Veiled chameleons are one of a handful of chameleons that you’re likely to encounter in a pet store. Some retailers may label them as “Yemen chameleons.”
Their dazzling appearance and prolific nature lend to their suitability for captivity – compared to other chameleons.
Like all chameleons, the veiled chameleon is fragile. They require a mindful, committed caretaker.
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Is This the Right Lizard for You?
Pet chameleons are great in theory, but they truly aren’t the right pets for most people.
It’s imperative to digest the following shortcomings of chameleon ownership before you bring one home. Take this information to heart. Chameleons are:
- Easily stressed
- Occasional smelly
- Prone to becoming sick
- Short-lived (for a reptile)
- Sensitive to husbandry mistakes
- Insectivorous (they eat live bugs!)
- Prone to dying or becoming ill from minor husbandry mistakes
- Veiled chameleons are native to Saudi Arabia and surrounding areas
- They’re large, green lizards with sizeable shield-like crests on their head
- Their pattern consists of vertical bands and a horizontal stripe that may be yellow, white, blue, or orange
- Males are larger and have more vibrant colors than females
- They require a well-ventilated enclosure, specialized lighting, heating, frequent misting, live plants, live insects, and powdered supplements to thrive
- Most pet chameleons shouldn’t be handled often
- Veiled chameleons breed readily and produce large clutches of eggs
- They have a short lifespan compared to other reptiles
- They’re also prone to becoming sick or dying from stress, improper husbandry, and general failure to thrive
About the Veiled Chameleon
Properly understanding the veiled chameleon’s background and ecology may help you provide better care. Luckily, their captive husbandry information is well-documented and understood by biologists.
The veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) is native to the Arabian Peninsula in the middle east region. They’re also known as Yemen chameleons and cone-head chameleons.
They inhabit large trees and plants in mountain slopes, valleys, and plateaus. Their native climate is mild – moderately warm temperatures and moderately high humidity. Nothing extreme.
The species is primarily insectivorous, but adults occasionally consume plant matter. Biologists believe the greenery helps increase their water intake and facilitate digestion during the dry season.
It’s illegal to remove veiled chameleons from the wild in their native range. They’re a protected species. However, they’re still considerably less expensive than other chameleons – thanks, in part, to their invasive status.
Veiled chameleons are an established invasive species in Hawaii and Florida. Wildlife officials allow and encourage the collection of these wild veiled chameleons for the pet trade.
Collectors sell these “wild-caught” invasive individuals at a reduced price.
Veiled Chameleon Size and Appearance
Adult Female Weight: 85-160 Grams
Adult Female Length: 10-13″
Adult Male Weight: 100-220 Grams
Adult Male Length: 14-18″
Veiled chameleons are one of the largest chameleon species. They’re also among the most vibrant in color.
Even hatchlings emerge from their eggs as bright green little lizards.
Most adult veiled chameleons are green with white, orange, yellow, or tan mottling and bands.
Males have more distinct patterns and a brighter color. Some are even blue!
Researchers believe that social status has a significant impact on what color a chameleon displays. Studies show that chameleons raised in isolation are drabber than chameleons raised in groups.
Stressed chameleons are usually darker, as well.
Adult female veiled chameleons use color to signal their fertility when they’re receptive to breeding. They display gold stripes and blue spots on a light green background.
Cold chameleons will become darker to absorb more sunlight and heat.
Veiled chameleons were named after the “veil,” or casque, on their heads. This impressive structure may stand up to two inches tall on large males.
Otherwise, veiled chameleons have the same odd chameleon adaptations that set them apart from other lizards:
- Prehensile tail
- Projectile long, sticky tongue, used to capture fast-moving insects.
- Specialized gripping feet. Two sets of toes point in opposite directions on all of their feet.
- Pivoting, telescoping eye sockets with pinhole openings for the eyeballs. The upper and lower eyelids are fused. Each eye can move independently.
Temperament and Behavior
Veiled chameleons are territorial and sometimes even aggressive. If you’re housing more than one chameleon together, ensure there’s enough space for each individual to establish their own territory.
Chameleon owners report wildly different temperaments in their pets.
Some claim to own social lizards that willingly climb onto human hands and gently take bugs from people’s fingers.
Others state that their pets avoid them at all costs.
Veiled chameleons puff their throats out, open their mouths, change to a darker color, and hiss to show their unhappiness.
Extremely agitated chameleons may bite, but it’s unlikely to cause any kind of serious injury.
Average Male Lifespan: 4-8 Years
Average Female Lifespan: 2-4 Years
Due to the tolls of egg production, female veiled chameleons have shorter lifespans than males.
Where to Buy a Veiled Chameleon
Before you buy your chameleon, you must decide what you’re looking for.
Do you want a specific bloodline or morph?
These fancy veiled chameleons are almost exclusively available from dedicated breeders. You may also find them at a reptile expo, but you’re unlikely to find selectively-bred chameleons at a pet store.
Do you want a male or female?
Male chameleons are larger, more colorful, and live longer than females.
Females are generally less hormonal and grumpy.
Do you want a baby or an adult chameleon?
Babies are cuter and cheaper than adults. Still, they’re significantly more fragile and susceptible to death or illness.
Adults already have their vibrant coloration, but they’re harder to tame.
Do you want a captive-bred or wild-caught chameleon?
Captive-bred chameleons are more expensive, but they’re healthier and more adaptable to stressful situations.
Wild-caught chameleons are cheap but fragile and likely infested with parasites. It’s also difficult to determine how old adults are.
Average Price: $50-$100
Even the fanciest of bloodlines rarely cost more than $200.
Veiled chameleons are a protected species. It’s illegal to remove them from the wild in their native range. It’s also illegal to import them.
Wild-caught chameleons for sale in the United States were likely removed from habitats in Hawaii or Florida. Officials encourage collectors to remove these invasive species as a means to eradicate them.
It’s important to research your local city, county, state, and national laws before purchasing any exotic creature. Veiled chameleons are legal to own and breed in MOST places.
Veiled Chameleon Husbandry
It’s vital to thoroughly study and understand chameleon husbandry before you bring one home.
Even though veiled chameleons are considered easier to care for than the equally popular panther chameleons, there’s still a lot to learn!
- Live insects
- Mesh enclosure
- UVB lamp and bulb
- UVA heat lamp and bulb
- Calcium powder with added vitamin D3
- Calcium powder without added vitamin D
Minimum Enclosure Dimensions: 24″ x 24″ x 48″
Your veiled chameleon will spend most of its life in its enclosure. As sensitive as they are, it’s vital to get everything right when setting up their home.
By and large, most chameleon keepers use and recommend mesh or screen enclosures. Some owners even build their own.
The constant fresh airflow of a mesh habitat limits the build-up of bacteria and mold.
Mesh enclosures are lightweight. They’re perfect for moving outside on warm, sunny days without disturbing the lizard. Your chameleon will appreciate the natural sunlight.
Finally, some owners report that their chameleon becomes stressed and territorial when it sees its own reflection. This problem is specific to glass enclosures.
These lizards are arboreal (tree-dwellers); they require TALL enclosures. The higher your chameleon can climb, the safer it will feel.
Be sure to utilize all of the vertical space with branches, vines, and plants.
Keep in mind the dimensions listed are the minimum for one adult. They’ll appreciate and utilize more space, as long as you outfit it accordingly. Lots of cover and climbing surfaces are essential!
If you plan on housing more than one chameleon in the enclosure, you’ll want to go with a bigger cage size.
Baby chameleons may be housed in a smaller terrarium, but keep in mind that they grow fast. They’ll need their final large enclosure by their first birthday!
Summer: 14 hours of day/10 hours of night
Winter: 12 hours of day/12 hours of night
UVB lighting is an absolute necessity when housing chameleons indoors.
Chameleons are among the most susceptible animals when it comes to developing metabolic bone disease (MBD). Improper UVB lighting is one of the primary causes of MBD.
