Caring For Baby Chameleons – How To Raise Them Right

by Dave

There’s lots of really cute baby things in the world. Baby seals, baby elephants and cute baby deers but for me, there are few things cuter than a baby chameleon.

Tell someone how cute a baby chameleon is and they might look at you funny. Chameleons are more associated with cool than cute but show them the picture above and see if they still think the idea of a baby chameleon being cute is weird!

Upon seeing a baby chameleon your heart will likely melt and you may want to rush out and get one, and you can certainly do that. Before you do though just slow down a bit because baby chameleons are cute, fragile little creatures that need taking good care of.

So for those whose heart has been captured by the cuteness of a baby chameleon I’ve written this guide to tell you all about how to care for them and raise them up to be strong healthy adults. It’s based on my own knowledge that I learned caring for a baby chameleon myself.

This guide applies to baby veiled chameleons, baby panther chameleons, and baby Jackson chameleons. Any slight differences in care requirements between these species will be pointed out in the guide.

What are baby chameleons called?

As you may know, many baby animals have different names to distinguish them from their adult forms. So a baby cat is called a kitten, a dog a puppy, a lamb for baby sheep and so on.

A chameleon, however, has no such separate name and is just called a chameleon. Lots of species of animals, especially reptiles, the babies are called hatchlings when they’ve not long hatched and this too applies to chameleons but there is no separate name for them as babies.

How are baby chameleons born?

Most chameleons are what’s known as oviparous, meaning they lay eggs which baby chameleons hatch from later. The Jackson chameleon, however, is ovoviviparous which means its eggs hatch inside the female’s body and the chameleons are then pushed out live by the female in much the same way a mammal gives birth.

Female chameleons can and do lay unfertilized eggs and this is something you need to be aware of if getting a female chameleon. To have a baby chameleon though, a female needs to mate with a male chameleon to fertilize her eggs.

You will know when a chameleon is pregnant, or gravid because they change color. Below is what a female veiled chameleon looks like when she is carrying eggs. Male veiled chameleons will never show this coloration and females will not show it at any other time.

Depending on species, a female chameleon will lay eggs of around 20-40 per clutch. Some female veiled chameleons can lay clutches up to 200!

The eggs will hatch between anywhere between four and nine months later. Again this is depending on species but this is the amount of time it takes for a baby veiled, panther and Jackson chameleon to hatch.

How big are baby chameleons?

Or should that perhaps be how small are baby chameleons? Either way, they are absolutely adorably tiny! The picture below should show you just how tiny a baby chameleon is.

You’re probably looking at about an inch and a bit from head to the tip of the tail when they first hatch. This is dependent on species though.

Do baby chameleons change color?

They do but not in the same way they do when they are adults. In fact, they more change shade and put on dark spots instead of changing color outright.

Baby Jackson, panther and veiled chameleons are actually one uniform color when they’re babies. They can still turn black when they’re cold or scared though.

Other than that though they simply haven’t developed enough physically to display the gorgeous array of colors we’re all used to seeing in chameleons.

This video gives a good idea of how baby veiled chameleons change color.

What do baby chameleons need?

This is the part of the article where I talk about exactly what you need to have in place before you get a baby chameleon and what you need to help raise them right.

What baby chameleons need is very similar to what adult chameleons need. I’ve written an article about this here. The only difference is baby chameleons need them in a slightly different way to adults.

Baby chameleon cage

I have found this to be an ongoing debate in the chameleon keeping community. I think what cage you get for a chameleon is largely down to personal choice and how you want to raise them.

There is an argument that says a baby chameleon needs to have a smaller cage because they’re extremely good at hiding. A small cage makes it easier to find them and check on them to make sure everything is ok.

There is also the argument that a smaller cage makes it much easier to feed a baby chameleon, keep them at the right temperature, humidity and so on.

I can see the logic to these positions but personally I never had one for my veiled chameleon, I just went straight ahead and got a full adult sized one. I found trying to find him all part of the fun and fascination of having a pet chameleon and I never had any difficulty maintaining the correct temperature for him.

