Creating a Chameleon Habitat

If you’re wondering how to create a chameleon habitat for your new pet, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve bred and hatched thousands of chameleons, including over 20 different species. We’ve got expert advice for you as you journey into the fascinating world of these amazing reptiles.

Many people think they’d like a pet chameleon, but they don’t understand how sensitive these lizards are to their environment. Chameleons are actually not the best pet reptiles for beginning herp hobbyists simply because they have very specific husbandry requirements, so it’s important to do your research, which you obviously are if you’re reading this article!

Because one of the most commonly asked questions we get at Backwater Reptiles is how to set up a proper enclosure for a pet chameleon, we are dedicating this blog article to just that topic.

creating a chameleon habitat
Chameleons can be finicky animals, depending upon the species. We recommend you do your research before purchasing one of these amazing lizards so that you can create the right habitat.

Creating a Chameleon Habitat

What type of cage should I get for my chameleon?

Creating a chameleon habitat generally begins with selecting the proper enclosure. There is only one type of commercially produced cage that we recommend for the vast majority of pet chameleons and that’s a cage that has mesh or screen walls.

This means that you should generally avoid enclosures with glass or plastic walls to house most species of chameleon, with the exception of pygmy chameleons and a few others, which have an entirely different set of care requirements altogether.

screen cage for chameleon
This is a very good cage for a small chameleon. Notice that it has screen walls to encourage proper ventilation.

The reason a screen cage is required is that it allows air to flow freely in and out of the cage and aids in maintaining proper humidity and temperature. Glass or plastic walled cages encourage stagnant air which can lead to respiratory problems.

For young chameleons and smaller species, a cage that is 16″ x 16″ x 20″ is an acceptable size. Adults and larger species should have a cage that is approximately 18″ x 18″ x 36″ or  24″ x 24″ x 48″. The bigger the better, but you don’t have to go overboard.

There are very few species that require something larger and we actually wrote an entire article about those specific types of chameleons that you can read here.

What type of accessories are safe to put in my chameleon’s enclosure?

Most chameleons are arboreal (with very few exceptions) and very awkward and clumsy on flat surfaces, so you should put lots of climbing accessories into its cage. We recommend some plants (live or fake will both suffice) and some branches or vines. Exo Terra twistable vines are our favorite.

If you choose to put living plants inside your chameleon’s enclosure, please make sure that the plants you use are non-toxic and safe for consumption by both the chameleon and any insects you feed it.

Here are some commonly used live plants that are safe to place inside your chameleon’s cage: Ficus benajamina, Gardenia, Pothos, Mulberry, Schefflera arboricola, and Yucca. Our favorite live plant for our own chameleon habitats are Scheffleras–they hold water droplets well (as opposed to a Ficus), and have more sturdy branches (again, as opposed to a Ficus).

quadricornis chameleon (Trioceros quadricornis)
With proper husbandry, chameleons can make very rewarding pets. Here’s a young Four-horned chameleon, otherwise known as a “Quad” due to it’s scientific name: Trioceros quadricornis.

Unless you purchase your live plant from a boutique nursery, chances are it will be potted in commercial soil containing some pesticides. We always re-pot our plants in organic soil free from chemicals and rinse the plant in soapy water to wash any residue from the leaves.

Although chameleons rarely nibble on plant matter (although we have had Veiled chameleons eat leaves), the insects that are in their cage do. And what is in the tummies of the insects is by proxy in the tummy of the chameleon, so you want to be sure the plant contains no chemicals or pesticides.

We also want to mention that you don’t need to provide a water dish for your pet chameleon. They actually don’t recognize water dishes as sources of hydration and are also very rarely down on the bottom of their cage, so it is unnecessary.

Your chameleon will drink water from the leaves in its enclosure, so you just need to be sure to have a good drip system in place. We’ll go into more detail on that momentarily.

What type of lighting will my chameleon’s habitat require?

You’ll want two types of lighting in your chameleon’s habitat – a heat/basking light and a good quality UVB light. We prefer halogen flood bulbs for basking, generally in the 75w range. Avoid infra-red bulbs, and never use spot bulbs as the beam is too small and intense. A flood bulb spreads the light and heat much more effectively.

Some say that chameleons don’t require a source of heat, but we disagree, and our results have been impressive. We provide our chams with options and allow the lizard to choose–and you’d be amazed how often our’s will bask–even montane species (from the mountains).

Our favorite ultraviolet (UVB) bulb is a Reptisun 5.0. You can purchase these in Compact Fluorescent or regular fluorescent variations. We’ve exclusively used this type of bulb very successfully in our breeding programs.

Make sure that the plants within the chameleon’s enclosure are arranged so that your chameleon can get to within 4-6 inches of the UVB bulb. Any closer and you risk your chameleon getting burned accidentally, and any farther away and the UVB rays dissipate in quality and become nearly useless.

I tend to place the UVB lighting across the middle of the top, and the basking bulb in a corner, so that the other side of the habitat is cooler. This allows your chameleon to thermoregulate–a fancy word for letting it choose the temperature it wants.

How do I maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels?

For the most part, unless you live somewhere with extreme climates, room temperature should be a fine ambient temperature for your chameleon’s habitat.

Anywhere in the 70’s is usually ideal. However, you definitely want to make sure that the heat light you have set up on top of the cage creates a warmer area that stays around 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

We recommend purchasing a reptile temperature gun to make sure you are achieving proper heat levels within the basking area. This tool is pretty much required for any reptile owner.

chameleon care kit
Backwater Reptiles does in fact sell complete chameleon care kits. You can purchase them at the bottom of any chameleon for sale page.

