Chameleons can be very hard to keep alive in captivity. If you are looking for an easy lizard to raise you should probably check with your pet store and see what else they can sell you. But if you are serious about raising a Chameleon you will find they are by far the most fascinating pets you could ever ask for.
A few tips for the new owner:
Selecting your Pet:
First time owners should pick either a Veiled or Panther Chameleon. While not easy to keep, they are hardier and a bit more social than other types. Itís very tough to tell the sex of a young Chameleon Ė your pet store may not know the sex but if they do, get a Male if at all possible. Males tend to be larger and more colorful and live longer. Most importantly they donít lay eggs. Most female Chameleons will lay eggs at some point even if they have never been with a male. A female Chameleon can become ďegg boundĒ and sometimes die. Never buy a sick Chameleon. Chameleons donít show signs of disease until the disease is very advanced Ė they will almost certainly die. Look for one that is alert and active. Look for any sign of injury, sores around the mouth, bowed legs, etc.
Your Chameleonís New Home:
A glass Terrarium is not an appropriate home for your Chameleon. There are two main problems with the typical glass terrarium. First, although the humidity will be high, there isnít enough airflow for a Chameleon in a Terrarium which can lead to disease. Second, the glass will allow your pet to see his reflection. Chameleons are very territorial and the sight of another Chameleon or even his own reflection will cause him great stress. You can NOT keep two Chameleonís together in the same cage or within sight of each other. Even the smell of another Chameleon can cause an adult Chameleon to stop eating and in rare cases, die.
Your Chameleon will do best if he is kept in a tall screen mesh cage. You can build one yourself, you can ask your pet store to order you a Reptarium by Apogee (Canadian Distributor: Anipet 604-591-3368) or you can buy one from Port Credit Pet Centre in Ontario at 905-274-8018. Get the tallest cage you can fit in the space you have available. If you can afford a bit more for your cage your Chameleon will love you. Go to www.cages.net for the best cages available.
A temperature gradient is critical Ė warm at the top of the cage, cool at the bottom. You will need a warm basking light at the top of the cage (it wonít melt a Reptarium). It doesnít have to be a red light Ė just a regular 20 Ė 60 watt bulb will be fine. Adjust the wattage of the bulb depending on the size and height of your enclosure Ė donít cook your pet! The highest temperature in the cage should be about 85 Ė 90F (28-32C) degrees at the top and about 70F (20C) at the bottom of the cage. Turn the lights off at night Ė a cooler rest cycle is important. Night time temperature should not fall much below 65F (18C) degrees. Measure this with a thermometer Ė itís important.
You will need a UV bulb to provide a critical source of Vitamin D3 for your Chameleon. Make sure to get a bulb which says 5.0 UVB Ė many bulbs like the Reptiglow just donít have enough UV for a Chameleon. Click here for more details.
Plants & Climbing:
Live plants in the cage are best. Your Chameleon will need to be able to climb to the top of his cage for warmth then move to the bottom when heís too hot. Make sure he can climb the plant you select. The Pothos is ideal. Try the ďSong of JamaicaĒ, the Hibiscus and other tropical plants are great too. A few sticks are great to climb on too.
Your Chameleon will eat almost any non-stinging insect (except ants) and they love variety. In the winter your Chameleon will probably only have access to crickets, meal worms or super worms which you can buy at a pet store. As a general rule donít feed your Chameleon a cricket thatís larger than the width of his head Ė they will choke. Although Chameleons usually love them, meal worms are covered in a thick waxy coating thatís a bit hard to digest. For larger Adult Chameleons, when possible, order Superworms instead of meal worms. They look like giant soft meal worms and are a nice treat. In the summer, a really treat is a juicy fly. Chameleon's love them. Click here for more details.
Chameleons will eat anywhere from 3 to 10 crickets a day. My adult Panther Chameleon eats 5 large crickets and two Superworms a day. Donít overfeed female Chameleons or you will shorten the lifespan of your pet. Crickets and meal worms are low in many nutrients that are critical for survival. For this reason you should feed your crickets healthy food. Fruits and grains are very important food for your crickets. ďGut LoadingĒ the cricket with nutrients makes them a much more nutritious meal. You will also need to feed your Chameleon a supplement about twice a week. Spray the insects lightly with water then dust them with a vitamin supplement powder. Check with your pet store or you can order a good supplement and also cricket food on-line from www.herpnutrition.com or call 540-626-3081.
Your Chameleon needs fairly high humidity. You will need to mist your pet at least twice a day with warm water. Use an inexpensive plant mister from Walmart. This is NOT optional.
If Humidity is low in your area you may wish to make a Johnson Fogger.
Getting your Chameleon to drink will be your biggest challenge. Chameleons donít recognize standing water as a drinking source. They can only drink from moving or dripping water. Some owners use water fountains but these can become contaminated with bacteria quickly. The best source of water is a small bucket with a few small holes in the bottom. Use warm water. The water should drip about 3 times per second or so. Mist him for 2 to 3 minutes with warm water while the dripping water falls on a leaf beside your Chameleon or runs down his back. Some Chameleons will only drink from leaves while others will only drink water running down their body.
In a word: Donít. At least not very often. Chameleons often die from stress and handling is stressful for your Chameleon. That being said, if you are gentle and move slowly you will minimize stress for your pet. Some individual Chameleons tolerate handling better than others. If your Chameleon opens his mouth and hisses heís stressed. Bright color displays also indicate stress. Read the warning signs of stress and you will be fine.
Help and On-Line Resources:
The site http://www.chameleonjournals.com/ is excellent and has many links to other sites. Follow the instructions to subscribe to the Chameleon List Server to allow you direct contact with your fellow owners.
About the Author:
Iím just a fellow Chameleon owner with no special training Ė other than a few years of experience. Iíve talked to many owners and read everything I can get my hands on. My first Chameleon died because I didnít know what I was doing. Iíd love to help you avoid my mistakes. I donít consider myself to be an expert but Iíd be happy to help you find information and put you in touch with resources and other Chameleon owners. Please feel free to call any time.
Bob Hamilton (306) 789-9080 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org