Jackson’s chameleons (Trioceros jacksonii) are 7-14” long, diurnal, arboreal lizards native to the mountains of Kenya and Tanzania. They prefer a montane forest habitat with cool air, foggy nights, and lots of trees.
Jackson’s chameleons are generally bright green with a darker green pattern, but exact color and pattern depend on the individual, based on factors like subspecies, sex, mood, and even local temperature. Contrary to popular myth, chameleons don’t change color for camouflage — they actually do it to communicate! Another way to identify Jackson’s chameleons is by their unique horns. Males have three, while females will have fewer or none at all.
Jackson’s chameleons are not easy animals to keep as pets, despite their ready availability in the pet trade. They are very sensitive to poor care, and get sick easily. However, when properly housed, then can be rewarding pets that live up to 9 years.
Minimum terrarium size for Jackson’s chameleons
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single Jackson’s chameleon is 24”L x 24”W x 48”H. Despite common claims that they “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 enclosure.
Housing multiple Jackson’s chameleons in the same enclosure is not recommended.
Do Jackson’s chameleons need UVB?
Yes! Jackson’s 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 Jackson’s chameleons housed in a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. 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.
Jackson’s 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 12 hours/day. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for Jackson’s chameleons
Jackson’s chameleons need a basking area temperature around 85°F, and between 68-75°F everywhere else, as measured by 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.
For best results, elevate the lamp above the top of the enclosure with the Exo Terra Light Bracket.
Best humidity levels for Jackson’s chameleons
Jackson’s chameleons need low humidity during the day and high humidity at night for best health. During the day, aim for 30-50% humidity, and aim for 75-100% 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 Jackson’s chameleons
Jackson’s chameleons are strictly arboreal, so they don’t really need substrate to dig in or walk on. Plus, because of all the water that goes through the enclosure every day, it easily gets soggy. So, it’s best not to use a substrate with this species.
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 Jackson’s chameleon terrarium
An empty enclosure makes for a bored and stressed Jackson’s 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. Arrange them 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 Jackson’s chameleon
Jackson’s chameleons are insectivores. This means that they only eat insects. Here’s a basic feeding schedule:
- Babies (1-3 months) — As much as they can eat, 2x/day
- Juveniles (3-6 months) — 10-12 small crickets/day
- Subadults (6-12 months) — 8-10 medium crickets/day
- Adults (over 1 year) — 6-8 medium or large crickets every other day
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 Jackson’s chameleon:
- Every feeding: Arcadia EarthPro A
- Once per month: Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
Make sure that all feeder insects are well hydrated and gutloaded prior to feeding.
How to handle your Jackson’s 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 Jackson’s chameleons prefer to be left alone. 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! We recommend starting with these sources: