Veiled Chameleon Introduction:
Veiled Chameleons are not only visually striking, but a very hardy lizard with helmet-like structures called casques on the tops of their heads. The casque is present in both the males as well as females and is believed to direct water that falls onto their heads towards their mouth. Veiled chameleons have a larger body that is banded in shades of green, yellow, and brown which they are able to manipulate and adjust to varying shades.
Names: Yemen chameleon, Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
Lifespan: Between 7 to 9 years in captivity (Some have lived longer when ideal living conditions and diet were met)
Size: Veiled chameleon females tend to be on the smaller side at just 10”- 13” (4 to 6 inches from snout to vent plus their tail). Males have been known to reach 18 to 24 inches in total length (about 12”-18” snout to vent plus their tail).
Veiled chameleon Behavior and Temperament:
Veiled chameleons are known to be territorial and even very aggressive towards other chameleons of both sexes so they should always be housed individually. Extreme care should be taken when introducing a female to a potential mate for pairing. While they are usually quite docile towards people, with that said handling tends to be stressful for them and should be kept to a minimum. They are pets better suited to being watched and admired rather than handled.
**These chameleons are not good pets for small children, or for novice lizard owners. **
Housing Veiled Chameleons:
Chameleons are one of those animals that should never be kept in a glass terrarium or aquarium because they need the ventilation that a mesh enclosure provides. Be aware of the materials used as fine metal or even fiberglass mesh is not recommended but PVC-coated hardware cloth would be better suited for their climbing and movement needs.
Both vertical and horizontal space is essential for any chameleon and adjustments must be made for the size and species you have. *Dimensions mentioned will be listed as so W”xD”xH”*. Now for a young and/or female chameleon (8”-14”) you can get away with an enclosure size of 16”x16”x30”, but it’s highly recommended that a 32”x 16”x 30” enclosure be used. This can be easily attained with simply combining 2 enclosures together with a bit of customizing. For larger and/or male chameleons (15”-24”) an enclosure minimum of 24”x24”x48” will work, but again by combining two enclosures you can attain the recommended size of 48”x24”x48”. (Remember the bigger and taller the better). Chameleons love to climb high up off the ground as they do in the wild to avoid predators by hiding and blending in with their environment all while hunting for food. An outdoor enclosure can also be used when the weather is warm enough, so long as overheating is prevented, humidity can be maintained and it’s secure from other animals or predators.
Cleanliness is going to be vital to preventing bacterial or mold growth. Using paper towels, newspaper, or tiles to line the cage makes cleaning easy and a reptile dirt mixture can be placed on top if desired. I myself do not recommend the use of wood chips or any other substrate that could be accidentally ingested and cause blockages.
Be sure to provide lots of sturdy non-toxic plants and branches. Some plants you could try to include pothos, hibiscus, and dracaena. I prefer to use artificial plants and artificial vines as they are easier to clean and maintain. A varying selection of branches should be provided, making sure there are secure perches at different levels and temperatures within the cage for your chameleon to climb on.
Heating and Lighting:
For veiled chameleons, a daytime temperature of between 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit should be provided along with a basking spot at 90 to 95 degrees. Now if your home doesn’t drop below 68 degrees at night, your chameleon will be comfortable and heating at night won’t be necessary.
Heating is best accomplished by using a basking or incandescent light in a reflector or a ceramic heat element to achieve the basking spot, all of which should be placed outside of the cage to prevent burns.
All chameleons need a full spectrum ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source. Keep the full spectrum UV light on for a minimum of 10 hours per day and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the distance that the bulb should be placed from where your chameleon can climb (usually 6 to 12 inches).
Remember these bulbs need to be replaced every six months regardless of the light being produced as they will lose their UVA/UVB spectrum over time. Chameleons can also benefit from spending limited time outdoors in natural sunlight when the temperatures are warm enough. 1-2 hours in natural light can be as beneficial as the 10 hours from the artificial lighting provided (but beware of overheating so make sure shade and even water is always available).
Humidity and Hydration:
Veiled chameleons need a moderate humidity level (50%-55%). Misting the plants daily will help with humidity levels and a drip or misting system can be used to attain this, but care should be taken as this can create humidity spikes which can lead to health concerns. Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl as they do not see standing water, but they will lap up water from a small water feature or droplets of water off plants, so a drip system also serves as a water source. Position the drip system so the water droplets cascade over the plants in the enclosure. A hygrometer to measure the humidity is a great investment to be sure you’re providing a healthy environment.
Food and Water:
Veiled chameleons are mostly insectivores so they should be fed a variety of insects every other day. Crickets are usually the mainstay of the diet but locusts, roaches, butterworms (good for calcium), silkworms, flies, and grasshoppers can all be fed, as well as mealworms. Both super worms and waxworms should only be fed sparingly as they are higher in fat content and more of a once monthly treat.
I never recommend wild-caught insects due to possible exposure to pesticides so be wary if kept outdoors and always avoid feeding your chameleon lizards, ants or fireflies. All insects should be gut-loaded with fruits and veggies like mango, carrot, sweet potato and cucumber to name a few. Many veiled chameleons will also eat a bit of plant matter so it is vital that only non-toxic plants are used in your chameleon’s enclosure.
You can offer small amounts of vegetables and fruits directly once a month such as dandelion leaves, collard greens, kale, diced zucchini, butternut squash, red pepper, blueberries, and thin slices of apple or pear. Always be sure to remove ANY uneaten food. Be sure to monitor your chameleon and adjust feeding amounts as needed. If your chameleon is too full-bodied you may want to reduce the amount, you’re feeding them. *Never leave live prey in the cage for extended periods of time as insects may attack your chameleon, which can lead to infection*
It is prudent to dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement two to three times a week. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement can be added once a week. Some experts recommend choosing a supplement that does not contain vitamin A; instead, use beta-carotene.
Selecting Your Veiled Chameleon:
As with most exotic pets, there’s no way to know if a wild-caught animal has been exposed to parasites or other potential infections. It’s always recommended and best to get your veiled chameleon from a reputable breeder. Always do your research and be ready to ask a lot of questions of any prospective seller to ascertain the quality of the animal and seller. Ask if you can watch it eat before committing to buying, if possible, to observe any appetite issues. Some other things to observe are if its eyes are cloudy or there’s any mucus around its mouth or nasal passages, these may be signs of a sick chameleon. And if it has dry patches on its skin, this may indicate a problem shedding.
Common Health Problems:
Be sure that before you’ve chosen a veiled chameleon, you have a reptile veterinarian that’s prepared to assist with any issues or concerns and to check it for parasites. This isn’t a condition that will necessarily be obvious. Like many lizards, veiled chameleons are also prone to respiratory infections, and stress-related ailments. Calcium and vitamin A deficiency, which result from a poor diet, can also be common.
If your chameleon shows redness or excess saliva around its mouth, this may be a sign of mouth rot or stomatitis. This should be treated by a veterinarian with exotic reptile experience.
MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease), a result of insufficient UVB light, is another common condition among veiled chameleons and other reptiles. They may appear to have wobbly legs, or become lethargic and have a poor appetite. This is another condition that is treatable if caught early enough, but consult your veterinarian; a low appetite is a sign of many possible conditions for chameleons, including a parasitic infection.
Other Chameleon Species:
· Panther Chameleon
· Jackson’s Chameleon
· Parson’s Chameleon
· Carpet Chameleon
· Fischer’s Chameleon