Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) is one of the most popular reptiles for hobbyists. They are colourful, attractive and easy to handle. If you want to start with reptiles as pets, the veiled chameleon is ideal for you. They are not that suitable for kids because they need their privacy and they don’t like being petted.
Veiled chameleons are hardy, striking-looking lizards with a tall casque (helmet-like structure) on the top of the head. The casque is present on both males and females, and helps to steer water that falls onto their heads into their mouths. Veiled chameleons have bodies that are coloured in shades of green, yellow and brown. They are able to change according to the surrounding area and their mood. They can live approximately 6 to 8 years in captivity.
Veiled chameleon males can reach 18 to 24 inches in total length (about 12 inches from the snout to the end of the body, plus tail). Females tend to be somewhat smaller, at 10 to 13 inches (just 4 to 6 inches from the snout to the end of their body, plus tail). Females are shier and they have a smaller casque; also, they are not so colourful.
Terrariums for chameleons are individual, and it doesn’t matter if they are bought or homemade. Chameleons are arboreal, which means that they live in trees, so you have to simulate these conditions. A chameleon’s terrarium is usually high and narrow. Chameleons need a lot of flower and sticks, so that they can climb and hide. Not every flower is suitable – ficus, dracena and other non-poisonous plants are fine. It’s advisable to put in enough sticks to make a maze for the animal to climb on, allowing it to move freely across the terrarium. Also, it’s important to have proper soil at the bottom of the terrarium. Sand is not recommended; it is better to use mulched husk.
Another important thing for the chameleon is airflow. The terrarium should “breathe”, to avoid concentration of moisture and consequently moulding. When placing the terrarium in a room, bear in mind that it shouldn’t be placed in a draught, for the sake of the reptile’s health. A light, quiet place is recommended for the terrarium.
Like all reptiles, chameleons are cold-blooded, so they need two other things – UV light and heating. You can choose to have UV and thermal light or you can buy a combined lightbulb. Pay special attention to the insulation of the cables, as the chameleon might climb these as well!
Regular care and feeding
The day life cycle of the chameleon is quite easy to follow – all you have to do is turn the light on in the morning and turn it off to maintain the day cycle. Also, it’s important to use a water dispenser, so the chameleon can get hydrated. Again, heavy foliage and a lot of flowers are important, as they are helpful for the chameleon.
The main part of the chameleon’s diet comprises insects – usually crickets, grasshoppers or locusts. Some chameleons also eat flour worms. It’s also recommended to provide your little green friend with fresh fruit, e.g. lettuce. With feeding comes one of your most important duties – the providing of additional vitamins and nutrients. You need to provide additional calcium for good growth of the bones and to prevent rickets, which is the most common problem. You can buy calcium and vitamin powder in your pet shop or at the vet’s and simply sprinkle it on the crickets.
Also, as a reptile, a chameleon will shed its skin in order to renew it. When it is young, it will shed skin much more often (every 3 to 4 weeks) than when it is older (once every two months). When a chameleon is shedding its skin, you see flakes of white skin all over its body. The skin will generally fall off by itself, although sometimes the chameleon will scrape it off using branches or its legs. It’s important to have proper moisture in the terrarium – a low moisture level can lead to complications.
The chameleon’s cage requires cleaning, including removal of excrement and other leftovers, approximately once a week.
Character and behaviour
Chameleons are naturally shy animals – their primary instinct is to hide, using their ability to camouflage. This is reflected in their comfort zone – they like to be left alone and to have plenty of places to hide (foliage is important, remember?). This is really important to remember when you’re thinking about getting a new pet. Chameleons are not cuddly, although some of them can handle human contact better than others. When you bring your new baby chameleon home, it’s really important to minimize stress. Let it settle and explore its new territory.
Taming the chameleon
As with other reptiles, it’s possible to tame a chameleon, although it’s not easy. Reptiles are not as intelligent as mammals, so they will never do tricks. Patience is most important here – start with small steps. First, it’s important that the chameleon gets used to your presence. It is a good start to keep your hand in the terrarium, still and silent, while feeding. You need to make him think about you not as a threat, but as a part of his life. The next step is to let him crawl on your hand, when he wants to. Forcing or grabbing him is counter-productive.
It’s essential to know the character of your chameleon. Every chameleon is different, and some have really strong personalities. Some are aggressive or grumpy, some are easily scared, some are friendly and curious. If you don’t have any other pets or small children, you can let them explore your room!
Although they are not cuddly, chameleons are nice, decorative pets. Try to think about them as you would decorative fish. They are easy to maintain and easy to acquire, especially from breeders. They are fun to watch, especially when they’re eating crickets and other insects. A well-built terrarium can be a centrepiece in every house and flat.
PHOTO CREDIT: MARK BRIDGER/SHUTTERSTOCK
PHOTO CREDIT: CIOLI/I5 STUDIO
PHOTO CREDIT: CATHY KEIFER/SHUTTERSTOCK