Veiled chameleons are a strikingly beautiful animal that are striped in shades of brown, yellow, and green along their entire body and tail. They are originally from Yemen and are also called the Yemen chameleon, as well as the cone-head chameleon, and have become very popular in the exotic pet hobby because of their brilliant coloration.
The casque on top of their head, that looks a bit like a tall hat, is what they use to direct rain water into their mouths for drinking. These lizards are not the easiest to keep, so if you’re thinking of owning one, you should have some reptile keeping experience first with another type of lizard: maybe something a little more forgiving like a bearded dragon or a blue tongued skink. The veiled chameleon does not like to be handled or pet. It stresses them. Because of these reasons and more, like the expense of ownership, veiled chameleons are not recommended for young children or inexperienced keepers.
I always recommend purchasing your reptile, chameleon or otherwise, from a reputable breeder. The breeder will help you understand the lizard better because they spend quite a lot of their time watching and caring for these chameleons.
Breeders will also have healthy chameleons that are eating and, at the very least, are used to seeing humans around. The breeder will be able to help best instruct you on how to hand tame your new reptile, should you go that route.
Breeder forums, pages, and fan websites are abundant. You should have no problem finding one. Before COVID-19, there were reptile expos and shows all over. Keep an eye out for those to return, and when they do, go to the closest one to you.
There are going to be a lot of like-minded reptile lovers there with you. It is also a great place to network and meet breeders, and who can’t use a friend in this hobby? The laws seem to be everchanging, and keeping up with those changes can be tough on your own.
This is one of the largest captive-kept chameleon species. Hatchling veiled chameleons are approximately 4 inches in total length. Adult females usually reach 18 inches including their tail, while adult males reach, on average, 2 feet long, tail included.
When it comes to their health, veiled chameleons are no different than most other lizards. They are prone to respiratory infections, calcium and vitamin deficiency, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), and mouth rot. If you notice a loss of appetite, it could be a sign of a parasite, possibly internal. Make sure you know where an exotics veterinarian is located near you and that they have experience with chameleons before you purchase one and bring it home.
When proper husbandry practices are used, male veiled chameleons live 6 to 8 years and females live 4 to 6 years, on average. Females don’t live quite as long as males because, whether they are breeding or not, females will still continue to produce clutches of eggs. The eggs will be infertile if she’s not being bred, but each cycle is still just as taxing on her body and therefore shortens her lifespan.
Once veiled chameleons reach sexual maturity, which is around 10 months old, males must be kept separately to avoid fighting. The veiled chameleon lives best in an enclosure that is tall. They are arboreal and will not be spending much if any time on the ground. An enclosure that is longer than it is tall, like most aquariums, will not work for these lizards because there is not enough air flow, which can create respiratory problems for your mostly green buddy.
If you are starting out with a very young or juvenile chameleon, keep them in an enclosure measuring 16 inches long by 16 inches wide by 30 inches tall. This will last until the lizard reaches about 10 months old, at which time, the chameleon should be placed in its adult enclosure.
The adult enclosure should measure 2 feet long by 2 feet wide by 4 feet tall. As far as the chameleons and most keepers are concerned, the bigger the better. Fiberglass mesh and fine metal screen are not good for veiled chameleons because they could very easily cut your pet lizard. My research shows that PVC-coated hardware cloth is great for this application. Always place the chameleon’s enclosure in a quiet place to help minimize stress.
Every single decoration and plant you place inside the enclosure must be solid and secure. Your chameleon will be climbing on all of it, and you don’t want to have a loose branch fall while your chameleon is walking on it or have a plant fall over while your lizard is trying to climb up into it.
When it comes to decorating the enclosure, you need to have plastic reptile-safe vines with foliage and either solid sticks, perches, or dowels firmly placed horizontally and at different heights for the chameleon to be able to cross from one side of the enclosure to the other, bask under the basking light, or just find a better angle of attack on a cricket.
Also add in some real plants to help with the humidity level and to add cover and climbing height the veiled chameleons need. Some real plants that are safe to use are Ficus benjamina, Pothos plant, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, and Schefflera arboricola. All of these plants are considered toxic; however, it turns out the veiled chameleon can munch on these plants all they want with no health issues at all, so if your chameleon decides to take a bite of one, it’s going to be just fine!
One last word about live plants. When you buy them from a nursery or grocery store, the soil the plants are in will most likely contain some sort of chemical fertilizer. They are not thinking that a chameleon keeper will be using the plant as part of their chameleon’s habitat.
Before placing the live plant or plants in the enclosure, be sure to completely repot them with all organic potting soil without any additives, and thoroughly clean out the pot it came in if you plan to reuse it in the enclosure. This will ensure the plants will grow just fine and will not get your lizard sick or dead.
This is one of the few times I recommend using a reptile-safe, carpet-type floor covering. They are available online from a multitude of vendors, which keeps the price very reasonable.
Any loose substrate can get stuck to the tongue of the chameleon or to the food item and then can be swallowed, which will create some sort of intestinal problem for your chameleon. It just seems to me like the chameleon’s life shouldn’t be placed in jeopardy all the time when all it’s trying to do is eat. With that said, here are some more reasons why carpet is better in this case:
- It’s very inexpensive (and it’s always nice to save money).
- It will not provide hiding places for uneaten live prey items.
- It’s super easy to spot clean daily, and when the time comes for a complete cleaning (every 1 to 2 weeks), carefully remove the carpet from the enclosure and thoroughly clean it with a reptile-safe cleaner, then carefully place it back in the enclosure.
