Chameleon Care and Information
If you are preparing for your new pet Panther or Veiled Chameleon or if you are still deciding whether to purchase a baby Chameleon...this page is an excellent resource!
If you wish to purchase any of the supplies I have recommended on this page, please visit my Cage & Supplies page where you will find Amazon links to help facilitate your purchase of these items.
1. Caring for your Chameleon
Setting up your Chameleon Cage
A) Chameleons require a screened cage (the top and all sides should be screened... not glass). For an adult male Chameleon, I recommend a 24x24x48 inch screened cage (Zoo Med XL Reptibreeze Screen Cage) and for an adult female Chameleon, I recommend an 18x18x36 inch screened cage (Zoo Med Large Reptibreeze Screen Cage). Links to purchase both cages are provided on my Cage & Supplies page.
B) You will need a UVB light. Please avoid the double dome light sold included in some "Chameleon Cage kits". The compact (coiled) UVB light which comes in the kits is not sufficient and your chameleon will end up with MBD. I recommend using a 24 inch Reptisun T5 linear UVB light.
C) You will also need a heat light. I recommend using a 60 or 75 watt regular white incandescent light bulb in a Flukers 5.5 inch dome fixture. The correct basking temperature for a Chameleon is 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The ambient temperature for the rest of the cage should range from 72-80 degrees. At night, the temperature can drop to low 60s.
D) Concentrate most of your cage setup efforts on the top 1/3 of the cage because you want your Chameleon to spend most of its time up near the UVB and heat lights for sufficient warmth and UVB absorption. Place horizontal branches or vines 6 inches (if UVB 5.0) or 10 inches (if UVB 10.0) directly underneath the UVB bulb because that is the recommended effective range for proper UVB absorption. Also, place a horizontal vine or branch approximately 6 inches directly underneath the heat bulb and use a point and click thermometer to make sure that the basking temp is 90 degrees (for a baby basking temp can be 85 degrees).
Since you want your Chameleon spending most of its time in the top 1/3 portion of the cage, make that top area as inviting to the Chameleon as possible. You will want to fill the top 1/3 of the cage with lots of branches, vines and plant foliage (either fake or real)... so that when your Chameleon is basking it doesn’t feel completely exposed. Baby Chameleons are prey to birds,etc.
If you use real plants, make sure to only use "Chameleon approved" non-toxic plants. You can google and find lots of "Chameleon approved plant lists" on the web.
The two most common mistakes that I see regarding cage setup are
1) Purchasing the wrong UVB light (compact bulb instead of linear T5), and
2) Placing most of the foliage and branches on the bottom 2/3 of cage (instead of the top 1/3).
Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, the bottom 2/3 of the cage can be empty… I really just look at the top 1/3 of the cage when reviewing my customer's cage setup because this is where your Chameleon should be spending most of its time.
To illustrate this even further, if you take a look at the photo of one of my breeder cages which I posted on my Cage and Supplies page, you will see that the bottom 2/3 of my cage is almost empty. This makes it easier for the Chameleon to hunt crickets and also, it enables me to easily observe the consistency and how often my Chameleon is pooping (important for monitoring the level of your Chameleon's hydration and to ensure your Chameleon is eating sufficiently}.
You don't need to use any substrate on the floor of your cage because your Chameleon will rarely approach the cage floor unless it is on the hunt for crickets. If you choose to use wood chips or bark on your cage floor, be aware that the crickets will burrow into the substrate to hide from your Chameleon and you will probably hear them chirping all night long...
Place your cage on a shelf or table, not the floor. The higher the cage is... the better. Chameleons like to be looking down at you when they are on the higher branches of their cage or at least be at eye level. If you are looking down at them when they are in their cage... they will perceive you as a predator which will stress them out. Remember, in the wild, Chameleons live in trees.
