Go toLog in Go toSign up
How to Care for Your Veiled Chameleon

How to Care for Your Veiled Chameleon

 

Introduction

Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are moderately-sized, diurnal, arboreal reptiles native to Yemen and the Middle East. They generally prefer humid subtropical to tropical forest for habitat and rarely come down to the ground.

Veiled chameleons are easily identified by the unique pointed shape of their skull, which is particularly tall in males. They are pale green when they hatch, but develop colorful stripes and spots in green, yellow, and orange, making them striking to look at. They can grow as large as 22” long.

Although veiled chameleons are easier to keep than they were when first introduced into the hobby, they have unique needs that make them challenging to keep. With good care, they usually live 6-8 years.

Enclosure

How much space do veiled chameleons need?

A single veiled chameleon should be housed in no smaller than a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure. Of course, larger is better! 

Despite common claims that chameleons “require” a full-mesh enclosure, it is actually better to use an enclosure with 2-3 solid sides, which can be done by covering the sides and back of a mesh enclosure with thin PVC panels. This helps retain humidity and give the chameleon a better sense of security in its enclosure, without excessively compromising ventilation.

Is it safe to house multiple veiled chameleons together?

Cohabitation (keeping multiple veiled chameleons in the same terrarium) is not recommended, and may result in fighting and severe injuries if attempted. It’s best practice to house only one chameleon per enclosure.

Veiled chameleon quarantine procedure

It’s best practice to quarantine your veiled chameleon first, whether yours is captive bred or wild caught. Quarantine is the practice of keeping an animal isolated and under sterile conditions in order to reduce the potential spread of disease. 

Even if you don’t have other reptiles that could potentially get infected by anything the chameleon might be carrying, maintaining quarantine conditions for the first 3+ months will enable you to more easily monitor for concerning symptoms and more easily treat them as well. You can do this with the enclosure that you plan to keep the lizard in long-term.

Some rules for successful veiled chameleon quarantine:

  • Keep the chameleon in a separate room from other reptiles.
  • Do not use the same equipment for your new pet as for your other reptiles.
  • Fully disinfect the enclosure weekly.
  • Get the chameleon checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
  • Observe for symptoms of disease or illness.

A reptile should be completely healthy before being transferred out of quarantine to its long-term setup.

Lighting

Do veiled chameleons need UVB?

Yes!

Appropriate UVB lighting is required for veiled chameleons to stay healthy. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle and providing an infinite supply of vitamin D, UVB is also good for the lizard’s overall health. Here are the best UVB bulbs for veiled chameleons housed in a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure:

  • Arcadia T5 HO 6%, 22”
  • Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0, 22”

The basking branch should be positioned so the top of the chameleon’s back is 8” below the top of the enclosure. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective T5 HO fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 Fixture. Make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is housed in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover, as plastic and glass block UVB rays.

Provide 13 hours of light per day during summer and 11 hours per day during winter to simulate seasonal changes in day length. This helps regulate your chameleon’s hormonal rhythms.

How to measure UVB for a veiled chameleon

UVB strength is measured by UV Index, or UVI. This is most accurately done with a device called a Solarmeter 6.5. When you hold the Solarmeter vertically near the basking surface at the height of the chameleon’s back, the device should read 3.0.

Factors such as the density of the mesh over your enclosure and the exact fixture you’re using can affect exactly what basking distance is needed to achieve the right UVI.

Other lighting needs for veiled chameleons

In addition to UVB, since veiled chameleons are day-active lizards, it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. Use a strong ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent plant grow light for best results, long enough to span most of the enclosure’s length.

Heating

What basking temperatures do veiled chameleons need?

Despite what you might think from their native habitat, veiled chameleons prefer a cool environment, and heat stress easily. Veiled chameleons need a basking area temperature of 80-85°F and a general air temperature of 72-78°F. Nighttime temperatures should drop down to 55-65°F

The basking surface itself should be a sturdy wood branch or vine placed near the top per the specifications listed previously.

How to heat your veiled chameleon

Provide heat for your chameleon with a cluster of two halogen heat lamps placed on one side of the enclosure. For best results, use a Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture and elevate the lamps above the top of the enclosure with Exo Terra Light Brackets. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

How to measure temperature

To measure your basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. To measure cool side temperature, use another thermometer with the probe placed in the shade on the other side of the enclosure. This will allow you to monitor the temperature gradient.

Do not use analog or stick-on thermometers, as you will not be able to get accurate readings.

Humidity

What humidity levels do veiled chameleons need?

Veiled chameleons do best with an environment of low humidity (30-50%) during the day and high humidity (75-100%) at night. Humidity is essential to veiled chameleon wellbeing, and conditions that are either too dry or too wet can make them sick.

Humidity should be measured with a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium.

How to increase and maintain humidity in a veiled chameleon enclosure

Mist 2x/day with a pressure sprayer first thing in the morning and in the evening. Alternatively, use an automatic misting system, which is especially helpful if you have a busy or irregular schedule. 

You will also need to run a cool mist fogger/humidifier at night, because humidity levels are naturally higher at night in the wild. Connect the fogger to a humidistat to maintain nighttime humidity levels no lower than 75%.

Reptile humidifiers/foggers and automatic misting systems should only be used with distilled water. Foggers require weekly disinfecting to keep your reptile from getting sick.

Substrate

What substrate is good for veiled chameleons?

Because veiled chameleons are strictly arboreal, and because of all the water that goes through their enclosures every day, it’s most efficient not to use a substrate with this species. Instead, use a solid bottom with a drain into a large bucket. This will require some DIY, but is well worth it in the end. There are many chameleon drainage system DIY guides available online to help you. Some enclosures, such as Dragon Strand, have pre-made drainage trays. 