Follow manufacturer guidelines when it comes to mounting the light, setting up basking spots, and replacing the light bulb.
Even if the bulb is still producing visible light, you need to replace it every six to twelve months to ensure adequate UVB output.
Many reptile keepers stick to a 12-hour lighting schedule year-round, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Increasing the daytime hours in the Summer is more natural and can help to facilitate breeding cycles.
An outlet timer, or a smart outlet with a scheduling feature, will take the hassle out of maintaining these lighting patterns.
Ideal Basking Temperature: 80-85°F
Ideal Ambient Temperature: 70-80°F
Ideal Night Time Temperature: 55-65°F
Veiled chams require supplemental heating to adjust their body temperature. They should have access to a temperature gradient to heat up or cool down. This behavior is called thermoregulation, and it’s only necessary during the day.
The best artificial heat source for chameleons is a light bulb that produces UVA rays, like an incandescent halogen light bulb.
Be sure to position the heat light in tandem with the UVB light, so your chameleon can absorb heat and UVB in the same area. The heat lamp should be powered off at night when the UVB light is also turned off.
Wild Chamaeleo calyptratus experience drastic nighttime temperature drops, down to as low as 50.
Nighttime temperature drops are beneficial for captive chameleons, too. They help your lizard regulate his biological day and night cycle and signal when it’s time to sleep.
If possible, aim to allow the temperature to drop to at least 65 every night.
Water and Humidity
Ideal Humidity: 40-70%
Unlike many demanding chameleon species, these guys don’t require drastically high humidity.
It’s important to keep in mind that chameleons won’t drink from a water dish. They prefer to drink water droplets off leaves and other surfaces.
The easiest way to provide the proper water sources and humidity is to mist the habitat two to three times a day.
A pressurized mister will save you from many hand cramps. An automatic mister or fogger is even more helpful, albeit pricey.
Live plants, water-absorbing substrate, and a drip system will also help keep the humidity up.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you should ensure the humidity levels don’t climb (or remain) above 70%. Excessive humidity causes respiratory infections.
Increase ventilation if the humidity is too high. Small computer fans, rigged up to a timer, are lifesavers in these situations.
Decor and Environmental Enrichment
Your veiled chameleon will not thrive in a bare environment.
Decor and furnishings are a necessity, NOT a luxury, for a chameleon.
Can artificial plants work?
Yes, BUT artificial plants will never compare to live plants in terms of:
- Water and humidity retention
- Hiding and camouflage opportunities
In fact, many chameleons succumb to accidental injuries from fake plants. Impaction from swallowing the leaves and cuts from sharp edges are legitimate risks.
Here are some popular plant choices for chameleon terrariums:
- Baby tears
- Money tree
- Weeping fig
- Lipstick plant
- Umbrella plant
- Wandering Jew
- China doll plant
- Looking for more ideas? Here’s a handy list of foliage you can use in your veiled chameleon’s cage.
Given their territorial nature, housing more than one veiled chameleon together is NOT advisable.
Even a male and female pair will fight over their territory when the female isn’t receptive to breeding.
The most simple and sanitary bedding choice is none.
A bare bottom, with or without paper towels, won’t harbor parasites, bacteria, or burrowing feeder insects.
If you prefer a more natural look, here are some good (and bad) choices:
- Organic soil
- Coconut fiber
- Vinyl flooring
- Smooth stones
- Wood chips or shavings
Naturalistic substrates can increase the visual appeal of the terrarium and help keep the humidity level up.
Most keepers avoid substrate because it complicates cleaning and gives feeder insects (and even pests) somewhere to hide.
Bioactive substrate may be the best of both worlds (in the long run).
Unfortunately, the initial setup cost and effort are considerable.
Bioactive set-ups take advantage of nature’s waste cycle:
- Chameleon excretes waste materials. Shed skin and leftover dead insects also contribute to habitat waste.
- Waste materials are consumed by beneficial bacteria and invertebrates, like isopods and springtails. The waste is converted into soil nutrients.
- Live plants consume the soil nutrients.