- It looks SO much better than newspaper or paper towels ripped up and lying on the bottom of a nice enclosure. The carpeting can be cut to any size and shape to fit the enclosure and to cover the tops of the pots of the live plants That way the veiled chameleons won’t accidentally ingest any potting soil from the live plants’ pots, and the cutting and fitting needs to be done only once, and not every time the enclosure is cleaned, like with other options.
Lighting and Temperature
Being diurnal, veiled chameleons need full-spectrum UV lighting. Leave the lights on for 10 to 12 hours a day and be sure to follow the suggestions for keeping the bulbs a safe distance away so the chameleons doesn’t get hurt: usually 8 to 12 inches. Change the UV bulbs every 6 months. While the light and the heat will continue to be produced, after 6 months, the UV light and its benefits will no longer exist.
These lizards need to have daytime temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature in the basking area should be 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to keep the basking bulb far enough away from the chameleon that while it is basking it won’t get burned. Follow the manufacturer’s directions as to how far is safe for your reptile.
As long as the room your chameleon enclosure is in doesn’t fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, you should not need supplemental heating. If supplemental heating is needed, use a ceramic heat emitter or an incandescent bulb with a reflector attached. Make sure this too is placed far enough away to not harm your chameleon.
Veiled chameleons are primarily insectivores that do eat vegetation, and as with most lizards, variety in their diet is a big deal, so make sure to change up what you feed them, or they may get bored and may not eat.
Please always place your chameleon’s food offerings in a dish. The reasons for this are their tongue is super sticky and if it gets some gravel or sand stuck to its tongue or the food item, it could create digestive issues, like intestinal impaction or blockages when the lizard swallows them. When using a feeding dish, the chameleon’s attention is drawn right to the food, which signals it is feeding time.
Clean up is easy as well. Simply remove the dish and any leftover food with it, including any type of leafy green you may have hung up inside the enclosure, as well as any live uneaten prey items, after a few hours. Do not leave live food items in the enclosure for long periods of time, no longer than a couple of hours, because locusts or some crickets may attack and injure your chameleon, which could very likely cause an infection.
Leafy greens are important to a veiled chameleon’s overall health. Hang small pieces of leafy greens around the inside of the enclosure, and when your chameleon finds them, they will eat them. You can also place them, cut up into pieces, in a small bowl or dish. Some of the better leafy greens to use are collard and mustard greens.
Mix in some romaine and green leaf lettuce from time to time as well. Feed your veiled chameleon greens 2 to 3 times a week. Also offer these fruits and vegetables in a small dish and in small amounts: diced zucchini, butternut squash, blueberries, and very thinly sliced pieces of pear or apple.
The rest of a veiled chameleon’s diet should consist of gut-loaded crickets, locusts, superworms, mealworms, earth worms, silk worms, and dubia roaches. You can gut-load the prey items with some high-calcium greens like mustard and collard and also offer the prey items some carrots and even squash (to help with the vitamin A) 24 hours before feeding them to your chameleon.
Make sure to dust the crickets, mealworms, and other gut-loaded prey items with a vitamin D3/calcium supplement 2 to 3 times a week, and once a week, use a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that does not contain vitamin A. Too much vitamin A will cause health issues with chameleons. Gut load the prey items properly to pass on vitamin A to the chameleon, and make sure to feed the chameleon their leafy greens and other suggested items like butternut squash and blueberries. They have vitamin A in them as well, especially the butternut squash.
Because veiled chameleons are arboreal, they aren’t looking to drink out of a standing water source like a water dish. Chances are they won’t even recognize the dish as having anything to do with water. In the wild, veiled chameleons get their water from the dew drops and rain drops on the leaves, so it is important to use a hand-held spray bottle to mist down the enclosure, vines, and plants not just for the proper humidity level, but also to make sure your lizard has enough to drink off the leaves throughout the day.
There are misting, fogger and dripper systems that will provide a lot of help with this task. Make sure there is water dripping a little bit from the leaves. Keep an eye on your hygrometer to make sure the humidity levels are at a minimum of 50 percent to as high as 65 percent while veiled chameleons are shedding.
The humidity level will probably rise overnight because there is no daylight to evaporate the water in the air. If you notice your humidity level is getting far too high overnight, try not misting about an hour before the lights go out for the night. With less water in the environment, there will be less humidity, and less likely there will be a mold or bacteria problem inside the enclosure.
Handling and Temperament
Veiled chameleons are usually pretty docile to people; however, if you try to handle them or touch them too much, it is likely to stress them. Handling and touching or petting in general is something that most, if not all, chameleons just don’t care for. While they can build up a tolerance to handling for very short periods, it is best to view your chameleon as a display pet, very similar to tarantulas.
Yes, veiled chameleons can be handled, for very short amounts of time and not very often. Even captive-bred chameleons have moody behaviors. Some stressful situations that have nothing to do with you could still put your chameleon in a bad mood, and it doesn’t want to be handled.
For example, if the family cat or dog were to hang out and stare at the lizard or bark or meow at it, the chameleon thinks it’s in danger and stresses, which sets the stage for a possible bite. Don’t get bitten. Enjoy your beautiful reptile from the outside of its enclosure. Only take your veiled chameleon out of its enclosure when it’s time to clean the enclosure.
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This care information is a brief overview of a subject that has been covered in many books by respected authors and on many breeder forums. For more information, please consult a specialized book, visit one of the breed-specific forums/message boards, or contact an expert in that particular field. Your veiled chameleon will thank you for it.