As far as humidity is concerned, you’ll want to mist the enclosure daily. This can be achieved by manually spraying inside the enclosure once or twice each day. Or if you are not home most of the time, you can also buy a simple drip system that provides a steady source of dripping water into the cage.

Some people even splurge for a pricier automatic cage mister. These machines can be put on timers and you won’t even have to think about needing to mist your chameleon’s cage. Everything will be done automatically which is very convenient.

The best lower cost method is with the Exo Terra Monsoon, which is good for a few cages (4-6 or so). If you’ll have more than 4-6 chameleon habitats set up, you’ll probably want to splurge and purchase a heavier duty misting system such as Mist King, which can take care of 20+ enclosures with a single unit.

The result you’re looking for is droplets for the chameleon to lap-up, and increased humidity with the chameleon’s habitat. Persistent dehydration is one of the top causes of chameleon losses in captivity.

Conclusion – Creating a Chameleon Habitat

As you can see from this article, chameleons have very specific cage requirements. They need specific temperatures, regular misting and/or a source of dripping water, and we recommend two types of lights above their cage.

We think chameleons make extremely rewarding pets, but we also want all of our customers to be informed about what exactly it takes to make such a wonderful lizard happy and healthy in captivity.

If you’re interested in taking a foray into the world of chameleon keeping, and we hope that you are, please visit our website where we have the largest selection of chameleons in the world, along with all the required supplies we’ve mentioned in this care article.

 

Jackson’s Chameleon Care (Chamaeleo jacksonii)

Are you thinking about getting your first pet chameleon? One of our top suggestions for you is a great species for beginners – the adorable Jackson’s Chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii).

Read on to learn all about Jackson’s chameleon care, based upon our years of successful experience caring for, and breeding, these unique three-horned reptiles. When kept correctly, these chameleons thrive in captivity.

Jackson’s chameleon care

Jackson’s Chameleon Appearance

Many people are attracted to Jackson’s chameleons because of their unique physical appearance. These little chameleons have been said to resemble triceratops because the males have three horns on their head – two above their eyes and one on their nose.

Female Jackson’s don’t have horns, although they do have the potential to give birth to live babies! Unlike most reptiles, female Jackson’s chameleons don’t lay eggs. The sad side effect of this strenuous process is that female Jackson’s actually have considerably shorter lives than the males of the species.

male jackson's chameleon
This is a male Jackson’s chameleon. You can tell by his three horns.

Most male Jackson’s chameleons will grow to be anywhere from eight to ten inches in length. Females are a bit smaller and will only grow to approximately seven or eight inches total length.

Unlike their more colorful cousins such as Panther chameleons, Jackson’s chameleons tend to stay in the brown to green color spectrum. Most will be brown when they are cold or grumpy and they will be green when they are healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. Some Jackson’s will also be shades of yellow, but it’s safe to say your Jackson’s won’t be turning blue, red, or purple, even though chameleons do have the reputation for being able to change color on a whim.

Jackson’s Chameleon Enclosures

The most important element to keeping a chameleon of any species happy is a good environment with the proper lighting, food, and shelter spaces.

All chameleons should have mesh enclosures so that the air is free-flowing and doesn’t get stagnant. The open mesh also helps maintain proper moisture and humidity levels within the cage.

Because Jackson’s chameleons are arboreal, be sure to provide lots of foliage and branches within your chameleon’s enclosure.

A single animal can be housed in a cage that is at least three feet tall, although if you want babies, you can put a male and female together in an enclosure that is about twice that size.

female jacksons chameleon
Jackson’s chameleons are arboreal and need lots of foliage and branches in their enclosure to cling to.

Your Jackson’s chameleon should never (or very rarely) be anywhere on or near the ground of its cage, so no real substrate is required. You can line the cage with paper towels if you desire to make cleaning up feces, dried leaves, and other detritus easier, but it’s not a requirement so long as you spot clean the cage appropriately.

Lighting and temperature are very important for a Jackson’s chameleon. Keep your daytime temperatures around 80 degrees and make sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 60 degrees at night. You can accomplish this by placing a full spectrum UV light along with a ceramic heat light on one side of the top of the cage. Just be sure that the foliage in your chameleon’s cage is not tall enough that the chameleon can get too close to the lights and burn itself.

Moisture is another extremely important component to keeping your Jackson’s chameleon healthy. You need to provide an automatic drip system or spray the foliage in the chameleon’s cage frequently so that it has a water source to drink from. Chameleons don’t recognize water dishes, so this is an absolute imperative.

Jackson’s Chameleon Feeding

Jackson’s chameleons are insectivores and will thrive on a cricket-based diet. They will also enjoy meal worms, wax worms, reptiworms, and roaches.

It is important that whatever insects you do feed your Jackson’s chameleon have been gut-loaded with the proper nutrients. Healthy insects = healthy chameleon.

Jackson’s Chameleon Temperament

Of all the chameleon species available for sale today, we think that Jackson’s are one of the most calm and laid back as far as personality is concerned.

It’s true that most chameleons do not enjoy being handled, but if you want a chameleon that doesn’t get stressed out by being taken out of its enclosure, a Jackson’s just might be right for you.

female chamaeleo jacksonii
Jackson’s chameleons have relatively calm dispositions and can be handled without too much stress.

