How to Care for Your Cuban False Chameleon
Cuban false chameleons (Anolis barbatus) are medium-sized, diurnal, arboreal lizards that measure around 7” long from snout to vent with a relatively short tail. As suggested by their common name, they are native to the forests of Cuba.
Cuban false chameleons can be identified by their large chameleon-like head, laterally compressed body shape, and an irregular, bark-like tan and brown pattern. They even have protruding, independently-moving eyes like chameleons! Their dewlap is white rimmed with peach-pink and decorated with spikes along the edge.
Cuban false chameleons are getting more popular in the pet trade, but relatively little is known about helping them thrive in captivity, so this can be considered a more high-effort pet.
How much space do Cuban false chameleons need?
Cuban false chameleons are not as active as other anoles, but they still need enough space to effectively thermoregulate and exercise as desired. Given their size, a single Cuban false chameleon should therefore be housed in absolutely no smaller than an 18” x 18” x 36” terrarium. Of course, larger is always better!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple false chameleons together) is not recommended, and may result in fighting or breeding if attempted. Do not breed unless you are fully prepared to accommodate the babies. Breeding is a serious project that should not be attempted casually.
Do Cuban false chameleons need UVB?
Anoles are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. They require exposure to UVB light for their survival, and also benefit from bright plant grow lights in their environment. Lights should be on for at least 12 hours/day, or seasonally cycled according to natural fluctuations in local sunrise and sunset times.
Cuban false chameleons need moderate-strength UVB as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for false chameleons housed in an 18” x 18” x 36” terrarium are:
- Arcadia ShadeDweller Kit — 6” above basking branch
- Arcadia T5 HO 6%, 18” — 8” above basking branch
- Zoo Med T5 HO 5.0, 18” — 8” above basking branch
The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture and placed close to the heat lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your pet UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Also make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover.
As day-active lizards, Cuban false chameleons also benefit from a 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow light to provide extra bright light in the enclosure and better simulate the effects of the sun. This is also very useful for nourishing any live plants you are using.
What basking temperatures do Cuban false chameleons need?
Cuban false chameleons should have access to a basking temperature of 90°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. The lower regions of the enclosure should be cooler and between 77-80°F.
Provide heat for your false chameleon by imitating the sun with a ~40w heat bulb placed on one side of the enclosure and mounted horizontally inside a hood-type fixture. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. The basking surface should be a sturdy branch placed 6-8” below the heat lamp, depending on which UVB bulb you’re using.
The heat source should be turned off at night. Nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 62°F, but should be no warmer than 73°F.
What humidity levels do Cuban false chameleons need?
Cuban false chameleons need a moderately high humidity environment for best health. Average humidity should be around 80%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium, drying out to 40-60% during the day and spiking as high as 100% at night.
Misting your false chameleon’s enclosure with a sprayer first thing in the morning and again at night will help create the right humidity levels, although if you live in a dry climate you may want to supplement with a fogger and humidistat at night. It also provides an important source of drinking water!
What substrate is good for Cuban false chameleons?
Substrate covers the floor of your false chameleon’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain humidity. Although Cuban false chameleons spend most of their time in the trees, they do occasionally hunt on the forest floor, so it’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that they naturally live on in the wild. In this case, that means it should resemble tropical soil. It should have small particles and hold moisture well.
We recommend the following substrates for Cuban false chameleons:
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 Cuban false chameleon terrarium?
It’s terribly boring for a false chameleon 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. False chameleons tend to appreciate a fairly densely planted enclosure with either live or artificial plants, which can make their terrarium a great piece of home décor!
For a happy Cuban false chameleon, you will need a network of relatively small branches/twigs for your pet to bask on as well as some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in.
What do Cuban false chameleons eat?
Cuban false chameleons are primarily insectivorous, which means that they need to eat insects (preferably live) in order to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often they need to eat depends on age: Juveniles should be fed daily to every other day, while fully-grown adults can be fed only 2x/week. Offer insects slightly smaller than your pet’s head at each feeding, as many as it will eat in about 5 minutes.
Feeder insects for Cuban false chameleons: captive-bred snails, dubia roaches, discoid roaches, crickets, grasshoppers, black soldier fly larvae, hornworms, silkworms
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your false chameleon from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all of your lizard’s feeder insects.
Although your false chameleon 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 Cuban false chameleons like to be handled?
Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, and anoles aren’t one of them. Instead of interacting with your false chameleon by holding it, try hand-feeding it instead with a pair of feeding tweezers.
If you have to pick up your false chameleon, be VERY gentle. For best results, scoop them up from below rather than grabbing from above, and coax them onto your hand/arm with a snack. Of course, it takes persistent effort and a foundation of positive experiences to convince a reptile to trust a human.
*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.
"Nashville Zoo 08-27-2014 - Cuban False Chameleon 3" by David441491 is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.