How to Care for Your Chameleon Gecko
The chameleon gecko (Eurydactylodes sp.) is a small, nocturnal, arboreal lizard native to the islands of New Caledonia. They prefer to spend most of their time in maquis scrub and sclerophyll forests, staying lower to the ground rather than in the forest canopy.
Chameleon geckos are generally 4-7” long, with females often being larger than males. They have large, tapered heads, large eyes, vertical pupils, a muscular prehensile tail, and prominent, prehistoric-looking scales. Coloring and pattern varies somewhat according to species, but they are generally a muted shade of brown- or gray-green, with darker skin between the scales. They may have a bright yellow stripe from the mouth to the ear.
There are four known species of chameleon gecko, but the most common in the pet trade are Eurydactylodes agricolae and Eurydactylodes vieillardi. They are intermediate-level pet reptiles that are sensitive to heat stress and have high humidity requirements. But with good care, they are likely able to live 15-20 years.
How much space do chameleon geckos need?
A single chameleon gecko should be housed in no smaller than a 12”L x 12”W x 18”H terrarium, although larger is always better, and will be happily used!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple chameleon geckos in one enclosure) is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted — particularly in the case of males.
Do chameleon geckos need UVB?
As a nocturnal species, they can survive without it as long as they get the right supplements, but it’s still recommended. Despite the fact that they are primarily nocturnal, chameleon geckos are known to bask occasionally. UVB gives them all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.
Chameleon geckos do best with low-strength UVB as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for chameleon geckos are:
- Zoo Med Compact Coil Reptisun 5.0 UVB, 26w
- Zoo Med T8 Reptisun 5.0
- Arcadia ShadeDweller Kit
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture (Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics) and placed close to the heat lamp, about 6-12” above the basking branch. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your gecko UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. UVB bulbs decay over time, so you will need to replace it every 12 months to maintain performance.
Chameleon geckos should receive 10 hours of light during winter and 14 hours of light during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.
What basking temperatures do chameleon geckos need?
Despite popular myth, chameleon geckos DO benefit from having a basking area! After all, they’re still ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.
Chameleon geckos should have a moderate basking temperature around 82-85°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. The cool zone in the lower regions of the enclosure should stay around 75°F. Heat lamps should be turned off at night. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 65°F.
Provide heat for your gecko by imitating the sun with a low-wattage heat bulb placed on one side of the enclosure in a 5.5” dome fixture. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
What humidity levels do chameleon geckos need?
Chameleon geckos need a high humidity environment with an average humidity of 60-80%, although it can drop as low as 50% and spike as high as 100%. Monitor humidity levels with a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium.
Misting your gecko’s enclosure with a sprayer each evening and again in the morning will help create the right humidity levels. It also provides an important source of drinking water!
What substrate is good for chameleon geckos?
Although chameleon geckos are an arboreal species and don’t spend much time on the ground, placing a layer of substrate on the floor of the enclosure helps maintain humidity. As an added perk, it also tends to make the enclosure more attractive.
Ideally, this substrate should resemble what chameleon geckos naturally live on in the wild — in this case, tropical soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well. We recommend the following substrates for chameleon geckos:
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 2” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What décor can you use in a chameleon gecko terrarium?
It’s terribly boring (and stressful!) for a gecko to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and food/water bowls. It doesn’t matter how big the enclosure is if you don’t put things in it for your pet to use and interact with. Chameleon geckos appreciate a fairly densely planted enclosure with either live or artificial plants, which can make their terrarium a great piece of home décor!
At bare minimum, you will need a branch for your gecko to climb on and some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
What do chameleon geckos eat?
Chameleon geckos are omnivorous, which means that they need to eat a balanced diet of plant and animal matter in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. In the wild, they primarily eat insects and fruit. In captivity, it’s best to feed them high-quality, specially-formulated crested gecko diet (CGD) supplemented by live insect feeders.
Prepared CGD should be offered 2-3x/week, with live insects also offered 2-3x/week. Because chameleon geckos are arboreal, CGD should be offered via wall-mounted feeding ledge, not placed on the ground.
Best crested gecko diets: Pangea, Repashy, Leapin’ Leachie, Zoo Med, Lugarti, Black Panther Zoological, Gecko Pro
Remember, the key to great nutrition is variety! All feeder insects should be no wider than the space between your gecko’s eyes.
Although crested gecko diet doubles as a vitamin supplement, you will need calcium powder to dust on feeder insects. We recommend Repashy Supercal NoD. Simply place the feeder insects in a plastic bag, shake them around a bit with the calcium powder until lightly coated, and then feed.
Although your gecko will get most of its drinking water from daily mistings, it’s a good idea to also provide a wall-mounted water dish. Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
Do chameleon geckos like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but chameleon geckos are slow-moving and generally tolerate handling well. The key is not to startle them and to start handling attempts after they’ve reached adulthood. Startling your gecko will likely result in getting squirted with a stinky goo that the gecko secretes as a defense mechanism. If this happens to you, wash it off immediately!
When handling your gecko, be gentle, and whenever possible, scoop up the gecko from below instead of grabbing it from above — this approach is less scary and stressful for them. They will be a bit jumpy at first, so let them hop from one hand to the other until they have calmed down.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.