What Do Chameleons Need? [Must Read]

Published Categorized as Chameleons
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If you’re thinking of getting a Chameleon as a pet, then there’s a lot you’ll need to prep before bringing home your new reptile friend. For instance, they need a lot of equipment within their enclosure.

So, in this article, we’ll begin with a quick overview of what a Chameleon is and where they came from. Then, we’ll share what they need.

Finally, we’ll go more in detail about what Chameleons need, ranging from their tank size, decor for their enclosure, lighting, food, and more. 

What Is A Chameleon?

A Chameleon is a reptile that’s part of the Iguana family. There are about 160 known species of this reptile, and they can be found in various areas of the world. For instance, they’re native to tropical forests or deserts.

In addition, Chameleons can come in many sizes, depending on the species. For example, a Veiled Chameleon is one of the largest Chameleons growing to 20 inches long. On the other hand, the Pygmy Chameleon will only grow about 3-3.5 inches long.

Chameleons are beautiful reptiles, being well-known for their colorful scales. Depending on their mood, they can change color to help them in the wild. For example, they can blend in with their surroundings to help them hide from predators or prey that they’re hunting. 

In the wild, Chameleons can survive well on their own. With a varied diet of insects and dark leafy greens, they can find prey easily. Also, they have a quick, sticky tongue that catches insects well.

On the other hand, they need a little help from you in captivity. Since Chameleons are in an enclosure, they’ll prefer their environment to mimic the wild as best as possible.

So, let’s take a look at some of the things they need as pets.

What Do Chameleons Need?

Even though most Chameleons are on the smaller side, you’d be surprised at how much they need in captivity. Chameleons depend on their environment to survive, so you want to mimic the wild as best as possible.

So, what do you need for a Chameleon? Here’s a quick list of what your Chameleon needs to grow and develop well:

  • A large, screened cage
  • Branches, vines, and plants as decor
  • Substrate or flooring (optional)
  • Heat lamp, UVB basking light, and a night light
  • Thermometer
  • Food cup
  • Drip system for water
  • Automatic mister or spray bottle
  • Hydrometer

Now, let’s discuss why your Chameleon needs these things in more detail. 

what do chameleons need

Setting Up Your Chameleon’s Tank

When you go to the pet store, and down the reptile aisle, you might see various glass or plastic tanks with pictures of Chameleons and other reptiles on them.

The truth is, these tanks aren’t good for your Chameleon. Instead, they need a special kind of enclosure that allows them plenty of ventilation and also plenty of room to climb.

So, what do you need for a pet Chameleon in terms of enclosures?

What Size Tank?

Most of the time, you’ll search for a tank that’s more wide than tall. One of the reasons for that is that it might be easier for you to clean or you have a smaller reptile that doesn’t need high ceilings.

When it comes to Chameleons, they need tall enclosures. The taller, the better. This is because they’re arboreal, which means they spend most of their time climbing trees and other plants.

In addition, their tank needs to be screened on all sides. So, plastic and glass simply won’t do for a number of reasons. One, they might see their reflection and become stressed or aggressive if they think it’s another Chameleon. Or two, they won’t get proper ventilation.

Having all four sides have screens or mesh wiring is ideal for proper ventilation on all sides. It mimics the wild well and acts as another climbing method for your reptile friend.

So, what size of a tank should you provide for your Chameleon? It should be at least 40 inches high, depending on the Chameleon you have. For instance, some species of Chameleon are quite small, so you can get away with having an enclosure that’s no higher than 30 inches. However, 40 inches is ideal.

The best size to get, though, is a cage that’s at least 24x24x48 inches.

It will be lightweight for you and tall enough for your Chameleon to climb to their heart’s content.

Before setting up the cage, be sure you have the perfect spot for it in your house. For instance, you don’t want it sitting on the floor. Also, since it will have screened sides, it will be too easy for dust and other particles to make their way into the cage.

If you have other animals in your home, they might try to get into the cage and attack your Chameleon. Thus, stressing out your reptile.

The best spot for your Chameleon’s cage will be on a sturdy table that’s away from direct sunlight. Some sunlight is good for them, but with the lighting in their enclosure (we’ll discuss lighting soon), it might get too hot.

