There are 4 key components to chameleon care. Each of these items are critical to your chameleons health and comfort. These little guys can suffer in a relatively short period of time, and may not display any obvious symptoms until it is too late. Thus it is crucial to start out right.
The 4 Basic Elements:
· Vitamins and Supplements
· Heat (Temperature)
· Daylight/Plant Lighting
4. Shelter and Security
· Enclosure Size
· Enclosure Type
· Foliage: Plants and Branches
These will be our immediate concerns for your chameleons health and husbandry.
Which feeders insects to choose? Crickets and dubia roaches are the most readily available feeders recommended for chameleons. There are many other options, but lets start with what is most commonly used, is in line with the makeup of chameleons natural prey, and is easiest to obtain (variety is great but availability is essential).
See Recommended Feeders Chart from the Chameleon Forums
How many feeders to offer? The generally recommended feeding schedule for most chameleons is; for young chameleons under 6 months feed every day as much as they will eat in 10 to 15 minuets. At 6 months reduce feeders to 5-10 depending on size every other day. At 12 months you will want to reduce to the equivalent of 5 to 8 medium-large crickets every other day after 12 months old.
*Female Veiled chameleons will have slightly different requirements if we want to reduce egg laying, keep them healthy, and lengthen their lifespan.
Insects provide nutrition to your chameleons in two ways, internal nutritional value (gut-loading) and vitamin/supplement (dusting).
What is Gut-loading? Often it is thought that this means what we feed our feeders a couple days before feeding. however we should be thinking of it in terms of insect diet. Gut-loading feeders is an important part of your chameleon’s diet. As with humans, what is fed to our food has been shown to have effects on us. Think of it as giving them the equivalent of a prime cut, grass fed, no hormone, non GMO steak (or a non-GMO, organically grown, local farmed, fresh vegetable tray for our Vegan/Vegetarian readers)
See recommended insect Gut-Loading Chart from the Chameleon Forums
*Bee pollen has become a highly recommended ingredient in gut-loading feeder insects and dusting. As a natural part of chameleon’s diet in the wild, and known as a “superfood” by some, we recommend adding this into your chameleons nutritional regiment.
Proper use of vitamins and supplements is critical to the health of captive chameleons. We must be careful with these supplements as too much can be just as deadly as too little. There are many options and they can vary in how they should be used. When deciding what supplements to get it is vital to get the right combination. It is important not to get too absorbed in this right away as it can get complicated. We will start with the most common successful applications and simplify it so it is clear and easy to follow.
The most common schedule is weekly. Every feeding but one per week, dust feeders with phosphorus free calcium without D3 (check ingredients). For that one other feeding, alternate between Calcium with D3, and a multivitamin (without D3). Always check the ingredients. Many multivitamins contain D3 as well. We will need to compensate for this by omitting the Calcium with D3 (dust with Calcium without D3 instead).
*For montane species, such as the Jackson’s chameleons, a lower supplementation schedule is recommended. See Care Sheets to learn about your specific chameleon’s supplement requirements.
Do not coat the insect. It should not look white like a powered doughnut. More is not better! It is a supplement, not a primary source. It should just be a very light dusting.
All animals need water to live, one thing that makes the chameleon different is the unique way they drink. In the wild, chameleons get their hydration in the form of fog. In captivity, most chameleons have had to adapt to other forms of hydration, such as leaf droplets formed by misters and drippers. Studies have shown that using a more naturalistic approach is beneficial to your chameleons health.
Learn more from Petr Nečas.
Minimally you will need a hand or pump mister to keep your chameleon healthy. However, many keepers will upgrade to more automated options.
When to Mist?
This can vary depending on your location, the standard accepted method is once in the morning, generally before it starts getting warm, and once in the evening, after the heat lights are off.
How long to mist?
Many Chameleons, especially at first, may be shy drinkers. It is suggested at least 2 minutes per misting, but may need up to 5 minutes to stimulate drinking reflexes.
Drippers provide a supplemental source of hydration and may be slightly less distressing than the spray of a mist head or sprayer, however will provide a steady trickle of water for a length of time and will require more frequent and efficient drainage for excess runoff.
*A naturalistically hydrated chameleon (through fog drinking) may not need to drink, and will not require extended misting sessions or drippers.
