Veiled chameleons are the most common chameleon species to be domesticated – as a result they can make great pets if you’re willing to give them the proper care they need. You’ll immediately recognize a veiled chameleon apart from other species by its characteristic crest or helmet-like structure on top of its head. In case you’ve ever wondered, this crest or ‘veil’ helps direct water and condensation into their mouths (it also looks pretty cool too!).
So what does it really take to care for a veiled chameleon? First off, it’s important to know that children and beginner lizard owners won’t be a good match for them, as veiled chameleons tend to be fairly territorial and can become stressed when being handled for too long. They also require a specific setup for their enclosure since they grow very fast and its important to get the humidity levels right for them, so previous experience caring for a lizard is a must.
As with most exotic lizards, veiled chameleons have specific care and maintenance needs to grow healthy, but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort then you can have a great household companion! To make sure you have all the info you need, we’ve answered all the questions you could think of when it comes to caring for your veiled chameleon.
Are Veiled Chameleons Good Pets?
As the most commonly domesticated of all species in the Chameleon family, the veiled chameleon can make an excellent pet as your first ever chameleon. But please note that they will not make such easy pets if you are completely new to taking care of reptiles. They may not be the most high-maintenance exotic pet to take care of, but the veiled chameleon requires the perfect habitat in which to thrive (the right temperature, precise humidity levels etc.). If responsibility is not taken to monitor and maintain these conditions for them, your veiled chameleon can fall ill pretty quickly.
If you are a complete newbie to reptiles, it’s often advisable to start with something low-maintenance (such as a bearded dragon or leopard gecko) before moving on to a veiled chameleon. In essence, veiled chameleons make great pets for those willing to research and fulfill their care needs.
To get off to a good start with your pet veiled chameleon, always be sure to buy one from a respected breeder instead of a chain pet store, as experienced reptile owners can determine their health and notify you of any concerns before you decide to take them home. Before buying a veiled chameleon either in person or online, it’s a good idea to consult this checklist beforehand.
How Long Do Veiled Chameleons Live?
Veiled chameleons can have a lifespan of around 5 to 7 years in captivity, and have been known to live as long as 8 years in the wild. Chameleons can live full and healthy lives as long as they are provided with the appropriate diet and conditions within their cage. Even insufficient lighting, for instance, (more on this below) can lead to potential health complications.
How Big Do Veiled Chameleons Get?
At their largest size male veiled chameleons can reach between 18 to 24 inches in total length (around 12 inches from snout to base of their tail, not including the tail itself). Whilst female veiled chameleons come up a little smaller, reaching only 10 to 13 inches in total (or 4 to 6 inches snout to base of tail).
How Long Does It Take for a Veiled Chameleon to be Full Grown?
It can take less than a year for the veiled chameleon to grow to full size and reach sexual maturity (between 9 to 12 months depending on their living conditions). In this short space of time, their weight increases from just 1 gram to as much as 200-220 grams! This is why choosing the right cage size and shape for them is so important as they grow at lightning speed.
What Color Should a Veiled Chameleon Be?
As hatchlings, newborn and baby veiled chameleons will appear pale green, but by 4 months old, they will start to develop their mature dark green colors with shades of blue, brown and yellow.
Adult veiled chameleons are typically covered in a striking pattern of green, yellow and brown bands and the colors are generally more vibrant on the males compared with females.
What Color Do Veiled Chameleons Change to?
Depending on the surrounding temperature or even their mood, veiled chameleons will change to various colors to signify their temperament. If you’ve ever wondered how chameleons actually color, you can find out more info here. For now, here’s a quick rundown of what each color change can mean in a veiled chameleon:
Light green – this a veiled chameleon’s neutral color. That is to say they will appear light green if they are sleeping or resting, only to change to their full colorful pattern as their mood changes or because of other circumstances such as a change in temperature. Light green with a faint pattern is a sign of a healthy chameleon.
Brown/beige – when your veiled chameleon turns brown or beige overall, this is usually a sign that they are trying to warm up or that they are feeling unwell. They will change into dark colors if they are cold as the darker shades help to absorb more heat from the light source. If the heat in their enclosure is working fine as normal, they could be signaling that they feel ill. If your chameleon is presenting in brown/beige colors all the time, you should consult a vet as soon as you can.
Strong vivid colors – As a veiled chameleon grows into adulthood, they begin to show their colours in full force to indicate their temperament, so their usual green, yellow and brown pattern can turn quickly to black and white, red and green or orange and blue! When they are feeling stressed from being over-handled or aggressive in the presence of another rival chameleon, their usual color pattern will appear vivid and striking as if in higher contrast than usual.
If they are showing aggression, their bright color display will usually be accompanied by an inflated throat, a lifted leg and occasionally a hissing sound. If not, a chameleon’s strong color pattern can sometimes indicate a willingness to mate if they are in the vicinity of another chameleon. Female veiled chameleons, for instance, will change to a lighter green/blue shade with gold stripes if they are willing to mate.
Do Veiled Chameleons Like to be Held?
For the most part, veiled chameleons can be mild-mannered around people in short bursts, but they can become quite stressed when handled too frequently. It’s best to limit handling them to around 5-10 minutes once a week. Chameleons in general are better suited to being watched rather than handled.
Always be sure to wash your hands before and after handling your chameleon to prevent the spread of possible diseases. All reptiles are possible carriers of Salmonella and other infectious diseases, so it’s a good idea to keep some hand sanitizer near their cage to remind you.