You can check what cages are suitable in my rundown of the best ones here.

If you feel you want to get a baby chameleon cage then this is the one I recommend. It’s made by a reputable company and is relatively inexpensive compared to full size cages.

Another argument for getting a smaller cage is should you want to travel with your chameleon it’s a lot easier and more comfortable for you and your pet.

Baby Chameleon Plants

Any of the plants I’ve listed on my safe plants list will be suitable for baby chameleons but make sure they’re bought at a smaller height if you have a smaller cage.

Full size plants are fine for baby chameleons. They are excellent climbers, even at such a young age, and will have no problem climbing across branches and making their way to the enclosure.

I really recommend buying a pothos hanging basket to start things off.

Lights for baby chameleons

Baby chameleons need both a heat lamp to enable them to bask under to reach optimum temperature and a UVB light for digestive purposes and to absorb calcium into their bones.

Basking temperatures should be somewhere between 85° and 90° for baby chameleons because they are not that great at regulating their body temperature at their age.

Throughout my veiled chameleon’s life I had a 50 watt halogen bulb for him to bask under. I placed it on the top screen roof of the cage and the perch for him to bask on was approximately 9 inches away.

This meant it was far away enough to keep the correct temperature when he was small and as he grew he naturally got closer to the heat source meaning his temperature increased to the correct level for adults without the need to move things around in the cage.

The UVB light for baby chameleons should be a 5.0 strength strip light placed across the top of the enclosure. This will need to be placed in a hood fixture with a reflector. The bulbs also need to be changed every 6 to 9 months as they stop producing UVB to the same level afterward.

You can read more about the lighting a chameleon needs in my article here.

Giving Baby Chameleons Water

Chameleons don’t drink water like most animals. Instead they lick water droplets that form on leaves after rainfall and early morning dew.

This needs to be recreated in captivity and is done in the same way for baby chameleons as it is for adults. How to do that can be read about in my article on the topic.

Even though the method of providing water is the same I wanted to mention it specifically in relation to babies because a baby chameleon can drown accidentally if you’re not very careful when giving them water.

If you hand spray your chameleon’s enclosure do not spray your baby chameleons directly with water or even if you use an automatic misting machine the same caution still applies.

This is because baby chameleons are so small they will get drenched from this and can drown if too much water gets in their nose. It is very rare for this to happen so don’t worry too much, just avoid direct spray and you will be fine but I still felt it worth an extra mention in this guide.

What do baby chameleons eat?

Chameleons are insectivores, this means insects are the main staple food of their diet. They will also eat fruits and vegetables but for babies, you should concentrate purely on feeding them insects.

Baby chameleons can eat any insect on this list but the I would mainly concentrate on:

  • Crickets
  • Locusts
  • Cockroaches
  • Waxworms
  • Flies
  • Butterworms

It’s important that the insects you feed your baby chameleon are the right size. Too big and your chameleon will have trouble swallowing their food and can choke.

A good rule of thumb is to never feed a chameleon insects that are bigger than the space between its eyes. For baby chameleons, this usually means insects that are at the first or second stage of development.

Pinhead crickets, fruit flies and first stage locusts are best. I also highly recommend baby cockroaches which I’ll talk about more in the next section.

Always get your food from a reputable live food seller either from a local store or online at places like Josh’s Frogs or Internet Reptile for those in the UK. Catching food from the wild risks parasites and other health problems for your baby chameleon.

Don’t forget to gut load the insects before feeding them to your baby chameleon. This means feeding the insects with nutritious food like leafy greens and vegetables.

This is because insects on their own aren’t particularly nutritious but the nutrients in their gut from the gut load will be passed on to your baby chameleon.

You should gut load up to no longer than 12 hours before you feed your baby chameleon otherwise they will not get the benefits of the nutrients.

What supplements do baby chameleons need?

Supplements are extremely important for any chameleon but especially so for babies. Supplements act as an insurance policy in case your baby chameleon doesn’t get enough nutrients from gut loaded insects.

