The Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) hails from the coastal mountains and valleys of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and is also known as a Yemen chameleon. They are ideally suited for first-time chameleon owners.
Availability, Size, and Lifespan of Veiled Chameleon
Professional breeders are now producing healthy captive-bred veiled chameleons that do exceptionally well in captivity. However, wild veiled chameleons do not make good pets because they don’t acclimate well to living in captivity and have frequent health issues. Nowadays, almost all veiled chameleons are captive-bred. They range in price from $40 to $150. Prices are influenced by lineage, sex, age, and morph. Adult males can grow up to two feet in length, while females only grow up to 18 inches. Males live six to eight years, while females live only four to six years. Females have shorter lifespans due to the physical stress of laying eggs.
Veiled Chameleon Caging
A chameleon enclosure should be taller than it is wide and be made of screen material for ventilation. This screen also works as a climbing apparatus for your chameleon. Veiled chameleons are not intimidated by space, but they prefer enclosures that are relatively larger than themselves. An adult male will be happy in an enclosure that measures 2 feet wide, 2 feet long, and 3 feet high. Females only need a space measuring 18 inches wide,18 inches long, and 3 feet high. It is recommended to start a baby chameleon in a smaller enclosure and graduate them to larger ones as they grow. This graduated enclosure strategy also helps them find their food.
Fill one side densely with plastic or non-toxic live plants, and the other side with exposed branches for basking. Include vines that can act as horizontal perches. We prefer to use plastic plants in the enclosure for easy clean-up. If using live plants, be sure that they are safe for your animal and that they will survive in the cage. We recommend using branches that are large enough for your chameleon to grip without falling off.
Remove your chameleon to a secondary, secure habitat when cleaning. Clean the tank with a 3% bleach solution, a commercial reptile-safe cleaner, or a DIY solution. Make this DIY solution by mixing a few tablespoons of bleach with soap in a gallon of water. It is essential to clean all furnishings and rinse the tank until the smell of the cleaner is gone. Dry everything completely before replacing the substrate.
Lighting, Humidity and Temperature
Humidity must be no higher than 60%. Mist the plants 2-3 times daily to prevent your chameleon from becoming dehydrated (they drink the water droplets off of the leaves). Install a hygrometer to check humidity levels. Humidity is necessary to ensure the skin health of your chameleon. If humidity levels are too low (sub 50%), you can include a hide box filled with moist sphagnum moss to act as a shed box. Disinfect the habitat once a week.
Provide 12 hours of daylight for your chameleon every day. Use a light to act as the primary heat source for your chameleon. As they won’t recognize any other heat source, they won’t interact with them. With that said, a ceramic heat emitter works well as a secondary and nighttime heat source when creating the necessary temperature gradient. Set up a basking spot about 6-8 inches away from the heat lamp.
The temperature gradient should be around 95°F at the basking spot and 70°F at the cool end. Allow the temperatures to drop at night. Veiled chameleons will fare well with temperatures in the low-50°s, but we recommend keeping them in the mid 60°s. If you need a nighttime heat source, keep it outside the enclosure or securely covered with wire mesh to prevent your chameleon from accidentally accessing it and getting burned. Ensure that the enclosure has access to UVB light to help your chameleon properly absorb calcium. This can be from real sunlight or a UVB bulb. Don’t place a glass surface between the UVB source and your chameleon, as UVB rays are filtered by glass. Replace your UV bulbs every six months.
Use mulch-based substrates, such as Repti-Bark, Forest Floor, or sphagnum moss. Always opt for a larger sized bark/substrate to prevent accidental ingestion if your chameleon misses when striking his food; small bits of bark can be easily swallowed with food and will cause intestinal issues. By using paper towels, which are easy to clean but must be changed more frequently. Avoid fine particle substrates. If eaten, particle substrates can cause impaction, hide uneaten feeder insects, and be a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. Properly setup bioactive substrates are acceptable.
Give your chameleon a balanced diet comprised of a variety of insects and dark, leafy greens. Allow the feeder insects to gut-load before you feed the chameleon. “Gut-load,” the insects with mustard greens, squash, orange, carrot, collard greens, or commercial cricket diets. Appropriate insects include roaches, crickets, waxworms, and mealworms. Insects should be no longer than the width of your chameleon’s head. Feed your chameleon leafy vegetables such as red/green leaf lettuce, romaine, collard greens, Etc. every other day. Give juveniles constant access to food.
Dust your adult’s food with a multi-vitamin and calcium one to two times per week. Juveniles need calcium 2-3 times a week and vitamins once a week. Avoid overdosing your chameleon with vitamin D3 using both a vitamin supplement and calcium. Discard any uneaten food within 24 hours.
Veiled chameleons are arboreal and are unaccustomed to drinking from standing water sources. Instead, they lick water droplets from plants and the water that collects in nooks of branches. Gently mist the enclosure, including all the leaves and branches, twice a day for about two minutes. The goal is to create many water droplets on the leaves and other cage surfaces to entice the chameleon to drink.
Alternatively, you can install a drip system that slowly deposits water onto the enclosure’s leaves. An automated misting system can also be utilized. Be mindful of automatic drip and misting systems, however. A small malfunction or misalignment can result in the dehydration or death of your chameleon. Keep a close watch on whether or not they’re functioning correctly, and if your chameleon is getting proper hydration.
Handling and Temperament
Veiled chameleons change color in response to mood, temperature, and stress level. Most Veiled chameleons do not like being handled and are better suited as display animals. View them from afar as they move through the branches!
Some Veiled chameleons will tolerate handling, but pay attention to their color and stress level, and return to their cage if they seem stressed. Approach them carefully when you have to transport them out of their enclosure for cleanings or doctor’s visits. Gently herding them with one hand onto an outstretched hand tends to work well. Avoid grabbing them. Once Veiled chameleons begin to reach adulthood, they should be housed separately to avoid fighting with others.
A healthy chameleon has clear eyes, bright skin, a regular appetite, and is active and alert. Chameleons do have several hereditary illnesses that they can experience. Abnormal stools or stools smeared around your chameleon’s vent as well as appetite loss are symptoms associated with a digestive disease caused by bacteria or parasites.
Cold or overly damp conditions can cause respiratory infections. Signs of respiratory disorders include labored breathing or mucus in the nose and mouth. If you’re concerned about your chameleon’s health or see any of these symptoms, begin by double-checking the environmental conditions. A deficiency in calcium, vitamin D, or UV exposure results in metabolic bone disease (MBD). If MBD goes untreated, it can be fatal and cause deformities from weakened bones, lethargy, and swollen limbs. If you observe any unusual symptoms in your chameleon, take them to a veterinarian specializing in reptiles.