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Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)

Veiled Chameleon

Introduction: True chameleons have become increasingly common in the pet trade. Veiled chameleons were once a rare species to have in a reptile collection and were considered hard to keep. Advances in reptile husbandry and the increase in demand for exotic reptiles have now made veiled chameleons one of the most common captive-bred chameleon offered for sale.

Veiled chameleons are native to humid mountain sides and valleys in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia. Males can grow to 20 inches (51 cm) in length, while females mature to a smaller size of 12 to 14 inches (31 to 36 cm). Adult males have a large casque on the top of their head that can reach 3 inches (8 cm) in height. Their color is variable, but usually consists of a green or turquoise body with yellow, orange, blue, tan, brown, or black blotches and stripes. Like all true chameleons, veiled chameleons change color depending on their mood and surrounding environment. An angry or scared veiled chameleon can turn a dark brown or black color with yellow and green blotches, while one that is relaxed will stay a solid light green with occasional blue, tan, or yellow spots and stripes. Male veiled chameleons generally live between five and eight years in captivity, while females have a shorter lifespan of two or three years.

Veiled chameleons are sensitive animals, and are not a pet that tolerates handling well. Although there are a small number of veiled chameleons that don't seem to mind human interaction, most hiss and gape their mouths when a human hand is near. Most veiled chameleons will even bite when provoked. Handling a chameleon is stressful for the lizard and should only be done when they need to be moved out of their cage for cleaning, or if they need to be taken somewhere such as the vet. In general, chameleons are best left as display animals rather than pets to interact with.

Avoid purchasing a chameleon that is under two months in age. These small juveniles are very cute but require extra attention. They also need small food, such as fruit flies and hatchling crickets, which many people aren't able to provide. A responsible reptile dealer, breeder, or pet store will never sell hatchling chameleons.

Cage: Chameleons need spacious enclosures. The more room you provide the better. A large adult male veiled chameleon should be housed in a cage that measures 36 inches long by 36 inches wide by 48 inches tall (92 cm by 92 cm by 122 cm) with more room being even better. Females and young males can be kept in smaller enclosures.

If keeping more than one chameleon, it is important to house both animals in separate enclosures. Chameleons are territorial and stress easily when kept with other mature chameleons, often leading to the death of the weaker one. They do not enjoy the company of others, and view them as a threat to their territory rather than a friend. When keeping two or more chameleons, it is also important that they are not allowed to see each other. Draping a towel or tarp over the sides of cages that face each other can work well. Breeders that produce veiled chameleons house their animals separate except for a few hours when the female is introduced to the males cage. After they are done mating, the female is removed and placed back in a separate cage.

Choose a cage that allows good air flow . At least two sides and the top of the cage should be screen to allow proper ventilation. Large screen cages are best, although a combination cage where two sides are glass or wood and two sides are screen can work equally well. I built a cage out of aluminum window screens and wood for my female veiled chameleon. Pictures can be viewed at Step By Step Chameleon Cage. Occasionally, chameleons may get their nails caught in the fine aluminum screening pictured in the previous link, so a better option is large quarter or half inch steel fencing or screen. Young chameleons can be kept in aquariums without problems, although small screen enclosures can be used as a better alternative. A standard 20 gallon glass aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 16 inches high (61 cm by 30 cm by 41 cm) will be able to house a juvenile veiled chameleon until it has a body length of roughly 4 inches (10 cm).

It is best to use a simple substrate, such as paper towels, newspaper, or reptile cage carpeting. If the bottom of the cage is solid and easy to clean, a substrate might not even be necessary. Do not use gravel, fir bark, dried moss, or sand because these substrates can be swallowed and cause health problems.

Furnish the cage with different sized perches, branches, and vines. Perches and vines should placed vertically as well as horizontally and at different sloping angles. Wooden dowels can be positioned horizontally below basking sites, and small plastic vines can be wrapped around them. Live and fake plants can be used in the cage to provide cover and places for the chameleon to drink water from. When using live plants, ensure they are safe for reptiles. Pothos work very well and can be hung from the top of the cage or placed on the bottom in pots. It is recommended to thoroughly wash off all live plants and then grow them outside of the cage for a few weeks to remove any potentially harmful chemicals such as leaf shiners or pesticides.

