Veiled Chameleon Care Sheet
Common names: Veiled Chameleon or Yemen Chameleon.
Scientific Name: Chamaeleo calyptratus
This is derived from the Greek word Chameleon, which roughly translates as Lion on the ground.
Description: Veiled Chameleons are an attractive, but unusual looking lizard with a ridged back, a projectile tongue and a long tail that it uses for balance. They are completely evolved for life in the trees with a single claw on each toe that allows them to grip tightly to branches. They also have eyes that can rotate independently of each other at 180° degrees, so they can potentially see in two totally different directions at any one time.
Chameleons are famous for their colour changing abilities, which are made possible by Chromatophones (pigment filled cells). They utilize their ability to change colour mainly for camouflage, but is also used in territory disputes, breeding displays and to indicate mood.
Size: Male Veiled Chameleons grow to around 60cm (24inch) in length, while females are smaller reaching only 35cm (14inch).
Life span: Veiled Chameleons live for around 4-8 Years, so are quite short lived compared to other reptilians.
Origin: Veiled Chameleons are native to Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Habitat: Veiled Chameleons are generally an arboreal species, so spend the majority of their life off the ground in bushes and shrubs. Their natural habitat includes mountainous desert and grasslands.
Things to consider before buying a Veiled Chameleon
Veiled Chameleons are not a suitable reptile for beginners and are not recommended unless you have some previous experience with lizards. Despite being quite hardy, their care requirements can be time consuming as a Yemen Chameleon needs daily attention, so it is quite a commitment for beginner enthusiasts.
Veiled Chameleons are docile towards humans, but aggressive towards one another. For this reason they should be kept singly. Veiled Chameleons will bite and butt another chameleon in a fight over territory, so it is advisable to house them separately at all times.
Adult Veiled Chameleons require an arboreal vivarium (more height than floor space), which is large (3x3x6ft recommended for adults) and well ventilated. Most keepers prefer to keep their veiled chameleon in a purpose built enclosure of mesh attached to a wooden frame, due to the ventilation requirements for this species. Stagnant air can cause a lot of health problems for your Chameleon, so if a custom built enclosure is not available, then a normal vivarium should be adapted to allow for the extra ventilation required.
Your Veiled Chameleon’s enclosure should contain:
Most substrates available for reptiles are not suitable for Chameleons, because small pieces of wood, bark, chips are an impaction risk as they can be easily ingested if your chameleon accidently hits the substrate with its sticky, projectile tongue. For this reason it is advised to either use no substrate at all within the enclosure, or to only use sheets of newspaper or kitchen roll at the bottom.
Somewhere for your Veiled Chameleon to hide.
All Lizards require somewhere to hide and may become stressed if this is not provided. In the case of Veiled Chameleons this should be in the form of live plants, foliage and sturdy branches to climb on. Some live plants may be harmful to your Veiled Chameleon, so researching reptile safe varieties is very important when using live plants. Using plastic plants to provide cover is also an option.
Any branches that are collected from the wild need to be debugged by soaking first in chlorine & water solution, rinsed thoroughly and soaked again in clean water, then left to dry in the sun before placing in your Veiled Chameleon’s enclosure.
Water & Humidity
All Lizards, including Veiled Chameleons need fresh water daily, but unlike some other species, Veiled Chameleons do not take water from a water bowl. Water should be provided by misting the enclosure a few times a day to allow your chameleon to take moisture from the droplets on the plants and branches. Alternatively a drip system commercially produced water fall can be used to meet your Veiled Chameleon’s moisture needs. A simple solution is to place a container with small holes punched into the bottom on the roof of the enclosure and fill it with water or ice. This should allow water to drip into you Veiled Chameleon’s tank slowly as the water works its way through the holes or the ice melts.
Veiled Chameleons require relative humidity (around 50-60%), but good ventilation is essential. Mould and fungus can grow within the enclosure if this ventilation is not provided, which can lead to illness for your Veiled Chameleon, who is not resilient against these organisms. Having an electronic hygrometer within the enclosure to monitor humidity levels is recommended.
Heating and Lighting
Veiled Chameleons are cold blooded and get heat from their surroundings. In the wild lizards would bask in the sun to keep warm or move to a shady spot if they are too hot, this is called thermo-regulation. The ideal temperature for you Veiled Chameleon's enclosure is a temperature of 26-30°C (79-86°F) maintained by a basking spot on the roof of the enclosure. A slight drop at night to around 19°C (66°F) is recommended to imitate the cooler night time conditions they would be accustomed to in the wild. The right sort of lighting is also critical for the health and well-being of your Veiled Chameleon, as they require full spectrum, UV-B lighting to help their bodies absorb vitamin D3.
When choosing appropriate equipment for your Veiled Chameleon enclosure, you must decide whether you are going to provide heat and UVB lighting in one unit or if you are going to run separate devices for creating the required heat and light. All equipment should be readily available from reptile specialist and online suppliers.
Basking lights are appreciated by Veiled Chameleons, who like to bask under a hot heat source during the daytime. A suitable heat emitting bulb can be placed over the enclosure and is quite safe as long as a guard if fitted to ensure your Veiled Chameleon cannot come into contact with it. Some of these bulbs can provide both sufficient heat and light, so it is important to understand the capabilities of the bulb before using within the enclosure. Additional UVA/UVB lighting may not be required if the bulb you have chosen provides this full-spectrum light. The disadvantages of using these types of bulbs are that they have a relatively short life, so need to be replaced regularly (approximately every 6 months to a year dependant on type of bulb). Using a bulb also means that to provide heat there must always be light. Veiled Chameleons only require a 12 hour photoperiod per day, so it is beneficial to allow them some hours of darkness at night. Luckily Veiled Chameleons are tolerant to a drop to normal room temperature overnight, so a secondary heat source may only be required in the winter months or in cold houses.
