getting the UV which it requires. Over time a deficiency of UV, which in turn creates vitamins, can lead to Metabolic Bone Disease which can cause deformities and ultimately be life threatening. The basking temperature should be between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius with the basking lamp about 10 inches from the highest basking branch and be provided for 12 hours a day. The temperature should be taken down to about 25 degrees Celsius. The best way to generate the correct temperatures is by using a dimming thermostat as it lets you set certain temperature parameters and timings for them. The wattage of the bulb required will depend on the species, size of enclosure and background temperature.
Careful consideration should be given when choosing a substrate. As Chameleons feed by shooting their tongue out you need to make sure that you use a substrate that won’t cause impaction if ingested. Another factor should be to use one that is easy to clean. Don’t forget that as it will be a humid environment bacteria and fungus has a high chance of developing. Therefore you will be required to tend to the enclosure daily and also carry out full changes of the substrate more regularly than most other reptiles, so cost is perhaps another thought. Cork bark is one of the best substrates as it is readily available in the pet trade, similar to what would be found in the natural habitats, won’t be ingested and also cost effective. Another option would be large stones or artificial grass.
The cage décor should consist of several branches to climb up and plenty of foliage for when you Chameleon wants to take cover and this will also help it to alleviate stress. It is advisable to only use artificial plants. The reason being is that some live plants are poisonous and may also carry harmful bacteria. The maintenance of a vivarium with live plants will require a lot of time in order to change the soil on a regular basis to make sure it isn’t harbouring any harmful bacteria and also to disinfect where the plant has been sited. You won’t need a water dish as they won’t drink from a standing water supply. You may not need a feeding dish as you can release the crickets and locusts into the enclosure and let the Chameleon search for its own food. Again this is a realistic and natural reflection of what life would be like in the wild. Some people may choose to use a mealworm dish so that they can’t burrow into the substrate.
Crickets, locusts, mealworms, waxworms, cockroaches and grass-hoppers are all suitable foods for a Chameleon. As with the majority of other reptiles, using a calcium dusting powder is highly recommended and this will supplement their diet and provide them with not only calcium but also D3. Another good way of giving your Chameleon plenty of goodness is gut-loading. This is achieved by feeding the bugs with things such as kale, melon, apple, orange, bran and many more foods. It is a good idea to gut-load the bugs about 3 days before they are due to be offered as prey. As Chameleons won’t drink from standing water you should provide them with moving water. One way to achieve this is by using a dripper which will drip water onto the leaves of the plants in the vivarium. Waterfalls can be used as long as they are cleaned regularly in order to deal with any bacteria. Another essential exercise when keeping a Chameleon is to spray the enclosure. By doing this it will offer another form of water and also create good levels of humidity. Be sure not to spray the reptile directly though as it will take exception to it.