Chameleon Cage

Lighting: Lighting plays an important role in the health of veiled chameleons. At least one fluorescent light bulb that provides high levels of UVB radiation should run the length of cage. Zoo-med's Repti-sun 5.0 and Exo-terra's Repti-glo 8.0 are two common brands of UVB producing light bulbs. Mercury vapor and compact fluorescent light bulbs that produce UVB radiation also work well. Glass filters out nearly all UVB radiation, so place the bulb over a screen section of the cage. UVB producing bulbs need to be changed every five to eight months because the amount of ultraviolet radiation they produce slowly dies off over time. To compliment the UVB-producing bulb, I recommend using an additional fluorescent tube that has a high CRI rating.

An incandescent light bulb or two of the appropriate wattage should also be placed on the top or sides of the cage to provide basking sites. Having different wattage light bulbs to provide multiple basking sites with different temperatures works well. Infra-red light bulbs can be used to heat the cage at night, although usually this isn’t required.

Temperature and Humidity: Like all reptiles, veiled chameleons are ectotherms and rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. The ambient temperature in the cage should stay between 75°F and 85°F (24°C and 30 °C) during the day, with a slight drop in temperature at night. A basking site or two should also be provided where the temperature reaches 90°F to 105°F (32°C to 41°C). Incandescent light bulbs or ceramic heat emitters should be used to heat the cage rather than heat pads or heat rocks which chameleons won’t use.

During warmer parts of the year, veiled chameleons can be kept outside in many climates. A healthy adult veiled chameleon can withstand temperatures as low 45°F (7°C) during the night as long as it warms up again during the day. In situations where the temperature drops this low it's a good idea to heat the cage with an infra-red reptile light bulb at night to keep an area in the cage that doesn't fall below 60°F (15.5°C).

Spray the cage with luke warm water once or twice a day to bring about temporary increases in humidity. Veiled chameleons do not require constant high humidity levels like some tropical lizards.

Water: Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl. They are similar to many species of geckos in that they prefer to lap drops of water off of leaves and branches. During daily cage mistings, large drops of water can be sprayed into the air above the chameleon so that they fall onto its head. Most veiled chameleons will eagerly drink water that drips down their face. This should be done at least once a day, preferably two or three times a day. Juveniles can dehydrate quickly and should be provided with many opportunities to drink throughout the day.

In addition to spraying the cage, a drip system can be setup. This can be as simple as a bucket with a tiny hole in the bottom that is positioned over the top of the cage. Leave a cup for the water to collect in or place the bucket over a potted plant so that the dripping water doesn’t flood the cage. Some veiled chameleons also learn to drink from moving water features such as waterfalls or bubbling bowls.

Food: Most veiled chameleons are not picky eaters and accept a wide variety of food items. Crickets should make up the majority of their diet. Adults can be fed five to ten crickets once a day or every other day, while juveniles should be fed smaller amounts twice a day. Super worms, wax worms, earth worms, silkworms moths, house flies, horn worms, cockroaches, and small flying beetles can all be offered to veiled chameleons in place of crickets once a week or so. Veiled chameleons also feed on some plant material. Romaine lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, and safe flowering plants can all be hung from places in the cage for the chameleon to eat. Mine preferred to just munch on the pothos that were growing at the bottom of the cage and generally ignored other greens that were offered.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are an important part of the diet. There are many different brands of reptile food supplements available and all have different qualities. It’s important that the calcium supplement contains vitamin D3 and either has a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio, or is phosphorus free. Feeders that are being fed to juvenile chameleons should be dusted with a calcium supplement once every or every other day. Vitamin supplements should be used weekly for juveniles. Adult chameleons can have their feeders coated in both supplements once or twice a week.

Last updated 03.20.08