Introduction to the Veiled Chameleon
Veiled Chameleons compete with the Panther Chameleon for being the most commonly found species in captivity. Their general hardiness combined with ease of reproducing has made this chameleon accessible to many people. Physically, they are an impressive chameleon with bright colors and a huge casque on their head.
Chamaeleo calyptratus, the Veiled Chameleon, is native to Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula. The species is actually comprise of two subspecies, Chamaeleo calyptratus calyptratus and Chamaeleo calyptratus calcarifer. C.c.calcarifer is non-existent in captivity and any reference to Chamaeleo calyptratus, at least at this point in time, refers to the C. calyptratus calyptratus subspecies.
The Veiled Chameleon is found during the wet season in “Wadis” which are valleys carved into the mountains. The rains transform these valleys into a lush oasis of plant life and rivers hidden away from the harsh desert environment that Yemen is usually thought of. Upon hatching into this paradise, the veiled chameleon babies are in a race against time to grow, mate, and lay eggs before the dry season comes and turns the oasis barren again. Thus, nature has given these babies a voracious appetite and the ability to become sexually mature within six months. During the wet season they live in vegetation so dense that travelers searching for them have difficulty. But when the dry season hits and the trees lose their leaves adults can easily be seen as evidenced by numerous videos posted online. Unfortunately, these videos do not show the proper living conditions and are actually showing chameleons on their way to dying from hunger and exposure.
Veiled Chameleons are hardy chameleons and have established themselves in Florida and there are reports of feral populations on Hawaii. The bloodlines of these populations are limited and there are characteristics that lead some to believe we are seeing results of inbreeding.
The pet trade remains active with Veiled Chameleons and they are commonly found in the reptile section of pet stores or at reptile shows. Wild caught specimens from Florida are available, but fresh bloodlines from Yemen have been difficult to obtain due to political unrest and civil war which continues at the time of this writing.
The author with a Veiled Chameleon found in Florida
The Translucent or Pied morph of veiled chameleon is a color variety that has been encouraged in captivity. It is characterized by patches of white, pink, and black colors. Although there have been concerns of its ability to survive normal UVB, breeders of this morph report that there appears to be no difference in behavior or health between normal and translucent animals.
Other morphs have been named for differently colored individuals, but none have established themselves significantly.
Veiled Chameleons have dramatic and distinct personalities. They are often described as cranky and aggressive. Some, though, are more shy than aggressive and a precious few are actually friendly. They can be tamed to some extent which is determined by their individual personality. As with all chameleons, each one is an individual. The defining characteristic of the Veiled Chameleon is how pronounced their personalities are!
Interaction with their keeper is highly dependent on their personality. It is often difficult to get them out of their cage as they gape, hiss (which is really a loud breathing), and are not shy about biting the invading hand.
Male and Female Veiled Chameleons
It is simple to tell males from female from hatching. The most distinctive mark is that males will have a tarsal spur which is an easily noticeable growth coming from the back of their rear feet. As the chameleons mature the males will become more brightly colored and their casque will become more defined. Males will grow larger than females.
Females are prone to lay eggs. Although their bodies are designed to lay eggs and they are able to do so without an issue, poor captive husbandry complicates the situation. The voracious appetite coupled with our desire to feed anything that is hungry produces egg binding which can be deadly. If you have a female then follow the husbandry requirements closely.
The picture to the right shows the difference from a fully grown adult male (top) and an adult female (bottom).
When a female Veiled Chameleon is gravid (successfully mated) she makes no doubt about it and males who do not get the hint are greeted with a dramatic flaring, gaping, and black body with yellow and blue spots.
A male (top) and the female (bottom) showing non-gravid colors. This female has actually just recently laid eggs when this picture was taken.
Veiled Chameleon Care Summary
The Veiled Chameleon Care Summary distills the most important aspects of husbandry care into an easily referenced handout. But chameleon care is, unfortunately, much more involved than can be presented on a summary sheet. Therefore, you may use this sheet as a reference and return to this page where we will go over each and every aspect that is on the summary sheet in detail.
Cage Type and Size
The minimum cage size for both males and females that allows the creation of a suitable environment is 2’ x 2’ x 4’ tall, but males, especially, get to a size where a wider cage would be appreciated. Since they are comfortable in 70s F to low 80s F temperature, which matches our home comfort levels, a screen cage is often a good choice for cage type, but to produce the high nighttime humidity a hybrid cage with three solid sides is effective.
A cage at least 30″ wide will provide the extra space to make males less cramped.
House males and females separately.
Veiled Chameleons are housed in the Forest Edge style cage interior. Even though they seem to have aggressive personalities, this is often just how they show their shyness. A forest edge cage provides the open basking area and the densely leafy area where they can retreat to, hide, and feel safe. This retreat area is critical for their well being. Notice in the pair of cages shown here that there are distinct open and leafy areas. This is what a Forest Edge cage will look like. The most overlooked aspect of a chameleon cage is the visual retreat where the chameleon can hide away when they desire privacy. This is critical for creating an effective chameleon environment.
Ambient temperature is what most of the cage will read. If you have a screen cage this reading will be suspiciously similar to your room conditions. The basking bulb creates a warm microclimate that will dissipate in a relatively short distance.
Veiled Chameleons are curious beasts. They are hatched into a beautiful paradise and are killed by the harshest of conditions 6-9 months later. Yet, somehow, they have developed the ability to withstand temperatures over 100F/40C and can survive down to freezing. Of course, we want to give them what is optimal temperatures and for this we look deep inside the trees they spend most of their time in and the travelers to Yemen have found a very comfortable mid-70s environment which corresponds quite nicely with our comfort level! Thus room temperature is good for an ambient temperature for Veiled Chameleons. At night time there is a drop. Even though they are from similar elevations, Veiled Chameleons do not seem to need this drop as much as Jackson’s Chameleons do. So you are fine letting them work with the natural temperature drop at night. But there is no need for external heat at night. In fact, I would suggest erring on the side of colder than warmer when thinking about night time temperatures.
A low nighttime temperature is normal and healthy for your Veiled Chameleon. But your chameleon will need to warm up in the morning to get a good start on the day. In the wild, chameleons look to the sun rise and bask until their body temperature is sufficient for optimal hunting, digestion, and general function.
In captivity we give them this warm up through a basking bulb which is usually an incandescent bulb shining on their basking branch.
We need to be careful when setting up this bulb as it is very easy to burn your chameleon. Chameleons do not seem to have a keen sense of when they are being burned. Veiled Chameleons, especially, are prone to this due to their high casque that is much closer to the light than their body. And this is the reason that we will be encouraging basking bulbs to be mounted above the cage instead of on the cage top. The closer to the bulb, the more difference in temperature can happen in an inch. The ideal scenario is to have a higher wattage bulb further away. This produces a wider, and “gentler” heated area that has no burn risk.
For temperature we are looking for something in the mid to upper 80s. But the exact temperature is not that important. It is more important to set it up so you feel a warm and gentle heat on the back of your hand when you place it where the top of the head of your chameleon would be when he is basking. Your main purpose is to set up a safe temperature to start with and then you will adjust the bulb distance based on your chameleon’s behavior. If your chameleon shows the following behaviors, bring the bulb closer
- huddling under the bulb for more than 30 minutes
- hanging from the top screen panel under the bulb
- remaining dark and lethargic. After basking, they should take on resting colors.
There is a huge warning for Veiled Chameleon owners. Although all chameleons can fall victims to burns from their basking lamp, Veiled Chameleons are especially prone to this due to their high casque. You must ensure that the area where their casque extends into is still a safe temperature. I suggest not allowing a temperature over 90F into the cage. The issue with relying on behaviors as a signal to move the bulb further away is that they generally are physical damage to the body such as gray burned areas, open wounds, and melted back spines. And it is concerning how long this kind of situation goes on before the keeper realizes what is going on. So this means the chameleon is basking even though it is too hot. Thus it is better to start too low rather than too high. The mid 80s is safe to start off with. Hold your hand there for a minute. Is it a pleasant warming experience? If so, then that is a good place to start.
Veiled Chameleons experience high humidity nights and mid to low humidity days. A nighttime humidity of 75% to 100% and then a drop to 40-50% during the day will allow them to engage in their natural humidity cycle. The exact numbers are not critical. There are two important aspects. 1) during high humidity times keep the air moving. Often cages are modified to enclose sides to impede airflow so a fogger can increase humidity. In this case have a ceiling fan or computer fan mounted to the top of the cage make sure that the “fog bank” circulates. Stagnant air, regardless of how humid, is unhealthy. 2) All surfaces must be dry during the day. Even if humidity is higher than the numbers listed, if the surfaces are dry then there shouldn’t be a health problem. It is when surfaces, such as the branches the chameleon climbs on are constantly wet the feet get sores and bacteria/fungus/mold is able to take a hold.
Veiled Chameleons take the standard bright light that we put on our chameleon cages. A quad High Output T5 fixture the width of your cage with four 6500K fluorescent bulbs will light a 4’ tall cage nicely. A 12 hours on and 12 hours off cycle is used. You may replicate the annual increase and decrease of daylight as it is in Yemen, but since the lifecycle of the Veiled Chameleon generally ends at the end of the wet season, evolution has not had a chance to utilize day length as a marker for any behavior (as far as we know).
Your chameleon will need it bright inside his cage. The biggest cage deficiency behind no hiding place, is insufficient light where, when you look at the cage, the chameleon looks like it is in a cave with a skylight. A bright cage will allow plants to grow and your environment to be vibrant.
Natural sunlight through a window is excellent, but dangerous. Sunlight tends to be too powerful and could overheat your chameleon. Be careful with sunlight.
The most effective and reliable way to producing UVB for your chameleon is with linear T5 high output fluorescent tubes. These bulbs may go into a multi-bulb fixture, but are most effective in a single bulb reflector. I highly recommend using a single bulb reflector for your UVB source as it gives you not only the full power of the bulb (your UVB gets soaked up by other bulbs), but it gives you full control over the UVB strength that hits the basking area depending on how high you raise the fixture above the cage. But if a multi-bulb fixture is the only option then you simply get a high power UVB bulb.
Experiments have shown that a UVI of 3 at the Veiled Chameleon’s basking branch allows for sufficient vitamin D3 synthesis. This is generally what you can generate using a T5 HO Arcadia 6% or Zoomed Reptisun 5.0 in a single bulb reflector at a basking branch 6″ inches from the light going through a standard screen cage top panel. If you are using a multi bulb fixture the rough estimate is to jump up to the 12% or 10.0. These numbers are all general estimates as each reflector will have it’s own reflection properties and each bulb will have different strength depending on age. Luckily, this does not have to be an exact value. Ballpark is fine!
UVB Meters are an expensive piece of equipment, but are a valuable tool in setting up your chameleon’s environment. If you can get one – do it!
Setting up the lighting and hydration schedule
When we set up our daily schedule we are attempting to replicate the wild conditions that the chameleon has grown to expect. Let’s start at midnight.
At midnight the chameleon has been asleep for many hours. It is dark and, although the moon waxes and wanes, chameleons will seek out dark places to sleep. They see light of all colors just fine and any light can disturb their rest.
As the early morning progresses the humidity rises. Fog banks can start to form and the chameleon is breathing in moist air. Pictures from Yemen show thick clouds obscuring the valleys, or “wadis”, that the Veiled Chameleons live in. This high humidity forms an important part in their natural hydration. To simulate this, we turn ultrasonic humidifiers on around 2AM. The fog from the humidifiers tends to bounce off of surfaces and roll out the cage so we run the misting system for a couple of minute to coat the cage in a layer of water. This helps the fogger be more effective and the fog tends to stick around. The fogger is left on until just before the lights come on so the chameleon can breathe in the humidity. Just before the lights come on the misters are run for another couple of minute to make sure that when the chameleon wakes up it wakes up to surfaces covered in “dew”. This is a natural source of water for them even in their dry season. Once the dew is laid down the lights can come on.