Taking Care of Veiled Chameleons
Now that you know a little more about the veiled chameleon, the next important step is knowing a little about the realities of taking regular care of them. Perhaps the reason you’re reading this right now is that your child has their heart set on having a pet chameleon? If they have shown responsibility and maturity in taking care of a previous pet reptile, then the veiled chameleon can make a wonderful pet for them, but be warned that they are not without their challenges.
Even adults with little experience of reptiles can struggle with a pet veiled chameleon at first! So it’s vital that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself in for before making an impulse purchase. Below, we’ve outlined the day to day needs of a veiled chameleon, what you can do to help them thrive and how to work with their easily-stressed nature.
Temperament of veiled chameleons
As we mentioned earlier, veiled chameleons do not respond well to being handled very often, and this is because they are naturally very solitary animals who like their own privacy and space (this is why buying the right size cage for them is also very important – more on this below). As they can be fairly aggressive and territorial towards other chameleons, they should always be kept in separate enclosures if you are looking to get more than one veiled chameleon.
Veiled chameleons will sometimes indicate how they feel with their color patterns as mentioned earlier, but as you can’t rely on this for every little health problem, here’s a quick look at the good and bad health signs to watch out for…
- Clear eyes
- Eats regularly
- Filled out body and tail
- Clear nose and vent (base of tail)
- Proper skin shedding
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Labored breathing
- Non-rotating eyes
- Bumps or sores on skin
- Signs of swelling
- Mucus in mouth/nose
- Abnormal feces
Unlike the wider tank-like enclosures of some reptiles, chameleons need a cage that is taller than it is wide. Since they love to climb, you need to give your veiled chameleon enough room to simulate their normal habitat up in the trees. To create the perfect environment for them, they’ll need a vertical cage constructed with mesh side panels for proper ventilation. Cages should ideally be 36 x 24 x 36 x 48 inches tall to accommodate branches and plants.
Their cages should be decorated with artificial branches and leaves so they can climb and have hiding spots. They should also have non-toxic plants such as Ficus, Hibiscus or Pothos placed in their cage to give them privacy and shelter. Store-bought plants can contain pesticides which are unsafe for your chameleon. Also, never use real branches or leaves as these will rot quickly within the set humidity levels. Artificial leaves and branches of all shapes and sizes that are specially suited to your chameleon’s grip can be purchased online or from a reputable pet lizard store.
Veiled chameleons enjoy a diet of various insects and vegetables. Crickets are commonly their favorite food, but to keep things varied, they also like to feed on (recently-fed) flies, grasshoppers, meal worms, wax worms and cockroaches. Be wary that that meal and wax worms are quite fatty and should be given sparingly to ensure a balanced diet. As for veggies, veiled chameleons enjoy a variety of greens, so you can also offer them small amounts of kale, butternut squash, (diced) zucchini, collard greens and Ficus leaves.
Adults can be fed a small amount of insects once every other day (approx 12 large crickets or 5-6 wax worms) whilst baby and juvenile chameleons will need to be fed once or twice a day and will need constant access to food while they are still growing (between 12 and 20 small crickets every day).
As for ensuring they get the water intake they need, plants must be misted 4-5 times each day to allow them to drink the dew (this can be done either manually or automatically with a dripper system as mentioned earlier). As they reach adulthood, veiled chameleons can draw additional moisture from a water bowl. You should place this close to their branches to ensure they have easy access.
Heating & Humidity
Your chameleon will require a daytime temperature between 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as having a ‘basking spot’ temperature at 85-95 degrees. Heating at night won’t be necessary unless your home drops below 65 degrees. To maintain the right temperature in their enclosure, be sure they have:
- An Infrared Ceramic Heat Emitter or Incandescent Light – these will provide both direct heat for their basking spot temperature as well as a regular ambient heat for their everyday daytime needs. Whichever heat source you choose, this should always be kept on one side of the cage so your chameleon has a cool spot. It’s important to note as well that any heat element is kept outside of the cage to prevent burns.
- A thermostat to keep track of the temperature (or a thermometer at the very least).
- A humidity gauge.
Veiled chameleons are used to a fairly humid climate, so they’ll benefit from an enclosure set to 50-60% humidity. As well as ensuring you have a drip water system in place to simulate rainfall, you can also achieve the correct humidity levels by misting the plants in their enclosure twice daily – this allows them to lap up water droplets from the plants as they would in their natural habitat.
Humidity is not only vital for allowing them to feed properly, but the correct humidity levels will also allow them to shed their skin properly. If their enclosure is set to the correct humidity levels and they are still taking a while to fully shed their skin (the process should take no longer than a day), you can place a shed box into their cage – this is a hide box or shelter filled with sphagnum moss and this can aid the shedding process.
Their cage should be lit for about 10 to 12 hours a day using a single UVB bulb. UVB or ‘Ultraviolet B-ray’ bulbs are vital to the formation of vitamin D3 in the veiled chameleon’s skin, as this helps them to absorb the calcium from their food. These UVB bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months for the safety of your chameleon.
A second light fixture in the form of an incandescent bulb can be used to give them a basking spot during daylight hours only. Their primary heat source of either a Ceramic heater or red incandescent light will emit a safe amount of light, and these can be used at all hours. As for treating them to some natural lighting, your veiled chameleon can benefit from natural sunlight during the summer months too! (just be aware that a separate outdoor cage will need to be set up and that they have plenty of shady spots in their enclosure to avoid overheating).