TABLE OF CONTENTS
Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are 22” long, diurnal, arboreal lizards native to Yemen and the Middle East. They prefer a humid subtropical to tropical forest habitat and spend most of their lives in trees.
Like other chameleons, veiled chameleons have large, triangular heads, protruding eyes, vertically flattened bodies, zygodactylous feet, and a curled prehensile tail. What makes them unique is their tall, pointed skull and vibrant green, aqua, yellow, and orange coloration. Males are much more brightly-colored than females.
Veiled chameleons are not easy animals to keep as pets, despite their ready availability in the pet trade. They are very sensitive to poor care, although somewhat more hardy than other chameleon species. However, when properly cared for, they can be rewarding pets that live up to 8 years.
Minimum terrarium size for veiled chameleons
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single veiled chameleon is 24”L x 24”W x 48”H. This may seem like a lot of space for a juvenile when you first bring them home, but they grow up quickly! Height is important for arboreal lizards like chameleons because they like to climb.
If you can manage it, a larger enclosure is always better! Veiled chameleons are likely to appreciate extra width and/or height.
Do chameleons have to be housed in a mesh enclosure?
Despite common claims that chameleons “require” a full-mesh enclosure for maximum ventilation, this can actually dry them out too much, especially if you live in a dry climate.
It’s 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 gives the chameleon a better sense of security in its home. The remaining mesh makes sure that your chameleon still gets the ventilation that it needs.
Can you keep two veiled chameleons together?
Housing multiple chameleons in the same terrarium is not recommended, and may result in fighting if attempted. This can result in severe injuries and/or death.
How to quarantine a veiled chameleon
Note that it’s best to quarantine your new pet first. Whether your chameleon is wild-caught or captive bred, quarantine is still important. Quarantine is the practice of keeping an animal isolated and under sterile conditions in order to reduce the potential spread of disease.
Even if you don’t have other reptiles that could potentially get infected by anything the chameleon might be carrying, maintaining quarantine conditions for the first 3 months will enable you to more easily monitor for concerning symptoms and more easily treat them as well. It’s easiest to do this with the same enclosure that you plan to keep the chameleon in long-term.
Some rules for successful veiled chameleon quarantine:
- Keep the chameleon in a separate room from other reptiles.
- Do not use the same equipment for the new addition as for your other reptiles.
- Fully disinfect the enclosure weekly.
- Get the chameleon checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
- Observe for symptoms of disease or illness.
A reptile should be completely healthy before being transferred out of quarantine to its long-term setup.
Do veiled chameleons need UVB?
Yes! Veiled 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 veiled chameleons housed in a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure:
- Arcadia T5 HO 6%, 22”
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0, 22”
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 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 8” below the lamp.
Lights should be on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter, as this simulates seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms for your chameleon.
How to measure UVI
The strength of a lamp’s UVB output is measured in UV Index, or UVI. Coincidentally, this is the same measurement that the World Health Organization uses to measure risk of skin damage from exposure to solar radiation. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about your chameleon getting skin cancer as long as you use UVB correctly. The best way to measure UVI in your pet’s enclosure is with a Solarmeter 6.5.
To use the Solarmeter, hold the device vertically at basking height, with the lens pointing directly up at the lamp. Veiled chameleons should have a basking UVI around 3.0 at the level of their spine during basking, with UVI everywhere else in the enclosure being lower. Although there is a basking distance recommended in the previous section, note that factors such as the density of your terrarium mesh as well as the exact hood you’re using for your UVB lamp will affect the exact distance needed.
Other lighting requirements
As a diurnal species, veiled chameleons need more illumination than what they get from just a UVB lamp. Bright light helps increase activity and appetite. To better simulate the brightness of sunlight, it’s best practice to also install a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent lamp to span most of the enclosure’s length. This is also crucial to keeping live plants alive, if you are using them.
Best temperature for veiled chameleons
Veiled chameleons need a basking area temperature around 80-85°F, and between 72-78°F everywhere else (in the shade). Night temps should drop down to 55-65°F.
Best way to heat your veiled chameleon
There are many options for heating a reptile enclosure: incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, red bulbs, blue bulbs, mercury vapor bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, etc. Which one is best for your pet? Does it matter?
It does, in fact.
Generally speaking, the most effective way to provide heat for a veiled chameleon is with a couple of halogen flood heat bulbs 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.
For safe, even heating that won’t burn your chameleon’s casque, use the Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture and elevate the lamp above the top of the enclosure with Exo Terra Light Brackets.
Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
How to measure terrarium temperature
Measure temperatures with a couple of digital probe thermometers. One probe should be placed on the basking surface, and the other probe should be placed on the cool side of the enclosure. With the readouts from both of these devices, you will be able to monitor your pet’s temperature gradient at a glance.
If you notice that your basking temperatures are too warm, dial down the bulbs’ heat output with a rheostat. If they are too cool, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.
Best humidity levels for veiled chameleons
Like other chameleons, veiled chameleons are extremely sensitive to the moisture levels in their environment. Too high or too low can both result in illness. Veiled chameleons specifically need low humidity during the day and high humidity at night for best health.
Aim for 30-50% humidity during the day and 75-100% at night. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
How to manage humidity for veiled chameleons
Increase humidity by misting your pet’s enclosure 2x/day with a spray bottle or automatic misting system. Mist heavily first thing in the morning and then again at night. If you have a busy schedule, you may want to consider installing an automatic misting system.
Because humidity levels need to be much higher at night, you will need to also install a reptile humidifier. So you don’t accidentally saturate the enclosure, connect the fogger to a humidistat set to a minimum of 75%.