Around 7AM the daylights come on. This can include the UVB light if they are the same fixture. If they are separate fixtures then save turning the UVB light on to correspond to when the basking bulb is switched on. I like to leave the daylight bulbs on for 15 or so minutes to give the chameleon a chance to leisurely lick whatever dew they want. I then turn the basking bulb on so they can warm themselves up.
As the ambient temperatures start to warm there is no longer the need for a basking lamp and it is shut off. The chart shows it going off at 10:30AM. The actual time that the basking lamp is on will depend on your chameleon’s needs. Watch the behavior. If the routinely get the warmth they need in 30 minutes and then climb away with content colors to hunt then reduce your basking time to that time that they make use of the warmth. If they need the warmth for a longer period of time then leave the basking bulb on longer or consider increasing the temperature slightly. Watch your chameleon and they will tell you what they need.
Sometime during the day start your dripper. This is a backup hydration strategy just to make sure they have enough water. While it is true they do not have drippers every day in the wild during the dry season, they also are not needing to reconstitute dry calcium powder on all their feeders. The advantage of running a dripper is that it is completely optional for them and, as a bonus, it also allows you the opportunity to ensure your plants get watered. Place it above a different plant each day and through out the week, all plants will get watered. It is not critical when you start the dripper. In this schedule I have it in the late afternoon so that the chameleon can rehydrate before the evening rest. I suggest starting the dripper an hour or so after feeding them so they can replenish what they need. In the wild, their food is a major source of hydration. We mess that up a bit with our powders and a dripper is a way we make up for that.
Once the chameleon settles in and goes to sleep I like to have a couple minutes misting just to set up the night humidity.
You’ll notice there are no daytime mistings. Although this is common in chameleon husbandry I am transitioning my mistings to the sleep hours. Chameleons have been consistent in their communicating that they do not like being sprayed. I have given up deciding I know what is best for them and started to listen to them. The morning dew and the afternoon dripper provide the necessary hydration in a natural way. With those provided there just isn’t a need to force them into a shower in the middle of the day.
Veiled Chameleons are voracious eaters. It is important that their food intake be monitored. The job of the babies is to grow as fast as possible so as babies they should be fed as much as they can eat. But between 6 and 9 months old, reduce feeding to five food items every other day. Once they are adult you can cut it further back to three well gutloaded and supplemented food items every other day. Obesity in Veiled Chameleons is a common and serious ailment. And it can be deadly for females. Excess food will result in more eggs being developed and the fat pads around the hips enlarged. The enlarged fat pads can put pressure on the oviduct and make it difficult to pass the eggs. With the egg load too high and unable to pass the chameleon can easily die from egg binding. This is preventable through a disciplined diet. Once it is obvious that the female is gravid, though, you can increase the food items to as much as she will eat. Once her body has already determined how many eggs will be used, then it is important to give her the all the nutrients necessary to create healthy eggs. This should only last a month. Once eggs are laid, give her a week of as much as she will eat to recover. And then you can return to the 3 pieces/every other day routine.
Veiled Chameleons are one of the few chameleon species that are known to graze on their cage plants. In the wild, their food, as babies, is reported to consist of caterpillars and soft food items. The plant matter is used as roughage to help the digesting mass through the system. As this is during the wet season there is no reason to need to eat plants for moisture and insects are plentiful so there is no nutrition known that they need from these plants. In your cage you may find your pothos or umbrella plant having a triangle bite taken out of it. This is normal and not dangerous. Though do not offer fruits. Even though Veiled Chameleons will eat greens and fruits they are not necessary to feed. Especially avoid feeding fruit which is filled with sugars.
Do not take the measure of what a Veiled Chameleon will eat to equal what is good for them. They will eat just about anything – even things that are not food. They are an eat first, ask questions later type animal.
Introduction to Supplementation
Supplementation is one of the least defined aspects of chameleon husbandry. We literally do not know what they need. We are guessing. The best we can do is try to get as close to their natural processes as possible and test regimens out.
There will be a number of approaches that work. The bottom line test is whether it produces a healthy, long lived chameleon. If it does then it is valid!