Here is a link to a google search result showing sample Chameleon cage setups so you can see how other folks have set up their cages. If you haven't already, depending on whether you purchased a Panther or Veiled Chameleon, I also suggest you join my Panther Chameleon (which I created and administer) which has more than 3,000 members. Or the "Veiled Chameleon" and "Veiled Chameleon Central" Facebook groups. These Facebook groups have thousands of knowledgeable members providing advice and education about proper Chameleon care.
Some of this is repetitive from above... but I go into more detail.
It is very important that you provide proper UVB lighting to enable proper calcium absorption for your Chameleon. Avoid using those double dome UVB/heat lights sold as part of "Chameleon Kits" in pet stores. The UVB bulbs that fit in those domes do not provide sufficient UVB light and your Chameleon could end up suffering from MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease).
I recommend you use a linear (straight) Reptisun T5HO (high output) 5.0 (or 10.0) UVB Fluorescent 24 watt (22 inch) bulb. I have links to this bulb and its corresponding terrarium hood on my Cage & Supplies page. It is important to replace your T5 UVB bulb at least once per year since the amount of UVB produced by the bulb diminishes after that time period.
Very important!!! Please make sure the UVB light does not pass through plastic or glass before it reaches your Chameleon. If your light fixture or top of your cage has a plastic or glass shield, you must remove it because UVB does not pass through plastic or glass and your Chameleon will end up with MBD. A screen top is okay since UVB can pass through it.
UVB dissipates very quickly so your Chameleon needs to be able to get close enough to the bulb to absorb sufficient UVB to produce Vitamin D3 (necessary for metabolizing calcium for proper bone growth).
If you have purchased a T5 HO 5.0 UVB bulb... the recommended distance for placing horizontal branches or vines directly underneath the bulb is 6 inches.
If you have purchased a T5 HO 10.0 UVB bulb... to avoid the absorption of too much UVB (which could cause hypercalcemia), the recommended distance for placing branches or vines directly underneath the bulb is 10-12 inches.
If your Chameleon is not provided a suitable basking site directly underneath the UVB bulb within the recommended distance to enable sufficient absorption of UVB, your Chameleon could ultimately suffer from MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease). You should familiarize yourself with MBD symptoms and learn how to avoid it by providing proper supplementation (dusting crickets) and sufficient UVB light access.
Your UVB and heat lighting should be on a cycle of 11-12 hours on and 12-13 hours off (I turn my lights on at 7:30am and off at 6:30pm). I suggest connecting your UVB and heat lights to a light timer to simplify this process. There is no need to provide any light or heat source during the night.
Some of this is also repetitive from above... but I go into more detail.
The proper basking temperature for a Chameleon is 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit. I typically aim for 90 degrees at basking. The ambient temperature for the rest of the cage should range from 72-80 degrees. At night, the temperature can drop to low 60s. I would suggest buying a point-and-click thermometer...like the type that they point at your forehead to take your temperature. You should point the thermometer at the basking site as well as other areas throughout the cage so you know the temperature gradients within your cage.
Assuming you are using a 75 watt incandescent bulb (see below), I typically recommend strategically placing horizontal branches or vines approximately 6 inches underneath the heat light and checking the basking temperature. You can raise or lower the branches or vines as needed to reach the desired 90 degree basking temperature.
As I just mentioned, for heat... I recommend using a 75 watt regular white incandescent light bulb in a Flukers 5.5 inch dome fixture. You don't need anything with higher wattage than that especially if you have branches where your Chameleon can bask close enough to the bulb. Make sure to use an incandescent bulb which generates heat... the newer lower watt bulbs won't generate enough heat. Also, don't use one of those red or blue heat bulbs that they sell in the pet stores... they can hurt the chameleon's eyes and cause stress. (Imagine being stuck in a room with red or blue lights shining down on you all day...)
The idea is to create a temperature gradient within your cage so your Chameleon can choose to warm up by basking near the top of the cage... or cool down by hanging out in the middle or closer to the bottom of the cage. If your Chameleon is not able to get warm enough, it could develop a respiratory infection. You should familiarize yourself with respiratory infection symptoms in Chameleons. A respiratory infection will require antibiotics and is a very serious condition. You should immediately take your Chameleon to a veterinarian who treats exotics (reptiles) if you think your Chameleon has a respiratory infection. Do not delay!... A Chameleon with a respiratory infection can go downhill very fast.
