Jackson's Chameleons as Pets

Jackson's chameleon
Jackson's chameleon on a branch. Art Wolfe/Iconica/Getty Images

Names: Jackson's ChameleonChamaeleo jacksonii. (There are three recognized subspecies: C. j. jacksonii, C. j. merumontanus, and C. j. xantholophus.)

Life Span: 5-10 years in captivity.

Size: Jackson's chameleons range in size from about 9-13 inches in length (including the tail). Males tend to be larger than females of the same sub species.

Characteristics of Jackson's Chameleons

Young Jackson's chameleons are brownish in color, developing brighter green coloration at about 4-5 months of age.

Males tend to be more brightly colored, with blue or yellow markings. Stressed or cold chameleons are typically a dark brown color. Males of all the subspecies have 3 horns that make them look like mini-triceratops (2 subocular horns below the eyes and one rostral horn on the snout). Females of some sub-species do have horns, but sometimes they are less developed than those of the males.

Temperament of Jackson's Chameleons

Jackson's chameleons are territorial and should be housed individually. Handling is stressful to them, so as with other chameleons, they are pets that are better suited to being watched rather than handled a lot.

Housing Jackson's Chameleons

Chameleons should never be kept in a glass terrarium. They need the ventilation provided by a mesh enclosure (fine metal or fiberglass mesh is not recommended). Vertical space is essential and a minimum size of 24 inches high by 24 inches wide by 36 inches tall is recommended (the taller the better since chameleons like to climb high up off the ground).

An outdoor cage can be used when the weather is warm enough, as long as overheating is prevented.

Cleanliness in the cage is vital in preventing bacterial and mold growth. Using paper towels or newspaper to line the cage makes cleaning easiest. Some keepers use soil (no vermiculite or perlite) or peat moss but these are harder to keep clean and dry.

Potted plants can be placed on a plain paper substrate for easier cleaning while still allowing live planting in the cage. Do not use wood chips or any other substrate that could be accidentally ingested and cause blockages.

Provide lots of sturdy non-toxic plants and branches for your chameleon to climb on. Ficus trees have often been used in chameleon housing but require some caution as the sap can be irritating. Other plants you could try include pothos, hibiscus, and dracaena. Artificial plants may also be added and artificial vines are a great addition. A good selection of branches (of different diameters) should be provided, making sure there are secure perches at different levels and temperatures within the cage.

Heat and Lighting for Jackson's Chameleons

For Jackson's chameleons a daytime temperature gradient of about 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-26.5 degrees Celsius) should be provided, with a basking spot up to a maximum of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius). At night, they should have a temperature drop of about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10 degrees Celsius) so heating at night may not be required if your home doesn't fall below 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius).

Heating is best accomplished by using a basking or incandescent light in a reflector or a ceramic heat element, any of which should be placed outside of the cage to prevent burns.

Chameleons also need a full spectrum ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source so you should invest in a good bulb. Keep the UV light on for 10-12 hours per day. Remember these bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months or based on manufacturer's recommendations. Chameleons also benefit from spending time outdoors in natural sunlight when the temperatures are appropriate (but beware of overheating as Jackson's chameleons do not tolerate temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) well.

Keeping Your Jackson's Chameleon Hydrated

Jackson's chameleons need a humidity level of 50-80 percent. This can be accomplished by misting the plants in the enclosure regularly (at least twice daily) and through the use of a drip or misting system.

Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl but they will lap up droplets of water off plants so the misting and a drip system also serves as a water source. Position a drip system so the water droplets cascade over the plants in the enclosure and invest in a hygrometer to measure the humidity.

Feeding Jackson's Chameleons

Chameleons are insectivores so they should be fed a variety of insects. Crickets are usually the mainstay of the diet but mealworms, superworms, and waxworms (all in limited quantities), roaches, silkworms, flies, fruit flies (young chameleons), and grasshoppers can also be fed. Wild-caught insects should only be fed if you are certain they have not been exposed to pesticides and avoid fireflies. All insects should be gut loaded before feeding them to your chameleon. In addition, some chameleons will also eat a bit of plant matter (including live plants in the cage so use non-toxic plants). Collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, and sugar snap pea pods can be tried (these can be attached to the side of the cage). You will have to monitor your chameleon and adjust feeding amounts as needed (if many insects are left uneaten or your chameleon is too full-bodied, back off the amount fed). Don't leave uneaten live prey in the cage for extended periods of time as the insects may attack and injure your chameleon.

Vitamin supplementation is a a controversial area. Make sure you gut load your insects well and it is prudent to dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (e.g. Rep-Cal) two to three times a week. You should also use a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement once a week. Some experts recommend choosing a supplement that does not contain vitamin A (use beta carotene instead).

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT