Veiled Chameleon

(Chameleo calyptratus calyptratus)

Native Range:

A narrow coastal region of Yemen and adjacent Saudi Arabia. The Veiled Chameleon is easy to keep, very hardy, large and attractive, prolific and easy to breed, and sexable at hatching. These traits all combine to make a lizard perfectly suited for the pet trade. A second subspecies, C. c. calcarifer, is not available at this time.

Size:

Approximately two and one-quarter to three inches long at birth. Adult males may grow eighteen to twenty-four inches in length while females are smaller, usually around a foot in length. Juveniles of both sexes are typically pale green with a white lateral stripe when at rest. If disturbed, they may rapidly darken to solid purplish brown and may even drop to the floor of the cage and play dead.

Handling:

If threatened, these lizards attempt first to move away; if restrained they may attempt to bite. Allow the chameleon to walk upon your hand and fingers, prodding it to direct it into place. Remember that the tail and feet are very delicate and may be damaged if handled roughly or pulled from a branch. Handle gently, without pinching or squeezing. Until accustomed to handling; the chameleon should be handled inside the cage or while sitting on the floor. A frightened chameleon may leap out of the keepers’ hand and take a fatal fall if held while standing. Chameleons are by nature nervous creatures – avoid sudden movements and loud conversation which may frighten the lizard.

Caging:

Hatchlings are best maintained in small enclosures (a 10 gallon aquarium is acceptable) as they frequently get ‘lost’ in larger cages and cannot find food and water. Adults are large active creatures and require considerable space. A 29 gallon aquarium is suitable for females, while the larger males may need twice this much space. Many keepers allow their adults to free-range on plants or branches placed in the home. Whatever cage is selected, be sure to provide adequate ventilation. A typical aquarium with screen cover is fine. Some keepers replace the glass at one end with screen to provide additional air flow. Keep the cage very clean and odor-free as these lizards are sensitive.

Substrate:

Do not use a particle substrate, such as wood chips, soil or bark with these lizards as they may accidentally pickup pieces and swallow them. Impacted substrate is a common cause of death. Additionally, crickets will hide under the substrate and clean themselves of calcium powder, reducing their nutritional value. Bare glass is easy to keep clean, and is very economical. Some keepers successfully use layers of newspaper, although crickets may hide in it.

Food:

A variety of small insects and arthropods are eagerly accepted by these lizards. Hatchlings will feed on one to two week crickets. As they grow, provide larger crickets, wax-worms, and mealworms. Adult specimens will take an occasional pinkie mouse. Dust food with a calcium powder every other feeding to provide additional calcium for growing bones. Adults may be supplemented twice weekly, unless females are producing eggs. This uses huge amounts of calcium, and supplements for gravid females should be made daily.

Humidity & Water:

Hatchlings should be misted daily so they may drink the water droplets from leaves and cage walls. Adults will learn to drink from a dish if access is easy. Try placing a branch so it reaches right into the bowl. Many chameleons will respond to a ‘dripper’ placed so that it drips into the water dish. As they grow they will learn to recognize the dish and the dripper may be removed. Humidity should be light to moderate, as their natural desert habitat is quite hot and dry.

Heating & Lighting:

Provide a thermal gradient by placing a spot lamp at one end of the cage. This should allow the chameleon to choose from higher temperatures (about 90-95F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 75F) at the cooler end. Temperatures below 75F should be avoided. If needed, a ceramic heat emitter or infrared bulb may be used to provide warmth at night. In addition, these lizards require UVB light to properly metabolize calcium. This type of light can only be produced by specially made fluorescent tubes. We recommend ZooMed’s Reptisun 5.0 bulb. When placing this bulb over the cage, remember that the UVB rays are filtered out by glass – the top of the cage must be made of screen to be effective. Also take care in choosing the location of the bulb. It should be placed such that the lizard will be directly under it when resting in its favored basking site. Avoid placing these bulbs more than 12-15" from the basking site as their effectiveness is greatly reduced beyond this point.

Reproduction:

Neonate Males can be distinguished by the presence a tiny spur at the rear of the hind feet. It is located precisely where the toes join to form a ‘heel’. The sexes may be raised together until about four months of age. At this time they will begin to fight (particularly the males). Sexual pairs may be housed together indefinitely if given adequate space, but be prepared to separate them if aggression should occur. Do not keep more than one male per cage as they will fight. Veiled Chameleons may reach sexual maturity in under six months. Females will lay 20-70 eggs (average 40) every three to four months until her fat and calcium reserves are depleted. This prolific egg production is very hard on the female, and many will perish after just a clutch or two. Incubation can take from eight to ten months, depending on temperature. It is highly recommended that additional study be made before attempting to breed your chameleons.

© 2000 VMS Professional Herpetoculture (http://www.vmsherp.com)