What Substrate To Use

Believe it or not, Chameleons don’t need substrate inside their enclosure. Depending on the type of substrate you use, it can cause impaction in your Chameleon if ingested. However, it’s good to have something at the bottom.

One reason is to mimic your Chameleon’s natural habitat with certain flooring. Another reason is that it’ll be easier for you to clean up, and it will protect the bottom of their cage.

So, what kind of flooring or substrate can you have in your Chameleon’s habitat?

Reptile-Safe Dirt

One type of flooring you can use is natural eco-friendly dirt. You can buy this at your local pet store, and it’s also safe for reptiles. Of course, you don’t want your Chameleon to eat it accidentally, but a little bit will be safe for them if they do ingest it.

This type of flooring is great, so they can dig if needed. Sure, your Chameleon won’t be on the ground often enough to dig, but if you have a pregnant female, it’ll be good for laying eggs.

Also, it absorbs moisture well, which will keep the humidity levels up in their enclosure.

Finally, if you have natural plants in your tank, then you can simply plant them right into that soil rather than adding potted plants to their environment.

Click here to buy it now.

Smooth Stones

Smooth, flat stones are another great option. They won’t smell if they’re wet most of the time, they’re easy to install into the cage, your Chameleon can’t eat them, and they are also easy for you to clean.

In addition, they’ll mimic the wild well for your Chameleon.

However, the stones are hard. So, if your Chameleon accidentally falls out of their tree, they could get hurt landing on the stones.

Click here to find the perfect stones on Amazon.

Paper Towels

Paper towels might not sound like the best option, but it’s a great one. For instance, they’re easy to install and clean up and replace when the cage gets too dirty.

Also, paper towels absorb water well. They’ll protect the bottom of the enclosure and are soft enough for your Chameleon to walk on safely. The best part is that your Chameleon won’t be able to eat it.

Overall, paper towels are a great option for beginner Chameleon owners looking for something simple but effective.

What Do Chameleons Need In Their Cage?

So, what do you need for a Chameleon cage?

Aside from flooring (if you decide to use it), there are many other things Chameleons need inside their cage to help them thrive.

Even though it might not seem like you have a lot of room inside your Chameleon’s tank, because it should be taller, not wider, you still want to add as much decor as you can.

Remember, you want to mimic their natural habitat as best as possible. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to add so much decor that your Chameleon barely has room to move.

First, you want to add plenty of branches and vines for your Chameleon to climb on. Then, with the screen sides, you can tie them to the sides so that you can easily create an area for your Chameleon to climb from one branch to another.

Also, when you clean their cage, you can sometimes switch things up and rearrange the items so that your Chameleon can explore in different ways.

You can get branches from your yard, or you can go to the pet store and buy decor made for Chameleons. If you gather real branches, be sure to sterilize them before putting them inside the enclosure. You don’t know what pesticides or pests might be lurking on there.

In addition, plants are also needed inside their cage. They can be artificial, but live plants will be better in the long run.

For instance, live plants will continue to grow and help boost humidity levels inside the enclosure. Also, they’ll provide better coverage for your Chameleon if they feel like hiding.

Finally, your Chameleon might feel like nibbling on a leaf once in a while.

So, here’s a quick list of safe plants to add to your Chameleon’s environment:

  • Ficus Benjamina
  • Pothos
  • Schefflera
  • Dracaena

Click here to find artificial plants.

Finally, your reptile’s cage needs proper heating, lighting, and misting. But, first, let’s talk about lights. 

Lighting And Heat Lamps

As with all reptiles, Chameleons are cold-blooded. This means they need proper lighting and heat in order to help them thrive by regulating their body temperature. It also helps them digest their food properly.

In addition to the different lighting in their tanks, you’ll want to make sure you have a thermometer. 

During the day, the tank should be about 70 to 80 degrees F. A basking area, which is a warmer spot, should be provided in one area of the enclosure which should be at least 90 to 95 degrees F. At night, the temperature should be between 65 and 70 degrees F, but no cooler than 60 degrees F.

However, the temperature might vary depending on the species of Chameleon you have. 

Do Chameleons Need Heat Lamps?

