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Veiled Chameleon

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Chameleon Breeding Program at Taronga Zoo Ian Waldie/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Scientific Name:

Chamaeleo calyptratus. Also known as the Yemen chameleon.

Life Span: approximately 5 years in captivity.

Size:

Veiled chameleon males can reach 18-24 inches in total length (about 12 inches snout to vent length), while females tend to be quite a bit smaller at 10-13 inches (just 4-6 inches in snout to vent length).

Appearance:

The veiled chameleon has a large, tall casque, or helmet-like structure on the top of their head. It is present in both males and females, though it is larger in males. Their bodies are banded in shades of green, yellow and brown.

Temperament:

Veiled chameleons are territorial and aggressive to other chameleons, and should be housed individually. While they are usually quite docile towards people, handling tends to be stressful. As with other chameleons, they are pets that are better suited be being watched rather than handled a lot.

Housing:

Chameleons should never be kept in a glass terrarium - they need the ventilation provided by a mesh enclosure (fine metal or fiberglass mesh is not recommended; PVC coated hardware cloth is good). Vertical space is essential and a cage size of 36 inches by 24 inches by 36-48 inches tall is recommended (the bigger and taller the better - chameleons like to climb high up off the ground). An outdoor cage can be used when the weather is warm enough, as long as over heating is prevented.

Substrate:

Cleanliness in the cage is vital, to prevent bacterial or mold grouth. Using paper towels or newspaper to line the cage makes cleaning easiest. Potted plants can be placed on a plain paper substrate for easier cleaning while still allowing live planting in the cage. Do not use wood chips or any other substrate that could be accidentally ingested and cause blockages.

Cage Furnishings:

Provide lots of sturdy non-toxic plants and branches. Ficus trees have often been used in chameleon housing, but require some caution as the sap can be irritating. Other plants you could try include pothos, hibiscus, and dracaena. Artificial plants may also be added, and artificial vines are a great addition. A good selection of branches (of different diameters) should be provided, making sure there are secure perches at different levels and temperatures within the cage.

Temperature:

For veiled chameleons a daytime temperature gradient of about 80-90 F (26-32 C) should be provided, with a basking spot at 95 F (35 C). At night, they should have a temperature drop of about 10-15 F (5-10 C). If your home doesn't drop below 65-70 F (18-21 C) at night, heating at night isn't necessary. Heating is best accomplished by a basking or incandescent light in a reflector or a ceramic heat element, any of which should be placed outside of the cage to prevent burns.

Lighting:

Chameleons need an ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source, so invest in a good bulb such as the Zoomed's Reptisun 5.0. Keep the UV light on for 10-12 hours per day. Remember these bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months. Chameleons also benefit from spending time outdoors in natural sunlight when the temperatures are warm enough (but beware of over heating -- make sure shade is always available).

Humidity and Hydration:

Veiled chameleons need a moderate humidity level (around 50 percent). Misting the plants twice daily will help with humidity levels, and a drip or misting system is also recommended. Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl, but they will lap up droplets of water off plants, so the misting/drip system also serves as a water source. Position a drip system so the water droplets cascade over the plants in the enclosure. Invest in a hygrometer to measure humidity.

Feeding

Veiled chameleons are mostly insectivores so should be fed a variety of insects, but will often consume vegetation as well. Crickets are usually the mainstay of the diet, but locusts, roaches, butterworms (good for calcium), silkworms, flies, and grasshoppers can be fed, as well as mealworms, superworms and waxworms (in limited quantities as high in fat). Be wary of wild-caught insects due to possible exposure to pesticides, and avoid fireflies. All insects should be gut loaded (fed fresh veggies and vitamin/minerals) before feeding. In addition, many veiled chameleons will also eat a bit of plant matter (including live plants in the cage, so it is vital that only non toxic plants are used). You can offer small amounts of vegetables and fruits such as dandelion leaves, collard greens, kale, diced zucchini, butternut squash, red pepper, blueberries, thin slices of apple or pear, etc. Monitor your chameleon and adjust feeding amounts as needed (if many insects are left uneaten or your chameleon is too full-bodied, back off the amount fed). Never leave live prey in the cage for extended periods as insects may attack the chameleon.

Vitamin supplementation is a a controversial area. Make sure you gut load your insects well, and it prudent to dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (e.g. Rep-Cal) two to three times a week, and use a broad vitamin mineral supplement once a week. Some experts recommend choosing a supplement that does not contain vitamin A (use beta carotene instead).

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