A chameleon pet is a popular choice for an exotic pet but not a good choice for beginners. If you have never cared for a lizard, you do not want a chameleon for your first reptile. They are costly and labor-intensive to maintain due to their needs, and demand a constant supply of insects for their diet. Even if you have experience with reptiles, the Veiled Chameleon is suggested for your first chameleon, as they are one of the easiest to handle.
“Chameleon” is actually a compound word meaning “earth lion,” originating from the Greek words, “chamai” and “leon.” The scientific name is Chamaeleonidae. The most popular species for pets include Panther Chameleons, Senegal Chameleons, Jackson’s Chameleons, and Veiled Chameleons. Regardless of the species, captive chameleons have a life expectancy of 3 to 10 years.
Their innate color-changing ability is one of the reasons they are so popular. They can change colors even as babies, possibly even before hatching, though most are gray or purple and do not start changing colors until they are around six months old. Chameleons change colors for many reasons, including to camouflage themselves from predators, to communicate their mood, to regulate their body temperature, and when under stress. Brighter colors indicate that the chameleon is happy or content, while dark colors like gray usually mean that it is anxious, upset, or frightened.
Do chameleons make a good pet?
Chameleons make good pets if you can meet their requirements and have some experience with reptilian pets, in general. While a few species will occasionally eat leaves and fruit, chameleons are insectivores and need a steady diet of insects to stay healthy. Captive chameleons usually eat flies, crickets, and specific types of worms. They use their tongues, which can be as long as 1.5 times their body length, to catch and eat their prey.
Chameleons require expansive quarters, replete with trees to mirror their natural habitat. Be sure not to include plants toxic to chameleons. They also need ample heat, lighting, and ventilation. Avoid gravel, sand, pebbles, bark, moss, and other substrate so your pet does not accidentally ingest it. Include limbs of varying diameter and as much actual, living foliage as you can.
They will not drink from a dish, so you must have a drip system or mist the interior twice or more daily. Be sure to spray the leaves, as chameleons typically drink by licking the moisture from them. If you use a drip system, you also need to collect the excess moisture from the cage regularly to avoid it becoming too humid.
Chameleons need UVA and UVB light. A lot of natural sunlight is good, too. Follow the instructions for your lamps closely to avoid burning your pet.
Finally, chameleons are solitary creatures; do not keep them together or with other pets, as they will fight and likely injure one another.
Which chameleon makes the best pet?
Most of these species are bred in captivity. You do not want one that has been captured in the wild, as they are far more prone to illness, stress, parasites, and disease. Whenever possible, try to get one from a private breeder and avoid the chain pet stores so you know you are getting a captive-bred pet.
As noted above, Veiled Chameleons are suggested for first-timers but, once you know what you are in for, any of the chameleon species listed above make a good pet.
Although chameleons can be temperamental and require a lot of work, they make charming and interesting pets for those who have the experience, room, money, and time to care for them properly.