Most chameleons will thrive in 30-50% relative daytime humidity, some species (such as the Panther Chameleon) will thrive in up to 60% daytime humidity. However, for those striving to provide their chameleons with naturalistic hydration, your nighttime humidity is more important, your goal is 100% humidity (for at least 5-6 hours) for your chameleon to properly hydrate. You also need your temps to drop to <70 degrees Fahrenheit (<65 is better).
Is this necessary? Well yes and no, the key is reaching 100% humidity during the evening. There are important factors to keep in mind when fogging, first this only occurs at night. We do not run fog in the daytime, the drying of your enclosure between misting sessions is important for mold and mildew prevention and for plant health. Secondly, what we are looking for is temperatures under 65f. Warm and humid conditions can create a breeding ground for bacteria. The last major consideration is airflow, stagnant humid air may cause respiratory infections in your chameleon. Proper ventilation and air circulation is crucial.
*In enclosures where the humidity is low and night temps are in the 60s to low 70s, a fogger can be a great option. Enclosures that are consistently below 65f at night, in a region with relatively high humidity, may achieve this with misting alone. Depending on the climate of the location of your enclosure, fogging may not be practical.
Natural sunlight provides UVB for D3 absorption, full-spectrum light for photosynthesis, and warmth. We must do our best replicate this in our enclosures. There are 3 types of lighting you will need for appropriate husbandry, the lack of any one of these will be detrimental to the health of your chameleon or your enclosure plants.
UVB lighting is critical for your chameleons health and this is often where mistakes are made. UVB output is not as simple as “I can see the light“. The amount of UVB and how far it can reach is crucial and varies depending on bulb type, strength, and brand. Make sure you look up the UVI output for the bulb you have so you can set it up correctly. Keep in mind the light is filtered through the top screen (decreasing output up to 40 %) and will also be decreased if placed in a multi-bulb fixture. Raising or lowering your light fixture or basking branch will help you achieve the appropriate levels for your chameleon.
When shopping for UVB bulbs, the most highly recommended (and best choice for chameleons) is the T5HO type bulb. This is important because there are compact fluorescents, T8s, T5s, and T5HOs. T5HO has the best output. For chameleons in a standard screen cage, we are looking for 6% or 5.0 depending on brand. 12% or 10.0 T5HO may be used when lighting is mounted above cage top, however a UVB meter/Solarmeter is recommended to ensure correct UVI levels.
You want the UVI at the highest point at the top of your chameleons back or casque to be no more that 6 UVI, with the basking spot at 3 UVI. If you have young a chameleon or a screen climber you will want to make sure the UVI at screen level is no more than 6 UVI.
*If you purchased your chameleon from a big box store, you likely picked up the chameleon kit as well. Unfortunately this setup is not optimal. The UVB lighting in this kit is insufficient and if not set up correctly, your chameleons health will deteriorate. (Learn To Set up the Chameleon kit properly from Bill Strand at Chameleon Academy Setting Up The Chameleon kit)
Another common mistake is keeping our chameleons too hot. Most commonly kept species actually prefer it cooler. A basking temperature of 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit is adequate, temperatures over 85f are too hot for many chameleons. Do not allow your basking to reach any higher than 90f. Keep your ambient around 75f. Your chameleons behavior will be the true test of their exact comfort level.
They will darken and move as close as possible to the lamp if too cold, and will lighten and stay in the shady lower areas if too hot.
*Remember these are quick easy to follow guidelines, but are not absolute, adjustments per species is essential for optimum care.
See you chameleons Care Sheet to learn more about your specific chameleons requirement.
Heat Bulbs and Fixtures:
A standard white 45-65 watt incandescent bulb in a dome type fixture is the most commonly used heat lamp setup. A dimmable fixture allows you to have precise control of your temperatures. Be sure to have a thermometer/hygrometer at your basking level to prevent thermal burns to your chameleons delicate skin.
*Night lights are not recommended. Chameleons do not require lighting through the night, which will only interfere with their sleep. Heat emitting bulbs may be used only in extremely cold climates consistently under 40-50 degrees depending on species.