Because they are relatively small, they tend to perch nicely on hands and their gripping claws don’t hurt like some of the larger species.

Jackson’s chameleons are also not known for being aggressive towards people. They might change color a bit or puff themselves up to appear larger, but you’d be hard-pressed to make a Jackson’s chameleon bite you.

Jackson’s chameleon care – Conclusion

Whether you’re new to keeping chameleons or very familiar with them, we’ve always had good experiences with Jackson’s chameleons. We would highly recommend these little triceratops chameleons as pets.

Ready for a Jackson’s chameleon of your own? Backwater Reptiles has got you covered! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our Jackson’s chameleon care sheet.

 

How to Dust Feeder Insects for Chameleons

Keeping chameleons in captivity can be a challenge. These delicate lizards have very specific care requirements and need their wild habitats to be replicated as closely as possible in order to thrive as pets. Dusting their feeder insects properly is a key to keeping chameleons successfully.

How to dust feeder insects
Pictured is one of our extremely healthy female Oustalets chameleon, fed a diet of properly dusted insects.

Besides requiring a mesh enclosure or cage, a dripping and misting system to meet humidity requirements, and UV lights and heat, chameleons also require their invertebrate meals to be extremely nutritious. This means that you can’t just feed your pet chameleon any old feeder insects. You will need to make sure your chameleon’s insects are gut-loaded and vitamin dusted regularly.

So what is vitamin dusting? What vitamin dusts do you give a chameleon and how often do you need to do so? How do you go about dusting the insects?  These are all questions we will address in this blog article, so read on if you want to make sure your chameleon stays healthy and strong.

What is vitamin dusting?

The answer to this question is actually very simple.

Vitamin dusting is where you coat your feeder insects in a film of powdered vitamin supplements before feeding time.

Do you take a multivitamin pill daily? How about a vitamin C tablet every now and then? Well, dusting your chameleon’s feeder insects is basically the same concept. The only difference is that because it would stress the animal to try to get it to ingest a vitamin pill, reptile hobbyists have invented a clever way to get the animals their vitamins. By coating the insects, the chameleons don’t even notice they’re eating the vitamins they need.

What types of vitamin dusts are good for chameleons? How often do you need to dust your feeder insects for your pet chameleon?

These are questions we get a lot at Backwater Reptiles. This is because there’s no manual on how frequently dusting needs to be done and the frequency as well as type of vitamin dusts required can vary from species to species.

At Backwater Reptiles, we use five main vitamin dusts for our chameleons – bee pollen, spirulina, a calcium + D3 supplement, a calcium supplement, and Herptivite/Supervite supplement.

The general rule of thumb with baby chameleons is to dust pinhead crickets (or whatever food source you give them) fairly frequently with calcium. Babies are growing fast and their little bodies need lots of nutrients to make sure their growth process happens smoothly.

Listed below are the vitamins used at Backwater Reptiles and the schedule we subscribe to when it comes to dusting feeder insects for our chameleons.

Bee pollen

Bee Pollen Vitamin Supplement
Bee pollen can be bought in powdered form from specialty retailers and health food stores.

In the wild, chameleons eat insects that could have recently pollinated a flower. Supplementing with bee pollen is said to help avoid chameleon “hunger strikes.”

Frequency:
Babies: once monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: twice monthly

LoD (calcium + D3)

Calcium and Vitamin Supplement
This Repashy vitamin and calcium supplement is what we use at Backwater Reptiles.

At Backwater Reptiles, the type of LoD vitamin supplement we use is called “Repashy Superfoods Calcium plus LoD.”

Frequency:
Babies: once monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: twice monthly

NoD (calcium)

Powdered Calcium Supplement
This powdered calcium supplement is used frequently when feeding baby chameleons.

The kind of calcium supplement used at Backwater Reptiles is called “Repashy Superfoods Supercal NoD.”

Frequency:
Babies: 10-15 times monthly
Sub-adults: 5-7 times monthly
Adults: 2-3 times monthly

Spirulina

Spirulina Powdered Supplement
Spirulina is a powdered algae that can be purchased at health food stores or specialty stores.

Spirulina is an algae that commonly grows in freshwater ponds and lakes. The kind fed to our chameleons is dried and powdered. Any powdered spirulina will be fine for your chameleons, but we use an organic, non-irradiated, and non-GMO spirulina from www.nuts.com.

Frequency:
Babies: once monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: twice monthly

Herptivite/Supervite

Multivitamin Supplement for Chameleons
This is the multivitamin supplement used at Backwater Reptiles.

These are general vitamin supplements or multivitamins. The kind we use at Backwater Reptiles is “RepCal Hertivite with Beta Carotene Multivitamins.”

Frequency:
Babies: twice monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: once monthly

How do you dust your feeder insects?

The good news is that the physical process of dusting your feeder insects with vitamins is not as tedious as it sounds.

All you will need to complete the process is a small plastic bag, your vitamin of choice, and your feeder insects.

Reptile Feeder Crickets
At Backwater Reptiles, we opt to dust our crickets in a bucket instead of a plastic bag simply because we have so many animals to feed. It makes sense for us to do it on a larger scale. But a plastic bag works just fine in most cases.

Just put your insects in the plastic bag along with your vitamins and seal the bag shut. Then shake the insects around in the bag with the dust for a few seconds until you can see that they are visibly coated with the dust.

Now your feeder insects are ready to be eaten!

