How to Care for a Pet Veiled Chameleon

Veiled chameleon
Veiled chameleon resting on a branch. Getty Images/Istvan Kadar Photography

Veiled Chameleons

Names: Chamaeleo calyptratus, Yemen chameleon, Veiled chameleon

Life Span: Approximately 6-8 years in captivity.

Size: Veiled chameleon males can reach 18-24 inches in total length (about 12 inches snout to vent length plus their tail), while females tend to be quite a bit smaller at 10-13 inches (just 4-6 inches in snout to vent length plus their tail). 

Veiled Chameleon Appearance

The veiled chameleon has a large, tall casque, or helmet-like structure on the top of their head.

It is present in both males and females, though it is larger in males and it aids in steering water that falls onto their heads into their mouths. Their bodies are banded in shades of green, yellow and brown which adjust to varying shades.

Veiled Chameleon Temperament

Veiled chameleons are territorial and aggressive to other chameleons so they should always be housed individually. While they are usually quite docile towards people, regular handling tends to be stressful. Therefore, along with other chameleons, they are pets that are better suited be being watched rather than handled. Veiled chameleons are typically hardy chameleons.

Housing Veiled Chameleons

Chameleons should never be kept in a glass terrarium or aquarium. They need the ventilation that a mesh enclosure (fine metal or fiberglass mesh is not recommended but PVC coated hardware cloth is good) provides. Vertical space is essential and a cage size of 36 inches by 24 inches by 36 to 48 inches tall is recommended (the bigger and taller the better).

Chameleons like to climb high up off the ground to the height is of utmost importance. An outdoor cage can be used when the weather is warm enough, as long as over heating is prevented.

Cleanliness in the cage is vital to preventing bacterial or mold growth. Using paper towels or newspaper to line the cage makes cleaning easy and a reptile dirt mixture can be placed on top.

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. Ficus trees have often been used in chameleon housing but they require some caution as the sap can be irritating. Other plants you could try include pothos, hibiscus, and dracaena. Artificial plants and artificial vines may also be added. 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 for your chameleon to climb on.

Heating and Lighting for Veiled Chameleons

For veiled chameleons, a daytime temperature of about 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit (26-32 degrees Celsius) should be provided along with a basking spot at 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). At night they should have a temperature drop of about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10 degrees Celsius). If your home doesn't drop below 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius) at night, heating at night isn't necessary (some sources say veiled chameleons can tolerate night time temperatures as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit). Heating is best accomplished by using a basking or incandescent light in a reflector or a ceramic heat element to achieve the basking spot temperature, any of which should be placed outside of the cage to prevent burns.

All chameleons need a full spectrum ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source. Keep the full spectrum UV light on for 10-12 hours per day and follow the manufacturers recommendation for distance that the bulb should be placed from where your chameleon can climb (usually 6-12 inches). Remember these bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months. Chameleons also benefit from spending time outdoors in natural sunlight when the temperatures are warm enough (but beware of over heating so make sure shade is always available).

Humidity and Hydration for Veiled Chameleons

Veiled chameleons need a moderate humidity level (around 50 percent). Misting the plants twice daily will help with humidity levels and a drip or misting system is also recommended. Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl but they will lap up droplets of water off plants so the misting/drip system also serves as a water source.

Position a drip system so the water droplets cascade over the plants in the enclosure. Invest in a hygrometer to measure the humidity.

Feeding Veiled Chameleons

Veiled chameleons are mostly insectivores so they should be fed a variety of insects every other day. Crickets are usually the mainstay of the diet but locusts, roaches, butterworms (good for calcium), silkworms, flies, and grasshoppers can be fed, as well as mealworms, superworms and waxworms (in limited quantities as they are high in fat). Be wary of wild-caught insects due to possible exposure to pesticides and avoid fireflies. All insects should be gut loaded (fed fresh veggies and vitamins/minerals) before feeding them to your chameleon. In addition, many veiled chameleons will also eat a bit of plant matter (including live plants in the cage) so it is vital that only non-toxic plants are used in your chameleon's enclosure. You can offer small amounts of vegetables and fruits such as dandelion leaves, collard greens, kale, diced zucchini, butternut squash, red pepper, blueberries, and thin slices of apple or pear, etc. Monitor your chameleon and adjust feeding amounts as needed (if many insects are left uneaten or your chameleon is too full-bodied decrease the amount that is fed). Never leave live prey in the cage for extended periods of time as insects may attack 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. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement can be added once a week. Some experts recommend choosing a supplement that does not contain vitamin A (use beta carotene instead).

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT