How to Set Up a Chameleon Cage Habitat

We love chameleons at Backwater Reptiles. In fact, we specialize in these quirky, colorful, and always fascinating lizards. If you’re wondering how to setup a chameleon cage habitat or enclosure, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve bred and hatched thousands of chameleons over the years, everything from common species to extremely rare. We’re experts on everything from breeding, feeding, and even hydrating these reptiles and we’re going to pass our knowledge on to you!

Many people are drawn to the bright complexions of chameleons and their ability to alter their color, but they don’t always take the time to research and find out the specific needs of their new pet lizard.

What might seem like common sense to experienced herpers is often like learning a foreign language to new reptile enthusiasts. They often need help getting started. That’s where this blog article comes in!

Not only will we provide written instructions on how to set up your pet chameleon’s enclosure, we’ll explain to you why things need to be done this way. And we’ve even thrown in a video tutorial for good measure!

So read on to find out how we set up our chameleon cages at Backwater Reptiles as well as learn some tips and tricks even if you are an experienced chameleon owner.

Overview of setting up your chameleon’s cage

Before you get into the nitty gritty specifics as detailed in writing below, we wanted to give you the chance to watch a video we made detailing how to set up the perfect enclosure for your pet chameleon. Watch the tutorial video and then read our FAQs for even more details!

What type of cage should I get for my chameleon?

Unlike many species of reptiles which will thrive in glass tanks, all chameleons (with the exception of the pygmy chameleon) should have a mesh or screen cage.

Although there are cages that have mixed glass and mesh walls, we recommend an enclosure that is completely screens with no glass walls to ensure your pet chameleon’s optimum health.

Are you wondering why your chameleon should have a mesh cage? The answer is simple really – ventilation. A glass cage prevents air from circulating properly and creates a stagnant environment within the chameleon’s home.

If the air doesn’t circulate properly, your chameleon can develop a respiratory infection due to stagnant, humid air. Once an infection takes hold, they’re not easy to eliminate.

If you’re wondering where to find a specialty chameleon cage, you can purchase them right on our website–the same ones we use so successfully. Each chameleon page has a supplies section if you scroll-down just a bit.

Many types and brands of chameleon cages exist, but we usually go for ones that give easy access to the animal with secure latches and swinging doors on the front. Some will also have sliding screen tops, although we prefer the front access kind.

simple chameleon cage setup
This is a classic chameleon cage. Notice how it has an aluminum (no corrosion) frame and all screen walls. Chameleon cages shouldn’t have glass walls to encourage air circulation.

Usually we also prefer mesh cages that have two separate swinging front doors – a larger top door for gaining access to your chameleon itself and a smaller, lower door. The lower door is opened to slide out your cage liner so you can wipe up dead insects and any feces that might collect.

Backwater Reptiles has a simple selection of cages and cage requirements that you can purchase at the same time you buy your pet chameleon. As mentioned, just scroll down a bit on any of our chameleon pages.

What size enclosure should my chameleon have?

Most chameleons are relatively small lizards with the exception of a few species such as Oustalets chameleons (Furcifer oustaleti), Parson’s chameleons (Calumma parsonii), and Mellers chameleons (Chamaeleo melleri). This means that you can house most species in small to medium-sized cages.

Babies and juveniles obviously don’t need as much space as their adult counterparts. In fact, we recommend smaller cages for babies because it can be hard for them to find their food source (i.e. catch the tiny crickets and fruit flies that they eat) in such a large cage.

However, there are certain instances where you can get one size cage and keep it for the entirety of your chameleon’s life.

Most common species of adult chameleons that are kept as pets such as Jackson’s chameleons (Chamaeleo jacksonii), Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), and Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) do just fine with a mid-size cage.

We recommend an enclosure that is eighteen inches deep by eighteen inches wide and thirty-six inches tall for sub-adults and adults. However, smaller cages can be used successfully.

Panther chameleon cage
Here’s one of our more prolific Ambilobe Panther chameleon breeders (a male). Females are much less colorful–you can see one on the left side of the picture.

Notice that the cage we recommended is more tall than it is wide? That’s because chameleons are arboreal species and they will spend most (if not all) of their time up in the branches and foliage you provide for them. You’ll very rarely, if ever, see your chameleon on the floor of the cage.

This means that height is far more important than floor space when keeping a chameleon’s life style in mind. More height means that the chameleon has more room to thermoregulate.

It can choose to be up high close to the heat source and UV lights to bask or it can descend further down into the enclosure to cool off.

What kind of accessories are safe to put inside my chameleon’s enclosure?

When it comes to decor and accessorizing your chameleon’s cage, we’re of the mindset that natural is beautiful. In other words, although it might not harm your chameleon to add cute little cage decorations, there certainly is no benefit to doing so.

We prefer our set ups to mimic the conditions of the chameleon’s natural habitat as closely as possible, which means plants and vines are our go-to accessories.

We recommend either artificial or living plants as your main cage decor. This is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Chameleons needs lots of foliage to climb on as they are arboreal lizards and having plants inside the cage will satisfy this need.

Many cage set ups actually come with some artificial vines and foliage and these are perfectly acceptable options.

If you do choose to go with living plants, please make sure that you are not buying a toxic plant. Below is a list of a few species that we have used successfully in our set ups at Backwater Reptiles:

Hibiscus – This tropical plant has fairly large, green leaves and very gorgeous flowers when it blooms.

This is a mature hibiscus plant growing in the wild, but you can purchase much smaller, potted hibiscus plants from your local hardware store.

Ficus benjamina –  This species of fig is commonly known as the weeping fig, Benjamin fig, or even simpler yet, the Ficus tree. Although this “plant” will eventually grow into a tree, if you purchase a young one at a hardware store, it will last you many years inside your chameleon’s enclosure.

Pothos Plant – Considered by many to be a classic house plant, the pothos plant is very easy to care for. It will grow quickly and “outward” unless you give it something to grab on to though, so we recommend a sturdy stick or branch to make it grow upwards within your chameleon’s cage.

Schefflera arboricola – We highly recommend this species if you want living plants in your chameleon cage. This species does very well under stress and doesn’t require much care to thrive.

The verdict – although we think living plants are more aesthetically pleasing, they can also add another layer of care to your chameleon set up. Not only will you have to care for a chameleon, but you’ll also have a plant to water and provide sunshine for.

Plastic foliage requires no additional care and is also easier to spot clean for feces and dead bugs.

What type of lighting and temperatures will my chameleon need?

Make sure that you provide a UVB light for your chameleon. It should sit atop the cage. You will also need to make sure that the foliage and climbing areas within the enclosure allow the chameleon to be within six inches of the UV light.

This distance is important because you don’t want to allow the chameleon to get too close to the light because it could unintentionally burn itself. But on the opposite side of the spectrum, if your chameleon can’t get close enough to the light, it won’t be able to properly absorb the rays and synthesize the vitamins that help it to develop strong bones.

At Backwater Reptiles, we prefer to use Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 bulbs. We’ve had great success with these bulbs and we highly recommend them whenever people ask us. You can purchase the ones we use right on our website.

One quick note regarding all UV lights, whether they are used for a chameleon cage set up or for some other reptile – they need to be replaced every nine to twelve months. They lose their efficacy if you don’t replace them. We recommend changing sooner rather than later if you ever have doubts.

As far as temperature is concerned, we’ve found that room temperature tends to be just fine for most species of chameleons unless your ambient room temperature drops below seventy or above eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

You can provide a basking heat lamp in addition to a UV light. The ambient temperature around the basking area should be between one hundred and one hundred ten degrees Fahrenheit. You should invest in a reptile heat gun in order to monitor both your ambient cage temperature as well as your basking spot temperature.

Does my chameleon need a water dish?

The shortest answer to this question is no, your chameleon does not need a water dish.

Chameleons actually don’t drink water from a bowl. In fact, they will die of dehydration before drinking water from a dish. They simply won’t recognize it as a source of hydration.

How then do you get a chameleon to drink water and stay healthy and hydrated? The answer is simpler than you might think. All you need to do is regularly mist inside the cage or provide some sort of drip system on top of the cage.

Because we have many cages and many chameleons to care for, at Backwater Reptiles we have automatic misters called monsoons on top of all our chameleon enclosures. However, these are rather pricey misting systems and we only really recommend them if you have multiple animals and a very busy schedule.

If you just have a single chameleon or even a breeding pair living in a single enclosure, there are many ways to make sure your chameleon gets water. The first way is to simply manually use a spray bottle and mist the cage several times per day.

You’ll want to make sure that in addition to creating humidity, you are spritzing in areas to collect water droplets on the leaves.

chameleon drinking water
This Parson’s chameleon is lapping up water that has collected on the foliage in its enclosure.

You can also buy an inexpensive drip system from just about any pet store. These drip systems are usually tubs with a spout that allows you to control the intensity of the drip.

And if you’re real thrifty, you can even hydrate your chameleon using a small, plastic, disposable cup! All you have to do is poke a small hole in the bottom of the cup, fill it with water and set it in a place atop the mesh cage where it will drip onto leaves and create small pools of water for your chameleon to lap up.

So, we’ve learned that you can choose to hydrate your pet chameleon using several methods – manually misting, setting up an automatic mist system, or creating some sort of dripping apparatus.

However, one thing is definitely clear – a water dish is not necessary and your chameleon will not drink from it.

Conclusion – Setting up a chameleon cage

Chameleons make fantastic and rewarding pets. They are so fun to show off to friends and family and many can even be trained to eat from your hand!

Setting up a proper environment where they can thrive is paramount. We hope that this blog article has helped you out with your own chameleon’s set up, whether you’re brand new to keeping chameleons or an experienced herp enthusiast.


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.