24 05 2011


There are few reptiles more difficult to care for than chameleons.  Captive bred animals tend to be healthier than wild-caught varieties which tend to carry high parasite loads and do not adapt well to captivity.  There are three commonly seen captive bred chameleons available on the market.  These include Jackson’s, veiled and panther chameleons.

Jackson’s chameleons (Chamaeleo jacksonii xantholophus) are a medium sized chameleon.  Males may reach up to 14 inches with the females being several inches smaller.  Green is the most common color but they can also be found in shades of brown, black and sometimes blue.  The most characteristic feature of these chameleons is that the males have three facial horns giving them the look of a miniature dinosaur.  The female either lacks these horns or will have very small nubs.

The Jackson chameleon is native to Kenya and Tanzania but is commonly imported from Hawaii, where they are an invasive (not native) species.  Of all the wild caught chameleons these tend to fair the best.

Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are the most common captive-bred chameleon.  These are large chameleons 6 to 12 inches snout to vent (does not include the tail).  Males tend to be much larger than females. The male veileds have a base color that is yellow and green complimented with areas of brown, black, white and blue.  Females are primarily green in color with white patches unless pregnant.  Pregnant females are black with green with yellow areas.

Male veileds have a small triangular appendage in the crux of their of their rear feet called a tarsal spur.  Males also have a very high fin-like structure on top of their heads called a casque. Females have a casque as well but it is significantly smaller.

Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) are even larger with males ranging from 12 to 17 inches from snout to vent while females are smaller measuring from 7 to 9 inches.  The male panther chameleons are very colorful with shades of red, orange, green, yellow and blue.  These chameleons are originally from Madagascar and are more common today than at any time in previous history.  The effects of man, clearing forest areas for agriculture has made conditions ideal for this particular species to thrive. The Nosy be panther is primarily a sky blue color while the Ambanja panther is primarily orange, red and yellow with blue and green highlights.  Females tend to be considerably smaller and duller in color than the males of the species.

The color intensity of panthers varies with the seasons.  The greatest range of color is displayed during the warm months when reproduction takes place.  These lizards will “go dull”, sometimes for months, when it’s cooler and daylight hours are reduced.  At night all panther chameleons will generally look brightly colored.

Female panthers will also change color to signal prospective males that they are ready to breed.  During this period they appear primarily light gray or tan.  If a female panthers has already bred and is carrying developing egg, the color is orange color with contrasting dark vertical bands.

All chameleons do not tolerate excessive handling.  After three months of age they should not be housed together for especially the males will fight and can injure each other. Cross ventilation is important so the enclosure should have at least two sides that are made of screen to allow for cross-ventilation.  The minimum enclosure should be 2 feet by 2 feet by 3 feet for an adult chameleon.  No loose substrate should be used on the bottom of the enclosure since he chameleon may accidentally ingest some when catching prey.  Newspaper or butcher paper is the preferred substrate.

In their natural environment chameleons are arboreal or tree dwellers.  They need a variety of branches and vines to climb in their enclosures.  Chameleon enclosures should include plants.  The best plants to use are pothos and ficus.  The choice of plants are important for toxic plants may have irritating sap that can hurt the chameleon’s skin and veiled chameleons will often eat the vegetation.

Lighting and temperature are important in housing the various chameleon species.  All chameleons need a warm spot within the enclosure in which they may bask below a heat source which may be accomplished by a heat lamp or bulb.  Temperature requirements vary among species. The Jackson’s chameleon will tolerate cooler temperatures than will a veiled or Panther chameleons.  The Jackson chameleons may be housed at temperatures in the 70’s during the day and the temperature may be dropped to the 50’s or 60’s during the evening.  Their basking area should be 80 to 85 degrees while the other portion of the cage should not be heated allowing refuge from the warmer temperatures.  Eight to twelve hours of darkness should be provided daily.

Veiled chameleons require and ambient temperature of 70 to 80 degrees, with a basking spot of 90 to 100 degrees.

Panther chameleons need an ambient temperature of 70 to 80 degrees and a basking spot of 90 degrees.

All chameleons require full-spectrum lighting that provides wavelengths in the UVB range.  Full-spectrum lighting is required to manufacture active vitamin D or Vitamin D3 which is essential for the absorption of calcium.  Without full spectrum lighting, chameleons will develop metabolic bone disease which may result in factures and malformations.

The diet required by chameleons is varied and depends on the type and size of chameleon in question.  Potential food items include crickets, mealworms, waxworms, cockroaches, butterworms and for the young chameleons fruit flies.  Veiled chameleons will also appreciated high-quality greens, such as collard, mustard and endive.

Chameleons also require calcium supplementation.  Adult chameleons will eat every other day and require calcium supplementation twice weekly.  Baby chameleons should be fed small food items and calcium supplementation daily.

The prey fed to chameleons should be high-quality by going though a process known as “gut loading”.  The prey insects should be fed high-quality greens or vegetables such as zucchini and squash before being fed to the chameleon.  There are some commercial gut-loading products now on the market.

Chameleons will not drink from standing water.  These animals will lick moisture off of the plants in an enclosure more of a dripping system.  To provide enough moisture they should be misted frequently.  Automatic foggers and misters may be used for added convenience. The Jackson and panther chameleons require a relative humidity of 70 to 100 percent. Veiled chameleons do not have as high a humidity requirement and may be misted several times weekly.


Love, Bill.  “Panthers in Paradise.”  Pet Product News International.  October 2008. P. 73.

Rea, Sandra.  “When’s Dinner?  Choosing the right Reptile Dish Means Looking at Safety and Suitability.”  Pet Product News International.  January 2008. P. 109.

Spiess, Petra.  “The Colorful Chameleon”  Pet Product News International.  November 2007. Pp. 50-51.




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