A quick tip – if you are feeding your chameleon dusted crickets, be sure to feed them to the animal quickly after the dusting process has been completed. Crickets have good hygiene and will clean themselves of the dust as quickly as they can, so the sooner they are eaten, the more vitamins the chameleon will ingest.

Vitamin Dusted Crickets
When your feeder insects are coated like these crickets, they are ready to be served to your chameleon.

How to dust chameleon feeder insects – Conclusion

A healthy, happy chameleon will require supplemental vitamins in its diet. This can be achieved by dusting your pet chameleon’s feeder insects with a number of multivitamins.

 

The Biggest Chameleon Species

A while back, we wrote about the four largest chameleon species and you learned that the biggest chameleon species in the world is the Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii).

Now, we’re going to tell you a bit more about the gigantic Parson’s Chameleon and why we recommend that only experienced reptile enthusiasts keep these gorgeous and impressive lizards.

Parson’s chameleons are usually a blue-ish greenish teal in color with accent colors of brown, yellow, or green. There are two main varieties seen in the reptile trade: orange eyes, and yellow-lips.

Orange eyes are much more common, and are named so because their eye turrets are a bright, vivid orange color.

Yellow-lips are far less commonly seen in the hobby. Males have yellow trimming on their lips with diagonal stripes along their sides, while females are similarly patterned but generally lack the yellow-lips.

The Biggest chameleon species
This is one of our male Yellow-lipped Parson’s chameleons, the biggest chameleon species in the world. Notice how large he is in comparison to a forearm.

Males Parson’s are larger than females, although not by much. Males also have pronounced  nose bumps or protrusions, whereas females do not.

So, we’ve already established that the Parson’s Chameleon is the biggest chameleon species in the world, but how large is it really?

Well, they can reach lengths of up to 30 inches and weigh anywhere from a pound to two pounds. This might not seem like a lot, but when compared to what other chameleons weigh, it’s monstrous! It’s possible that they are not the longest chameleon in the world, but they are certainly the biggest chameleon when it comes to overall mass.

They also have thick, bulky torsos with very strong limbs. In fact, if you ever get the chance to hold one, it might be wise to wear gloves as they have sharp toe claws and can grip hard enough to leave marks and draw blood, although we think it’s worth it!

Often times, it is said that Parson’s chameleons can get as big as a small house cat. This is only partially true as they can get as long as a small cat, but definitely will never weigh as much or be as bulky. They can definitely live as long as a house cat though – some have been reported to live to well over twenty years of age!

Because of their large size, it would make sense that Parson’s chameleons require a large enclosure. A full-grown male or female being housed solitarily should have a mesh cage that is at least 24 inches long and 48 inches high, but the larger the better.

Parson’s are arboreal and will need as much space as possible to climb, so considering how big the animal can be, vertical space is definitely important. Make absolutely sure the vines and branches are strong enough to support their weight easily. Also make sure they cannot wrap their claws all the way around the entire vine/branch width, as this can cause issues for them.

Largest Female Parson's Chameleon
This is our resident female Yellow-lipped Parson’s chameleon. She laid us a clutch of 68 healthy eggs earlier this year!

In addition to requiring a large cage, we don’t recommend Parson’s chameleons for  beginners because they also need large food items. In the wild, it has been reported that Parson’s eat small birds (finches), so they definitely have appetites and will need to be fed accordingly.

At Backwater Reptiles, we feed ours large roaches, large crickets, and large hornworms. If your Parson’s is particularly well-trained, you might even try feeding it pinkie mice, but it’s usually hard to get chameleons of any species to eat on cue, especially if the food item is already deceased.

Parson’s chameleons are quite rare in the reptile hobby and breeding world for several reasons. Probably the most impactful reason is that these chameleons are listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.

What this ultimately means is that trade and exportation of these large lizards has been strictly regulated since 1994. It wasn’t until just recently that legal export quotas opened up in their home country of Madagascar, but there are still very few of these animals for sale in captivity, and that’s probably a good thing. Regardless, it’s always best to start with captive bred animals if possible.

Male Parsons Chameleon (Calumma parsonii)
Notice the diagonal accent stripes on this male’s sides.

The rarity of the Parson’s chameleon means that it comes with a steep price point. Most chameleon species have been captive bred in the U.S. for long enough that that they are not too hard to come by at reptile expos or through private breeders.

But due to the toughness of acquisition as well as the lack of captive breeding projects, Parson’s are still extremely expensive, particularly when compared to other pet chameleon species, often times fetching a price of $1,500 to $3,000, depending upon the locale.

So now let’s assume that you can meet the requirements mentioned above – you’ve got the large cage, you can supply the large food, and you can meet the steep price point. We still recommend that only owners who have kept other species of chameleons own Parson’s chameleons.

Parson’s are particularly delicate, despite their large frames. They stress easily and don’t reproduce in captivity as readily as other species do. And just like all chameleon species, they require high humidity, and a dripping/misting system so that they’ll drink water. They drink a lot of water.

Calumma parsonii - biggest chameleon in the world
Large adult Parson’s chameleons require an equally large enclosure.

Biggest chameleon species – Conclusion

While Parson’s Chameleons are highly sought after due to their large size, magnificent coloration, and rarity, Backwater Reptiles would like to stress that these animals do best when kept by an experienced reptile hobbyist.

If you think you are interested in one of these chameleons, Backwater Reptiles does have Parson’s Chameleons for sale. We’re always here for questions or pictures of the exact Parson’s chameleons we offer.