- The bioactive substrate needs to be rich in nutrients for the invertebrates, bacteria, and plants. You can mix your own or purchase a pre-made mix.
A common homemade mix consists of:
- 1 part charcoal
- 1 part peat moss
- 2 parts coconut fiber
- 2 parts orchid bark
- 2 parts tree fern fiber
Diet and Feeding
Veiled chameleons are insectivores that use their sense of sight to hunt. These guys won’t take canned, freeze-dried, or otherwise pre-killed bugs.
They need live, wiggling, crawling, hopping, or flying bugs in their diet!
- Staple Insects
- Dubia roaches
- Discoid roaches
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Bluebottle flies and spikes (larvae)
- Staple Plants
- Ficus leaves
- Pothos leaves
- Collard greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Baby tears plants
- Occasional Snacks
- Pinkie mice
- Backyard insects
- Non-toxic caterpillars
- Wild hornworms
- Fireflies A.K.A. lightning bugs
- Monarch butterflies and caterpillars
Young Veiled Chameleons: 12-18 appropriately-sized insects
Adult Veiled Chameleons: 5-6 appropriately-sized insects
Allow your young chameleon to eat until its content. Don’t limit the number of insects.
Young Veiled Chameleons: Daily
Adult Veiled Chameleons: 3-4x/week
First of all, gut-load your feeder insects!
Gut-loading involves feeding bugs nutritious food for at least 24 hours before offering them to your chameleon. Calcium-rich vegetables, like kale or a commercial gut-loading diet, are best.
Not all feeder insects eat what you feed them. Here are some bugs that you can gut-load:
- Super worms
The phrase, “You are what you eat,” is key. Gut-loading fills the insect’s digestive tract with micronutrient-rich foods, which are then ingested by your chameleon when it eats the bug.
You should also dust all feeder insects with a powdered supplement. We’ve outlined the ideal supplementation schedule below. Just sprinkle the powder into a cup or bag, add your bugs, and give it a little shake.
When it comes to mealtime, most chameleon owners release the insects into the chameleon’s environment. Chameleons are excellent hunters.
Others choose to add the insects to an escape-proof bowl or cup that doesn’t block a chameleon’s eyesight (or projectile tongue!)
Finally, you could hand feed your veiled chameleon – possibly. This feat relies on your comfort in handling insects and your chameleon being comfortable with your presence.
Hand-feeding is a valuable tool for chameleon bonding and interaction. It may take several weeks of practice sessions and habituation – for both you and the chameleon.
Calcium without D3: Every meal
Calcium with D3: Every other week
Reptile multivitamin: Every other week
Chameleons may regurgitate for the following reasons:
- Temperature – Use an infrared thermometer to verify that your veiled chameleon has access to the appropriate daytime basking environment.
- Disease – If you suspect disease or illness is the cause of your chameleon’s regurgitation, take it to a veterinarian ASAP. Other symptoms include anorexia, weight loss, diarrhea, and dark color.
- Stress – Ensure your chameleon’s surroundings are calm and quiet for the next 24 hours. Double-check that the heating and lighting are appropriate. Don’t handle the chameleon. Attempt to feed it again after 24 hours.
- Prey/Meal Size – Sometimes, chameleons will eat an insect that’s too large – or they’ll eat too many small insects. This almost always results in regurgitation. Wait 24 hours, then attempt feeding a smaller-than-normal meal of smaller-than-normal insects.
- Impaction – Is there anything in the cage that your chameleon could’ve accidentally ingested? Potential culprits are fake leaves, particulate substrate, and small pebbles. If you suggest an impaction, take your veiled chameleon to the veterinarian ASAP.
Anorexia, or a decreased appetite, is a critical sign of stress or illness in your veiled chameleon. If you also notice any of these other symptoms, it’s time to seek treatment from a veterinarian:
- Weight loss
- Sunken eyes
- Regurgitation or diarrhea
When it comes to handling chameleons, less is more. You need to understand chameleon behavior before considering regular handling sessions.
Think of your veiled chameleon as more of a “look but don’t touch” pet.