One type of bulb you need for your Chameleon is a heat lamp. Chameleons need to stay warm throughout the day, so a heat lamp is essential.

When your reptile friend wakes up, they’ll warm themselves up under the heat lamp. When they’re warm enough, they’ll find a cooler spot in the tank. They’ll repeat this process all day long, keeping their body temperature normal.

Click here to find heat lamps.

Do Chameleons Need Light At Night?

No, Chameleons do not need a light at night. In fact, they prefer to sleep in the dark.

Of course, the tank needs to maintain a certain temperature at night (no less than 60 degrees F), so if you need a heat light on at night to maintain that temperature, then you can certainly use one.

However, make sure it’s not too bright and doesn’t give off too much heat. Otherwise, your Chameleon won’t be able to sleep.

Do Chameleons Need A UVB Light?

Yes, they need a UVB light, which mimics the sun’s rays and provides vitamin D for your Chameleon. This particular light will be part of their basking area.

After eating, your Chameleon will bask in the warmer spot of their tank, absorbing vitamin D and getting warm, thus helping them digest their food. 

Click here to find UVB lights.

Food And Water

Finally, what do Chameleons need to survive? First, of course, Chameleons certainly need food and water to thrive.

However, the amount of food and how often you feed them will depend on the Chameleon species and their age. For example, some Chameleons are insectivores while others are omnivores.

Also, hatchlings need to eat more often than adults.

You can learn more about how often to feed Chameleons here.

You’ll want to provide your Chameleon with a wide range of options, such as insects, dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits.

You can give them food in a tall, opaque cup. Chameleons will climb down from above and use their long, sticky tongue to grab the food out of the cup.

You want to make sure the cup is tall enough so that insects can’t hop or climb out of it. Also, the cup shouldn’t be transparent, or else your Chameleon might not realize the cup is there and try to catch the insects through the cup, thus hurting their tongue.

Alternatively, you can hand feed them or let the insects free inside the enclosure. This will allow your Chameleon to hunt and get exercise. However, whatever insects your Chameleon doesn’t find, take them out after about ten minutes or so. Otherwise, the insects could sneak up on your reptile friend and injure them through biting. 

Do Chameleons Need Supplements?

Yes, a Chameleon does need supplements. For instance, it’s a good idea to give them multivitamins or calcium supplements, or vitamin D supplements.

They should get plenty of vitamin D from their basking area, but having a supplement is a good idea to have on hand. Otherwise, they can’t digest their food properly.

In addition, Chameleons need a lot of calcium to help them grow and develop. Sometimes, they can’t get enough of it through their live food or leafy greens. So it’s important to gut-load the insects or sprinkle calcium powder on top of their food to ensure the Chameleon is getting enough. 

Click here to find Chameleon supplements.

Water And Misters

Chameleons also need humidity and plenty of water to stay hydrated. In order to help with this, you’ll need to provide a mister inside their tank.

Of course, you can manually mist their tank with a spray bottle a few times per day, but having an automatic mister will be one less thing you have to worry about.

For instance, your Chameleon will get misted consistently, and the tank will have some time to dry out before it mists again.

In addition to that, a drip system will also be good. Chameleons don’t normally drink from standing water, so a drip system mimics dew or waterfalls to help them see that water is available.

You can learn more about drip systems here.

In addition, it’ll be a good idea to buy a hydrometer so you can keep track of the humidity levels. 

Conclusion

So, what do you need to take care of a Chameleon?

Overall, Chameleons need a lot of things to thrive. They’re fairly simple to care for once you get the hang of it, but their tank setup needs to be just right. Otherwise, they could get sick or stressed.

Luckily, Chameleons are hardy and can show you signs when something isn’t right. With proper lighting, misting, and climbing, your Chameleon will be a happy reptile. 

Learn more about Chameleons here. You can also click here to find out how often Chameleons need to eat and here for how long they live. You can also read whether Chameleons are hard to take care of here or read our full Baby Veiled Chameleon care guide here.

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Jason Williamson

By Jason Williamson

Jason is a huge animal lover with many pets of his own. He loves sharing all his knowledge of all creatures here and learning more whenever he can.