Your chameleons enclosure will be the place that he/she will spend the rest of their lives. It is imperative that we set it up correctly, ensuring that every need is fulfilled for their comfort, health and happiness.
There are various ways in which keepers can set up an effective home, however there are some critical points that must meet certain specifications. Failure to do so may cause a number of different health issues, both rapid and progressive.
See Inspirational Enclosures for beautiful examples of proper setups.
Chameleons are arboreal creatures (tree dwellers) and are commonly found in treetops that are 20-50 feet above the ground. This gives them a natural sense of security from any ground dwelling predators. Keeping the enclosure low or on the ground will cause them to be in a constant state of fear, which will weaken your chameleons immune system, increasing the risks of illness and impeding their ability to heal from injury. The top of your enclosure should be higher than the tallest person frequenting the area. Metal shelving units, tables, desks, and dressers are commonly used to elevate cages (keep in mind the weight and moisture of your cage when deciding).
Chameleons will do best in low traffic areas. If your enclosure is in a busy room be sure to provide additional coverage for the chameleons privacy.
Keep your enclosure away from heating and ac vents, proximity may be closer (but not flowing directly at the cage) if they are being used strictly to help create the chameleons appropriate climate. A hybrid or glass enclosure may be necessary if air vents are unavoidable.
Your chameleons enclosure will need a catchment and drainage system for excess water from mist heads, drippers, and watering of plants. Water must not collect inside of the cage, this will become a health risk. A drainage tray will catch excess water underneath the cage floor where it can be siphoned, sucked into a shop vac, or funneled into a reservoir.
In bioactive enclosures, a PVC pipe can be set up as a “down tube” into the false bottom, where a siphon hose may be inserted and drain excess water (See SerpaDesigns YouTube tutorial); or a hole can be drilled into the bottom of the side, or the floor, of the substrate container where a bulkhead and hose or spigot may be attached for drainage.
There are many options and creative DIYs to handling the drainage of chameleon enclosures, choose one that works best for you.
This is a common concern and will be dependent upon the strength of your bulb and the type of fixture it’s in. The amount of UVB output will be significantly different with every inch of distance. Your placement must be precise for optimal levels that will provide sufficient vitamin D, while not causing burns or overexposure.
We are looking for a UVI of 3-6. A UV meter is highly recommended to get the exact numbers in your enclosure, which may vary depending on the size of your fixtures’ reflectors and the reflective qualities of the enclosure walls.
For most chameleons, the recommended distance between the t5HO light bulb (through screen) and the top of your chameleon are:
8-9” for 5.0/6% in a single bulb reflector
5-6” for 5.0/6% in a multi-bulb reflector
12-14” for 10.0/12% in a single bulb reflector
7” for 10.0/12% in a multi-bulb reflector
*These are the recommendations are based on the Chameleon Academy’s care sheets and podcast* (click here for Chameleon Academy UVB Chart)
Your light should be positioned from the left-side to the right-side across the center, or from a left corner to a right corner, and also be above and parallel to the basking branch. When using multi-bulb fixtures, place UVB bulb in the slot closest to your heat lamp.
The optimal setup is to have your UVB mounted above your cage. If you have your fixture directly on the top of the enclosure, you must consistently monitor your chameleon for any screen climbing on the cage ceiling, this may cause severe burns and will require treatment.
See Chameleon Health for information on burns, injuries, and infections.
The heat light will be next to your UVB light and should be angled toward the basking spot, if your fixture is not dimmable, you will need to raise or lower your light fixture in order to generate the correct basking temps in your enclosure (the height of the heat light will depend on your climate and cage type).
The most commonly used temperature and humidity gauges are the digital ones with probes. You will need to mount your temperature probe on top of the branch in the basking area. The humidity probe will be best in an area where it will not be sprayed or dripped on, near the area your chameleon usually sleeps. Use zip ties to secure probes, be sure to clean cut the zip ties (a curved nail clipper works well for this). Gauges without probes will need to be mounted to the sides of your enclosure as close to the appropriate areas as possible.