Your heat and UVB lighting should be on a cycle of 12 hours on and 12 hours off. There is no need to provide any lighting or heat source during the night. I suggest connecting your heat and UVB lights to a light timer to simplify this process.
In nature, Chameleons live in a humid environment and drink the dew (water) that forms on leaves overnight due to condensation. You can mimic this environment by misting your Chameleon's enclosure (especially the leaves) early in the morning and once at night after the lights have turned off. You can also mist several times throughout the day if you choose. You can mist by hand or you can purchase an automatic mister to make this easier. I use a Zoo Med ReptiRain automatic mister which just hangs on the side of the cage. However, don't just rely on the automatic mister unless you actually see it misting the cage. They can break and of course, make sure you keep it full of water.
In addition to misting, I recommend that you drip water onto a leaf using a dripper so that your Chameleon can drink the water off the leaf. To accomplish this, you can either poke a pin hole into the bottom of a plastic cup or jug or you can buy Fluker’s Reptile Dripper and place it on top of the cage. The store bought dripper lets you adjust the drip flow. You will want to place a cup under the leaf to catch the dripping water. Place a thin twig into the cup which extends out of the cup so your Chameleon can climb out of the cup if it falls in. ***It is important to place a twig into any container that you put in the cage so that your Chameleon has a way to climb out if it falls in.***
If you notice that your Chameleon's poop is dry or that its eyes appear sunken in... these are signs of dehydration. A normal poop should have a white portion (urates) which is moist with some clear liquid around it and also, a brown "tubular shaped" portion.
Crickets!!! If you can't deal with live crickets don't buy a chameleon. :)
I recommend that you start by feeding your baby Chameleon 1/4 inch crickets every day. Feed your chameleon in the morning and try to provide only as many crickets as your chameleon will eat within 5 minutes of feeding. Typically, my baby Chameleons will eat 4-5 crickets each morning. If you want to try a second feeding in the afternoon, I would only provide 1 or 2 crickets at a time to see if your Chameleon goes after them. It will take some trial and error to get a feel for how many crickets your Chameleon will eat. Try not to have left over crickets roaming the cage at night because they could bite your sleeping Chameleon. If you do end up with some crickets left in the cage at night, place a piece of apple or other fruit in the cage overnight so the crickets eat that instead of biting your Chameleon.
You can move up to 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch crickets when you feel your Chameleon is large enough to handle that size. Some people say that a good rule of thumb to follow is that a Chameleon's food item should not exceed the "distance between the Chameleon's eyes" when determining the appropriate size of cricket or other bug. Once your Chameleon gets bigger, you can also offer additional bug/worm options such as meal worms, wax worms (only occasionally), super worms, dubia roaches, horn worms etc.
Crickets and worms should always be gut loaded before feeding them to your Chameleon. Gut loading is the process in which crickets and worms are fed nutritious foods with the intention of passing those nutrients to the Chameleon. I gut load with Fluker's High-Calcium Cricket Diet which is a powder that I just sprinkle onto the bottom of the crickets' storage container. In addition, I supply fresh fruits and vegetables for gut loading which serves to provide both nutrition and hydration for the crickets. I think of a cricket or worm like it is an empty shell... it is only as nutritious for your Chameleon as the food you put in it.
It is important to feed "dusted" crickets to your Chameleon several times per week. The consensus amongst the "Chameleon Community" is to 1) dust daily with Calcium without D3, 2) dust once every two weeks with Reptivite with D3. Dusting simply means you pour some Reptivite or Calcium powder into a plastic bag or container, add some crickets... and shake. The powder will coat the crickets which should immediately be fed to your Chameleon before the dust falls off the cricket.