The Chameleon Academy Supplementation Approach
The supplementation routine chosen for our recommendation is designed to use be as close to nature as we can with what we know now. According to what we (think we) know, chameleons do not get a significant amount of vitamin D3 or vitamin A in their diet. Vitamin D3 comes from UVB and Vitamin A comes from…somewhere. We are still working out those details. Thus it is simple to know how to remove dietary D3. We provide sufficient UVB exposure. Removing preformed vitamin A from the diet is a bit tricky as some breeders can have generations of healthy babies with no dietary preformed vitamin A, while others will encounter birth defects, low survivability, and eye health issues unless preformed vitamin A is added. Thus, vitamin A remains a major hole in our understanding of chameleon nutrition. The most obvious suspect is the carotenoids within the gutloaded insects. Many animals use these to create vitamin A. A study done showed that beta carotene, the most commonly converted carotenoid in humans, was not, at least in isolation, converted by panther chameleons. More study will have to be done to determine which of (or if) the other carotenoids are being converted. But there is no known consistent source of preformed vitamin A in the wild chameleons’ diet. So it has to come from somewhere.
The Chameleon Academy supplementation schedule relies on 1) the presence of UVB in the strength of at least UV Index 3 for D3 conversion and 2) a rich gutload of feeder insects.
The Pre-Requisite of UVB levels at UV Index 3
The Chameleon Academy Supplementation Routine relies heavily on the chameleon producing its own Vitamin D3 from UVB exposure. This uses the natural body mechanisms designed for this purpose. This is highly desirable as vitamin D3 is fat soluble and can be overdosed and can cause serious health issues. Going through the natural process has a natural cut off where the body will stop producing D3 when it has enough. It maintains optimal levels in a way that we have no possible way of replicating. With sufficient UVB, dietary D3 may be removed from the regimen. Until more information is known, I am recommending two dustings a month of Repashy Calcium Plus LoD with that moderate amount of D3 as an insurance policy. I look forward to being able to remove that recommendation!
The Pre-Requisite of Gutloaded Feeders
In all instances, feeders should be richly gutloaded with a variety of fruits and grains. They must be cared for with proper heat and even, we are learning, exposure to UVB. This creates the most healthy, nutrition packed feeder for your chameleon. Supplements are just that – a supplement to a properly gutloaded, healthy feeder insect. Supplements will not make up for a poorly fed feeder insect. Every supplementation routine requires a properly gutloaded feeder insect.
Supplementation for Every Feeding
Calcium will be given every feeding. Calcium is all around our world. Chameleons take in calcium through diet so this is the natural way they get it. And unused calcium flows through the digestive tract and out the other end so there is not a danger of overdose due to feeding too much calcium. Therefore we will dust each feeding with calcium.
The every feeding supplement should be, at least, plain calcium. I have chosen the Arcadia EarthPro-A supplement as the every-feeding supplement because
- No D3 and no vitamin A. Therefore there are no fat soluble vitamins to overdose or cause edema.
- Bee pollen ingredient. This “superfood” is a natural component in a chameleon’s diet. Although we keepers are generally panicked when a bee gets near our chameleon, do you notice how quickly they run over to eat it? They know they are getting good nutrition from this food item. (and, no, the stinger does not cause an issue in digestion)
- Rich carotenoids included. We do not know which carotenoid(s) chameleons use as their pro-vitamin A (what they use to create retinol – also known as vitamin A), but the special focus of EarthPro-A to include a wide variety of carotenoids without relying on Beta Carotene is our best option to work this problem out. If we are to remove pre-formed vitamin A out of the diet, EarthPro-A is the best hope of all the available supplements.
An alternative, if the Arcadia EarthPro-A is not available is to use bee pollen and calcium powder mixed together. Bee pollen does not stick on its own and mixing bee pollen powder with calcium powder or crushing up bee pollen granules with calcium powder will produce an effective (and well tested) every day powder supplement. If bee pollen is not available then the third choice would be to dust with plain calcium. Remember to get calcium without D3.
Supplementation Twice A Month.
