Chameleons come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are one of the more difficult reptiles to take care of.
So what kind of chameleon is best for you? In terms of housing, feeding, care, and health?
To be well-prepared for the required steps and armed with the knowledge of how to take care of your new friend you must know these basics:
- Where to find one, plus the cost
- Cage setup, environment requirements, and food types
- Total cost
- Ongoing costs
So What is a Chameleon?
Known for their exotic look and ability to modify their body color, chameleons make a perfect, creative pet for all ages!
Scientifically classed as Chamaeleonidae, these reptiles originated in Africa around 60 million years ago.
Today, chameleons are a common house pet, thanks to humans who have dispersed them across the world.
They are known for their long tongue, blending colors, protruding eyes, and the ability to catch their food from two to three times their body length!
Types of Chameleons
There is a wide range when it comes to chameleons, in terms of size, shape, color, price, and upkeep.
Which one makes the best pet?
The most common type is the veiled chameleon. This species is great for beginners due to their low maintenance, ease of purchase—many pet stores carry them—and they do not require constant attention.
Veiled chameleons eat a variety of vegetables including dark leafy greens but they also enjoy other leaves, such as ficus leaves.
They may have fruits, including melons and berries, but not often due to their sensitive digestive systems.
Their main source of food, specifically of protein, is a variety of gut-loaded crickets, mealworms, and waxworms.
They tolerate a wide range of temperatures but are most comfortable in 72 to 80°F with around 50 percent humidity.
Although friendly, the veiled chameleon does not like to be held often and is happier in an environment alone.
So much that they may exhibit high stress when in the presence of multiple people. They may see the extra people as predators and become defensive, which could lead to aggression.
Veiled chameleons can cost anywhere from $40 to $250, depending on the age and sex of the animal. It is also important to note that they may grow up to 2 feet long!
The Meller’s chameleon hails from the mountains of Eastern Africa. This species is known for its gorgeous color variety.
They are fun to gaze in awe at, nevertheless, they are a little more challenging to take care of.
They are visibly larger than a full-grown veiled chameleon and almost always grow from 2 to 2.5 feet long.
They enjoy the same foods as the veiled chameleon but also include smaller lizards, spiders, and worms as part of their diet.
Physically, they are known for their ridged back and front horn, which lends them a distinctly exotic look.
Meller’s chameleons thrive in temperatures of 75 to 85 °F with 50 to 90 percent humidity for comfort.
They are not commonly found in pet stores but can be found on exclusive reptile websites, costing around $150 to $200.
The four-horned chameleon, contrary to its name, does not always sport four horns. In fact, some may have less or even more, such as six!
No matter the number of horns, they are interesting to look at and have multiple natural colors, such as red, yellow, and green. Some may even flash colors of purple or orange.
Four-horned chameleons are more complex to care for as they have a higher need for specific temperature control.
They must stay below 80°F and even can stand 30 to 55°F if the humidity is over 50 percent.
This species will grow from 10 to 14 inches long and generally cost around $150 to $300.
One of the most exotic and largest types of chameleon is the Oustalet’s.
Males may grow up to 27 inches, with females growing to about half that size. Their color range is from green to blue, growing darker with agitation.
They are one of the harder reptiles to take care of due to their need for wide space and a variety of environments for their large size.
They also require humidity of at least 70 percent, and they need to soak in warm water for about an hour each week to clean their skin and keep them healthy.
Oustalet’s chameleon also costs quite a bit more. You can often find them listed for $300 to $600 dollars.
Cage Setup for a Chameleon
A chameleon cage can be found in most pet stores, including Petco and PetSmart.
A baby chameleon may only be around .5 to 2 inches when you first get them, which could have you thinking of buying a smaller cage.
However, it only takes around a year and a half for them to be full-grown. Depending on the species, they could be quite large!
For example, a veiled chameleon can grow 10 to 12 inches long, and a panther chameleon may grow from 14 to 21 inches.
But the Oustalet’s are one of the biggest chameleons, along with the Parson chameleon, both of which are known to grow to 27 inches in length.