The supplements baby chameleons need are:

  • Multivitamin – This must include vitamin A for their eye health, vitamin D3 which chameleons make themselves but D3 supplement will act as a back up in case they’re not making enough and vitamin E for skin.
  • Calcium – This is absolutely essential and should be once a day for chameleons, babies and adults alike. Without calcium, your chameleon will suffer a serious illness called metabolic bone disease which is very painful and more often than not causes death.

I personally use and recommend ReptiCal without D3 for calcium supplementation. Lightly dust one group of feeding insects a day with it except for one feed a week where you must dust with a multivitamin supplement. For that, I recommend Nutrobal as it still contains calcium but all the vitamins I mentioned above and more.

When dusting insects with either calcium or multivitamins to feed a baby chameleon, just make sure you only give a light dusting. Don’t coat them so much they look like ghost insects! Just a light coating will be enough.

How much do baby chameleons eat?

Baby chameleons are like a bottomless pit when it comes to eating. It amazes me how something so tiny can pack away so much food every day. They will eat more or less whatever you put in front of them because they’re growing so fast.

Having said that you don’t wanna overdo it because too much can lead to them putting on too much weight too quickly. Anywhere between 12 and 18 insects of the appropriate size is good enough. Do this up until 6 months old where it reduces down to 10 a day then further still when they reach a year.

Spread this amount of food for your baby chameleon over two feedings a day if possible, so 8 or so insects each feed. Don’t worry if you can only do one feed a day though.

All this food can become quite expensive and this is where baby cockroaches come in useful.

If you can I recommend starting a colony of Dubia roaches about 3 months before you intend to get a baby chameleon. I bought a colony of around 30 for about $10. By the time my baby chameleon arrived, I had a well established colony so I had constant access to free feeder insects for the first year of my chameleon’s life.

My colony got a little out of hand so I had to get rid of it but you can keep a colony of roaches going indefinitely. They’re a great source of food for any species of pet chameleon.

How to feed baby chameleons

There are 3 ways you can feed a baby chameleon. Either by cup method, free range or by hand. How you feed them is down to preference.

I would feed by free range for my next chameleon but for my first one I went with the cup method as I was sure they were being fed enough that way but it’s up to you.

  • Cup Feeding – This where you get a plastic cup or similar container and fill it with insects for your baby chameleon.

    The container needs to not have clear sides as this will confuse your pet and they will shoot their tongue at the sides thinking they can reach the insect that way. This can cause injury. The bottom of an old plastic milk carton cut out is a good option.

    Put the desired amount of insects in, sprinkle supplement powder on them and place at a point lower than your chameleon.

    You need to secure it to a tree or the side of the cage otherwise your chameleon will knock it over as they sometimes climb onto it to get a better position.

    Also, make sure the cup is tall enough so the insects can’t climb or jump out.

    If there are any insects left in the cup make sure you remove them along with the cup as any escapees can bite your baby chameleon and eat any live plants you have in there.
  • Free Range – This method would be my preferred choice now as it teaches your baby chameleon how to hunt for their own food. I went with the cup and hand method when my veiled chameleon was a baby and he was quite a lazy hunter throughout his life as a result. I ended up hand feeding and cup feeding him most of the time.

    Free range is where you simply put insects loose in the cage and let your baby chameleon hunt them. As they’re still babies put the insects near them and then take your hand out of the enclosure immediately.

    Your baby chameleon will become visibly excited as mine did in the picture below when he saw food. They will take aim, shoot their tongue out extremely quickly and hopefully catch the food.

    Don’t worry if they miss sometimes as it’s all part of their learning. They rarely will though!

    I wouldn’t recommend putting all insects in at a time, just 3 or 4 for your baby chameleon to eat and when they’ve eaten them add more. They will probably snap them up quickly.

