Types of Chameleons

Veiled chameleon
Veiled chameleon on a stick with a white background. Getty Images/Dave King/Dorling Kingersley

There are a few common types of chameleons that are kept as pets. Some chameleons have more difficult care requirements than others but no matter which type of chameleon you choose to care for, you should know how to make sure you are getting a healthy and captive bred pet.

Captive Bred Chameleons

First and foremost, choose a captive bred pet chameleon. Wild caught chameleons tend to be under tremendous stress from the capture and shipping process and are much more likely to be carrying a heavy parasite load.

This combination of things makes it much more likely that a wild caught chameleon will be more susceptible to illness than a captive bred chameleon.

Concerns with depletion of natural populations and animal welfare are also reasons to avoid purchasing captive bred chameleons. Most pet chameleons are not difficult to breed in captivity therefore there should be no reason to have to purchase a wild caught individual.

Choosing a Healthy Chameleon

The general appearance of a chameleon can give you clues to their overall health. Some things to look for when examining a potential chameleon include:

  • Straight limbs (bent legs or a bow-legged appearance can indicate metabolic bone disease)
  • Ability to get a good grip on branches
  • Alert with bright eyes (chameleons who spend a lot of time with their eyes closed during the day are likely sick)
  • Eyes should not be sunken (sunken eyes are a sign of dehydration)
  • Clear, bright coloration (sometimes a brownish color is normal but a dark or crab looking chameleon is sick or too cold)
  • No signs of mouth rot (no green or cheesy looking patches in the mouth)
  • Clean overall with healthy looking skin (watch out for wounds, scratches, or bruising)

Types of Chameleons

Knowing how to properly care for the type or breed of chameleon you are getting will help you better choose a source that has properly cared for your chameleon before you take it home.

Resist the temptation to rescue a chameleon if they are being cared for poorly as you may end up with a sick or very stressed chameleon (and another helpless chameleon will probably take the place of the one you rescued). Ask questions about the care of the chameleon and only buy from a source that knows what they are doing. The most common types of chameleons include:

  • Veiled Chameleons: Among the types of chameleons, the veiled chameleon is the one most commonly recommended for the beginning chameleon owner as it is one that seems to adapt most readily to captive conditions. Remember that chameleons in general are not good as a beginner reptile due to their complex needs and susceptibility to stress (especially while handling them) but if you are a seasoned reptile owner and are ready to take that next step the veiled chameleon might be for you. Veiled chameleons only live for about 6-8 years in captivity and males are the larger of the two sexes growing to be about a foot long, not including their tail.
  • Senegal Chameleons: Unlike the veiled variety, Senegal chameleons are not the easiest to care for in captivity. They typically live only about 5 years or less and are very sensitive to any environmental changes. They only grow to be about 6-8 inches long.
  • Jackson's Chameleons: Popular for their small horns, these chameleons are not fond of handling but can live up to 10 years in captivity. They are not as colorful as some other types of chameleons while they are young but as they mature they can grow into brightly colored individuals.
  • Panther ChameleonsAt over a foot in length, this type of chameleon is known not only for their size but also for their vivid colors. Their lifespan is short, they are territorial, and not suited for regular handling but many people enjoy caring for them so that they can enjoy the bright colors they display.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT