Housing Your Chameleon
Chameleons are solitary tree dwellers, so best housed singly. Acutely sensitive to stress, they need their space, and plenty of non-toxic leaves and branches for climbing and privacy. Their home also needs to be well-ventilated. The more space they have the better, but the enclosure should be at least three feet by three feet, and a good four feet tall. You shouldn’t use a terrarium for these pets. A cage screened on three sides is ideal, and poly mesh or vinyl-coated wire will stop your pets’ toes becoming caught up in it. Keep the enclosure in a quiet area of your home.
You may want to use a substrate, but don’t have it made up of small particles, such as sand and gravel, or your pet may eat it along with their prey. Moss, paper towel or newspaper all work well, and you may find your reptiles don’t need a substrate at all. You’ll need to provide basking areas so your pets can regulate their body temperature. While Jackson’s chameleons are happier at lower daytime temperatures, up to a maximum of 85°F, veiled and panther chameleons like it to be a few degrees warmer. That means between 75°F and 90°F for panthers and between 80°F and 90°F for veiled chameleons. At night, let the thermometer come down by between 10°F and 15°F. You’ll also have to provide a basking spot for all chameleons, where the needle reaches 95°F.
Chameleons tend to fare better with access to natural sunlight, but if this is not possible you will need to invest in some incandescent and full spectrum (UV) fluorescent lighting. You could combine this with allowing your chameleons access to natural sunlight outside, or through an open window. Humidity is an important part of care for all varieties of chameleon and helps skin shedding. While panthers need 60 to 85% humidity, veiled chameleons are happiest at around 50%, and with Jackson’s aim for between 50 and 80% humidity.
Chameleons will rarely lap water from a dish, but will lick drops from plant leaves, so mist plants regularly and consider installing a drip system so water droplets cascade over the plants. You can either buy a dripping system or make one yourself from plastic cartons, or even pop an ice cube on top of the cage and allow it melt in drips. Owners disagree on whether the animal itself should be misted.
Feeding Your Chameleon
Chameleons are insectivores, and therefore eat a variety of insects. While they love crickets, these shouldn’t make up more than half your pet’s diet. Feed crickets dark leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables, supplemented with calcium powder. Crickets should have eaten just before they are fed to your chameleon. Other insects and larvae, including waxworms, earthworms, flies, caterpillars and grasshoppers, can all be given to your reptile to make up a varied diet. You could pick up many of these from the garden, as long as pesticide has not been sprayed. Sprinkle prey with calcium and vitamin supplement powder on alternate feedings. Insects, and indeed any other uneaten food, should not be kept inside the enclosure for long periods.
Some chameleons will sometimes also eat baby mice, or vegetables – dark, leafy greens work best. Either feed your reptile by hand or put all food items into a bowl. Feed adults just once a day, younger reptiles several times daily. It’s not uncommon for growing reptiles to eat 15 crickets a day. Each creature should be allowed to ingest as much as it can in a single feeding. Make sure that prey is of a size that your chameleon can manage comfortably.
Common Chameleon Health Problems
Many health problems can be avoided with proper care, and the right lighting, diet, temperature and humidity. You will soon learn to watch out for changes in behavior, especially eating habits, and appearance which could indicate a health problem. Remember, chameleons are prone to stress, so need a peaceful environment and to be handled gently. Wash your hands before and after handling your reptile to stop the spread of infectious diseases such as salmonella.
Check your pet regularly and make sure it has clear eyes and nose, and that its body and tail look rounded and full. Labored breathing, lethargy, abnormal feces, weight loss or diminished appetite, and sores or abrasions on the skin, could all be indicators that something is wrong. Dehydration can be a problem with chameleons, sometimes noticeable when salt crystals form in the nostrils, or sunken eyes. Increase misting or humidity levels if you spot this.
In common with other reptiles, chameleons are also prone to Metabolic Bone Disease when exposure to UV rays is too low and the creature is not metabolizing calcium or vitamin D3. The most visible signs of this are swollen joints and limbs. With the right exposure to the rays it needs, either through direct sunlight or a basking light, you can avoid this problem.
Respiratory infections are also relatively common in chameleons. Sometimes there are no symptoms initially, but watch out for extended periods of gaping, drooling, especially when drinking, sunken eyes, or eyes which stay shut all day, restless behavior and wheezing. Stress and good general care will help prevent infection, but, if it happens, seek veterinary advice and your chameleon may need antibiotics.