Chameleon: The Best Reptile Pet?

A chameleon is observed sitting still on a branch of a tree. Suddenly, its sticky tongue, which is two feet long and snaps out at a speed of 13 miles per hour, wraps itself around a cricket and whips the tasty treat back into the mouth of the reptile. That’s what I call dining in a hurry! And the rapid eating style of the chameleon is just one of the many characteristics of this animal that will leave you speechless.

The Chameleon

The rain forests and deserts of Africa are where chameleons are most commonly found. They are better able to blend in with their environments thanks to the color of their skin. The chameleons that spend their time in trees are typically green in color. Organisms who live in deserts almost always have a brown complexion.

They frequently alter their appearance as they warm up or cool down. (Because dark colors absorb more heat, it becomes easier for the animals to maintain a comfortable body temperature.) They can also communicate with one another by changing their coloration, and they use bright colors to entice potential mates or scare off potential predators.

The answer to that question is that chameleons change their pigmentation. Their outermost layer of skin is translucent, allowing them to be seen through. Pigment is the substance that gives plants and animals (including you) their unique colors. Beneath are layers of specialized cells that are filled with pigment. When the brain wants to display a new color, it sends a message to these cells, telling them to grow or shrink accordingly. Pigments from various cells are released during this process, and as they combine with one another and other pigments, new skin tones are created. For example, if the chameleon’s red and blue pigments combine, it may take on a purple appearance.

Veiled Chameleon 

Veiled chameleon

Panther Chameleon 

Panther chameleon

Origin and Habitat

There are many different types of “true” chameleons, and their natural habitats can be found all the way from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in the north to Madagascar and various places in eastern Africa in the south. Chameleons of the Veiled, Panther, and Jackson’s varieties are the ones that are kept as pets the most frequently. They can reach a length of up to 24 inches, have a lifespan anywhere from one to twelve years, and reach sexual maturity in about five months, but this varies depending on the species and the gender. Those individuals will naturally have a longer lifespan if they are maintained in ideal conditions, provided with the appropriate diet, and given veterinary care. Some species, such as the veiled chameleon, are native to drier climates. While others are native to more tropical regions. Do some research to find out more about how chameleons live in the wild so you can provide the best possible care for the particular chameleon you own.

It’s possible that you’ve already picked up on a few of the characteristics that set true chameleons apart from the rest of the pack. They have feet that are zygodactyl, which means that their toes are grouped in opposition to one another and they have tails that can grasp things. Their large, prominent eyes are able to function independently of one another, which enables them to monitor their surroundings for potential threats and successfully hunt for food. Naturally, they are able to transform into other hues, which are determined by factors such as their mental state and physical wellbeing. These hues can be arranged in a variety of patterns and can include gradations of green, white, blue, red, yellow, brown, orange, purple, and black.


The enclosure for a chameleon should be spacious enough to permit it to get sufficient exercise and to accommodate a three-dimensional “playground” consisting of branches of varying diameters with leaves for hiding places. The height of the cages should be greater than their length, and they should be constructed of a material that is simple to clean. It is best to avoid positioning the enclosure in areas of the house that are drafty or particularly active. Because the leaves of ficus and pathos plants can be consumed by adults, these types of plants are frequently used for foliage. It is not recommended to use limbs from “sappy” trees like pines because hardwood branches make excellent perches. Provide sufficient cover inside your pet’s cage to give him the impression that he is hiding from you.

UVB Spectrum Lighting

It is possible that the oversight that occurs most frequently among new chameleon owners is a failure to recognize that chameleons are completely reliant on certain wavelengths of light. They need to be exposed to the “UV-B” spectrum of light for a total of 12 hours per day. This spectrum, which ranges from 290 to 320 nm, can be produced by special light bulbs or by natural sunlight that has not been filtered (which is the best source). When the chameleon is kept indoors, bulbs that expressly state that they offer at least 5% or more of the UV-B spectrum should be utilized. Regardless of how much calcium they consume, they will not be able to properly utilize it within their bodies if they do not have access to this spectrum. This condition, which is known as metabolic bone disease or secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism, is most likely the leading cause of death and abnormal growth in captive chameleons. It is important to keep in mind that the majority of window glass panes block UV radiation. After this period of time, visible light can still be produced by UV-B lamps even though the spectrum will no longer contain any UV-B radiation; however, the owners should be informed that UV-B lamps are generally only effective for about six to eight months. Therefore, after using them for a period of six months, bulbs need to be replaced.


Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that in order for them to carry out their metabolic processes, they require heat from an outside source. For proper digestion, reproduction, and feeding, a specific temperature range is required in the body. The ideal daytime temperature range for a chameleon is approximately 77 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ideal nighttime temperature range is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Some good heat sources that can be used outside of your chameleon’s enclosure (placed 12-24 inches from the cage walls) are incandescent bulbs ranging from 50-75 watts, ceramic heating elements that are manufactured commercially, or lamps that are commonly referred to as “heat lamps.” There ought to be a number of horizontal branches in the neighborhood so that your animal companion can adjust its distance from the heat source according to its requirements. The most important step is to create conditions that offer a range of temperatures in the environment. It is possible to use red light bulbs and ceramic elements around the clock without disrupting the daily light rhythms of the chameleons because these elements are made of ceramic. It is not recommended to place heat rocks or any other type of heating element underneath the cage or at the bottom of the cage. Putting thermometers, which can be purchased at local pet supply shops, in a few strategic locations within the cage makes it possible to easily monitor temperatures in various areas of the enclosure. In the winter months, it is common practice among experienced herpetologists to moderately lower temperatures and alter light cycles.

Water and Humidity

The droplets of water that are found on objects (typically leaves) in a chameleon’s environment are where they get their water to drink. The utilization of a dripping system is by far the most common method for supplying these droplets. It is simple to construct this by drilling a hole in the base of a bucket, plastic milk carton, or other container. The hole should be just big enough to allow a drop of water to emerge from it every few seconds to a few minutes and land on the leaves of plants that are contained within the enclosure. It is recommended that a second, smaller container be positioned in the chameleon’s enclosure underneath the drip system in order to collect the water that runs down the plant leaves. Cubes of ice can be placed on the top of the cage so that they slowly drip water as they melt as a stopgap measure for the problem. In this regard, one also has the option of purchasing drip systems or ultrasonic misting devices that are manufactured for commercial use. There is some debate regarding the practice of misting the animal itself because it appears to stress some individuals. The humidity level in a chameleon’s habitat should be replicated in its enclosure, and this level should be checked on a daily basis. The different species typically have humidity requirements ranging from 50–70% on average.


True chameleons are predominantly carnivorous, which means that they derive the majority of their nutrition from the consumption of other animals or insects. Although they are able to consume a wide variety of insects, the majority of their diet in captivity consists of crickets. On the other hand, eating more than half of their diet should not consist of crickets. Because, as the proverb goes, “you are what you eat,” it is vitally important that crickets that are going to be used as food are also fed a varied and nutritious diet. In addition to dark leafy greens (such as collards, kale, dandelion leaves, and mustard greens), oats, broccoli, alfalfa hay, and other fruits and vegetables, they can be fed commercial foods that are marketed as “gut-loading.” It is also recommended that the crickets’ diet include calcium supplement powder in some form. It is not possible to determine whether or not crickets purchased from a pet store have been fed within the past few days. Therefore, owners ought to make certain that their crickets have recently consumed something before providing them to their chameleons. Every other time you feed them, sprinkle some calcium supplement powder on the food they eat. Feeding a variety of different kinds of insects and larvae, such as waxworms, earthworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, and the like, promotes biodiversity. When passed over a yard or garden with a “sweep net,” you can collect a wide variety of useful bugs for later use. Be sure to steer clear of beetles and minimize the amount of mealworms your pet consumes, as both are difficult to digest. There are some larger species that can occasionally be fed “pinkie” mice.

I would suggest either feeding your chameleon by hand or putting all of its food items into a bowl and then feeding it from the bowl so that it learns to associate the bowl with its source of food. Naturally, a branch should be positioned in such close proximity to the bowl where the prey items are kept so that the chameleon can reach them. Some species of chameleons will consume vegetables (dark, leafy greens are the most desirable), and you can finely chop them up and add them to the food bowl on a daily basis along with the prey. Adults should only be fed once per day, but juveniles should be fed multiple times per day. Give each creature the maximum amount of food that it can consume in a single sitting. Do not abandon the enclosure with the insects inside for protracted amounts of time.


Substrate, also known as “bedding,” is the material that is used to line the bottom of an enclosure or cage. Newspaper in its flattened form is the ideal substrate for chameleons (cheap, recyclable, easily disposed). If a particulate or natural substrate is used, you should avoid the following beddings: beddings with small particles (sand, kitty litter, etc.), cedar, gravel, corn cob bedding, and beddings that would hold excess moisture. Bedding that retains moisture can be an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria and fungi.

The world of reptiles is home to a wide variety of bizarre shapes and colors, but chameleons are home to some of the most eye-catching variations. The ability of these brightly colored lizards to change color, their long tongues that are covered in a sticky substance, and the ability of their eyes to move independently from one another are well known. Chameleons are one of the most rewarding creatures to work with, with proper diet and habitat one will for sure have fun keeping them!