Until your veiled chameleon is well-established and you’re able to gauge its stress level, limit handling to only when it’s necessary. For example, if you need to clean the habitat or take it to the veterinarian.
After several months, once your veiled chameleon has reached maturity and settled into your home, you MIGHT be able to begin handling it.
How often you should, or can, handle your chameleon will depend entirely on its unique personality.
Some chameleon keepers are able to handle their veiled chameleon every day, or even multiple times a day, without any issues. It’s important to watch out for signs of stress and move at your chameleon’s pace.
Captive-bred chameleons will likely be more accepting of handling than wild-caught chameleons will ever be.
Chameleons have fragile skeletons. You should never grab them around their body unless necessary for your chameleon’s wellbeing.
If you need to evacuate your chameleon from a dangerous situation or administer medications, you’ll need to do whatever it takes in terms of handling.
As far as day-to-day, consensual handling, acting like a branch is key.
Offer your hand or fingers to your chameleon. If he or she is interested in interaction, it will climb onto you. If not, it will move away and you can try again another day.
Once your veiled chameleon climbs onto your hand, you can carry it outside or to a perch. Don’t plan on handling your veiled chameleon for more than a few minutes at a time.
Breeding veiled chameleons is a fairly easy task. That’s why they’re so common in captivity!
Before you begin this venture, keep in mind that chameleons produce a lot of babies. Figure out how you’ll house, heat, light, and feed dozens of tiny mouths before you start!
Determining the Sex
Sexing veiled chameleons is easy at any age.
Males have a noticeable tarsal spur, or claw, on the back of each hindfoot. Females don’t have these spurs.
Adult males are also noticeably larger and brighter than females. Their casque is more ornately patterned and prominent.
Don’t breed your female veiled chameleon until she weighs at least 65 grams. It’s best to wait until she’s a year in age, too.
Sexually mature female veiled chameleons are receptive to mating every 10 to 15 days. If they’ve recently laid a clutch of eggs, they’ll become receptive 60 days later.
If your female veiled chameleon is light green with blue spotting and streaks, she’s likely ready to be introduced to a male’s enclosure.
The male should brighten his color, compress his body, puff out his throat, and curl his tail as he approaches the female. She may move away slowly, but she shouldn’t run or darken her color.
Once the male catches up with the female, he’ll climb onto her and align his vent with hers to transfer his sperm. Mating lasts several minutes. It may occur several times throughout the day.
Females usually turn dark green and black once they’ve successfully mated. They’ll hiss and gape at any approaching male. These behaviors mean it’s time to separate her into her own cage again.
Incubation Time: 165-200 Days
Incubation Temperature: 70-80°F
Your female veiled chameleon will lay her eggs 20 to 30 days after mating. When she’s ready, she’ll move to the bottom of her enclosure and scratch at the floor.
You may add a lay box or place her in a bucket filled with a mixture of lightly moistened play sand and organic soil.
The female will dig a burrow and lay a clutch of 30 to 80 eggs.
Sometimes, females produce double clutches from a single mating. In that case, she’ll lay the second clutch 90 days after the first clutch.
Once the female is done laying her eggs and covers her nest, you can return her to the high branches of her terrarium.
Dig the eggs up and move them to an appropriate incubation container. Breeders recommend an unventilated plastic box with dampened vermiculite or perlite.
Place the incubation chamber in a dark, warm closet. The closer to 80 degrees, the better. Don’t disturb the eggs until they hatch roughly six months later.
Immediately move hatchlings to small, appropriate chameleon housing with sticks, fake plants, heating, and UVB exposure. Research shows that even babies are prone to developing MBD without UVB.
Housing hatchlings together or separately comes down to personal preference and your situation. Many breeders house groups of 20 or even 30 babies together.
When housed communally, always group babies with others that are similarly sized. Large babies may bully small babies.
The hatchlings need twice-daily mistings and constant access to small, dusted crickets. They should be able to eat until they’re content. Dust all insects with a calcium supplement.
Once the babies are four weeks old and weigh over two grams, they’re ready for their new homes.
