Chameleons are some of the most popular reptiles out there, often appearing in animated films and TV shows because of their ability to change scale color and pattern to match their surroundings. While this ability has been exaggerated for film, it’s still an impressive feat to watch in real life.
As such, chameleons are sought after as pets, and are a top choice for reptile enthusiasts. The chameleon is a diverse and interesting creature, and in this guide we’ll teach you everything you need to know about keeping chameleons as pets.
You’ll find valuable information about:
- Types of Pet Chameleons
- Chameleon Behavior and Habits
- How To Set Up a Chameleon Enclosure
- Chameleon Diet and Food Options
- Health and Wellness
- Pet Chameleon Pricing
- Chameleon Care FAQs
Plus, we’ll give you some recommendations for our favorite reptile products and reptile suppliers!
Pet Chameleon Types
There are many different pet chameleon types to choose from, and they each differ in size, personality, and living requirements. Lucky for you, they all make great pets and can be very entertaining to watch.
Some of the most popular pet chameleon types include:
- Veiled chameleons
- Panther chameleons
- Pygmy chameleons
- Jackson’s chameleons
- Senegal chameleon
When you think of what a chameleon is, you most likely think of the veiled chameleon. They are the most popular type of pet chameleon and get their name from the casque, or helmet, on top of their head.
Veiled chameleons are one of the larger pet chameleon types and males can grow up to 24 inches long. However, they typically average around 12 to 15 inches. They have a lifespan of about 5-8 years and are known for being very active and always on the move.
Veiled chameleons require a large habitat with plenty of space to explore and climb, as well as hiding spots. Their primary diet consists of live insects, such as crickets and mealworms.
Panther chameleons are another popular pet chameleon type and get their name from their spotted pattern which resembles that of a panther. They are smaller than veiled chameleons, only growing up to about 8-10 inches long, and have a lifespan of 5-8 years.
Panther chameleons have different color morphs, which means they can come in a variety of colors depending on their location. For example, panther chameleons from Madagascar typically have red, blue, or orange patterns, while those from Tanzania usually have green patterns.
Panther chameleons require a smaller habitat than veiled chameleons, but still need plenty of space to climb and explore. Their diet consists of live insects, such as crickets and mealworms.
As their name suggests, pygmy chameleons are the smallest pet chameleon type. They only grow to be about 2-4 inches long and have a lifespan of 3-5 years.
Pygmy chameleons typically have brown, green, or gray patterns and like to stay hidden in their habitat. They are known for being one of the more shy pet chameleon types and can be easily frightened.
Because they are so small, pygmy chameleons don’t require a large habitat. A 10-gallon tank is typically sufficient. Their diet consists of small live insects, such as fruit flies and springtails.
Jackson’s chameleons are a pet chameleon type that is native to East Africa. They are most notable for the three brown horns located on its head. These horns are only found on males.
Jackson’s chameleons get their name from English explorer and ornithologist Frederick John Jackson. Jackson was serving as the governor of Kenya at time time these chameleons were named.
Jackson’s chameleons are medium-sized, only growing to be about 10-12 inches long, and have a lifespan of 5-1o years. They are known to be very calm and docile, making them a good pet chameleon type for first-time owners.
Jackson’s chameleons require a moderate-sized habitat with plenty of space to climb and hide. Their diet consists of live insects, such as crickets and mealworms.
Senegal chameleons are a pet chameleon type that is native to West Africa. They get their name from the Senegal River, which runs through their natural habitat.
Senegal chameleons are small, only growing to be about 6-8 inches long, and have a lifespan of 5-7 years. They are known for being very shy and will often hide in their habitat.
Senegal chameleons require a smaller habitat than most other pet chameleon types. A 10-gallon tank is typically sufficient so long as the habitat is set up correctly. Their diet consists of live insects, such as crickets and mealworms.
Understanding Your Chameleon’s Behavior
If you just bought a pet chameleon for the first time, then it’s important to know and understand the different behaviors that you will notice in your scaly friend. While some are completely normal, others can be a sign of a serious health problem that you want to get checked out immediately.
Below are some of the common behaviors you will notice from your pet chameleon:
One of the first things you may notice about your chameleon is that they tend to act shy and spend a lot of their time out of sight. This is a completely normal behavior for chameleons. In fact, this is the most common and normal behavior for all the different species of chameleons.
Chameleons prefer to live alone, and their shy nature is a result of millions of years of evolution. In the wild, chameleons avoid confrontation with other animals whenever possible. This helps them to stay safe from predators and also allows them to conserve their energy.
Chameleons can also be quite lazy, and you may often find your pet chameleon just sleeping in their cage. Again, this is perfectly normal behavior and nothing to worry about. Chameleons are ectothermic animals, which means that they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature.