Another option is to provide heat using a ceramic heat bulb that produces no light, but keeps the ambient air temperature high. This would require you to provide additional UVB lighting during the day to allow your Veiled Chameleon to gain the UVB that it needs to synthesise vitamin D3. Florescent lights are a good source of UVB lighting to use with a separate heat source like a ceramic, because they do not emit too much heat, so should not affect the temperature controls within the enclosure.
All heat sources need to be controlled by a suitable thermostat and be protected by a guard. Heat bulbs usually work well on Dimmer stats, whilst Ceramic heaters require a Pulse Proportional stat. Some thermostats can be purchased that will automatically lower the temperature at night time, but these are usually a little more expensive to buy. On/off timers can also be purchased to control the hours of light, but this is a convenience device and not necessary for the safety of your Veiled Chameleon.
It's useful when using either method to have a small thermometer to check the temperature. Place the thermometer where your Veiled Chameleon will spend the majority of its time. Checking temperatures regularly is advised to ensure that your thermostat and heat sources are working and that your Veiled Chameleon can thermo-regulate by moving around the tank.
Veiled Chameleons are omnivorous, so can live on a varied diet of both appropriately sized gut-loaded insects and fresh, chopped vegetables and fruit, but not all Chameleons will take plant matter, so variety and supplementation is even more important in these instances.
Feeder insects including mealworms, crickets, grass hoppers, earthworms, waxworms, silkworms, locusts, field plankton (wild caught insects) and roaches can be fed to your Veiled Chameleon, but these should be dusted with a good D3 and calcium supplement regularly as they require a 2:1 calcium to phosphorous ratio. This is especially important as they grow from juvenile to adult as growing Veiled Chameleons require more calcium in their diet to aid healthy development. Veiled Chameleons are opportunistic feeders, so it is advisable to leave a few insects within the enclosure to stimulate naturalistic hunting, but this should be monitored as Veiled Chameleons can become obese if allowed to over-feed.
If your Veiled Chameleon accepts plant matter suitable chopped vegetables and fruit include dandelion leaves, cabbage, turnip greens, nasturtiums, squash, broccoli, apples, clover, green beans, carrots, melon, grapes, peaches and bananas (with skin). All should be washed before being given to your Veiled Chameleon and obtained from a guaranteed pesticide/chemical free source. Feeding too much high green cabbage is also not good for your Veiled Chameleon as it can interfere with the absorption of calcium, but keeping the food offered as varied as possible will usually avoid this type of problem occurring. Remove any uneaten organic matter daily to avoid your Veiled Chameleon eating rotten/moudly food and to prevent bacteria building up within the enclosure.
Your Veiled Chameleon’s enclosure should be inspected and spot cleaned daily when misting the enclosure with water.
Every two to three weeks clean out the tank completely and sterilize the vivarium using a reptile friendly disinfectant. You will also need to remove and sterilise any décor, ready to replace back in the vivarium when it has been cleaned. Your Veiled Chameleon(s) should be moved to a temporary tank during the cleaning process.
Veiled Chameleons shed their skin at regular intervals as they grow. The old skin is pushed off in patches and is normally eaten by the Chameleon. Your Veiled Chameleon should go through this process every 3-4 weeks as a juvenile, dependant on its rate of growth, but less frequently as an adult. Prior to sloughing your Veiled Chameleon may become disinterested in food and it’s skin may take on a dull or milky appearance. Shedding may take just a few hours when your Chameleon is young, but last over several days as an adult, so do not be alarmed if it is taking longer than you would normally expect.
Most Veiled Chameleons will handle a shed without any need for extra help, but if you want to assist your Veiled Chameleon during this time you should try to raise the humidity in your vivarium to help it loosen it's skin. You can do this by lightly misting the tank with water more frequently than you would normally. Additionally, placing a rough surface within the vivarium to assist your Veiled Chameleon during the actual shedding is also recommended. Rocks, stones and branches can all be used for this purpose.
It is advisable to keep a note of the regularity of your Yemen Chameleon’s shed as this can be a good indicator of health and growth.
Veiled Chameleons seem to tolerate being handled, but this should not be done regularly as they are prone to stress if handled too frequently. Chameleons are quite delicate, so care should be taken during handling to ensure that your Chameleon is supported sufficiently.
It is advisable to wash your hands both before and after handling your Veiled Chameleon with a good anti-bacterial hand wash or sterilizing hand gel. This is basic good hygiene that will not only safeguard you and your family, but will also promote the health of your Veiled Chameleon too.
Sexing your Veiled Chameleon can be quite straightforward, as males have a few distinguishing features that can be easily recognized. Even hatchlings can be sexed accurately by looking for the tarsal spurs on the back legs on your Chameleon. Females do not have these, so if your veiled chameleon has a noticeable lump on the heal of it’s back legs then it is probably a male.
As adults, males also tend to be larger than females and have a more prominent helmet like structure (casque) upon their head. The casque of a female is usually smaller and more curved than the straight, upright casque of the male.