How Do Chameleons Drink?

How do chameleons drink? It’s a fair quesiton, and you’ve definitely come to the right place. Did you know that chameleons won’t drink water from a traditional water dish? In fact, they’ll usually die of dehydration before they’ll do so! This isn’t because they’re stubborn or stupid animals. Rather, it’s because chameleons don’t recognize a dish of still water as a source of hydration.

chameleon drinking water
Here’s one of our female yellow-lipped Parson’s chameleon mid-drink.

We all know just by seeing how clumsy chameleons are on flat land that they are arboreal lizards. This means that they spend most of their lives in trees and by extension, drink water while they are in the trees.

How do Chameleons Drink in the Wild?

What happens in the wild is that when it rains, water trickles and drips down upon the leaves and branches in the trees. Chameleons will recognize there is water present based on the moisture they are feeling and the drops they observe hitting the surface around them, and will lap up the water droplets with their tongue.

So, it would make sense that they can’t comprehend that the dish you place on the floor of their enclosure actually contains water. It’s just not natural to them.

chameleon drinking

So, you might ask, if I can’t leave a water dish for my new pet, how do I get my chameleon to drink water?

How do Chameleons Drink in Captivity?

The simplest method is to use a drip system. You can go as fancy or as inexpensive as you want. If you’re on a tight budget, you can simply get a plastic deli cup and puncture a hole in the bottom. Fill it with water, place it on top of your chameleon’s screen cage, and – voila – dripping water! A drip every second or so is a good rate. You don’t want a constant stream of water, or too slow of a drip.

Make sure the drops are landing on either a branch, or a leaf. If you want to spend a bit more money or get something that is specifically made to drip water for reptiles, try a drip system offered by Zoo Med called “Little Dripper.”

We also highly recommend misting your chameleon’s enclosure for added moisture and humidity. You can do this manually with a spray bottle a few times daily (mist until water droplets appear on the leaves), depending on how dry it is where you live, or you can purchase an automated misting system if you want to go the fancy route.

parsons chameleon drinking water
Chameleons have a sticky coating on their tongue that helps catch insects. When they drink and lick leaves and sticks for water, they can get “slobbery,” which is visible in the picture. 🙂

Some species of chameleon seem to drink for long stretches (Parson’s, Jackson’s, Meller’s), while others are like camels, and don’t seem to require as much (Veiled and Oustalet’s come to mind).

Thanks for reading our article about how chameleons drink water. If you have any questions regarding chameleon hydration, feel free to ask in the comments.

Are Mt. Meru Jackson’s Chameleons Sexually Dimorphic?

From the get-go, in order to understand this blog article, you’ll need to know what the term “sexual dimorphism” means. The simplest way to explain it is that it describes a single, sexually reproducing animal where males and females look different from one another. A great example of an animal that is sexually dimorphic that all readers should be familiar with is the common chicken. Roosters are easily identifiable as the male of the species, while hens look completely different from them but are clearly still the same species.

female chamaeleo merumontanus
A female Mt. Meru Jackson’s chameleon.

There are many traits that exemplify sexual dimorphism in animals, the most obvious being different genitalia. However, because chameleons lack visible distinguishing sex organs, we have to examine their other physical traits in order to determine males from females.

Generally, with most reptiles and amphibians, the traits examined to determine gender are: size, ornamentation, and coloration.

male chamaeleo merumontanus
A top view of a male Mt. Meru chameleon. Notice the three horns, similar to that of a male Jackson’s chameleon.

This brings us to our question regarding Mt. Meru Jackson’s Chameleons – are they sexually dimorphic animals? Can you tell the males from the females just by looking at them?

mt meru chameleon comparison
A comparison of male and female Mt. Meru chameleons.

In short, the answer is yes.

The main difference between males and females is the number of horns/spikes present on the animal’s head. Females possess one short horn on the tip of their nose, while males have a trio of horns, one on the tip of their nose and one above each eye like a triceratops.

mt meru chameleon female
This is a female. You can see she has a single horn.

Another less noticeable difference between the genders is size. Males will grow to be slightly larger than females in terms of body length, weight, and slightness of frame.

Both males and females can and will display a range of colors from dark, mottled browns and blacks to vibrant greens, so color is not necessarily a good indicator of gender in this species of chameleon.

mt meru chameleon male

mount meru chameleon baby

Here’s one of our baby Mount Meru Jackson’s chameleons.

If you’re interested in purchasing your own male, female, or pair, Backwater Reptiles has both genders of Mt. Meru Jackson’s chameleons for sale.

Why Do Chameleons Change Color?

Have you ever wondered why chameleons change color? We think it’s fascinating that these little lizards possess this ability and we wanted to shed a little light on the “why” behind this unique behavior.

Chameleon Camouflage

It’s a common misconception that chameleons change color primarily to blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators. While camouflaging with their surroundings is a positive byproduct of this behavior, there are actually stronger factors at work when it comes to color change.

While it is true that some species of chameleons, such as the Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholean sp.) use color change as a way to blend in, this is a pretty specialized case. Pygmies actually don’t change color in the traditional spectrum – you won’t see a red, blue, or even bright green Pygmy. They change between light and dark shades of brown and are shaped to resemble dead leaf litter on the forest floor.

chameleon changing color
An adult pygmy chameleon. Notice its pointed shape and lack of curly tail which help it resemble leaf litter. These little guys are pretty much brown their whole lives.

