Veiled chameleons are medium to large lizards found most commonly in the wild in the Yemen. Often kept in captivity due to its size and bright colours, they have relatively simple requirements. This reptile is fairly resilient, tolerating a range of conditions. A Veiled chameleon, however, is one of the captive chameleons most prone to metabolic bone disease (MBD), almost always caused by incorrect care.
A male Veiled can grow to 50cm in length, although females are smaller. A well-ventilated cage measuring 80cm by 60cm by 80cm high would be sufficient but larger would be better. Unless very young, Veiled chameleons should not be kept together, even pairs, as they can be aggressive to each other.
Veiled chameleons are not the best-tempered chameleons. Some accept handling better than others. A few are too aggressive to be handled.
There is a general view that as these chameleons come from the Yemen, they must experience and need high temperatures all year round. This is incorrect and can be detrimental to the health of the chameleon. Yemen, like most places in the Middle East, has strong seasonal variation in temperatures. Summer can be hot but nights in the winter can be cold.
Seasonal variation is needed to mirror their natural conditions, but that is hard to replicate in captivity. I managed it to a certain extent on the Highveld in South Africa by keeping mine outdoors for much of the year, even on mild winter days. As a result, my breeding pairs were healthier. They produced more and better quality eggs than acquaintances who kept theirs at a constant temperature.
A temperature range of 15°c at night and 25 to 30°c during the day would be reasonable. Extremes should be avoided but the chameleons will take lower temperatures during the winter.
Food should be varied as much as possible but crickets normally provide the basic staple diet. These chameleons are insectivorous. While they may occasionally eat vegetation, such as flowers or diced carrot, this should only be a small part of their diet. In South Africa, my Veiled chameleons rarely ate vegetation, fruit or flowers. In Malaysia, they demolished small Hibiscus bushes in a matter of weeks! I bred the same insects in both locations, so the diet was similar. A genetic preference?
MBD is due to calcium deficiency and the Veiled chameleon is very prone to this problem for various reasons.
Unlike their rainforest cousins, food supplies may be irregular in Yemen. This results in a Veiled chameleon eating whenever it comes across insects. And as many as it finds. If an owner is not careful, this tendency can cause their chameleon to grow too fast. In extreme cases, it will not be able to assimilate the calcium fast enough to generate strong bones.
Sadly, ignorance of this risk is one of the main causes of MBD. I have heard of chameleon keepers in Malaysia bragging about how fast their lizard was growing. Only to hear a few months later that it was either dead or dying due to MBD.
Hatchlings should be fed as much as they need. When they are a month or so old (and obviously healthy), one day a week without food will be beneficial.
Adults can be fed every other day. Gravid females should be fed daily but with good quality food and supplements.
Vitamin and calcium supplements are required for all Veiled chameleons once they reach a month old. Don’t add too much as this can be as dangerous as too little – follow the instructions on the container.
Water should be provided by spraying. Some people claim to have trained their chameleon to drink from a bowl but this is unusual and the exception.
Spraying means enough water drips from the leaves in the cage, for enough minutes, so it looks like a short tropical downpour. It does NOT mean simply spraying the leaves so they are wet. Water must drip off the leaves for a while to stimulate drinking.
Someone recently contacted me about their male Veiled. The chameleon was lethargic and its droppings were yellow. When asked, the owner said he sprayed the leaves once every day. Until they were wet. Nothing more. The chameleon died after a month.
A chameleon’s droppings should never be yellow. This is one of the first signs of dehydration. There are other causes but this should be taken as a warning sign and action should be taken immediately.
Part of the MBD problem is linked to insufficient UV light exposure. A 5.0 UV light is the best. But refer to charts that show the fall of the UV the further from the bulb/tube that the chameleon sits. If you mount the light too high, the lizard may be getting no value at all from it.
Natural sunlight is preferred over anything else. Even for an hour a day or a couple of hours a week, weather and conditions permitting. But check temperatures, wind strength and other risks, like cats and dogs, before putting them outdoors.
Females are most at risk from MBD and the production of eggs takes a huge toll on them, with anything up to 80 eggs produced by a single female every few months. Breeding should not be done when the animal is too young – subject to size and conditions the correct age would be between eight months and a year. Between batches of eggs try to strengthen her with a varied diet, good quality calcium supplement and natural sunlight.
Mating is fairly straightforward if the female is receptive. The colouring is the best guideline, as she exhibits dozens of light blue spots. Even when she is displaying receptive colours she may quickly change her mind when confronted by the male. If she opens her mouth and goes dark in colour, remove her immediately.
Eggs can be incubated at 26c and will take 6 months to hatch. The neonates are very simple to rear and are quite robust. This species is sexually dimorphic and the differences are evident from the moment they hatch.
Males have a spur on their rear feet even as soon as they exit the egg. It can be hard to see and is not always obvious. Their casques become more prominent as the males grow. The early months can dictate their later health so only buy from a shop in which you have confidence.