Cuban false chameleons (Anolis barbatus) are a medium-sized species of anole that grows up to 7” long from snout to vent, with a tail slightly shorter than its body. They are native to Cuba, and being largely arboreal, they prefer forested habitats.
Cuban false chameleons can be identified by their large, chameleon-like head, bulging eyes, thick neck, spiny dewlap, and rough scales. They typically have a tan to brown pattern and a barklike appearance, with a white and peach dewlap.
Cuban false chameleons are becoming increasingly popular in the US pet trade, due to their unique appearance and docile disposition. However, relatively little is still known about their care.
Minimum terrarium size for Cuban false chameleons
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single Cuban false chameleon is 18”L x 18”W x 36”H. This gives them enough room to climb and thermoregulate as desired, although of course, larger is always better!
Housing multiple false chameleons in the same terrarium is not recommended, and as it is likely to result in fighting and injuries.
Do Cuban false chameleons need UVB?
Yes! Cuban false chameleons are primarily active during the day, and 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.
The best UVB bulbs for Cuban false chameleons housed in an 18” x 18” x 36” terrarium are:
- Arcadia ShadeDweller Kit — 6” above basking branch
- Arcadia T5 HO 6%, 18” — 8” above basking branch
- Zoo Med T5 HO 5.0, 18” — 8” above basking branch
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
They are also likely to benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment as well. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the terrarium to thrive.
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day or cycled seasonally according to local sunrise and sunset times. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for Cuban false chameleons
Cuban false chameleons should have a basking temperature of 90°F, as measured by a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the basking surface. In order to allow for proper thermoregulation, the enclosure should also have a cool area that stays between 77-80°F. Nighttime temps should be between 62-73°F.
Provide heat for your false chameleon with two 40w heat bulbs. Incandescent heat bulbs provide gentle heat at close range, and are going to be your best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Best humidity levels for Cuban false chameleons
Anoles are tropical lizards, so the humidity inside your false chameleon’s enclosure should be fairly high: 40-60% during the day, and up to 100% at night. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Maintain humidity by misting your pet’s enclosure 2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night. Aside from raising humidity, this also provides your false chameleon with an important source of drinking water!
If you have difficulty maintaining high humidity levels, running a reptile humidifier at night can help.
Best substrate for Cuban false chameleons
Providing a layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for Cuban false chameleons:
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zilla Jungle Mix
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity.
Substrate should be at least 2” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a Cuban false chameleon terrarium
An empty terrarium makes for a bored lizard, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since Cuban false chameleons are largely arboreal, at bare minimum you will need a branch for your pet to bask on and some live or artificial foliage for it to hide in. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
Cuban false chameleons prefer narrow perches rather than broad ones. However, make sure that all vines and branches are secured firmly to prevent accidental collapse, which can injure your pet.
What to feed to a Cuban false chameleon
Cuban false chameleons are insectivores, which means that they need to get the majority of their nutrition from insects. They are particularly dependent on snails in their diet. Feed your pet according to the following schedule:
- Juveniles — daily to every other day
- Adults — 2x/week
Insects should be smaller than the lizard’s head. Offer as many as your pet is capable of eating within 5 minutes.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help keep your pet healthy. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on all feeder insects. It’s okay to occasionally skip a dusting.
Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl and feeding ledge for your lizard to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your Cuban false chameleon
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Cuban false chameleons are one of the types of reptiles that are best to leave alone rather than attempt to handle regularly. If you want to interact with your pet, try hand-feeding it with a pair of feeding tweezers.
*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!
"Nashville Zoo 08-27-2014 - Cuban False Chameleon 3" by David441491 is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.