Deserts of Yemen, Arabian Peninsula, & Saudi Arabia
Rainforest to Desert
8” to 10” in length
When feeding a veiled chameleon, a combination of at least five different insect sources should be provided. Insects and fruits and vegetables can be combined into a tipped container with a branch inserted inside to allow the animal to exit and enter its food dish and to prevent any insects from escaping. Silkworms, which are soft-bodied caterpillars, can be obtained by mail order from a variety of places and are relatively easy to keep on hand. Fruit flies are ideal for neonate chameleons or smaller species of chameleons. Crickets typically comprise a significant part of a chameleon's diet, however, these insects have a poor calcium to phosphorous ratio, and a calcium supplement should be included. Mealworms are great to use in that they can be loaded with nutrients by feeding them fruits and vegetables and then fed to the animal. Zoophobus, which look like larger versions of mealworms, can also be used as food. However, "king worms" or "giant mealworms" should be avoided in that these insects are commonly fed hormone supplements to increase their growth. Waxworms also can be used as a supplement, but should be used sparingly due to the high fat content that they contain. Wax moths, which are adult wax worms, can also be fed to veiled chameleons, but sparingly. Tropical roaches are very good for chameleons in that their diet consists of only fruits and vegetables and are therefore packed with nutrients. Wild caught insects such as houseflies, grasshoppers, spiders, centipedes, and crickets can also be used as food items, but care should be taken that the collection sites are in an area where insecticides are not used. Larger chameleons can eat pinkie mice or even small lizards such as green and brown anoles. Any food item given to a chameleon should be no larger than 1/3 the size of the animals' head.
Calcium supplements with little or no phosphorous should be provided at every feeding. The correct calcium to phosphorous content should be a 2:1 ratio, however, since high phosphorous is provided in insects a phosphorous free calcium supplement such as Repti-cal is recommended. Calcium supplements derived from calcium carbonate instead of oyster shells should also be sought. Evidence has been mounting that oyster shell derived calcium supplements are difficult for the animal to absorb and may also contain lead impurities. Multivitamin supplements should be used no more than 2-3 times weekly. Bee pollen can also be purchased at health food stores and provides a safe source of vitamin B, protein, amino acids and enzymes. Vitamin B also functions as an appetite stimulant and hunger strikes by the chameleon are typically avoided by incorporating this vitamin.
Providing an adequate environment for a veiled chameleon represents the most difficult task in a chameleon's care. Since veiled chameleons are aggressive and territorial, they should always be housed separately thus avoiding undue stress upon the animals. Three important aspects must be provided for a chameleon in order for it to remain content, thus lengthening its lifespan.
First of all a large enough enclosure must be provided in which the animal may demonstrate its natural conduct of hunting, basking, feeding, and perching. There must be a temperature gradient present in order for the animal to thermoregulate its body temperature. Typically, cages for an adult chameleon should be constructed of coated screen, standard aluminum or fiberglass screens should be avoided in that foot injuries often result as a consequence. As with any animal in captivity, the larger its housing, the happier the animal will be. Minimum cage sizes for an adult veiled are 36" x 36" x 48".
Live plants can also provide refuge as well as maintain proper humidity. Nontoxic plants such as pothos, benjamina, chinese evergreen, hibiscus, sheffelera, and grape and kiwi vines. Pothos is a mildly toxic plant, however no ill effects of these plants have been observed upon chameleons. One plant which should be avoided are ficus plants, these plants secrete a white milky substance and have been culprit in causing numerous eye infections in captive chameleons.
Proper substrate for a chameleon enclosure can consist of newspaper, paper towels, sterile soil, peat moss or bark chips. Vermiculite, perlite, and sterelite substrates should be avoided at all costs in that they can cause intestinal blockage and result in the death of the animal.
Chameleons do not typically drink from standing water dishes, they require moving water or else they sip droplets. Providing a constant supply of water can be performed in a variety of ways. Misting the animal twice daily can provide both a water supply as well as raise the humidity within the enclosure. The natural environment of the veiled chameleon typically receives between 60-120 in of rainfall annually therefore a constant supply of water is vital. In cage rain systems can be constructed from PVC piping as seen in the reptile room. Here, tubing is connected to a water supply and the tubing contains holes in it which allow drips of water to be distributed properly, its benefits cannot be understated. Automated misting systems can also be used and involve pressurized water being forced through screened heads creating a fine mist over a broad area.
