Keeping Chameleons in Captivity
by Lynda Horgan
An aquarium with a screen lid is appropriate. A vita-lite (full spectrum light) should be placed over the screen (no glass between the light and the lizard). Adding an incandescent light at one end provides a basking spot where the lizard may warm up. This creates a warm end and a cool end to the cage so that the lizard may move about to adjust its body temperature. A basking (incandescent) light is not needed by all types of chameleons. Humidity and temperatures vary with the species kept.
Branches of asoze that their feet can grip easily should be added. Real or artificial plants should be provided to give the chameleon a place to hide. If you use real ones make sure that you wash them first to remove insecticide or fertilizer residue. Also make sure that they are not poisonous.
A substrate is not necessary. Some substrates can cause hemipene plugs and infections and can be ingested along with the food which can result in intestinal impactions. Mactac attached UNDER the cage will prevent the chameleon from constantly trying to get through the bottom glass.
FOOD AND WATER:
Crickets, wax worms, and silk worms dusted with calcium and vitamin D and a vitamin/mineral powder will provide the main diet. The food should be of a size that the lizard can easily digest. A chameleon will likely consume 10 to 12 crickets 3 times a week. Feed babies daily. Some chameleons will become omnivore upon maturity and are then provided with vegetables, fruit, plant leaves, etc.
Water should be provided by a drip system or by misting the plants and sides of the cage. This should be done every day. Do it more than once a day for babies. A water dish may be placed in the cage if extra humidity is needed.
When selecting a chameleon look to see that the eyes are not sunken in but rather protruding. Choose a chameleon that has no deep longitudinal ridges in its tail. Even a sick chameleon can have plump body. The soft pads on its head should not be sunken in either. Look for alertness and good color. Check for swellings, deformities of the arms or lower jaw, and for any apparent external damage.
A fecal sample can be checked by a veterinarian for parasites.
ODD PIECES OF INTERESTING INFORMATION:
Never forcibly remove a chameleon from a branch. Let it "walk" off on it own. If you force it you could cause damage to its joints, toenails or even break bones.
Feed your insects well. What goes into them will go into your chameleon.
Always quarantine a new chameleon for at least 6 weeks. Some can carry viruses, parasites or bacteria that can be passed on to other chameleons.
Most chameleons should be house individually.
Some chameleons have a drop reflex when handled so be careful that they don't just suddenly let go and drop to the ground. Some run blindly to escape.
Some chameleons "waddle-walk" in an attempt to not be noticed. (Back and forth rocking motion with eventual ,movement forward.)
BODY LANGUAGE AND COLOR:
Gaping, hissing, bright colors with a vertically flattened body held at an angle to the opponent, a high stance, tail curled when done by a male indicates aggression.
Pale colors and gaping with a thinned body indicates overheating.
A dark coloration with an expanded body that is slanted to catch the rays of the sun indicate desire to warm up.
Pale coloration, tail curled, body resting on the branch indicates desire to sleep.
Bright colors and a bobbing head when done by the male indicates desire to mate.
Females darken their color, hiss and gape and rock back and forth when repelling the male.
A females color will indicate her willingness to mate, and a different color and pattern will show that she is gravid.
The above information on keeping chameleons in captivity has come mostly from my own experience. Others may have their own way of keeping them, but this has worked for me. I have bred several kinds of chameleons and kept some kinds for extended periods of time.
I hope this will provide enough information that people will be able to successfully keep their chameleons in captivity as well.
Good Luck! Happy herping! Lynda Horgan