Veiled Chameleon Care

Veiled chameleons can make fun and interesting pets for the experienced keeper! You don’t have to be a reptile expert to take good care of one, but we don’t recommend them for the beginner keeper. Veiled chameleons tend to be quite docile, and require some more specialty care compared to other reptiles such as leopard geckos. Keep reading to find out more about how to keep your chameleon healthy!

Terrarium

Terrarium choices are numerous these days, but they’re not all created equal! If you have a hatchling or juvenile chameleon, it may be tempting to purchase a larger terrarium now for him or her to grow into, but this isn’t the best choice for your pet. Chameleons are naturally prey animals, meaning that in the wild they would be a meal for other larger animals. Under human care this means that large open spaces tend to make them uncomfortable because there’s just more space for predators to be lying in wait. Additionally, chameleons are arboreal, meaning they spend a majority of their time climbing around up off the ground; wire mesh enclosures are better suited for chameleons’ needs than glass terrariums. So make sure to get the right type and size terrarium for your chameleon’s age and size:

  • Hatchling: ~ 17″ x 16″ x 28″ (“small”)
  • Juvenile: ~ 19″ x 18″ x 28″ (“medium” or “large”)
  • Adult: ~ 26″ x 24″ x 28″ (“large” or “x-large”)

For any age and size of chameleon, we recommend using a reptile carpet substrate. Reptile carpet can be spot-cleaned as necessary, and hand-washed in the sink or in a washing machine for deeper cleaning. Since chameleons spend very little time on the ground, an otherwise “natural” substrate isn’t necessary and may provide more hiding places for crickets (which you want to limit). If you have an adult female chameleon, you can add a small sand box, as some female reptiles will develop and lay infertile eggs without mating. If a female is unable to lay her eggs, she can become egg-bound, which can be life-threatening.

Make sure to supply your veiled chameleon’s habitat with LOTS of climbing materials. There are plenty of branches, artificial vines, and other decor items that are suitable for chameleons.

Heat

Chameleons are often considered a “sensitive” species, as they are more affected by small changes in their environment. Veiled chameleons are a tropical species native to Saudi Arabia and Yemen (as well as surrounding areas). Even though your chameleon isn’t living in one of these areas, that’s what his or her body is adapted for. And we mean their entire body. Even how well they’re able to digest their food is affected by their heat exposure! Therefore, it’s important to replicate this environment to the best of our ability. Here’s how to do this at home:

  • Provide an appropriate size heat bulb for your veiled chameleon. In very general terms, you will need a smaller size (lower wattage) heat bulb for tropical species and smaller terrariums, and a larger size (higher wattage) heat bulb for desert species and larger terrariums. However, what is considered a “small” or “large” terrarium can be relevant, so check in with The Repstylist if you have questions about providing the right heat bulb!
  • Provide the appropriate type of heat bulb for your veiled chameleon and their habitat; we recommend starting with either a daylight bulb or basking spot lamp. Heat bulbs can be light-emitting or non light-emitting, infrared, halogen, basking, and more (read more about the different type of heat bulbs here).
  • Provide a temperature gradient along your veiled chameleon’s terrarium. This means having a cooler side and a warmer side, which will allow your chameleon areas to cool off or warm up (they know when they need to do either). You can create a temperature gradient by placing the heat bulb (lamp) on one end of the terrarium. As tempting as it may be, avoid placing the heat bulb in the middle of the terrarium.
  • Provide a basking (hot) spot that is significantly warmer than the warm side of the terrarium. Create the basking spot on the warm side of the terrarium by placing a branch so that it’s elevated toward the heat bulb. Since the elevated end of the branch will be closer to the heat bulb than the floor of the terrarium, it will be significantly warmer. This, again, allows the veiled chameleon to bask under imitated direct sun exposure with the option to cool off in other areas of the terrarium.
    • Keep in mind that while chameleons are able to climb on the walls and ceiling of a wire mesh enclosure, placing a branch in a basking spot will allow them an area to lay/rest in a lengthwise position (as opposed to upright on the side or upside down on the ceiling).
  • Measure temperature at the elevated basking spot and the floor of the enclosure (read about how to properly measure temperature here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the heat bulb in order to obtain the right temperatures. You can do this by using a lamp stand.
Illustration of proper heat and UVB source placement to create a gradient. Colors illustrate decreasing heat and UVI as you move away from the sources. Illustration courtesy of The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

UVB

UVA, UVB, and UVI are also very important, particularly from a safety standpoint. And, they each refer to something different. Ultraviolet-A (UVA) refers to light wavelengths that allow reptiles (and us) to use our vision and see things. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) refers to light wavelengths that penetrate the skin of reptiles and activate vitamin D within their body. And the ultraviolet index (UVI) is a measurement of UVB wavelengths that contribute to vitamin D synthesis (note that not all UVB wavelengths are involved with vitamin D synthesis!). So what exactly do you need to supply for your veiled chameleon?

  • UVB bulbs typically come in “5.0” and “10.0” strengths. These numbers refer to the amount of UVB output that will contribute to vitamin D synthesis for your veiled chameleon (either 5% or 10% of the UVB wavelength output). The 5.0 bulbs tend to work best for chameleons since they’re able to physically reach closer to the bulb than most other species, and due to their natural tropical habitat.
  • Provide a UVB gradient along your veiled chameleon’s terrarium. Much like a temperature gradient, this means having one side of the terrarium with little-to-no UVB exposure and the other side with high UVB exposure. To do this, place the UVB bulb on the SAME side of the terrarium as the main heat source. In nature, UVB and heat both come from the sun, which means when setting up your chameleon’s terrarium, these sources should be together (imitating sun exposure).
  • Measure UVI of the bulb you’ve chosen. UVI is a much more useful measurement of UVB, as too much or too little UVB can be very harmful to your veiled chameleon. Each reptile species has a UVI value (or tight range of values) that is ideal. Measuring UVI will make sure your chameleon is getting the right amount of UVB exposure. Be aware that you can measure UVB separate from UVI (and there are separate meters for these), but a strict UVB measurement will NOT tell you how much vitamin D-synthesizing UVB your pet is receiving. Make sure to measure at the elevated basking spot and at the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure UVB here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the UVB bulb in order to obtain the right UVI and temperature. You can do this by using a lamp stand.

Light Cycle

The light cycle isn’t often talked about, but it can have a huge impact on your veiled chameleon’s behavior. Just like you and I follow the sun’s direction (we’re awake when the sun is up and asleep when the sun is down), so does your chameleon. All animals have a circadian rhythm and 24-hour cycle (even nocturnal animals, but it’s reversed for them), which helps them to know when they should be awake, sleeping, foraging, hunting, eating, basking, and more. Here’s how to set up a light cycle:

  • Only use white- or yellow-light heat bulbs and UVB bulbs during the day.
  • Create a light cycle by turning the above lights on at the same time each morning and off at the same time each evening.
  • If you need to provide heat during the night, consider non-light emitting options such as ceramic heat emitters and heat pads, or red-light heat bulbs. Contrary to popular belief, reptiles can see red light, but it doesn’t affect their light cycle. Red-light heat bulbs can create an enjoyable nighttime viewing ability for you.
  • Follow the time changes that we experience and adjust your veiled chameleon’s light cycle accordingly. This means you should create a shortened “day” during the fall/winter months and a longer “day” during the spring/summer months.
  • Timers are an excellent way to easily create a regularly scheduled light cycle.
Non-yellow light emitting bulb for the nighttime cycle that still allows viewing of the chameleon. Photo courtesy of Egor Kamelev via Pexels.

Humidity

Humidity is a big concern when it comes to any type of chameleon husbandry. Not only do chameleons require a humid environment, they also require a drinking water source in the form of water droplets on surfaces, because chameleons do not drink from pools (dishes) of water. Luckily, there are plenty of tools available to help you accomplish this easily:

  • Drip System – There are reptile water “drippers” on the market that slowly release a drop of water at a time. While these systems will NOT increase humidity of the habitat, they WILL supply an appropriate source of drinking water for your chameleon.
  • Misting System – There are reptile water misters on the market that will mist a reptile’s habitat for a certain amount of time (typically in seconds) at specific intervals. These systems work very well to increase humidity of the habitat AND supply an appropriate source of drinking water.
  • Fogging System – There are reptile foggers on the market that will supply “fog” to a reptile’s habitat for a certain amount of time at certain intervals, or continuously, depending on your reptile’s needs. While these systems will NOT supply a drinking water source, they WILL increase the humidity of your chameleon’s habitat.

Diet

Chameleons don’t have as diverse of a diet as some other reptiles. Chameleons are insectivores, a specific type of carnivore that specializes in eating insects. A few different types of insects can be fed, including crickets, meal worms, wax worms, and black soldier fly larvae. For most chameleons, these insects need to be fed live in order to stimulate a feeding response. Keep the following in mind when feeding your veiled chameleon:

  • Insects come in many sizes – the generally accepted “rule-of-thumb” is to choose an insect that is roughly the same width of your veiled chameleon’s head between their eyes.
  • Worms (larvae) are high in fat, so use sparingly as a treat or as a way to add extra calories if your chameleon is underweight.
  • Supplement the insects fed to your veiled chameleon with a calcium powder. Lightly dust the insect before feeding.
  • After allowing an adequate feeding time – typically of five to ten minutes – any uneaten insects should be removed, as they can cause harm to your veiled chameleon if left together for too long.

For more diet information, read our other posts about changing your veiled chameleon’s diet or what to do if they don’t seem to like the insects you’re providing!

Want to know the ideal temperatures, UVI, appropriate feeder insects, and more for veiled chameleons? Check out the “Veiled Chameleon Care” magnet on our online store. Taking care of any living creature is a huge responsibility, but it’s also very fun and rewarding! Take the guess work out of caring for your scaly friend by having our handy magnet nearby!

The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

As always, if you have questions about this topic, contact us here or at therepstylist@gmail.com!

©Copyright 2020 The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

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