The carpet chameleon (Furcifer lateralis) is also known as the jeweled chameleon. They are a 6-10” long, diurnal, arboreal lizard native to the island of Madagascar. They can be found in a variety of habitats, but prefer areas with small trees and shrubs, high humidity, and access to both shade and direct sunlight.
Like other chameleons, carpet chameleons have triangular heads, protruding eyes, vertically flattened bodies, zygodactylous feet, and a curled prehensile tail. Carpet chameleons are some of the most colorful chameleons in the world — while they can seem fairly plain at first glance, based on their mood and environmental conditions they can become quite spectacular with a pattern of green, black, white, blue, orange, yellow, red, and even purple! In this species, females are usually more colorful than males.
Although wild-caught specimens can be sensitive and difficult to keep, captive-bred carpet chameleons generally do well as pets, making them beginner-level pet chameleons. However, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily easy to keep. With proper care, you can expect yours to live up to 3 years.
Minimum terrarium size for carpet chameleons
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a carpet chameleon is 18”L x 18”W x 24”H. Despite common claims that all chameleons “require” a full-mesh enclosure, it is actually better to use an enclosure with 2-3 solid sides, which can be done by covering the sides and back of a mesh enclosure with thin PVC panels. This helps retain humidity and give the chameleon a better sense of security in its home. Alternatively, you can use a well-ventilated glass enclosure, which is particularly recommended for dry climates.
Housing multiple carpet chameleons in the same enclosure is not recommended.
Do carpet chameleons need UVB?
Yes! Carpet chameleons require UVB lighting for their survival. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
Here are the best UVB bulbs for carpet chameleons:
- Arcadia T5 HO 6%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture like Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is housed in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover, as plastic and glass block UVB. Place the basking branch so the chameleon’s back will be 6” below the lamp.
Carpet chameleons also benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment. Add a bright ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day to simulate natural seasonal cycles.
Best temperature for carpet chameleons
Carpet chameleons need a basking area temperature of 90-95°F, and between 70-75°F in the coolest part of the enclosure. Night temps should drop down to 60-70°F. Keep track of the temperatures in your chameleon’s setup with digital probe thermometers.
Provide heat for your chameleon with a halogen heat bulb placed above the basking branch. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. If the bulb is too warm, reduce the heat with a lamp dimmer. If the bulb is not warm enough, you will need a higher wattage.
For best results, elevate the lamp above the top of the enclosure with the Exo Terra Light Bracket to create a wider basking area and more even heating.
Best humidity levels for carpet chameleons
Carpet chameleons need high humidity for good health. Aim for an average of 70% humidity during the day and higher at night. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting the enclosure every morning and night with a large pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. You will also need a cool mist humidifier to run at night, connected to a humidistat to maintain humidity levels above 75%.
Reptile humidifiers and foggers should only be used with distilled water and require frequent disinfecting to keep your reptile from getting sick.
Best substrate for carpet chameleons
Carpet chameleons are strictly arboreal, so they don’t really need substrate to dig in or walk on. However, substrate can be a helpful way to maintain healthy humidity levels in glass enclosures. Appropriate soil substrates include Zoo Med ReptiSoil and Zoo Med Eco Earth, although the latter doesn’t work well with live plants. This substrate should be placed on top of a 1-2” layer of drainage material to prevent stagnation. Layer leaf litter on top of the substrate to further help with humidity.
If you have a mesh enclosure, you will need more water to keep things at optimal humidity, which means you’ll likely quickly saturate any substrate that you use. Instead, use a solid bottom with a drain into a large bucket. This will require some DIY, but is well worth the effort.
How to decorate a carpet chameleon terrarium
An empty enclosure makes for a bored and stressed carpet chameleon, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet relaxed and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
You will need plenty of vines, thin branches, and foliage to decorate your terrarium. Live plants are preferable to artificial plants because of the way they help with humidity. Arrange your décor in such a way that the chameleon has somewhere to hide as needed, with an open area under the heat lamp for basking.
All climbing branches should be securely anchored to the walls of the enclosure.
What to feed to a carpet chameleon
Carpet chameleons are insectivores. This means that they only eat insects. Here’s a basic feeding schedule:
- Juveniles — as much as they can eat
- Adults — 5-6 bugs, 2-3x/week
Make sure to offer a wide variety of insects, not just one or two different kinds!
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your chameleon from developing a deficiency. Follow this schedule for supplementing a carpet chameleon:
- Every feeding: Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
- Once per month: Repashy Vitamin A Plus
Make sure that all feeder insects are well hydrated and gutloaded prior to feeding.
How to handle your carpet chameleon
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Some tolerate it more than others, but generally carpet chameleons prefer to be left alone. That being said, some of them learn to tolerate low levels of handling and will walk onto their keeper’s hand when offered.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Offering food from feeding tweezers is a good way to start.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!