As a result, chameleons tend to be most active during the day when it is warmest and spend most of their time at night sleeping. If you notice your chameleon is particularly lazy and inactive, then it could be a sign that the temperature in their cage is too low.
Chameleons can also be aggressive, and you may notice your pet chameleon hissing or puffing up their body when they see you. This is usually just a defense mechanism, and they will eventually get used to you and become more comfortable around you.
However, if the aggression persists, then it could be a sign of a health problem. It could also be a sign that the chameleon is not getting enough food or that the cage is too small.
Something else to note is that chameleons do not like to live with other chameleons, or any other animal for that matter. When you do try and introduce two chameleons to one another, it’s likely that they will fight, leading to injury or even death for one or both of them.
If your chameleon is lethargic and seems to have no energy, then it could be a sign of a serious health problem. Chameleons should be somewhat active and alert, and if they are not, then it’s important to take them to the vet right away.
A lethargic chameleon can be a sign of several different health problems, including dehydration, malnutrition, and respiratory infections. If your chameleon is showing any other symptoms, then it’s even more important to take them to the vet as soon as possible.
When it comes to understanding chameleon behavior, the most important thing to remember is that every chameleon is different. Some may be shy while others may be aggressive. And some may be lazy while others are quite active. The best way to get to know your chameleon is to observe their behavior and see what is normal for them.
Setting Up A Chameleon Habitat
The most important step in your pet chameleon care is setting up its habitat. If you’re new to owning chameleons, then you really don’t want to skip this section.
Setting up a pet chameleon habitat isn’t difficult, but it needs to be done properly in order for your chameleon to live long. There are many things you need to consider when building a habitat, including:
The substrate that you choose for your pet chameleon habitat is important because it will impact everything from drainage to humidity levels. There are many different substrates that can be used for chameleons, but not all of them are created equal. Some of the most popular substrates for pet chameleons include:
- Coconut fiber
- Reptile carpet
- Cypress mulch
- Zoo Med Forest Floor
Knowing how to take care of a chameleon all starts with choosing the right substrate. To find the best substrate for your chameleon and habitat, check out our INSERT SOMETHING HERE GUIDE.
Chameleons need access to both UVB and UVA light in order to stay healthy. UVB light is necessary for calcium absorption, while UVA light helps with thermoregulation and overall health. There are many different ways to provide UVB and UVA light to your pet chameleon, including:
- Fluorescent bulbs
- Mercury vapor bulbs
- Compact fluorescent bulbs
- LED bulbs
The type of bulb you choose will depend on your pet chameleon’s needs and your budget. To learn more about the different types of lighting available for pet chameleons, check out our Terrarium Lights Guide.
Chameleons are ectothermic animals, which means they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. The temperature in your pet chameleon’s habitat should be kept between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with a basking spot that is 10 to 20 degrees warmer. At night, the temperature can drop down to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
This means it’s crucial for you to maintain an appropriate temperature in your habitat. The best way to do this is by using a digital thermometer with a basking spot temperature gauge. You can also use an infrared heat lamp to create a basking spot for your chameleon.
Chameleons come from tropical environments, so they need high humidity levels in their habitat. The ideal humidity level for pet chameleons is between 50 and 60 percent. To maintain these levels, you’ll need to mist your pet chameleon’s habitat 2 to 3 times per day.
You can also use a humidifier to help increase the humidity levels in your pet chameleon’s habitat. Just make sure that the humidifier is placed on the opposite side of the enclosure as the basking spot.
To keep a close monitor on your habitat’s humidity, you will need a hygrometer.
The decorations and environment in your pet chameleon’s habitat are important because they provide both hiding spots and climbing opportunities. Chameleons like to be up high, so it’s important to include plenty of branches and vines in their habitat. Some of the best materials for this include:
- Manzanita wood
- Cork bark
- Live plants
When choosing decorations and plants for your pet chameleon’s habitat, make sure that they are safe for reptiles and free of pesticides or herbicides.
It’s also important to include a water bowl in your pet chameleon’s habitat. The bowl should be shallow and wide, and it should be placed on the ground so that your chameleon can easily get in and out of it.
Chameleon Food and Diet
Chameleons are primarily insectivorous, meaning that their diet consists of things like mealworms, crickets, grubs, locusts, and more. There are actually more than 30 different kinds of insects that chameleons will eat, you just have to experiment and find which ones your chameleon likes!
But feeding chameleons isn’t all about creepy crawlies! They also enjoy a hearty fruit or vegetable from time-to-time as well. Some of the fruits/vegetables chameleons are known to enjoy include:
It’s important to note that not all chameleon species eat fruit and vegetables. Veiled chameleons are the most diverse in their diet, while panther chameleons stick mostly to insects. Just know what kind of chameleon you have and plan accordingly!