Health and Wellness
If your veiled chameleon becomes sick, it will attempt to hide any symptoms from you. In the wild, sick chameleons are picked off by predators.
It’s crucial to keep an eagle eye on potential health issues and new developments. The quicker you start addressing any issues, the more likely they can be resolved.
Signs of a Healthy Veiled Chameleon
- Clear eyes
- Bright color
- Coordinated movements
- Alert, responsive, and watchful
- Normal skeletal shape without kinks
- Free from odd growths, bumps, or lumps
- No discharge from nose, vent, or mouth
- Mouth closes evenly when the chameleon is relaxed
- No flakiness, unless the chameleon is actively shedding
Finding a qualified reptile veterinarian can be a challenge. You may have to drive further than you would to take your dog or cat to the doctor.
The Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians has a handy “Find A Vet” tool. Use it to find a local, experienced exotic animal vet in your area.
Hatchling – <1 gram
Young, growing veiled chameleons shed every two to four weeks.
Adult veiled chameleons shed every month or two.
The shedding process can take several days. Increase water availability and humidity during this time.
Signs of a Sick Veiled Chameleon
- Dull color
- Weight loss
- Weak bones
- Sunken eyes
- Twisted joints
- Stunted growth
- Prominent ribs
- Lethargy (low energy)
- Open-mouth breathing
- Yellow or orange urates
- Anorexia (reduced appetite)
- Runny, dry, or absent stools
- Spending time on the floor or ground
- Discharge from nose, vent, or mouth
Symptoms: Fleeing, darkening colors, hissing, mouth gaping, biting, puffing up, flattening body.
Prevention: Calm and quiet environment, avoid handling, provide an appropriate enclosure.
Symptoms: Sunken eyes, flaky skin, lethargy, orange or yellow urates, saggy or wrinkly skin covering their bodies, decreased appetite.
Prevention: Mist the enclosure twice a day, ensure there are always water droplets present.
Treatment: Shower, mist continually for 20 minutes, feed fruit, offer coconut water droplets.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
Symptoms: Swollen legs, rubbery jaw, exposed gums, curved spine, uncoordinated movements.
Prevention: Offer adequate amounts of UVB lighting, gut-load, and dust insects with calcium.
Treatment: Mild cases may be reversed with extra calcium supplements, severe cases require veterinary intervention with injectable vitamins.
Symptoms: Dark, white, or clear patch of skin on their bodies, missing scales.
Prevention: Keep heat source outside of the enclosure.
Treatment: Silvadene cream, sanitary environment for healing.
Symptoms: Sticking nose into the air, open-mouth breathing, noisy breathing, discharge from nostrils and mouth.
Prevention: Proper husbandry, low-stress surroundings.
Treatment: Prescribed antibiotics.
Stomatitis (Mouth Rot)
Symptoms: Swollen gums, cottage cheese-like pus in the mouth, black spots in the mouth, decreased appetite.
Prevention: Proper husbandry, sanitary cage.
Treatment: Prescribed antibiotics.
Symptoms: Single eggs spread around the cage, closed and sunken eyes, mouth gaping.
Prevention: Proper husbandry.
Treatment: Surgery or oxytocin.
Symptoms: Swollen joints, decreased mobility, hanging limbs.
Prevention: Don’t over-supplement with vitamin and mineral powders.
Treatment: Gout is often fatal, increasing water intake may help.
Symptoms: Retained fluid around the neck area.
Prevention: Don’t over-supplement with vitamin and mineral powders.
Symptoms: Diarrhea, weight loss, decreased appetite.
Prevention: Avoid cross-contamination between wild-caught and captive-bred chameleons, avoid using feeder insects from the wild.
Treatment: Dewormer prescribed by a veterinarian.
More Charming Chameleons
The challenging and unique nature of chameleons certainly makes them exciting pets.
If you’re interested in learning about what other types of chameleons are out there, we have a list of the best chameleons for beginners.
If you’re still unsure about your reptile-keeping abilities and want to start with something more resilient, consider the Cuban false chameleon.