See Thermometers and Hydrometers for recommended options.
If you are using an automatic mister, you will need to make sure you place the mist head in an area where it will spray onto the plant leaves, without spraying ample amounts of water through the cage screen onto your walls or near your outlets. Avoid having the pressurized water blast the chameleon directly at close range.
Distilled or RO water will be necessary to avoid buildup and clogging (and water spot residue on glass). See ReptiZoo YouTube tutorial on Rainfall System setup. See Pangea YouTube tutorial on MistKing Setup
Place your fogger outlet in a position that will allow the cloud to reach the area your chameleon normally sleeps. Reposition if your chameleon likes to sleep in an area that is more than a couple inches outside the stream of fog. Even with the cloud of humid air flowing through the cage, some areas in the enclosure may not reach the appropriate level of humidity (100%) for optimal hydration.
As with misting systems, distilled or RO water will help avoid buildup. Be sure that your enclosure has proper airflow and fog ONLY at night while your temps have dropped. See ReptiZoo YouTube tutorial on Digital Timing Humidifier/Fogger setup. See ZooMed YouTube tutorial on ReptiFogger setup
The dripper should be placed where it will drip onto leaves that your chameleon can access and drink off of. Be aware of the plants under this stream, they will need to be tolerant of the excess water and will likely need fast draining soil and planters with multiple drainage holes.
See Plant Care Products for recommended soil drainage additives and planters.
Some keepers prefer bare bottoms with mounted plants, some will have a few large potted plants (with lots of foliage filling their enclosures), while others may have the entire enclosure filled with plants and microfauna.
Regardless of your preferences, you will need to ensure your placement provides your chameleon with an open area for basking, a lush and hidden area for security and humidity pockets, and access branches to feeder cup and drinking leaves.
Branches do not need sterilization. Check for pests or saps and remove with ½ diluted hydrogen peroxide or vinegar as needed. Dragon ledges, bamboo, wooden dowels, and zip ties will help with mounting your planters.
Your plant selection should include a number of indoor plants that will tolerate low light conditions. The tops and roots of plants should be rinsed well (with soapy water if pests or pesticides are present) and planted into new soil, then the soil should be covered by rocks, mesh screen, or leaf litter (for bioactive substrates). The plants in chameleon cages have special soil mixture requirements for best results.
See Plant options and Plant Care Guide for recommended chameleon safe plants, soil recipes for potted plants and bioactive substrates, and instructions for keeping your plants healthy. Dragon ledges for mounting plants can be found here.
Your feeder cup should be placed within reach from a branch around the middle to upper areas of the cage, some chameleons will not often venture to the bottom of the enclosure. Avoid clear feeder cups, this may confuse your chameleon and he/she will attempt to catch insects through the sides. Dust your feeders very lightly, preferably in a separate container, before placing into feeder cup. Excess amounts of supplements sitting in the feeder cup may accidentally be ingested by a missed tongue shot and cause health issues.
See Feeding and Supplementation for information on feeder types, gut-loading, and supplement schedule.
Female chameleons will need a laying bin by the time they are old enough to reproduce (around 6 months). This is a critical component to the enclosure of egg laying females with or without mating. There are some species that give live birth and do not require a lay bin (such as the Jackson’s chameleon). Lack of a proper lay bin will result in egg-binding and will require medical intervention.
See Chameleon Health for signs and symptoms of egg-binding.
A 12x12 inch to 16x16 inch container (at least 6-7 inches deep) filled with washed play sand, or 50/50 play sand and soil mix, is the most recommended setup for a laying bin. The sand must be kept moist enough to hold its shape but not be water logged. Ample privacy is also important. Some expert breeders have the entire enclosure on a planter box or trash bin to give their females multiple options for egg placement.
We have created a detailed list of the items you will need for setting up your enclosure. We’ve also put together a shopping list to help you keep track of your purchases and to ensure your chameleon has everything he/she needs for a peaceful and happy life. This list will also help you to fill out husbandry assessments and keep record of your UVB bulb replacement dates.
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