Another common erroneous belief is that a chameleon will change color to mimic it’s background. For instance, chameleons are commonly portrayed in pop culture as being able to rapidly transform themselves from green to purple to black and yellow stripes based on whatever they’re close to. This is not true.

veiled chameleon color change
This is a translucent veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus). Notice how it has white and black splotches. These are a result of selective captive breeding and are not a result of the chameleon trying to resemble the white backdrop behind it.

Chameleon Mood

The foremost reason chameleons change color is to communicate their mood, whether it be to other chameleons, potential predators, or even to their owners.

why chameleons change color
Notice the difference in color between these Meller’s chameleons. Above the chameleon is drabber because it is not being handled. It does not feel threatened or stressed, so it doesn’t feel the need to brighten up and show dominance. In the bottom photo, the chameleon is being handled, which can make the grumpier species feel angry, which in turn causes them to display brighter colors.

A general rule of thumb when it comes to interpreting your chameleon’s color is that brighter colors mean a more dominant animal. For example, if two males to come into view of one another, they will both puff up and turn a brighter green in order to display aggression and try to defend their territory. They are both trying to communicate to the other that they are the head honcho and whoever is bigger and brighter is more likely to win should they come to blows in the wild.

rudis chameleon color
This is a brightly-colored Rudis chameleon (Trioceros rudis) with her baby piggy-backing. Her bright color is a general indicator of her good health. This live birth occurred at our facility.

Dark, drab chameleons can be this color for a number of reasons. One, is a physical response to light and temperature (see the subheading below on temperature and lighting for more details). The other could be because the animal is unhealthy. This is not always the case, as certain species just tend to be in the brown color spectrum naturally (Oustalet’s, Pygmies, and Elephant Ears to name a few), but if your Jacksons or Panther is consistently drab and brown, you need to adjust something in its care regimen, probably its light and/or heat source.

Female chameleons will change color to indicate that they are pregnant or receptive/non-receptive to a potential mate. Males will also display more brilliant colorations when they are trying to impress a female.

Lighting and Temperature

Have you ever noticed how wearing black in the summer is generally going to make you hotter? The black clothes absorb the sun’s rays more and the same is true of a darker-colored chameleon’s skin.

Reptiles cannot thermoregulate their body temperature the same way that mammals do, so they have lots of tricks up their sleeves to help them warm up when needed. Sometimes when a chameleon is very dark or drab in color, it could be trying to absorb more heat.

baby chameleon color
This is a hatchling Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus). It is young and still has some learning to do as far as color displays are concerned.

We hope that you learned something new by reading this article. If you’re inspired to purchase your own chameleon, Backwater Reptiles has many species of chameleons for sale on our website.

How to Incubate Chameleon Eggs

Are you wondering how to incubate chameleon eggs? One of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a reptile hobbyist is the successful hatching of an egg clutch. If you need help or suggestions as far as breeding goes, we have a very in depth blog article all about breeding Panther chameleons. But, for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you’ve already got a clutch or two of your own incubating and we’ll focus specifically on what to do once your eggs are starting to hatch.

panther chameleon breeding pair
It all starts with this, right?! Here’s a pair of our Panther chameleons mating. The female will lay eggs about a month later.

At Backwater Reptiles, we incubate our eggs in shoebox sized plastic boxes. We don’t drill any holes or provide any special means of ventilation (they don’t get much air circulation in nature being buried 6-12 inches underground).

You can purchase these types of plastic boxes at any large department store. We fill the boxes with Perlite that is damp but certainly not dripping wet, label the boxes with the clutch date, close the lid, and store on a shelf at room temperature.

chameleon egg incubation
We make various notes on the incubation box, including date eggs were laid, species, quantity, and any miscellaneous notes. In this instance, we crossed a female Oustalet’s chameleon with a male Panther chameleon.

We’ve learned that the natural rise-and-fall of indoor temperatures provides the perfect environment for 90% of chameleons. We’ve hatched-out over 18 different species, and the only one that we don’t get strong hatch percentages with is the Carpet chameleon (Furcifer lateralis). We generally experience 100% hatch rates for Panther, Veiled, Sailfin, Flapneck, Oustelet’s, Pygmy, Verrucosus, Johnston’s, Two-horned, et al.

Many hobbyists purchase small pre-made incubators for their chameleon eggs, but we’ve found they are unstable and can experience sudden wide temperature fluctuations. If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: quick temperature fluctuations are dangerous–very slow, gradual changes are far less so.

incubating chameleon eggs
This is one of our chameleon egg incubation stations. As you can see, we stack them so that they won’t be disturbed.

Chameleon Eggs: Part Deux

The amount of time it takes for the eggs to hatch varies based on the chameleon species, but for the purposes of this article, we’re using a clutch of Sailfin (Trioceros cristatus) babies that we had hatch this week (our fourth clutch). This particular clutch was laid on March 3rd, and took a little over six months to hatch.

Once you notice a single baby in the Perlite, it’s best to keep it in the box for a while as the eggs seem to “communicate” and incite the rest of the eggs to hatch. Some scientists believe there is some type of chemical communication involved.

