Chameleons are fascinating pets, but have much higher care standards and require more time and monetary investment than many people think. They are very sensitive animals and even small changes to their husbandry can have tremendous effects.
Can I put some chameleons in my old aquarium?
Screened enclosures are required for chameleons; they need fresh air. They are also arboreal, so vertically-oriented screened enclosures are ideal, with branches and plants and plenty of room to climb. However, chameleons need to be housed alone; they do not like living with others.
Do I need a special light?
Yes! Chameleons require UV rays for calcium absorption and warm temperatures to digest. Some brands of UVA/UVB bulbs can be unreliable and may not have the advertised UV output, so we recommend Arcadia or MegaRay brand UV bulbs. Mercury vapor UV bulbs work well, as they have strong UV rays and produce a significant amount of heat to provide a quality basking spot! They should be on a schedule of 12 hours of UV light and 12 hours of nighttime. Just make sure the light isn’t passing through glass or acrylic; these barriers cut out the UV rays. To maintain warmer temperatures overnight, try a ceramic heat emitter (CHE), which provides heat but no light!
What kind of substrate do I put in the bottom of their enclosure?
Ideally, none! Providing minimal substrate, such as paper towel or newspaper, is usually best for chameleons. It is easy to clean and they can’t mistakenly ingest pieces of substrate when hunting. In any case, they shouldn’t be spending much time on the floor of their enclosure; if they are, it’s time to see a veterinarian!
Can I just feed my chameleon crickets?
Variety is the spice of life! Not only will a varied diet keep your pet interested, but each kind of feeder provides different nutrients! Dubia roaches, mealworms, and superworms are staples you can find at most pet supply stores. Other great feeder insects you can find at specialty shops and online are phoenix worms, soldier fly larvae, wax worms, and even stick bugs! Avoid hornworms, as they have high levels of calcium and phosphorus that can lead to nutritional imbalance. Make sure you get your feeder bugs from reliable sources to avoid disease and parasites!
How do I feed my chameleon without feeder insects climbing all over the enclosure?
Be careful with feeder insects–roaming crickets may try to munch on your chameleon, especially their toes! Tong-feeding can be time-consuming, but allows you to monitor your animal’s exact intake. If you need to leave feeder insects in the enclosure, you can try cup-feeding! Take a deep cup with smooth sides (so the insects can’t climb out) and place feeders securely inside. You can use a cup deep enough that crickets cannot jump out, and/or remove the large leaping legs from the crickets before placing them in the container. Placing crickets in the refrigerator for up to 10 minutes slows them down enough to handle them; cold puts them into an almost comatose state! This way, the chameleon can still hunt them, but the bugs are limited to a small area and cannot harm your animal!
I never see my chameleon drink from their bowl; are they dehydrated?
Probably! Chameleons do not recognize standing water and may not be getting enough water through occasional misting alone. A dripper or frequent misting system is required to stimulate your chameleon to drink.
My chameleon chews on their plants, is that okay?
Absolutely! For some species of chameleons, like Veiled Chameleons, a small portion of their diet should be greens. You can offer mixed greens or chopped vegetables in a shallow bowl. Whether or not your chameleon species eats plant material, adding ficus and hibiscus plants in their enclosure provides both snacking and climbing opportunities!
When should I take my chameleon to the vet?
Just like with our warm-blooded pets, chameleons should have an annual exam with a veterinarian to address any issues that may be arising. Yearly fecal analyses are also recommended, as they can pick up intestinal parasites from the bugs they eat! Otherwise, any changes in their eating habits, behavior, or fecal output or consistency are indicators that a vet visit is in order. Chameleons are sensitive creatures; you’ll be glad you brought them in sooner rather than later!
Written by: Lindsay Magill