When considering buying a cage, it is important to take these factors into account. Starting with a big cage will give your chameleon room to explore and therefore, to grow.
The average cage size is 4 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet tall, but could be bigger depending on preference.
When setting up a cage, it is important to provide your new friend with plenty of greenery for it to play and rest on.
A cage should be well-ventilated, and not an aquarium tank. It should be taller than it is wide.
Some of the sides can be made of glass, to help with temperature control, as long as the ventilation is adequate. Screened wire may be used for the top, but avoid a flimsy mesh net top to prevent escape or unneeded particles or bugs creeping in.
Some of the basic necessities include:
|Artificial leaves, reptile plant||$10-50|
|Artificial bendable branches||$16-50|
Extra Cage Items for Your Chameleon
|Food and water dish(es)||$7-20|
The floor should be well-covered with either a light coating of coconut fiber or reptile bark.
When choosing the bark or fiber, it is important that it is not too deep as a baby chameleon may get stuck under too much of it and suffocate.
Along with lots of overlapping branches, other things that could be put in to keep your chameleon happy and healthy include a moss bed or a cozy nest area for it to sleep.
Another great addition would be a seagrass hammock. Placing this item close to the top under the light can provide a warm place for your chameleon to sit or sleep.
A drip system is beneficial to maintaining humidity levels. An elevated water tub with a tube that opens into the cage will allow for a slow drip that the chameleon can reach when needed.
Misting water from a spray bottle onto the leaves of the environment or the sides of the glass will also provide humidity but must be done frequently to prevent dehydration.
Light is very important for the health of chameleon, especially a baby. Two are needed—one is a light that emulates the sun for maximum warmth.
This should be a 6500k bulb and is often red. The second would be a UV light, which helps in the production of vitamin D3 that is needed for their health.
When it comes to food there is a wide variety available for chameleons to eat. They are easy to feed and enjoy most of their allowed foods.
These include but are not limited to:
|Crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, waxworms, locust||.12-.20 cents each|
|Larger Chameleons May Enjoy||Pricing|
|Small birds and small lizards||$20-75|
Ongoing Care and Costs
When caring for a chameleon it is important to keep them calm and healthy for a full and happy life.
Time out of their carefully constructed environment deprives them of the wavelengths of light supplied by their special bulbs.
This tends to upset them also, causing them to be scared and distant towards their owners.
They should be in their light (their cage) for 10-12 hours a day commonly during daytime hours.
The light can be switched off during the night but the timeframe can be adjusted depending on the person’s schedule.
Depending on the chameleon, feeding them twice daily is common, as well as keeping up with removing their defecation.
Chameleons excrete a solid substance as urine instead of a liquid. When this is a white color it means they have been drinking water and are properly hydrated.
If the substance appears bright yellow it means the chameleon is dehydrated and needs more water. It is important to monitor this to keep your chameleon healthy.
Chameleon poop is a mushy brown but after a few hours, it will harden and can be easily removed. Timely removal also helps keep track of when your chameleon has gone so you can detect any possible problems.
Although chameleons are laid-back creatures, they may become anxious at times. The signs of anxiety or discomfort to look for are:
- A puffed neck or chest
- Darker-colored or spotted skin, depending on the species
- Constant moving away from the owner
When this occurs it is best to give your chameleon some time and space alone to calm down.
Overall the cost of owning and keeping a chameleon happy and healthy can be different depending on its preference and type of food, species of chameleon, bedding, housing, lighting, and more!
The overall estimated cost for each chameleon species, including food, bedding, and habitat accessories for a year is summarized below.
|Chameleon||Estimated cost per year|
When keeping a chameleon, it is important to avoid using scented substances such as perfume, candles, air fresheners, etc.
Airborne chemicals from these sources may be absorbed into their already sensitive skin, causing irritation and illness, and in some cases, death.
Below is a list of websites, some of which may include brick-and-mortar stores, where you can find a new chameleon friend!
- https://www.amazon.com/s?k=chameleon+cage+accessories crid