You’ll notice that your hatchlings are very timid, weak, and clumsy. This is all normal! Just like human babies, hatchling chameleons of any species, not just the Sailfins pictured, need to learn how to use their limbs.

chameleon eggs hatching
Here’s the beginnings of a clutch of Sailfin chameleon (Trioceros cristatus) hatchlings. There are still a few eggs that will hatch, so the babies have not yet been moved to their new enclosure. We’ve learned that babies walking around inside the incubation chamber often somehow “trigger” or “message” the other eggs to know it’s time to hatch.

The babies will climb all over each other, use each other as stepping stools, and be generally awkward and bumbling for a few days. They might even curl up in little balls and appear for all intents and purposes to be dead, but it’s just the shock of the new world. Eventually they will snap out of it.

sailfin chameleon hatching
This sail fin hatchling doesn’t seem to realize its been born yet.

Once all of your eggs have hatched, it’s safe to move the babies to a separate home. We house our babies of a single species all together in small versions of adult cages. Keep the plant life and climbing materials in their cages minimal so that you don’t lose the little guys as they are very small! It’s also wise that your cage not be too tall as they stumble and fall often when they’re babies. Just like toddlers learning to walk, they have accidents and can fall off the plants/climbing materials and if you don’t want them to injure themselves, it’s best if they don’t have too far to fall.

 

They also need to be able to spot prey insects, and the more clutter you have in the enclosure, the more difficult it is for them. We usually affix a plastic plant to the top of the screen cage (near the UVB lighting–we use ReptiSun 5.0 bulbs), because the baby chameleons like soaking up the rays, and if you don’t provide a way for them to get off the top of the cage (by way of easily accessible leaves), sometimes they seem to be confused as to how to maneuver elsewhere.

baby chameleon hatching
This little guy is wary of the camera. 😛

We feed our hatchlings hydei fruit flies and pinhead crickets at birth once or twice a day. As they grow just a bit, you can increase the size of the prey items accordingly.

Baby chameleons need humidity, and plenty of it. Dessication (dehydrating) is their biggest enemy, and it’s an ever present threat. Mist, mist, and mist again. We have our’s set up with an automatic misting system, so that we don’t even have to think about it.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our article on how to incubate chameleon eggs! The Sailfin chameleon hatchlings from this post should be large enough to be shipped to new homes within about three months. They’re a wonderful species with a unique appearance, and they generally thrive in captivity, especially when you start with captive bred babies.

What are the Largest Chameleons?

Ever wondered what species of chameleon are the largest in the world? There are many types of chameleons and each kind has unique traits and quirks associated with it. We’ve talked about pygmy chameleons in a previous post, which are some of the smallest chameleons, but this entry is all about the behemoths – specifically the four largest species of chameleon.

4. Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)

Veiled Chameleons, also known as Yemen Chameleons, are becoming popular pet chameleons due to captive breeding efforts. Wild-caught animals have a reputation for having a hard time adjusting to captivity, but ones produced by breeders like us are hardier than ever and thrive in the proper captive conditions. They are number four on our list of the largest chameleons.

largest chameleons
A full-grown male Veiled Chameleon, one of our breeders, and one of the largest chameleons in the world. This species can be somewhat defensive and aggressive, but generally thrive in captivity. We have bred thousands of them over the years.

Male veiled chameleons can reach lengths of up to two feet with females being slightly smaller (approximately 18 inches in length). Hatchlings start off life at about three inches long, and do quite well right off the bat.

The life span of the veiled chameleon varies. Generally, males that are well cared for will live anywhere from five to eight years, whereas females will live shorter lives ranging from four to six years. This is because the process of reproducing takes a toll on the female, even if she just lays infertile egg clutches (much like a chicken).

large chamaeleo calyptratus
Some veiled chameleons can have attitude like this guy. He got stressed out when we tried to help him with those little pieces of shed skin behind his head.

3. Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

Number three on our list of the largest chameleons is the Oustalet’s. Also called the Malagasy Giant Chameleon, Oustalet’s chameleons (pronounced as “Ooh-stuh-lay”) can reach up to 27 inches long! Females are smaller and generally won’t surpass two feet in length. It’s interesting to note that although not the largest chameleon in terms of body mass, these guys are only surpassed by Parson’s chameleons in terms of length.

large oustalets chameleon
This female Oustalet’s Chameleon is slightly smaller than most males, but are still large as a species.

While they tend to stay in the brown color spectrum range, like all chameleons, Oustalet’s chameleons can adapt their coloration based upon moods and can exhibit blacks, rusty oranges, and sometimes even blues. Females tend to be brighter and more colorful than males. Males also have more pronounced head crests and ridge spines than the females.

furcifer oustaleti
This female Oustalet’s is currently our best eater–she’s always ravenous.

Probably due to their large size, these chameleons have voracious appetites. They will eat normal chameleon fare such as insects, but are adept hunters and will consume smaller lizards (including smaller chameleons) and even birds in the wild.  The Backwater Reptiles Oustalet’s chameleons are fun to feed because they will snatch mealworms, crickets, and other large invertebrates from your hand. You’d be surprised how long their tongues are! The most aggressive feeding chameleon we have is our adult female Oustalet’s breeder (we crossed her with a Panther cham too).

2. Meller’s Chameleon (Chamaeleo melleri)

Meller’s Chameleon (AKA the “Bird-Eating Chameleon” and the “Giant One-Horned Chameleon”) is known to reach approximately two feet in length.

chamaeleo melleri

These chameleons are recognizable by their brilliant green, yellow, and black coloring, large occipital lobes (crest behind the ears), and single rostral horn (nose horn).

large mellers chameleon
Notice the nose horn and large occipital lobes on this light-colored Meller’s Chameleon.

