Chameleons are common pets among the reptiles because of their beauty and uniqueness. There are many species of chameleons, and as a pet owner, you need to be aware of where your chameleon is native to in order to know about all of its needs.
It may sound like fun to have a pet chameleon, but looking after it is not an easy task for first-time handlers and definitely not for the faint-hearted. A chameleon is a fragile animal, and one mistake could cause a lot more harm than anticipated. As a pet owner, therefore, you need to meet the specific needs of the chameleon to ensure that it lives a long healthy life.
Required Chameleon Supplies
Just like fish are kept in aquariums, chameleons are kept in a terrarium. A terrarium will determine how happy or sad your chameleon is, so it is essential to get this right. A chameleon needs to be kept in a large terrarium where it can walk around and climb freely. The terrarium should be made of glass and mesh to allow sufficient airflow in and out of the chameleon’s habitat. The terrarium also needs to be taller and wider to allow the chameleon to climb.
The size of the terrarium will also depend on the type of chameleon that you have. For a veiled adult chameleon, the terrarium should measure at least 40 x 40 x 47 inches (length, width, height respectively) while smaller chameleons need terrariums that measure not less than 31 x 23 x 40 inches.
If you have a young chameleon, you do not have to get a large terrarium unless you are hand-feeding it. This is because it will be harder for the chameleon to hunt for insects in a large terrarium. If you cannot hand-feed your baby chameleon, it would be best to gradually increase the size of the terrarium as the chameleon grows.
Lighting is essential for a chameleon’s health, and you need to ensure that your chameleon receives the correct lighting to live a long healthy life. Out there in the open, chameleons acquire UV-B light from the UV rays emitted by the sun. A UV-B light is critical for chameleons as they need it to survive. It enables the formation of vitamin D3 in the skin of the chameleon which allows for the absorption and utilization of calcium from their food. Lack of UV-B light will cause metabolic bone disease which eventually leads to death.
Because kept chameleons mostly stay indoors, you need to ensure that they get UV-B light at all costs. You can take the chameleon outside to receive natural unfiltered sunlight because UV-B cannot penetrate glass or plastic. The other option is to purchase a UVB bulb. You will, however, need to change the UVB bulb after every six months because even though it will still be shining, the bulb will have stopped emitting enough UVB levels, and this will not be good for the chameleon’s health. The chameleon should be exposed to 10 hours of light during the day and have total darkness at night.
Chameleons, like all reptiles, are ectothermic meaning they cannot produce their own heat and have to rely on heat from the environment. Chameleons require temperatures ranging between 77 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the night. These temperatures are needed for certain body functions to take place in your chameleon including digestion.
A chameleon in its cage can get heat from basking bulbs or heat lamps. The bulbs should be placed outside the cage so that the chameleon doesn’t get burnt by accident, and it should not produce so much heat that it heats the entire enclosure. The warmth will help the chameleon to digest its food properly, but it also needs some place to cool down.
You can also use an old-fashioned light bulb since this too generates heat. The chameleon will move to the hot or cold section of the cage depending on its metabolism; thus, the reason why it is essential to pay attention to the heat requirements of the cage.
A humid environment helps the chameleon to stay hydrated especially at night since they breathe in some moisture in the form of humidity. Chameleons in the wild get moisture from food, dew, rain, and humidity, so don’t expect yours to drink out of a dish. Chameleons instead lick moisture off leaves and other surfaces where the moisture has condensed, and it will do the same in its cage. The humidity of your chameleon’s habitat will depend on the species and the place that you live.
Humidifiers are a great way to add moisture to the habitat as you can use them to generate a fog bank at night so your chameleon can wake up to some moisture and dew in its cage in the morning. It is, however, important to note that humidifiers need to be kept clean at all times to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and fungus which could cause your chameleon to become sick. You can purchase a commercially made humidifier or make one at home using easily available tools. There are lots of videos online that show how you can make your own humidifier. Either way, you need to keep a close eye on the humidity of your pet's habitat, and you can use a humidity gauge to do this.
You, however, need to ensure that all the surfaces in the cage are fully dry. A damp cage would make the habitat unhygienic and unsafe for your chameleon as it can get sick. The best way to dry your chameleon’s cage is by using a basking light with the help of a fan at its lowest setting.
Decorating your chameleon’s habitat is not just about improving its appearance as the decorations also need to improve the life of the chameleon. The enclosure should be an imitation of the chameleon’s natural habitat. You should place vines and branches inside the habitat which your chameleon will climb to get near to various parts of the cage.
You can use live or artificial plants, depending on your preference, but keep in mind that each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Live plants, for example, are better at soaking in water and absorbing warmth, but they do not last long. While artificial plants last long, but they may also pose some health risks to your chameleon.
You will need something to line the bottom of the terrarium. The best and cheapest alternative to use for the bedding is a flat newspaper or a paper towel. These are easy to dispose of, and they don’t absorb moisture due to the humid environment which encourages the growth of harmful bacteria. Besides, other types of bedding may attract insects, and this would prompt the chameleon to eat these insects and ingest some litter in the process; which in turn becomes a health hazard for the chameleon.
If you cannot feed the chameleon by hand, then you need to place all of its food in a bowl so that your chameleon can associate it with food. You can purchase from a variety of feeding bowls available for your pet, or you can easily improvise a feeding bowl for your pet as it only needs to be safe and easy to reach. Just remember that you should clean and disinfect the bowls regularly to prevent them from accumulating bacteria which is harmful to your pet.
The care sheet we have made above will guide you on the things you should and shouldn’t do as a pet chameleon owner, from getting the right cage to avoiding certain types of bedding. It might be a little hard at first, but you will eventually get used to it and even help others prospecting to be chameleon owners on how they should care for their pets.