Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
A medium to large chameleon, male veiled chameleons grow to 20 inches (51 cm) or more in total length, while females are smaller and usually reach around 12-14 inches (31-36 cm).
Their color is variable, but usually consists of a green or turquoise body with yellow, orange, blue, tan, brown, or black blotches and stripes. Like all true chameleons, veiled chameleons change color depending on their mood and surrounding environment. An angry or scared veiled chameleon can turn a dark brown or black color with yellow and green blotches, while one that is relaxed will stay a solid light green with occasional blue, tan, or yellow spots and stripes. Adult males have a large helmet-like structure on the top of their head that can reach 3 inches (8 cm) in height.
Distribution, Habitat and Behavior
Veiled chameleons are native to humid mountain sides and valleys in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia. They are arboreal and found in both woodlands and less forested areas with shrubs and cultivated plants. They have been unintentionally introduced through the pet trade to Florida and Hawaii and are considered invasive. Lifespan is between three and eight years.
Veiled chameleons are one of the most common pet chameleons. They are widely available through pet stores, dealers, and breeders. Note that despite being popular reptile pets and a fairly hardy species, like almost all chameleons they do not tolerate handling well and are best kept as display animals, handled only infrequently.
Chameleons need spacious enclosures. The more room provided the better. A large adult male veiled chameleon should be housed in a cage that measures 36 inches long by 36 inches wide by 48 inches tall (92 cm by 92 cm by 122 cm) with more room being even better. Females and young males can be kept in smaller enclosures.
If keeping more than one chameleon, it is important to house them in separate enclosures. Chameleons are territorial and stress easily when kept with others, often leading to the death of the weaker one. When keeping two or more chameleons, it is important that they are also not allowed to see each other. Draping a towel or tarp over the sides of cages that face each other can work well. Breeders that produce veiled chameleons house their animals separate except for a few hours when the female is introduced to the male’s enclosure. After they are done mating, the female is removed and placed back in a separate cage.
Choose an enclosure that allows good air flow. At least two sides and the top of the cage should be screen to allow proper ventilation. Large screen cages are best, although a combination cage where two sides are glass or wood and two sides are screen can work equally well. Young chameleons can be kept in aquariums without problems, although small screen enclosures are a better alternative. A standard 20 gallon glass aquarium that measures 24 inches long by 12 inches wide by 16 inches high (61 cm by 30 cm by 41 cm) will be able to house a juvenile veiled chameleon until it has a body length of roughly 4 inches (10 cm) or so, and at this time it should be moved to a larger screen enclosure.
Use a simple substrate such as paper towels, newspaper, or reptile cage carpeting. If the bottom of the cage is solid and easy to clean, a substrate might not even be necessary. Do not use gravel, fir bark, dried moss, or sand because these substrates can be swallowed and cause health problems.
Perches, branches, and vines can be draped throughout the enclosure. Place these vertically as well as horizontally and at different sloping angles. Wooden dowels can be positioned horizontally below basking sites, and small plastic vines can be wrapped around them. Live and fake plants can be used in the cage to provide cover and places for the chameleon to drink water from.
When using live plants, ensure they are safe for reptiles. Pothos work very well and can be hung from the top of the cage or placed on the bottom in pots. Wash all live plants with water and then grow them outside of the cage for a few weeks before use to remove any potentially harmful chemicals such as leaf shiners or pesticides.
Lighting is an important part of chameleon care. At least one fluorescent light bulb that provides high levels of UVB radiation should run the length of cage. Mercury vapor and compact fluorescent light bulbs that produce UVB radiation work well. Glass filters out UVB radiation, so place the bulb over a screen section of the cage. UVB producing bulbs need to be changed every six months or so because the amount of ultraviolet radiation they produce dissipates over time.
In addition to UVB lighting, an incandescent heat light should also be placed on the top of the cage to provide a basking site. Sometimes it is advantageous to use two or three in a large enclosure, and having different wattage light bulbs will provide multiple basking sites with different temperatures. Infra-red light bulbs can be used to heat the cage at night, although usually this isn’t required.
Like all reptiles and amphibians, veiled chameleons rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. The ambient temperature in the cage should stay between 75°F and 85°F (24°C and 30 °C) during the day, with a drop in temperature at night. A basking site or two should also be provided where the temperature reaches 90°F to 105°F (32°C to 41°C). Incandescent light bulbs or ceramic heat emitters should be used to heat the cage rather than heat pads or heat rocks which are better suited for terrestrial reptiles.
Veiled chameleons can also be kept outside in many climates. A healthy adult veiled chameleon can withstand temperatures as low 45°F (7°C) during the night as long as it warms up again during the day. In situations where the temperature drops this low it’s a good idea to heat the cage with an infra-red reptile light bulb at night to keep an area in the cage that doesn’t fall below 60°F (15.5°C). Note that if you live in an area with a climate where a chameleon could survive year outdoors, take extra precautions to avoid escapes.
Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl. They are similar to many species of geckos in that they prefer to lap drops of water off of leaves and branches. To keep your chameleon hydrated, spray the enclosure with water two or three times each day. During these daily mistings, large drops of water can be sprayed into the air above the chameleon so that they fall onto its head. Most veiled chameleons will eagerly drink water that drips down their face. Juveniles can dehydrate quickly and should be provided with many opportunities to drink throughout the day.
In addition to spraying the cage, a drip system can be setup. This can be as simple as a bucket with a tiny hole in the bottom that is positioned over the top of the cage. Leave a cup for the water to collect in or place the drip system over a potted plant so that the dripping water doesn’t flood the cage. Some veiled chameleons also learn to drink from moving water features such as waterfalls or bubbling bowls.
Veiled chameleons are not picky eaters and accept a wide variety of food items. Crickets should make up the majority of their diet. Adults can be fed five to ten crickets once a day or every other day, while juveniles should be fed smaller amounts in both the morning and before night. Super worms, wax worms, earth worms, silkworms moths, house flies, horn worms, cockroaches, and small flying beetles can all be offered to veiled chameleons in place of crickets once a week or so.
Veiled chameleons are interesting in that they are also known to feed on some plant material. Romaine lettuce and safe flowering plants such as hibiscus can all be hung from places in the cage for the chameleon to eat.
Use powdered nutritional supplements once every couple feedings for adults and at most feedings for juveniles. There are many different brands of reptile food supplements available and all have different qualities. It’s important that the calcium supplement contains vitamin D3 and either has a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio or is phosphorus free.