Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) Care Sheet
Veiled chameleons have the ability to change color. They do this so they can blend into their environment, signal to other chameleons, and to display mood and health. It isn't solely for camouflage as many believe.
Veiled chameleons change their skin color by opening and closing cells called melanophores. Melanophores are a pigment cell that contains melanin, a pigment that is commonly found in the skin of amphibians and reptiles.
Males tend to have the most color (to help attract females), though females can put on very impressive displays of their own.
When Chameleons are basking in unfiltered sunlight, feel like they are being challenged, or have spotted another Cham, they can put on a very impressive show.
Males will puff up, and bring out their best and brightest colors. Females will respond with bright yellow and blue markings if they are receptive to mating, and dark colors when not.
Chameleons are capable of mimicking leaves when they move, and they can even flatten themselves out very thin. A colorful adult can be hard to spot in a well planned out enclosure.
Adult Veiled Chameleons will require an enclosure that is at least 48" X 24" X 24". Preferably, an all screen enclosure should be provided. Chameleons require the ventilation of a screen cage. Without it, they may suffer from an Upper Respiratory Infection. Plants should be included in the enclosure. The most common and easiest to care for plants are Ficus trees, Hibiscus, and Pothos. You must make sure that any and all plants that you purchase are pesticide-free; also, you must re-pot them using an all-natural potting soil, that contains no fillers. Veileds should also be provided with vines to climb on. There are specially made vines for reptiles, or you can use artificial vines from your local pet store or craft store. However, you should make sure that you use an appropriate sized vine for your chameleons size. The chameleon should be able to comfortably grip the vine, it being a little larger than their hands. Veiled Chameleons are solitary animals, and should be housed separately. Even when they are young, housing Chams together could cause stress.
Chameleons require a source of UV lighting that emits both UVA and UVB rays. This can easily be accomplished one of two ways. You could either use a Mercury Vapor Bulb that satisfies the requirement for a basking bulb and an active UV source all in one, or you could use a fluorescent tube fixture.
Mercury Vapors are a bit more expensive in the short term, but have a maximum life of 1 year. That is almost double the output of a fluorescent tube light. They can also project UV lighting 3 times as far, reaching a 3 foot radius depending on which brand and wattage you use.
When using a Mercury Vapor Bulb, be sure to thoroughly test the temperatures, you may have to put it further above the cage to achieve a safe temperature. These lighting units should be placed in a porcelain socket. They get extremely hot and have the potential to melt conventional lighting sockets.
If you opt to use a fluorescent tube style light, you will need to purchase a fixture for it. You will want to use a good quality light fixture that has ample wattage for the bulb you choose.
For a veiled chameleon, you will want to choose something like an Iguana-light 7.0, Desert-light 8.0, Repti-Sun 5.0, or an Exo-Terra 5.0. Generally, you should use a fixture as long as your enclosure is wide, and place it on top of the cage so that your chameleon can bask in the rays.
These bulbs are generally less expensive, but require a housing fixture. You must also replace the bulb at least every 6 months. After 6 months, the level of UV rays that it projects have seriously declined, and it may not be producing enough UV for your chameleon to produce D3.
Reptiles produce Vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB rays. Wild Chameleons manufacture their own vitamin D3 by basking in unfiltered sunlight. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun acts like a catalyst, which converts a substance known as pro-vitamin D3 into pre-vitamin D3. In turn, this pre-vitamin D3 is converted into vitamin D3, which binds to a blood protein and then can be transferred to the liver via the bloodstream. This "activated" form of D3, then can be utilized to influence the metabolism of dietary calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin D3 aids in Calcium absorption. This will help to prevent Metabolic Bone Disease as well as other ailments.
When at all possible, expose your chameleon to unfiltered sunlight. Exposing your Chameleon to sunlight through glass or plexi-glass is useless. These items filter out the required UV rays.
About 4-5 hours of natural sunlight is equivalent to a week or more under artificial lighting. (Artificial lighting should be made available daily when the Chameleon is indoors.)
Be certain that the outside temperatures are not too low. A temperature range of 68 or above is adequate.
Your chameleon must also be provided with a shady location to remove itself from the suns rays if it becomes too hot and the frequency of misting should be increased for Chameleons that are basking outside.
An easy way to accomplish all of this is to setup an outdoor enclosure, which will also keep your Chameleon safe while outside.
Veileds must be provided with a basking light. The basking lamp should be placed in a reflective dome with a porcelain socket. Make sure that you use a dome that is rated at a higher wattage than the bulb is.
The light should not rest directly on the screen of the cage, or against anything that the Chameleon can touch.
The distance from the basking light to the basking spot should be about 10", but you may need to adjust it to achieve the desired temperature.
A vine or branch should be placed directly under the bulb, so that your Chameleon has access to the basking spot. Make sure to have a thermometer nearby to monitor the temperatures.
The basking temperature needs to be around 95 degrees. The ambient air temperature needs to be between 75-80 degrees thus allowing for thermo regulation to take place.
Use a good, quality thermometer (such as a digital with a probe) near your basking spot and in the "cool" area. This will allow the Chameleon to thermo-regulate.