A drip system may also be employed which can take the form of an IV drip into the enclosure. Pre-made drip systems are available at many reptile oriented pet shops and can be assembled relatively quickly. The disadvantage of this system arises in that the water delivery is isolated to one area, and daily maintenance is required to refill and clean the system. Manual misting may also be used, however, sufficient amounts of water are impossible to provide by this method to larger chameleons.
Heating & Lighting Requirements
Temperature ranges within the enclosure can vary, however, an ambient day temperature of 75-85° F coupled with a basking area temperature of 90-105° F is preferred. A 10-15° F temperature drop at night should also be maintained.
The second important consideration for a proper enclosure involves proper ventilation. Glass aquariums should never be used in the housing of chameleons in that there is poor ventilation creating stagnant air and a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. In a glass enclosure a chameleon can also view itself which may lead to the animal taking a defensive stance and never being permitted to relax, leading to stress and possible death of the animal. Glass also permits the animal to view outside the enclosure, an area in which it cannot reach, causing the chameleon to claw at the glass and likewise create a stressful environmental in which death may ensue.
Good lighting sources including at least one incandescent basking light, one fluorescent full spectrum light, and exposure to natural unfiltered sunlight should be sought. This can be done by placing the chameleon's enclosure near an east, south or west facing window. Normal glass filters out 100% of all UV light needed by the chameleon. Windowpanes could be replaced with low iron glass or during nice days, the window can be opened to allow unfiltered light to reach the animal.
Humidity: Veiled chameleons do not require high humidity environments and can survive humidity levels as low as 50-60%. However a higher humidity ranging from 70-80% is ideal.
Not recommended, can cause stress
Troubleshooting: Problems arising from chameleons in captivity involve parasitism, metabolic bone disease, dehydration, kidney failure, nutritional inadequacies, stress, mal adaptation to captivity, and hunger strikes. Internal parasites can be evaluated and cured by taking a fecal sample to a veterinarian for inspection, however, if left untreated can result in the death of the animal. Metabolic bone disease (MBD) results in malformed, fragile bone tissue arising from the lack of incorporation of ingested calcium into the animals body. This may arise from a lack of the 2:1 calcium/phosphorous ratio or from the lack of sunlight providing the proper spectrum for the incorporation of these elements. Dehydration ranks as one of the most common causes of chameleon death second to stress. Dehydration can result in a loss of appetite, lethargy, or sunken eyes and can eventually lead to kidney failure and death. Simply providing enough water will eliminate this possible problem. Providing a varied diet for your chameleon will also aid the chameleon's health, thus avoiding any nutritional inadequacies.
Stress is one of the most common reasons for death in chameleons. Chronic stress can suppress the animals' immune system thus leading to eventual death. Minimizing the stress placed on a chameleon is essential to its livelihood. The enclosure should be kept in a low to no traffic area with minimal human contact. If you want to observe your chameleon, the visual barrier should be removed and you should sit still and not make any sudden movements in which the animal becomes frightened. A chameleon should also never be picked up unless absolutely necessary. If being handled, the chameleon should walk onto your hand, not placed there. This can cause an unmeasurable amount of stress upon the animal and death may be a result of this action. Hunger strikes may arise from a stressful situation, and the animal and death may be a result of this action. By providing a balanced diet and vitamin B, this situation can be avoided.
Another problem which may be observed involves the situation of a chameleon getting particles of dirt or dust in their eye. In response to a foreign particle in the eye, a chameleon's immune defense will react and cause the eye to swell up to three times its usual size. Usually, the particle can be rubbed out by the animal. Medical assistance should be sought if mucous is noticed or the eye beings to crust over.
Veiled Chameleons (Chameleon calyptratus) originate in the mountainous deserts of Yemen, Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. These chameleons are well suited for a beginner chameleon owner in that they are hardier than other chameleon species. However, as with all chameleons, these animals tolerate limited handling and react poorly with stressful situations or environments. When dealing with chameleons, STRESS = DEATH.
Male veiled chameleons typically reach a size of 5-6 in. (snout to vent) although there have been reports of males reaching over 18 in. and females 8-9 in. Lifespan of these animals vary due to their care and sex. Females typically live between 3-5 years and males can live up to 10. Secondary sex characteristics include the pressure of a small spur on the ankles of a male's back legs; males also tend to be more colorful than the females.