There is much debate amongst Chameleon hobbyists about how often to dust using Calcium with D3 vs. Calcium without D3. Chameleons require Vitamin D3 to absorb sufficient Calcium to build and maintain healthy bones. Without enough D3, a Chameleon will develop MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) which results in crooked limbs. In the "perfect scenario"... if a Chameleon is provided with sufficient UVB light, the Chameleon can produce enough of its own D3 so that D3 supplementation isn't necessary. However, since we are merely mimicking natural sunlight with our UVB bulbs, it is important to provide at least some D3 supplementation. However, some sources say providing too much D3 could cause problems with your Chameleon's kidneys and liver.
2. What to do once your baby Chameleon arrives
Typically, your Chameleon will be a bit stressed upon arrival. Try to provide some quiet time without handling to let it become accommodated to its' new surroundings. Make sure your Chameleon has water available by either misting or dripping water on leaves around it or by dripping a little water on its snout.
After a few hours, you can try putting one or two crickets in the cage to see if your Chameleon will eat them. Personally, I think it is a good idea to initially put a few crickets into a five-inch high clear container with the cap on and place the container into the cage to see if your Chameleon shows interest in the crickets. If not, you can keep the container closed until the Chameleon shows interest. Once you open the container, place a thin twig into the container which extends out of the container. The crickets will climb up the twig and the Chameleon will also climb down the twig to get to the crickets.
Don't worry if your Chameleon doesn't eat for a day or two when it first arrives. As long as the Chameleon is hydrated, it will be fine.
Please don't just rely on my advice. There are many informative websites and Chameleon Forums to check out. In addition, there are several Facebook groups devoted to Chameleons. Obtaining information from numerous sources, reading about other hobbyists' experiences, and sharing your own experiences are all part of the fun!!!
3. Differences between Male and Female Chameleons
Male Adult Chameleons typically become larger than females as they mature with wide range of coloration. Males can become more aggressive than females.
Female Adult Chameleons typically remain smaller than males (more manageable for smaller kids). Females also don't display the same range of coloring as a male. Also, Female Chameleons lay eggs 3-4 times per year once sexually mature (even without a male present... although those eggs will be unfertilized).
When a female Chameleon is ready to lay her eggs, provide a bucket filled half-way with moist dirt. (I use a kids' beach bucket.) She will dig to the bottom of the bucket, deposit her eggs and then cover them up. It is a pretty cool process to observe. Once she has finished, you can then discard her unfertilized eggs. A female is ready to lay her eggs when she appears fatter than usual and you will also see her roaming the bottom of her cage searching for a suitable place to lay them. It is important that you provide her with the bucket of dirt at that time because if not, she'll either lay the eggs randomly around the cage, or she could become egg bound which is potentially fatal.
4. Chameleon Behavior and Salmonella
Once Chameleons become adults... they become territorial. Therefore, you should only house one chameleon per cage. Chameleons are solitary in the wild and do not get lonely if kept alone.
Panther and Veiled Chameleons get pretty big. Adult male Chameleons can be 9 inches and adult females can be 6.5 inches (not including tail).
A healthy and happy Chameleon will explore every inch of its cage, eat daily and poop daily. If your Chameleon is not eating and pooping or it sits still with its eyes closed during the day, that is a sign that it is stressed and something is not right... could be temperature, improper lighting, dehydration or maybe it was handled too much that day.
It is important to understand and respect your Chameleon's behavior. A Chameleon will gape its mouth, arch its back and flatten its body when it feels threatened. If your Chameleon does this, respect its wishes and leave it be. An adult Chameleon has sharp teeth and its bite can break the skin.
Chameleons change their coloration based on their mood or temperature. If your baby Chameleon is showing very dark coloration, it is most likely stressed or cold.
***I feel it is the responsible thing to warn you that Chameleons can carry salmonella. I have raised my adult Chameleons from babies and I have never had any issues. However, you should always wash your hands after handling and cleaning up after your Chameleon (especially children).