You will also want to purchase an appliance timer or two to run your lights off of. The lighting cycle should be for a period of 12 hours on/12 hours off per day.
When all is said and done, there is no substitute for natural sunlight. When the weather is favorable, you should take your Chameleon outside and let it get some real sunlight.
Chameleons require a temperature drop at night of 10-15 degrees.
Reptile feeders are readily available at most pet stores and online. For a good staple diet, you should vary the insects as much as possible. Some good ones to use are: crickets, silkworms, butterworms, and superworms. You can also give them the occasional waxworm, cockroach, or mealworm, but none of these are good for a staple diet. They are high in fat or hard to digest due to Chitin. (The hard exoskeleton of some feeders.)
If you notice any discoloration on any of the feeders, or they look like they are not healthy, don't feed them to your Cham. It is better to be safe than sorry. (Avoid feeding insects that are caught outside. They may have pesticides on them and can be lethal to your Chameleon.)
A good diet for a Chameleon 0-6 months would consist of approximately 10 insects daily that are proportionate to the size of the Chameleons head. These insects can be given in 2 feedings.
Increase the size of the insect as your Chameleon grows. Around 6 months of age, you will want to cut back the number of feeders per day, to around 6.
With a full-grown adult Veiled Chameleon, you can limit feedings to every other day.
You can also offer vegetables to Veiled Chameleons, and the majority of them will eat them.
They will also eat their plants, so you may want to provide them with something tasty, like hibiscus.
This process requires you to feed your insects healthy foods. By supplying your insects with fresh fruits and vegetables, they will be adding nutrition to their contents. This will aid your Chameleon with their nutrient consumption because they will be feeding on insects that are full of nutrients.
Use a high quality gut load, and vary the diet with vegetables such as collard greens, carrots, and fresh fruit. You can also purchase commercially available dry and wet cricket feed. Oranges and other juicy fruits will also provide "water" for the feeders without them drowning.
The better you feed your insects, the better you are feeding your Chameleon. Insects should be allowed to feed for 24 hours before being offered to your Chameleon allowing them to gut load.
No matter what feeders you use, you must use a good calcium supplement and multi-vitamin.
Make sure that you use a high quality supplement that is phosphorous free.
You should also find a multi-vitamin that contains natural sources of vitamins, like beta-carotene, to help avoid over supplementing. Over supplementation could lead to health problems.
For a young Chameleon, anywhere from 0-6 months, you will want to lightly dust the feeder insects at one feeding daily, using the calcium every day, and the vitamin supplement 3 times a week.
From 6-12 months, use the calcium 3 times a week. The vitamin supplement should be used only once a week. Vitamin supplementation 3 times a week at this stage is a bit excessive. It is better to go light than too heavy. Quality gut loaded insects, will compensate for the difference.
After 12 months of age, you should be using the supplements 1-2 times weekly. If your chameleon receives natural sunlight and well gut-loaded prey, it is advisable to back off on the supplements.
I recommend the use of "Rep-cal, Phosphorous-Free Calcium with Vit. D3", and "Rep-Cal Herptivite with Beta-Carotene".
Chameleons need calcium to phosphorous (CA: PH) ratios of 2:1 though 1.5:1 is acceptable. This is the reason for using phosphorous-free calcium.
Crickets are higher in phosphorous than calcium. Silkworms are closer to this ratio, but they still require some supplementation.
You should also use a gut load that is high in calcium. This provides your Chameleon with a more natural source of calcium, though you still need to provide some supplementation.
If your Chameleon receives natural sunlight for 5-7 hours per day, and has well gut loaded prey, it is advisable to back off on the supplementation.
Supplements should be provided half as often under these circumstances.
All Chameleons require some level of humidity. Veiled Chameleons require that the humidity of the enclosure be around 60% or higher. Allow the enclosure to dry out at night.
The use of a good, quality hydrometer, is suggested. This will help you to be certain that the humidity levels are accurate.
Maintaining these humidity levels can be accomplished with the use of an ordinary spray bottle, an auto-mister, an ultra sonic humidifier, or a drip system.
No matter what you choose, you must mist the cage at least 3 times a day with a spray bottle or an auto-mister. An auto-mister is very efficient and a decent unit can be purchased for around $100.00.
Chameleons in general do not tolerate stress well. Due to this, Chams should be housed away from viewing mirror reflections and other animals, specifically other Chameleons. They may view it as a "challenger", and they can become quite aggressive toward the perceived threat. Glass is not suitable for a chameleon enclosure due to this.
A good way of keeping things out of their view is to drape or hang a towel on the side of the cage. This will help block the side that you don't want them to see out of. A wet towel can even help bring up your humidity.
Chameleons show stress and their general state through their color. The colors and displays that Chameleons can reflect are amazing.
When a chameleon is stressed, they will usually display very dark colorations. Varying shades of black and white are common colors associated with stress. (They will also display dark colors when basking, so don't confuse the two. The darker coloration allows them to absorb more heat.)