Although my ultimate goal is to remove all preformed vitamin A from the diet, I am not to the point where I can be comfortable advising a supplementation routine without vitamin A which I can be confident will work in most cases. To be clear, there are breeders who are maintaining their massive collections without pre-formed vitamin A. And, as soon as I can recreate their success repeatedly across the most common species, I will excitedly remove pre-formed vitamin A from my recommendation! But I must do more testing across entire lifecycles of diverse species before I can celebrate that success. Thus, until I, personally, crack that code and can share the solution, I must recommend a bi-weekly supplementation of a supplement that contains retinol, also known as pre-formed vitamin A.
We have to be careful on this one as many manufacturers claim to have vitamin A, but what they really have is beta-carotene which is that carotenoid that we humans use to convert into retinol. We chameleon keepers have that study that, unfortunately, suggests that beta carotene is not effective for us. Though this study was done for panther chameleons. We do not know how similar chameleons from other genus are. So you have to look at the ingredients list to verify that is really in there. I will be recommending the Repashy Calcium Plus LoD because it has both vitamin A and relatively low levels of Vitamin D3. While we really do not know how much vitamin A is safe, by using the lower dose we have a finer control over how much is being given if we have to adjust our dosage due to individual animal sensitivities.
A nutrition regimen consisting of Arcadia Earthpro-A, Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, a UV Index of 3, and richly gutloaded feeder insects will provide nutrition for a chameleon over each of its life stages.
Supplementation is just one component of the nutrition strategy. You must also have both a UV Index of 3 and feeder insects that are richly gutloaded for the Chameleon Academy supplementation regimen to work properly.
The Arcadia EarthPro-A supplement was chosen as the every-feeding supplement because, in addition to calcium and basic B vitamins, it has bee pollen and carotenoids as major components. Bee pollen is a natural superfood while these carotenoids are the best chance we have of cracking the mystery of the vitamin A cycle in chameleons.
Repashy Calcium Plus LoD was chosen for the vitamin A requirement because it is one of the few vitamin supplements that has vitamin A in the retinol stage (preformed) and not beta carotene which appears to not be effective in chameleons.
Breeding Veiled Chameleons
This is an egg laying species. Mating consists of the standard male bobbing his head and the female communicating whether she is receptive or not. A receptive female will allow the male to mount her. A non receptive female will gape, threaten, and bite the male depending on his instance. If the female is gravid she will take a black color with yellow and blue spots to accompany the unmistakable body language saying she is gravid.
Gestation after a successful mating is about one month at which time the female will dig a hole to lay her eggs. The laying site should be in soil or a sand/soil mixture that will hold its shape. The laying receptacle can be a regular flower pot or bin of soil. It is important that this bin not be more than 9” deep. The ideal egg laying is where the female has her head just above the ground when she has turned to deposit the eggs in the hole she dug. She is looking for a solid surface under the ground (presumably the harder layers under the earth) to lay her eggs against. If given “perfect” soil conditions and no “imperfect” hard layer to lay against she will continue to dig which results in a tunneling behavior and the danger of tunnel collapse. The behavior of digging deep has been misinterpreted as the desire to dig deep and keepers then fall into the trap of giving the chameleon much deeper bins and that much more to exhaust themselves digging through.
Although wild clutches range about 30 eggs, the imbalance of food in captivity leads to massive clutches of 60 or more. This is not healthy for the female so healthy food intake before she is gravid is important. The eggs can be left where they are or moved to an incubator where they can hatch in 7-9 months at 72F. There have been a wide range of incubation strategies and temperatures that have proven successful with incubation times that range from six to 16 months.
The babies hatch ready to eat you out of house and home.
The ease and the numbers at which Veiled Chameleons reproduce has driven prices and demand down quite a bit to the point where many experienced breeders do not breed Veiled Chameleons. Breeding Veiled Chameleons is an easy way to try chameleon breeding, but it is also a difficult way as the number of babies becomes very expensive quickly. If you intend to try breeding make sure you have a sales plan. The babies can be aggressive with each other so make sure you also have a housing plan if you have to separate babies.