Don’t reduce the amount of ventilation in your enclosure as an effort to reduce humidity fluctuation. Ventilation is key to helping your chameleon stay healthy, and reducing air flow increases pathogen concentration. It’s okay to let the enclosure dry out a bit during the day!
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 veiled chameleons
Veiled 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 saturated. So, it’s actually 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. There are many DIY guides available on YouTube and in chameleon forums.
What to know about cleaning a veiled chameleon enclosure
Because of all the water that flows through your chameleon’s enclosure, it’s easy for mold and other undesirables to start growing. Here are some general steps to follow for keeping your pet’s environment hygienic:
- Remove your chameleon from the enclosure and put it somewhere where it will be comfortable, but can’t escape. An artificial tree works well.
- Remove all décor from the enclosure.
- Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove waste and leftover particles.
- Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
- Meanwhile, soak branches, artificial foliage, and other décor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time. Do not disinfect live plants with anything stronger than a 10% bleach solution.
- If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
- Arrange décor.
- Reintroduce your chameleon to the clean setup.
Some veterinary-grade disinfectant options that work for both porous and nonporous materials are F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution. However, for porous materials, bleach solution should be in a 1:10 dilution, while you should use 1:50 for nonporous.
Can bioactive work for veiled chameleons?
Although a bioactive setup works for most species of reptile, it’s not very practical for chameleons since they require a deep substrate layer and a leak-proof enclosure.
How to decorate a veiled chameleon terrarium
An empty enclosure makes for a stressed chameleon, reducing its quality of life and threatening its health. Keep your pet comfortable, 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, and climbing perches available at all levels.
All climbing branches should be securely anchored to the walls of the enclosure.
Live plant options for veiled chameleons
Veiled chameleons are skilled at climbing thin branches, but they are relatively large, and that means any plant you put in the enclosure must be able to support their weight during climbing. You also need to consider that veiled chameleons have a tendency to occasionally nibble on their plants, so none of the plants you’re using can be known as toxic to reptiles.
Here are some plants for veiled chameleons:
- Lipstick Plant
- Money Tree
- Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’
- Umbrella Plant
- Wandering Jew
- Weeping Fig
- ZZ Plant
Larger, older plants are more expensive to buy, but keep in mind that live plants are better at helping maintain humidity than artificial alternatives.
How often do veiled chameleons need to eat?
Veiled chameleons are insectivores. This means that they only eat insects. Here’s a basic feeding schedule:
- Juveniles (0-9 months) — As much as they can eat, every day
- Adults (>9 months) — 4-5 bugs, every other day
What do veiled chameleons eat?
- banana roaches
- red runner roaches
- black soldier flies
Make sure to offer a wide variety of insects, not just one or two different kinds! This helps ensure that your chameleon is getting balanced nutrition and a source of sensory enrichment.
Do veiled chameleons need vitamins?
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your chameleon from developing a deficiency. Follow this schedule for supplementing a veiled chameleon:
- Every feeding: Arcadia EarthPro A
- 2x/month: Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
Make sure that all feeder insects are well hydrated and gutloaded prior to feeding. We recommend Dubia Diet chow and Dubia Dew hydration crystals!
Providing drinking water for veiled chameleons
Although veiled chameleons don’t drink from water bowls, misting may not be enough to keep your pet properly hydrated. Installing a dripper over a leaf for your chameleon to drink from at any time of day is a good way to fill in the gaps and help prevent dehydration.
How to handle your veiled 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 veiled 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.
Taming tips for veiled chameleons
Chameleons generally have a reputation for being unpleasant toward humans and difficult to tame. Even if you have a calm cham, you still have to work to gain their trust, and be especially careful to create a positive association with yourself in their mind. It’s best to encourage your pet to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on their own, rather than simply grabbing them whenever you’re in the mood for handling. Never grab a reptile out from its hiding place, as this is a very effective way to make it feel unsafe. Plus, grabbing often results in rib injuries for chameleons.
Treats and hand-feeding are very effective for teaching your chameleon that you are not something to be feared, since hunger can motivate your pet to move outside of its comfort zone. Use soft-tipped feeding tongs if you’re nervous about being bitten.
If your chameleon is hesitant to climb onto you, use an intermediary like an artificial tree for the cham to climb out of its enclosure onto. Sit calmly near the tree and wait for the animal to come to you on its own time.
How to provide enrichment for a veiled chameleon
Enrichment is the practice of strategically providing items and activities to encourage a captive animal to exercise natural behaviors. This also helps increase activity, reduce stress, and generally increase the animal’s welfare.
Some argue that reptiles are “too dumb” to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. All reptiles can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in appropriate ways. Here are some ways to provide enrichment for veiled chameleons:
- Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful, move one thing every so often at your pet’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month, for others they might like once a week.
- Scatter feeding. Rather than offering all of their food in one bowl, try putting it in various places around the enclosure or letting them chase their food, depending on what feeder you’re using.
- Offer supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get them out of.
When should you take a veiled chameleon to the vet?
Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets who need veterinary care — reptiles get sick and need professional help the same as any other pet. If you notice that your veiled chameleon has any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet right away:
- Mucus discharge from the mouth/nose/eyes
- Persistent lethargy
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent lack of appetite
- Straining/inability to defecate
- Large patches of missing scales
- Open wounds
- Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body
- Sudden, unusually aggressive behavior
You can find a reputable reptile vet near you with the ARAV Find a Vet tool.
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! Here are some more sources we recommend checking out:
- Chameleon Academy
- Chameleon Academy Podcast (search: “veiled”)
- Facebook — The Chameleon Enthusiasts