Scales and Tails
Common Group: CHAMELEONS*
Common Name: Veiled Chameleon*
Scientific Name: Chamaeleo calyptratus*
Distribution: Yemen, Africa*
Size: 12" - 20"
Veiled Chameleons are found on the coastal plains, mountains, and high deserts of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The prominent crest (or veil) on top of their heads is just one of many adaptations that these lizards have to survive in such a harsh climate. During the cool, moist, nights, dew drops collect on their crests, and accumulated moisture is actually channeled towards the mouth!
These lizards, like most chameleons, are highly territorial, and often avoid other veiled chameleons. Other than during courtship and breeding, these animals tend to keep to themselves, and as such, should be housed singly once they reach maturity.
Veiled chameleons are one of the largest mainland chameleons in the world, not to mention their spectacular coloration. These, among other attributes, make veiled chameleons very impressive pets if properly set up and cared for.
Essential Care of Chameleons
Size and Longevity
In this species, there is a marked difference in adult size between males and females. Females rarely exceed a foot in length, while the males may attain lengths approaching two feet!
Chameleons in general are quick to mature and reproduce, both in the wild and in captivity. In the animal kingdom, this usually correlates with a shorter average life span. Unfortunately, even the healthiest of veiled chameleons rarely live longer than 7 years.
Veiled chameleons should be housed in large, well ventilated enclosures. All-screen cages (such as Reptariums by Apogee) or all screen cages are ideal. Traditional glass terrariums are not suitable for chameleons, as they do not provide adequate air flow, and often the chameleons can develop skin issues and respiratory illnesses from the lack of ventilation. Male chameleons can even become stressed out by their own reflections!
With the exception of hatchlings and very young animals, chameleons should be provided with as much space as you can reasonably provide. Vertically oriented enclosures are best. Juvenile veileds will fare well in an enclosure with a footprint of 16 inches by 16 inches and roughly 30 inches tall. When your chameleon reaches a total length of around 8 inches, it should be moved to a larger, permanent home. Adults require a cage that is at least 2 feet x 2 feet x 3 feet. These are minimums. Remember, bigger is always better!
Heating and Lighting
Veiled chameleons naturally inhabit areas that get very hot during the day, and much cooler at night. In captivity, it is best to provide all reptiles with a thermal gradient, that is, a range of temperatures from which to choose. With this species, provide a basking light that creates a basking spot near the top of the cage that reaches 95 to 105 degrees during the day. The rest of the cage should taper towards room temperature (around 76) at the coolest (farthest from the heat light) area.
Ultra-violet light is key to successfully rearing chameleons and other diurnal lizards. Specifically ultra-violet B (UVB) is required for proper calcium absorption in the GI tract, growth, and overall well-being. In nature, chameleons are exposed to light in the UVB wavelength from the sun. In captivity, we rely on special reptile lights (typically fluorescent tubes) that emit similar rays. These bulbs should be on for 12 hours a day to ensure adequate exposure as well as a natural photoperiod.
Recently, new mercury vapor bulbs have become available for use with reptiles. ZooMed's Powersun is an excellent choice to provide both a suitable basking spot and adequate amounts of UVB. Mercury vapor bulbs provide such high amounts of UVB that they have been found to reverse mild metabolic bone disease, a serious syndrome usually resulting from lack of adequate UVB or calcium in the diet.
Substrate and Furnishings
With chameleons, substrate is optional. Although using moss, bark, or compressed coconut will aid in maintaining humidity and spot cleaning, some fear that small bits of bedding may be ingested by your lizards during feeding. Keep in mind, that healthy captive chameleons should be capable of digesting or passing small bits of dirt as they would in the wild.
Veiled chameleons are strictly arboreal, and should be provided with many climbing structures. Branches and artificial vines can be used, although live plants (usually Ficus trees), are the most common choice. Choose a tree that fills up the cage, allowing your chameleon to feel hidden and secure. Using live, bushy plants also provides surfaces for water droplets to form, which is what chameleons drink.
Water and Humidity
Although they come from a fairly dry environment, veiled chameleons do require water. In fact, they drink quite a bit. Chameleons will not recognize a standing bowl of water as a source for drinking. Instead they will lap up droplets left on leaves and cage walls after misting. You should heavily mist your chameleons enclosure at least twice a day. Hand-held spray bottlesmay be used, as can automated misting systems.
It is difficult to control humidity in an open air cage like those preferred by this species. Luckily, veileds are quite adaptable in this sense, and will tolerate a wide range of humidity levels.
Veiled chameleons will eat a wide variety of size appropriate insect prey. Crickets, mealworms, waxworms, roaches, silkworms, and moths are all part of a balanced diet. Some veiled chameleons, especially older individuals, will consume plant matter as well. This can include Ficus and pathos leaves, kale, romaine lettuce, and other dark, leafy greens.
Young chameleons should be fed daily, while adults should be offered food 3 to 4 times a week. Only feed your chameleons as many prey items as they will consume in 30 to 45 minutes.
Calcium and vitamin supplementsshould be used for all ages of chameleons, although it is most important during the first year when the majority of growth takes place. Opinions vary on frequency and amount of supplements, as well on what types to use. If all other environmental needs are met (proper temperature gradient, adequate hydration, good UV lighting) then supplementation of food items becomes less critical.
Follow the manufacturers’ directions, and seek the advice of a local herp expert for help devising a regimen appropriate for your animals.
As with all chameleons, veileds do best when enjoyed from a distance and left alone. Handling a chameleon will undoubtedly be a stressful experience for it (even if it seems ok at the time), and may ultimately shorten its life. Veiled chameleons frequently become aggressive when handling is attempted, and will often bite the unwary hand being placed in the cage. It is best to simply leave them in their cages to thrive, rather than handle them often.