Larger adult chameleons will actually eat small birds and other lizards in the wild, but since those aren’t really an option, you can feed your chameleon pinky mice as an occasional treat. They shouldn’t be given these treats often, because too much fat in the chameleon’s diet can lead to obesity and other problems.
In addition to the diet of insects and vegetables, you should be dusting the insects with multivitamin or calcium powder, as well as gut-feeding your insects.
Gut-feeding is the act of overloading your feeder bugs with rich fruits and vegetables and keeping them perfectly hydrated. That way, when your chameleon eats them, they’re getting a nutrient boost from all the fresh food you fed the bugs.
Gut-feeding is a common practice for a lot of reptiles, but it’s particularly important for chameleons, who can be picky about the kinds of foods they eat.
Complete Chameleon Care: Health and Wellness
Chameleons are exotic pets and, as such, they can experience health problems that are not common in other types of pets. Some common illnesses that pet chameleons can experience include:
1. Upper respiratory infection – This is a common ailment in chameleons and can cause them to sneeze, have a runny nose, and experience mouth sores.
2. Gastrointestinal problems – Chameleons can experience problems with their digestion, which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
3. Eye problems – Chameleons are susceptible to eye infections, which can cause them to have red, irritated eyes.
4. Metabolic bone disease – This is a common problem in chameleons, especially those that do not have a proper diet or do not get enough calcium.
5. Skin problems – Chameleons can experience a variety of skin problems, including infections, mites, and fungal infections.
6. Kidney problems – Chameleons can experience kidney problems, which can lead to dehydration and weight loss.
7. Stress – Chameleons are very sensitive to stress, which can cause them to stop eating, become withdrawn, and even die.
8. Egg binding – This is a problem that occurs when a female chameleon is unable to lay her eggs.
As you can see, there are a variety of health problems that pet chameleons can experience. If you think that your chameleon is sick, it’s important to take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Preventing illnesses in pet chameleons is always better (and cheaper) than treating them. Some things you can do to help prevent illnesses in your chameleon include:
1. Get them from a reputable breeder or reptile adoption service – This will help ensure that your chameleon is healthy and has not been exposed to any sick animals.
2. Quarantine new chameleons – When you first get your chameleon, it’s important to quarantine them for at least 30 days. This will help ensure that they do not have any illnesses and that they do not spread any illnesses to your other animals.
3. Keep their enclosure clean – A clean enclosure is a happy and healthy environment for your chameleon. Be sure to spot clean their enclosure daily and do a deep clean weekly.
4. Provide them with a proper diet – A diet that is rich in calcium and vitamins will help keep your chameleon healthy and strong.
5. Reduce stress – Stress is a leading cause of illness in chameleons. Be sure to provide them with a quiet and peaceful environment and avoid handling them too much.
6. Take them to the vet for regular check-ups – Regular vet check-ups are important for all pets, but they are especially important for exotic pets like chameleons. This will help ensure that your chameleon is healthy and that any problems are caught early.
Pet Chameleon Price: How Much Do Chameleons Cost?
When it comes to purchasing a pet chameleon, there is no set price since they can vary depending on the breed and age of the chameleon. However, in general, you can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $300 on a new chameleon. If you’re adopting a pet chameleon that has come from a previous home or a reptile adoption service, you can expect to pay between $50 to $100.
Getting a chameleon from a breeder will cost more, sometimes hitting that $300 upper price range.
However, the cost of the chameleon itself isn’t the only expense you have to consider. You’ll also need to purchase a terrarium, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on the size and type of enclosure you get.
You’ll also need to buy food and supplies for your chameleon, which can cost around $50 per month. So when considering the cost of a pet chameleon, be sure to incorporate a rough estimate for:
- Electricity (varies depending on rate, but we’ve seen people pay $200 a year illuminate and heat a reptile enclosure)
- Emergency vet visits (have a little slush fund in case your chameleon develops an illness that needs professional diagnosis and care)
- Plants (Chameleons love to climb, and they love tropical plants. You might have to invest in some plants native to their region of the planet, which might be $100 or more).
If you’re serious about buying a pet chameleon online, here are some of the places you should look!
Pet Chameleon Care FAQs
Chameleons require both UVA and UVB lighting (between 6-12%, varies by species) and they have a diurnal cycle. You should aim to give your chameleon 12 hours of UVB lighting and 12 hours of darkness.
Typically, you want to aim for a tank temperature between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking spot that has direct light that is at least 10 degrees hotter. Nighttime temperatures should range on the low end of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.