Frequently Asked Questions about Chameleons

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are among the most common and frequently asked questions about chameleons posed by people starting out. If there is a question you would like the answer to, let me know.

1. What is the cheapest chameleon I can keep?

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a ‘cheap’ chameleon.  By the time the cage, the lighting, the vitamin/calcium, food and other necessary equipment is purchased any chameleon will cost a fair amount of money.  Veiled chameleons normally cost less than most others because they are bred in large numbers. This does not mean that they are either the cheapest to keep or the best.

Ask yourself why you have raised the question, carefully check the conditions required and then decide whether a chameleon is the right animal for you at this time.

2. What UV light should I provide?

Natural sunlight is the best but not always practical in all situations.  When keeping your chameleon indoors a 5.0 UV is the best – 2.0 are virtually useless for most chameleons and a 10.0 risks eye damage.  Check the care sheets for details, e.g. unlike Veiled, Brookesias actually do well under 2.0.  Remember that the netting on a flexarium will reduce the UV by as much as 40%. Light falls off the further away it is from the chameleon. Even at 30cm from the tube, the UV benefits have been reduced dramatically.

For more about UV have a look at this blog about UV light for chameleons.

 3.  What size food can I use for my chameleon?

The rule of thumb is that the cricket should not be longer than the width of the head.  This is only a guideline, as large chameleons can eat large cockroaches or locusts many times longer than the width of the mouth.  The risk is that a small chameleon will try to grab food that is too big for it and, when small, there is some risk that they may get greedy and choke.

4.  What type of food can I use?

Chameleons are primarily insectivores.  Some will eat vegetation but this is only a minor supplement to its normal diet.  One book suggests that the eating of vegetation is due to some nutritional deficit in its diet.  We don’t feed our chameleons any vegetables but, in South Africa, we saw the occasional leaf nibbled. In Malaysia, our Veiled ate lots of Hibiscus leaves. We had to change the plants regularly.

The key to a healthy chameleon is a varied diet.  Crickets are an ideal staple food but the addition of silkworms, silkmoths, locusts, grasshoppers, butterflies, gaga flies, cockroaches, etc will be of benefit.  Make sure that the insects are not affected by insecticides or are rare. Also, ensure that they are not poisonous or have stings.

5.  Can I keep chameleons together?

This is possibly one of the most frequently asked questions about chameleons. Typically the answer is ‘no’.  Very few chameleons tolerate another, of either sex, in close proximity.  Some of the mountain chameleons, e.g. Jackson’s and Werner’s, live as pairs in a large enough cage but Veiled and Panther chameleons will not. At some stage, you will likely have an injured animal. It will often be the female that does the attacking.

The other risk is early egg laying, especially in Veileds.  Some chameleons can mate at an absurdly young age. If the female is in captivity and cannot find the correct nutrition, or gets stressed by the male she may die of egg binding.  This is often the case with wild caught Carpet chameleons – they are kept together in large numbers and breed while only 5 months or so old.  The female arrives in South Africa stressed, riddled with parasites and full of eggs – is it any wonder that people say they are short lived?  Captive bred carpets should have none of these problems.

6. What questions should I ask when buying a chameleon?

When you find a chameleon for sale, don’t rush. If the animal has been in the shop a while you need to check that it has been cared for properly. I have seen horrible cases of neglect in pet shops in the UK, Malaysia and South Africa.

Someone buying one of these chameleons would have walked out of the shop unaware that their new pet would dead within a month regardless of how well they had looked after it. They would blame themselves and give up.

Ask the following questions (and others) and listen to the answers which will give you a clue about whether the pet shop (or another seller) really knows how to care for the creature:

a) How is it being given water?

Regular spraying is the only answer. Spraying should be long enough to allow water to run off the leaves like a rainstorm. And several times a day. Dehydration in a chameleon in a pet shop is hard to detect.

Don’t assume that a water bowl is the only source. One pet shop in South Africa was threatened with prosecution by ignorant Nature Conservation inspectors who insisted that water was available 24/7.

b) What food does it eat?

Insects, probably crickets, are the staple diet. Incredibly, I have heard a pet shop tell a customer that they can survive on vegetables. This is rubbish.

If you are encouraged to feed mealworms, be wary. They can be used for food but are nutritionally poor and should only be used rarely – if at all.

A pet shop that encourages a diet that includes a variety of insect species is probably a good one!

(and see Question 4 above)

c. Is a glass cage OK?

The correct answer in ‘no’. But the reality is more complex. In a pet shop, glass cages are needed to allow customers to see the chameleons. In the UK, some keepers must use glass cages to keep the humidity and temperature at the right level.

There are two issues with glass:

  1. Insufficient ventilation/airflow
  2. Stress caused by the chameleon’s reflection in the glass leading it to constantly be on ‘intruder alert’.

How the pet shop responds will give you a clue about how much they know.

To learn more about suitable cages have a look at this blog on choosing the best cage for your chameleon.

d. What’s the right temperature?

Another of those frequently asked questions about chameleons. The answer is not easy. It depends on the species, so do some research on Google first. Some pet shops assume that anything from Africa comes from sweltering tropical jungles. In reality, few species do.

Even Veiled chameleons benefit from a lower temperature at night. Some species need a noticeable drop.

These are the six most frequently asked questions about chameleons I get asked. If you have others, add a comment.

Or send me an email if you have a question.


2 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions about Chameleons

  1. Where can we buy a cape chameleon? Ours passed away this morning. We had our little one for 2 years now.

    1. Hi, unfortunately, it is illegal to sell indigenous chameleons in South Africa …. without an impossible-to-get permit. You can keep certain exotic species. Even these need permits in some Provinces. You’ll need to check the rules for your area. Ask a pet shop – don’t ask Nature Conservation!

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