Given the importance of live plants in the chameleons environment, this is a necessity. This is the most common light left out of a new chameleon setup and will provide adequate lighting for your chameleons vision. There are again many options depending on exact needs. 6500k full spectrum LED light strips or fluorescent bulbs are the most commonly recommended for plant lighting. If your plants have higher light requirements, a T5 quad tube fixture with 3 grow bulbs alongside your UVB or an LED panel are great options.
See Lighting Resources for more information and light options
One of the first things you should consider is cage size. The most commonly kept chameleons will require at minimum a 24”x24”x48” tall screen cage. Bigger is always better, but some of us have limitations. The common cages you will find are usually 18x18x36in or 24x24x48. Though you will find sites that rate the smaller 18x18x36 as sufficient, this is really only true for females (Panther) or smaller species. If your space is limited, consider one of these types of chameleons.
*Note that these are the enclosure sizes commonly available, specialty companies such as the DragonStand Cage Company offer a larger cage size at 46.75″ x 23″ x 48″
The second aspect is it must aid in creating the correct environment for our chameleon. Two important factors of this will be good ventilation and humidity control. The chameleons most commonly kept as pets, Panthers, Veileds, and Jackson’s chameleons, require lower humidity during the day, and 100% humidity and cooler temps (under 70f) at night. It is best if you can get the normal temp/humidity of the location your cage will sit. This can help you decide what you will need.
Enclosure styles can range from all screen, screen front and top with solid sides, to screen top with vented glass front. If your spot is particularly cold or very dry, a more enclosed cage may be a better choice. Most US states will sit in a zone that is good for an all screen cage, however, in warmer or colder regions where homes are controlled by AC and heaters, a more enclosed cage may be desired to better control humidity and temps.
Key factors to consider:
1. Where do I plan to put this cage and how much space can I actually provide?
2. What is the average temp and humidity of that area? This can help you decide if you need more of an all screen or hybrid option, or maybe if the area is far off in parameters, like northern areas or dry desert climates, you may want the more enclosed options.
3. What can I afford? We all want the best, name brand, custom cages, it is just not available to everyone. If your budget is low, consider that, an all screen option (usually more affordable), with a little creativity, can become a hybrid.
After considering these 3 criteria, you can decide on what chameleon is best for you. Although this seems backwards, it is actually better in many cases to know what you can provide before deciding which type of chameleon to purchase. If you max cage size is 18x18x36 or 18x36x36 you may want to look into a smaller species. See Choosing Your Chameleon
When we consider what enclosure to purchase for our beloved pet, we must take into consideration what we can realistically provide. Buying an undersized cage with the idea that "one day" I will get something bigger, is not the best situation for chameleons or their owners. Since chameleons can grow to their full size at 6 months, it would be a better use of funds to get the appropriate adult cage size.
Give your chameleon a habitat where they will be at peace and live comfortably by ensuring your enclosure has a properly planted area where you CANNOT see them. For neglectful owners’ viewing pleasure, this is often disregarded, which creates a stressful environment for chameleons, in turn causing them to have compromised immune systems and leaving them vulnerable to illnesses and infections. A properly planted enclosure will give them peace of mind and a sense of security, along with the benefits of air purification and natural beauty.
See Inspirational Enclosures for beautiful examples of proper setups.
This is one thing that is so often overlooked. Money ends up getting spent on things like fake plants and vines. These are less than optimal for chameleons. For one, Veiled Chameleons may eat the fake plants causing impaction or death. The second thing is that chameleons have comparatively delicate skin that can easily be cut or torn. In perspective, would you rather feel fresh live plants next to your skin or scratchy plastic ones? The other big factor is that fake plants do little to help with humidity or air quality. Live Plants offer comfort and health (as some chameleons will snack on plants), help maintain proper humidity, and filter out harmful toxins and chemicals from the air.
Next is the branches for them to climb and explore. There is no need to spend money here, as natural branches are your best option. Fake branches can harbor bacteria in the nooks and crannies of the plastic. Wood on the other hand actually has qualities that can kill or slow the growth of some bacteria. There is no need to treat these branches, just make sure they are free of plant pests and dried out, as some saps or oils can harm your chameleon’s feet.
As for other forms of decorations. These are generally not advised. A small statue or other non-porous/non-degradable/water resistant decoration would be fine, just avoid water features as these tend to confuse and stress chameleons, and can harbor bacteria.
See Plant Care for Tips on Keeping Your Plants Alive
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