Have you ever caught sight of a beautiful chameleon and wished that you could bring it home as a pet? These unique and captivating reptiles are a favorite among new pet owners and experienced reptile enthusiasts alike because they are interesting, intelligent, and so much fun to look at. While caring for them can be a challenge to those who are new to reptile care, most find that it is a challenge worth taking on¬—because the rewards are so great! Think that a pet chameleon may be the perfect addition to your home? Keep reading to learn more about these spectacular creatures and how to provide them with the best home experience possible.
What is a Chameleon?
The Chameleon (family Chamaeleonidae) are squamates that belong to one of the best known lizard families. They are typically very colorful and one of the few known animals that has the ability to change skin color. However, contrary to popular belief, chameleons don’t actually change their skin color to match their surroundings. Unlike many other animals, the chameleon continues to grow throughout its life. As their old skin becomes too small for their growing bodies, they must shed it into smaller bits and pieces—unlike snakes who shed their skin all at once.
According to reports from the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, there are a total of 171 species of chameleons that come in all different sizes. The largest known chameleon is the Parson’s chameleon, which can grow to be more than 27 inches long. Another larger chameleon is the Oustalet’s chameleon, which can grow to be 23 inches long. The smallest known chameleon is one of the smallest vertebrate animals ever discovered. The tiny leaf chameleon only grows to be 0.5 inches long and can very comfortably fit onto the head of a match.
Beautiful Changing Skin Colors
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that reptile lovers are so enamored with the chameleon is for its fascinating and beautiful changing skin. The ability to change skin color is an essential and very important part of communication for chameleons, allowing them to tell each other when they are afraid, when the temperature has changed, and when they are angry.
When you spot a very brightly colored chameleon, it is most likely a male. And the more dominant a male is, the brighter his skin will appear. This helps him to be more attractive to females and possible mates. Submissive male chameleons are typically a more subdued gray or brown color. Female chameleons also use their skin color to communicate with potential mates. Her skin color will change depending on whether she chooses to reject or accept a mate and whether or not she is pregnant.
Research shows that chameleons have the ability to rapidly change color by activating special iridophore cells that are found in each layer of their skin. They have the unique ability to change the very structural arrangement of each upper cell layer by either exciting or relaxing their skin, resulting in a quick color change.
Interesting Facts About the Chameleon
Did you know that most chameleons have a prehensile tail that can be used to wrap around tree branches and improve balance? Chameleons also have large digits on their hands and feet that work to provide a better grip as they scale around the trees and branches.
In addition to changing skin color, chameleons possess another very special feature that no other animal has. They have the ability to move their eyes independently from each other, making it possible for the chameleon to look out in 2 different directions at once. This skill makes it easier for them to hunt and catch prey.
The chameleon is also a natural loner. In fact, in most cases, female chameleons don’t like their male counterparts to spend time near them. Mating is one of the few times that a female chameleon will allow a male to touch her. And the brighter his skin color is, the better chances he has of making contact with her.
The Chameleons Natural Habitat
In the wild, chameleons can be found in Africa, Spain, Portugal, Asia, and Madagascar. They like to live in rain forests, savannas, and semi-deserts. Chameleons spend their time in bushes and trees, although some do prefer to stay and live on the ground. One ground-dwelling chameleon, the horned lean chameleon builds its home among the dead leaves of the forest floor.
Creating a Comfortable Home Habitat
When housing a pet chameleon, it is important to provide them with an enclosure that features ample foliage—as most chameleons are tree-dwelling reptiles. They require foliage that they can use to climb and enjoy some privacy. Al plants placed in their enclosure must be non-toxic, as chameleons are known for taking the occasional bite out of the foliage. Additionally, the substrate for their enclosure should not be made from small particles like sand, gravel, moss or bark. Larger chameleons typically require an enclosure that is at least 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep, and 4 feet tall. However, the more space you can give them, the better.
Chameleons also enjoy having access to multiple basking areas with varying temperatures. Some may prefer warmer temperatures, while others like a cooler basking spot. This preference makes it important for pet owners to do plenty of research into the specifics for each breed before creating an enclosure.
Food and Water
Chameleons prefer to eat a diet that includes a variety of different insects. If possible, pet owners should do their best to feed their chameleons as many different types of insects as possible to keep them healthy. Some great meal options include:
• Super Worms
• Wax Worms
• Wax Moths
Additionally, all prey food should be gut loaded, dusted with calcium, and a vitamin D supplement before feeding. Other good food options for your chameleon include nutritious leafy greens, vegetables, and even fruits in small amounts.
Access to clean water is essential for optimal health and growth of the chameleon. Typically, they will slurp up water that is found on leaves using their tongue, or they will simply inhale it. Water should be provided to your chameleon via a drip system, as they generally will not drink from a dish. And it is helpful to mist their enclosure at least twice a day to help keep them comfortable. Owners can purchase a drip system or create one on their own using a water container with a pinhole that is placed on the top of their enclosure. When a drip system is used, be sure to keep it in a consistent location so that your pet chameleon knows where they can find water each day.
Chameleons must be exposed to UVA and UVB rays to stay healthy. As a general rule of thumb, UVB lights should be kept on in their enclosure for anywhere from 10 to 12 hours each day. It can also be helpful to allow them some exposure to natural sunlight. If possible, placing their enclosure near a window but not in the path of direct sunlight can be a great way to keep them happy and thriving.
Potential Health Problems
Most reptile enthusiasts would consider the care of a chameleon to require a moderate to advanced skill level. This is because, in addition to requiring a comfortable home habitat, chameleons need extra care surrounding their diet. It is common for some species to suffer from calcium and Vitamin A deficiencies—especially if they’ve been surviving on a poor diet.
Other health problems to be aware of include stomatitis or mouth rot and metabolic bone disease. If not treated properly, metabolic bone disease can be fatal, causing the chameleon’s bones to become spongy and resulting in an overall loss of appetite.
Chameleons are special when compared to other reptiles because some of the different species have live births. For example, the Jackson’s chameleon can give birth to anywhere from 8 to 30 young at a time, with a gestation period of just 4 to 6 months. However, most chameleon species lay eggs with an incubation period of 4 to 24 months. The size of the mother usually indicates how many eggs she will lay—with smaller breeds laying 2 to 4 eggs, and larger breeds laying up to 100 eggs at a time.
Chameleons become mature at 1 to 2 years of age, except for the Madagascar chameleon. This species has one of the shortest lifespans out of any vertebrae. With their eggs hatching in November, they become adults by January and lay eggs in February. Then all of the adult chameleons die after living for just 3 months.
How to Choose a Pet Chameleon
If you are interested in owning a pet chameleon, it’s best to look for a captive-bred chameleon. Wild-caught chameleons are often overly stressed, have issues properly acclimating to captive life, and can carry parasites. The capture and shipping of wild-caught chameleons is an extremely taxing and dangerous process that results in the death of many of these beautiful animals each year.
Once you’ve found a captive-bred chameleon that you like, it’s important to take the time to observe them. A good candidate for a pet chameleon will be active and bright. The chameleon should also have a well-fleshed body and the ability to change colors.
Find Chameleons For Sale at The Reptile Super Show
Interested in finding unique and enchanting pet chameleon for sale near you? Be sure to take a look at our list of upcoming reptile shows that are coming next year! At the Reptile Super Show, we are proud to offer herpetoculturists of all skill levels access to a variety of different animals, breeders, and vendors. For more information on our upcoming shows, please feel free to contact us online today.