Chameleons can make fascinating and rewarding pets, but they have some very specific care requirements. As a beginner chameleon owner, following these top 10 tips will help ensure your chameleon stays healthy and thrives in captivity.
1. Set Up the Enclosure Properly
Before bringing home your chameleon, it is essential to set up an appropriate enclosure. Get an extra tall, screened cage at least 2 feet x 2 feet x 4 feet in size to allow for ample ventilation and climbing room. Equip it with sturdy branches, vines, and live or artificial foliage for your chameleon to explore and climb on. The enclosure should also contain proper lighting and heating elements to maintain ideal temperature and humidity ranges. Ensure the entire habitat is safe with no sharp edges or excess heat exposure.
2. Maintain Proper Temperature, Humidity and Lighting
Chameleons require more specialized heating, lighting, and humidity controls than many reptile pets. Ambient temperatures should range from 70-80°F to allow the chameleon to self-regulate its body temperature. Provide a basking spot reaching 90-95°F under a 50-100 watt incandescent bulb. Humidity levels should fluctuate between 40-60%. Use under tank heating pads, misting systems, and screen covers to control conditions. Chameleons also need exposure to UVA/UVB light 12-14 hours per day for healthy bones.
3. Offer a Varied Diet with Proper Supplements
In captivity, chameleons eat mostly insects along with some greens. Crickets, worms, grubs and small roaches are excellent feeder insects. Dust food with calcium/vitamin powders at each feeding to prevent deficiencies. Provide misted foliage for the chameleon to drink water droplets from or use a dripper system. Over-supplementing food or poor hydration can cause health issues.
4. Allow Time to Acclimate before Handling
Once introduced into an enclosure, allow 1-2 weeks for a new chameleon to fully acclimate before trying to handle it. Attempting to hold, pet or tame the lizard too soon may cause undue stress. Move slowly when first interacting and start by having the chameleon walk onto your hand versus grabbing at it.
5. Monitor Health Issues
Learn to spot signs of common health issues like metabolic bone disease, parasites, respiratory infections and more. Symptoms can include lethargy, lack of appetite, swelling, unusual behaviors and discharge from the nose or mouth. Take action right away if illness is suspected and consult an exotic vet.
6. Enrich the Habitat
In addition to branches and foliage for climbing, provide habitat enrichments to stimulate natural behaviors. Safe additions can include sterilized wood pieces for rubbing, shallow water baths for soaking, and opportunities for natural sunlight exposure. Rotate new plants, vines and cage decor periodically.
7. Allow Proper UVA/UVB Exposure
Inadequate exposure to UVA/UVB light can lead to metabolic bone disease and other problems for chameleons. Ensure lighting over basking areas provides necessary ultraviolet rays at appropriate wavelengths and intensities. Replace bulbs every 6 months minimum as light output declines over time.
8. Select Captive-Bred Specimens
When choosing a pet chameleon, select only captive-bred specimens from reputable breeders or pet stores. Wild-caught chameleons often harbor parasites, illnesses and stress. They can also carry pathogens transmittable to other pets or people. Captive-bred chameleons acclimate and handle captivity much better.
9. Avoid Housing Multiple Males Together
Male chameleons are highly territorial and will attack cagemates, causing severe injury or death. Only house multiple females together or individually house each male chameleon in his own enclosure spaced well apart. Introduce mature females to a male’s cage carefully for breeding.
10. Provide Proper Lifelong Care
Chameleons can live 5-10 years with proper care. Be prepared to provide appropriate food, housing, healthcare, enrichment and handling for your pet’s entire lifetime. While exotic, chameleons make wonderfully interesting and rewarding pets!
By following these top 10 tips for beginners, your new chameleon can have an excellent quality of life. Be sure to continue researching and learning as much as possible about properly caring for chameleons as pets. Reach out to experienced chameleon owners in forums and groups if you have any other questions come up. Most importantly, enjoy your new colorful lizard companion!