How to clean a veiled chameleon enclosure

Cleaning your enclosure on a regular basis is important to keeping your chameleon healthy. With all of the water running through your enclosure, pathogens can quickly proliferate. While good ventilation helps, there is no substitute for routine disinfecting.

  1. Remove your chameleon from the enclosure and place inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container. 
  2. Remove all substrate and décor.
  3. Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove leftover particles.
  4. Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
  5. Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other décor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time. Do not disinfect live plants.
  6. If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
  7. Pour new substrate into the enclosure. Mix in water until uniformly moistened but not wet.
  8. Arrange décor.
  9. Reintroduce your pet to the clean setup.

F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution (1:10 dilution) can be used for disinfecting porous materials. The same can be used for nonporous materials, although the concentration of bleach solution should be changed to 1:50.

Can veiled chameleons have a bioactive setup?

Generally speaking, it’s in the best interest of the chameleon’s health not to go bioactive. Bioactive setups are difficult to pull off in a chameleon enclosure without sacrificing ventilation, and can easily stagnate.

Décor

What décor can you use in a veiled chameleon terrarium?

A bare, minimalistic enclosure leads to a stressed chameleon — and a stressed chameleon is a chameleon that quickly gets sick. In order to create a functional setup for your veiled chameleon, you will need plenty of thin branches, vines, and plants (preferably live). Arrange the foliage to create hiding places for the chameleon to use as needed, with an open area under the heat lamp.

What live plants can be used with veiled chameleons?

Although veiled chameleons are insectivorous, they are known to munch on plants, so it’s very important for any live plants to be nontoxic. Also, since veiled chameleons are climbers, any live plants you decide to use in the enclosure must be sturdy enough to support the chameleon’s weight. Here are a few options that work well in a humid, brightly-lit environment:

  • Coleus
  • Croton 
  • Hibiscus
  • Lipstick Plant
  • Money Tree 
  • Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ 
  • Pothos
  • Umbrella Plant 
  • Wandering Jew 
  • Weeping Fig 
  • ZZ Plant

Note that larger plants are usually sturdier, which is one argument for using a larger enclosure.

Food

What do veiled chameleons eat?

Veiled chameleons are insectivorous, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects to get the nutrition that they need. How much they need to eat varies depending on age:

  • Juveniles (0-9 months) — As much as they can eat, every day
  • Adults (>9 months) — 4-5 bugs, every other day

Feeder insect options: crickets, discoids, dubias, banana roaches, red runner roaches, black soldier flies, hornworms, silkworms

Remember, variety is key to great nutrition!

Do veiled chameleons need dietary supplements?

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your chameleon from developing a deficiency. Follow this schedule for supplementing a veiled chameleon:

It is also important to make sure that all feeders are well hydrated and gutloaded!

How to provide drinking water for your veiled chameleon

Chameleons can’t drink from a water dish, but they still need access to drinking water. While misting does help meet some of this need, you will need to supplement with a dripper to make sure your pet has drinking water available at all times.

Handling

Do veiled chameleons like to be handled?

Truthfully, few reptiles actually “like” to be handled. When it comes to veiled chameleons, they’re generally “hands-off” pets that are better to simply admire than to try to play with. However, if you can build a trusting relationship with your chameleon, they may climb onto your hand when offered. 

The key to building a trusting relationship with your pet is to provide as many positive interactions as possible. Offering food from feeding tweezers is a good way to start.

How to tame your veiled chameleon

Taming a chameleon means teaching it to trust and feel comfortable around you. This requires consistent positive interactions to build the trust relationship. While a negative experience or two won’t ruin your taming efforts, it can slow them down, so it’s best to be consistent. It’s best to encourage the chameleon to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on its own, rather than forcibly grabbing it. Sitting or standing nearby with a houseplant or artificial tree for the chameleon to climb out onto is helpful. Avoid removing it from its hiding places, as hides are supposed to be safe, private places.

Using treats, or tong-feeding, is a great way to bribe your pet into interacting with you and learning to trust you!

Enrichment ideas for veiled chameleons

Enrichment is what good zoos use to keep their animals happy, active, and engaged. Some say that reptiles are too stupid to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. Reptiles, including veiled chameleons, can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in appropriate ways for the species.

Here are some ideas for enrichment activities that your chameleon is likely to enjoy:

  • Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful, move one thing every so often at your pet’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month, for others they might like once a week.
  • Scatter feeding. Rather than offering all of their food in one bowl, try putting it in various places around the enclosure or letting them chase their food, depending on what feeder you’re using.
  • Offer supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get them out of.

Health

Signs you need to take your veiled chameleon to the vet

Veterinary care is an important part of having any pet, including veiled chameleons. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet to get them checked out immediately.

  • Mucus discharge from the mouth/nose/eyes
  • Persistent lethargy
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent lack of appetite
  • Straining/inability to defecate
  • Large patches of missing scales
  • Open wounds
  • Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body
  • Sudden, unusually aggressive behavior

Veiled chameleons should be taken to the vet shortly after you bring them home, and then at least 1x/year for a general checkup and parasite check.

Outside of that, if you are concerned about your pet’s health due to a change in their appearance or behavior, don’t go to the internet for medical advice — book an appointment with a professional! You can find an experienced reptile veterinarian near you at ARAV.org.

Resources

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 veiled chameleons. Here are some other great sources to read:

Previous article How to Care for Mourning Geckos