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Chameleons are amazing creatures, but they are not suitable as pets for everyone. Because their care requirements are quite specific and the creatures are easy to stress, chameleons are not for the beginner herpetologist.
But the real chameleons, also called the chameleons of the old world, known for their ability to change color, are fascinating pets for those who face the challenge.
As territorial and solitary animals, chameleons should be kept alone. Males are particularly aggressive toward each other.
Overview of species
- Common name Chameleon
- Scientific name: Chamaeleonidae
- Adult size: Varies widely – 60cm is the largest and 1.5 cm is the smallest
- Life expectancy: 3 to 10 years in captivity
Behavior and temperament
Young chameleons usually have a gray/brown color and can change shades a little. Around the age of five months, adult color and the ability to change colors develop, and also a range of colors can be observed, including green, blue-green, turquoise, and black.
Color change provides camouflage, temperature regulation, and a way to communicate with other chameleons. Similar to anoles, chameleons change colors in response to emotion, stress, temperature, lighting conditions, and the presence of another chameleon, but also other influences.
In general, a dark brown to black chameleon is stressed, the brighter colors reflecting a happier mood.
Chameleons use their tongue to catch prey. A chameleon’s tongue can be up to 1.5 times longer than its body length, allowing chameleons to catch insects from distance. They usually eat insects, but some will eat vegetation and small invertebrates.
The chameleon’s legs have three fingers pointing in one direction and two fingers pointing in the opposite direction, which gives them a good grip on the branches of the trees, in which they spend most of their time. Many species also have prehensile tails. They have globular eyes that rotate and move independently, allowing them to scan a wide range to hunt for food and look for predators.
Arranging the home of a chameleon as a pet
The natural habits of chameleons make them difficult to care for. Chameleons are arboreal animals, meaning they live exclusively on trees. They need cages with ample leafage for climbing and privacy, and the cage must be quite large.
For larger chameleons, a cage of 90/90 cm should be provided, 120 feet high, but the more space there is, the better it is. Ample ventilation is required, and a three-sided shielded cage is best with poly mesh or vinyl-coated wire, preferred to prevent toe injury.
It must be provided with branches of different diameters for climbing, and most of the cage space must be filled with these branches or living foliage. Make sure the plants are not toxic, as chameleons can eat the leaves. The substrate made of small particles, such as gravel, sand, or bark, should be avoided to prevent the chameleon from accidentally eating it while catching prey.
Several relaxation areas at different temperatures should also be provided within the cage of a chameleon. While some chameleons are happier at higher temperatures, others are at lower temperatures. Make sure you look at the specifics of your breed.
Chameleons take their water from the droplets on the leaves, so as a rule, they will not take water from a pot. Adequate water intake must be ensured either by a drip system or by steaming the enclosure at least twice a day.
Drip systems can be purchased or modeled from a water container with a hole placed above the cage, or even by placing ice cubes above the chameleon’s home to slowly melt and drip inside. If a drip system is used, keep the watering location consistent so that the chameleon knows where to find water. Steam will also help keep the humidity level high.
With a drip system, excess water must be collected and removed to prevent humidity from becoming too high.
Chameleons need exposure to UVA and UVB rays. In addition, allowing some exposure to natural sunlight through an open window, as glass filters almost all the necessary UV radiation, will help keep chameleons happy and healthy. UVB lights should be switched on for 10 hours a day.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you do not cause heat burns on the chameleon.
Food and water
Chameleons seem to feel best when fed on a variety of insects, so you should try to feed them as many types of insects as possible. Crickets, table worms, upper worms, wax worms, wax moths, and cockroaches are all good foods.
Prey food should be loaded with calcium before feeding and should be dusty with a calcium supplement. Some nutritious leafy vegetables can be offered in small amounts, but avoid spinach, lettuce, cabbage, and other vegetables and fruits as chameleons will only occasionally eat them.
Common health problems
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Many chameleons suffer from calcium and vitamin A deficiencies, usually as the result of a poor diet. They are also prone to mouth rot or stomatitis, an infection around the mouth that shows redness and excess saliva or salivation.
Another common condition among chameleons is metabolic bone disease. This condition, which can be fatal if not properly treated, causes the bones of a chameleon to become spongy. They will look lethargic and can lose their appetite.
As with any condition in which your pet seems sick or stressed, it is best to consult a reptile’s veterinarian. Try to avoid home remedies before consulting a veterinarian.
Choosing a chameleon as a pet
When selecting a chameleon as a pet, it is best to find one grown in captivity. Specimens caught in the wild are usually extremely stressed, carry a heavy load of parasites, and have difficulty acclimating under captive conditions.
Chameleons are not the most resistant or easy-to-keep reptiles, and starting with a stressed pet will make things worse. In addition, the capture and transport of chameleons, which fortunately is more strictly regulated, results in the death of many animals. Many die in transit before they reach the pet store.
After you have found a chameleon raised in captivity, observe it. It should be bright and active, able to change colors and have a well-nourished body.
What types of chameleons are good for beginners?
Different species of chameleon
There are several species of chameleons that are popular as pets. Here are some options to consider:
- Veiled chameleon
- Jackson chameleon
- The Panther chameleon
You can also check out other chameleon breed profiles if you still decide that this is the right type of pet for you.