One thing to watch out for with melleri chameleons is dehydration, so watch for sunken eyes or wrinkly, saggy skin and be sure to maintain proper humidity in their environment.

Meller's bird eating chameleon
When Meller’s Chameleons are threatened or stressed, they tend to exhibit bright green and black dots. They are large chameleons sometimes called “Bird-eaters.”

A fun fact about Meller’s chameleons is that their tongue can extend the length of their body and sometimes even longer! As far as feeding is concerned, Meller’s will eat large insects such as super worms, horn worms, large crickets, and roaches.

The melleri species is number two on our list of the largest chameleons in the world. They are wonderful animals that are full of spunk and have tremendous grip-strength.

huge mellers chameleon
This is one of our massive Meller’s chameleons. This large species is rarely captive bred.

And the largest chameleon in the world is…

1. Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii)

Parson’s Chameleons are true giants. The largest and heftiest of all chameleons, they can attain lengths of up to 28 inches and weigh anywhere from a pound to two pounds – basically they can be the size of a small house cat! It’s not just their impressive length, but their solid mass as well.

parsons chameleon - world's largest
The world’s largest chameleon is the Parson’s. Here is one of our female Yellow-lipped Parson’s chams.

Variable in color, males have ridges running from the side of their eyes down to their noses which form two blunt horns. Females don’t have horns, but do have small head crests and often times nose “bumps” on the tips of their noses.

parsons chameleon eggs
A collage of our female Yellow-Lipped Parson’s Chameleon and the 68 eggs she laid for us!

Parson’s are much less common within the pet reptile market, due to more strict regulations regarding their export, and the small number of captive breedings. Captive-bred animals are particularly valuable due to their rarity and lack of parasites. That’s why we were super excited to have our very own clutch of 68 Yellow-Lipped Parson’s eggs laid this year at Backwater Reptiles! If all goes well, we should have some babies born in 14-16 months. Fingers crossed.

If any of these chameleons interests you, we currently have all of these large chameleon species for sale.

Ten Pygmy Chameleon Facts

Unique in many ways, and we’re going to list the top ten Pygmy chameleon facts. When most people think of a chameleon, the animal that comes to their mind is a bright, color-changing lizard with a curlicue tail and eyes that can move in opposite directions. However, at Backwater Reptiles, we have some pygmy chameleons that don’t adhere to the chameleon “stereotype.” This blog entry is dedicated to shedding light on these unique little chameleons by providing readers with ten quick facts about them.

pygmy chameleon facts

1. Unlike their more colorful, larger cousins, pygmy chameleons tend to be shades of brown with various blotches, spots, and stripes. While they can still adjust their color depending on their surroundings, they do not turn shades of bright green, blue, or orange.

2. Pygmy chameleons are also known as Stump-tail chameleons because they have short, truncated tails. Because they live on leaf litter on the ground, they don’t require curly, long tails that allow them to grasp tree branches like their arboreal cousins.

rhampholean brevicaudatus
Pygmy Chameleons don’t generally exceed three inches long, making them the smallest species of chameleon in the world.

3. As their name suggests, pygmies get no larger than three and a half inches and some species will stay as small as an inch long. They also have relatively short lifespans averaging from one to three years.

4. Pygmy chameleons can be housed communally. Provided they live in an enclosure with enough space, food, and humidity, they will coexist happily.

tiny chameleon

5. When keeping pygmies in captivity, horizontal space is more important than vertical space. These little guys are not big on climbing like most arboreal chameleons. It’s also a great idea to have lots of floor roaming space if you have more than one male in a single enclosure because it gives them territory to “claim” and less chance  to encounter each other and engage in aggressive behavior.

pygmy chameleon
Pygmies require high levels of humidity. This guy’s enclosure was just misted, so he’s a little bit wet.

6. Pygmies are avid breeders and because they can be housed together, you’ll need to watch out for gravid females. You can tell when a female is gravid because, like a pregnant human, she will swell up really large in the tummy region. Make sure you watch gravid females closely as it’s not necessary to move pygmies to a separate laying bin when it’s time to lay eggs.  The substrate kept year-round in a pygmies’ enclosure should be moist enough and provide enough digging depth for a female to deposit her eggs.

7. Juvenile and baby pygmy chameleons should be fed as many pinhead crickets a they can consume daily. Adults should be consuming approximately four to six small crickets every other day.

bearded pygmy cham
The tiniest chameleon we bet you’ll ever see! They require tiny food items such as 1/8″ crickets and hydei fruit flies.

8. When frightened, pygmies can vibrate or buzz in order to attempt to intimidate other chameleons or predators. They definitely aren’t lacking in the personality department.

9. Because they live in leaf litter, pygmies do everything they can to camouflage in with the leaves. Interestingly enough, they can compress their bodies and flatten out to resemble a dead leaf and believe us when we say that if they don’t want to be found, sometimes it’s hard to see them even when they’re right in front of your face!

10. Pygmy chameleons make great pets! Pygmies are usually pretty docile and don’t mind being handled by people. Just be aware of the animal’s posture and behavior while handling because like most chameleons, stress is dangerous to their health.

Pygmy Chameleon - Rhampholeon sp.
This pygmy chameleon thinks he’s a jewel thief! 🙂

If you are interested in owning a tiny, unique, and quirky animal, Backwater Reptiles has pygmy chameleons for sale. We bet you’re going to want multiples. 😉