Handling your Chameleon is generally shunned upon not a good idea. Chameleons do not take well to being handled. Though some will tolerate it, you will know if yours does not. In either situation, it is not something that should not be done often.
Preferably, handling should be limited to cage cleanings, or the offering of natural sunlight.
To help ease the stress associated with cage cleanings, you should have a potted plant within the vicinity that you will be working. This will give the Chameleon a place to reside during the cleaning, and if placed within view, an opportunity for you to keep an eye on him/her.
You want to keep them within your sight, they will sometimes wonder off if left unattended.
If you notice that your Chameleons eyes are sunken in or if the skin looks "loose", it may be dehydrated. If you suspect your chameleon to be dehydrated, increase the humidity and offer water more frequently.
You may also place your chameleon on a large fake plant, and place it in the shower. Set the water at room temperature and aim it at the wall so that the water bounces off onto the plant. Let your chameleon sit like this for about 30 minutes with the door closed. The humidity and mist should help re-hydrate the Chameleon.
Be sure to keep an eye on your Chameleon as it may try to go "exploring"!
Clean your Chameleons cage regularly. Clean the bottom of any dead leaves or feces daily. This will make your regular cleaning easier. Once every 2-4 weeks, you must take the plant's) out of the cage, and spray everything in the cage with 1:10 bleach: water solution.
Make sure to use a separate spray bottle from the one that you use to provide your Chameleon with its misting and water source. (It is advisable to label both bottle so that accidents do not occur.)
When you use the bleach solution, REMOVE your Cham from the cage first! Spray everything down with the solution, and then rinse it away with a hose or a shower head.
Make sure to rinse a couple of times making sure that all of the bleach has been removed.
You will also want to wipe off the fake leaves and vines. Remove any leaves on your plants that may have feces on them. You should also rinse all of the plants off.
It is also a good idea to allow room temperature water to run into your plants until it comes out clear from the bottom, basically "flushing" it. This will help to keep your chameleon healthy.
You must be very careful when you handle your chameleon as you could easily break their bones, they can be very fragile.
Never grab a chameleon off of a branch by force; you can simply coax it onto your hand. This can be accomplished by placing one hand in front of it, and one hand behind it. Often it will back away from one or the other, right onto your hand.
Take care when you are handling your Chameleon or its safety. Try to avoid holding it near objects that your chameleon shouldn't try to climb on, like drapes, cords, and lamps, to name a few.
Always be on the look out for possible danger, and never leave your Chameleon unattended. They will wander off, and if you are not there, your Chameleon could injure itself, or go somewhere where you can't find it.
Don't force handling on your Chameleon, when it has had enough it will let you know. They will turn their stress colors, or swell up and hiss. They may even lunge at you, and may try to bite.
Male Veiled Chameleons are born with tarsal spurs located on the hind feet. They appear as thumbs, but stick off the back of where their feet join together. Once in a while, they take a little while to develop or become large enough to actually see. Males also have a larger casque, sometimes reaching over 3" tall. Males tend to be very colorful. They can display everything from blues and purples, as well as yellows and oranges that appear red, and just about all combinations.
Females lack tarsal spurs. Females tend to be an overall green color, sometimes showing yellow and blue coloration.
When mature, the difference is quite recognizable. The biggest difference between the mature sexes is coloration.
If you notice that your chameleon seems less active than normal, or begins to keep its eyes closed, your chameleon may be ill. Chameleons are very good at hiding the fact that they are sick, and by the time that you notice anything, it could be a serious problem. You should contact a vet immediately, one that has a lot of experience with chameleons. The Internet can be very helpful in locating a vet. Forums may also help, but they are no substitute for a good vet, nothing is. People on the Internet, and local pet shops may be able to offer temporary relief for your chameleon, but they are not qualified veterinarians, and you should always contact one if you have any questions about the health of your chameleon.
Metabolic Bone Disease is a condition occurring when your chameleon has a lack of calcium, or has been unable to absorb the calcium that it has been given. Symptoms can include a "rubbery" jaw, bowed legs, and broken limbs. MBD causes your chams bones to become soft, and break easily. Your vet can do blood work to make sure that your chams cal/Ph ratios are ok, and recommend how to correct them if not. Reptiles require vitamin D3 to absorb calcium, which is normally produced when exposed to the UV rays of the sun or under exposure to UVA/UVB providing artificial lighting. It has been said though, that under a fluorescent light, it takes over one day to equal the amount of UV exposure in one hour of real sunlight. There are currently mercury vapor bulbs available that do provide very high amounts of UV light, and unlike tubes, which last about 6 months; they can last for a year. Personally, I highly recommend MV bulbs for chameleons.
Parasites are a common problem in reptiles, and if not monitored and controlled, can lead to serious health problems. Your chameleon should see a vet at least once a year for a general check-up. Your vet can run tests on blood and stool samples from your chameleon. You will need a fresh stool sample for the vet, which can be collected in a plastic baggie and stored in the fridge the day or so before hand. This will help the vet to keep your chameleon healthy.
Author: JE Chameleons & Richard Brooks
All Images - © Brandon Breeden