    Too many at a time mean some insects will get a chance to hide and your chameleon won’t get to eat them all. Make sure this doesn’t happen as some insects left in the cage can be bothersome to your chameleon and bite them.
Foooooodddd!!!!!
  • Hand Feeding – This is a great opportunity to get your chameleon a little more comfortable with you being around. Chameleons are solitary creatures in the wild and are prey to a number of predators. You look like another predator to them so it’s helpful to try and get them to understand that you’re not going to eat them.

    Hand feeding can help with this. It doesn’t mean they’ll want to cuddle you or be held often but it might help reduce their overall stress.

    To hand feed simply hold an insect between your thumb and index finger and offer it to your chameleon. Make sure you don’t hold it above them and only hand feed them if they’re above your head height as this makes them feel less threatened. Coming above them will be terrifying for them as that’s how a predator would act.

    You can even try and get them to climb onto your hand by holding one hand out and the insect in your other hand halfway up your outstretched arm so they have to climb to get it.

    Again, this doesn’t mean they will want to be held or taken out their cage by you but it can get them feeling more comfortable with you long term.

    Make sure you hold the insect firmly enough to stop them escaping but loosely enough so when your chameleon does grab it they can pull it back without stretching their tongue as this can happen if you grip the insect too tightly.

    This will happen some times and you will drop the insect too but with a bit of practice, you’ll get it right.

Related article: How to feed a chameleon

Where to buy a baby chameleon?

So now you know what baby chameleons need and how to feed them you might be more certain about wanting to buy one and want to know where to get one.

I’ve written a much more detailed article about where to buy chameleons but to save you some time I’m just going to pick my favorite place and recommend you buy them from either a private breeder or an online specialist chameleon breeder.

I recommend these places because the chameleons offered are bred by highly knowledgable people. Breeding chameleons is something that requires a lot of knowledge and experience so it means you can trust you’re getting a healthy chameleon more than from other sources.

How much is a baby chameleon?

This will vary depending on the species. I’ve written more extensively about all the costs involved with owning a chameleon here but for those in a hurry the costs of the 3 most popular species are:

  • Baby Veiled Chameleons – Are the most commonly kept species, most widely available and most easy to care for. They can be purchased for between $20 and $30. Any more than that and you’re probably overpaying.
  • Baby Panther Chameleons – These are much more expensive due to their highly sought after combination of ease of care and gorgeous coloration. As babies, these can set you back between $150 to $200 depending on what locale of Madagascar they’re from.
  • Baby Jackson Chameleons – These mini dinosaurs fall in between these two on price. A baby Jackson chameleon will go from between $50 and $80. Again, it depends on coloration and locale
How fast do baby chameleons grow?

Fast, I mean really fast! It all depends on the species as to how fast they grow and to how big they grow to but chameleons start out as the cute tiny little babies you see in the pictures above. By the time they’re a year old they’re fully grown. This is why they eat so much!

They continue to pack on weight until they are a couple of years old but by and large, they won’t get much bigger than they are at a year old. The male of the species will nearly always grow to a larger size than the female.

Related article: How big do chameleons get?

How often do baby chameleons shed?

Baby chameleons grow so fast they shed their skin frequently to accommodate this. It’s not uncommon for a baby chameleon to do this every 3 to 4 weeks up until they’re a year old.

It’s quite a sight when you first see them shed! They will often shed their skin all in one go. It can be a bit alarming as they will look stressed but they are OK. You don’t need to help them along, in fact, any help will likely be harmful to it.

Don’t be alarmed if you see them eat their shed skin too as this is normal behavior.

I’ve written a longer article on the subject of chameleon skin shedding here.

Do baby chameleons sleep a lot?

Baby chameleons sleep no more than adults really. They may require a little longer than adults but when I had my veiled chameleon I kept him on a 12 hours on and 12 hours off light cycle and he was fine with that.

Baby chameleons may sleep a little longer and start sleeping before the lights go off and carry on sleeping after the lights have gone on. This is normal behavior.

You may sometimes see them with their eyes close briefly during the day. Again this is ok and is usually a sign of a bit of stress. Just give them some space.

Chameleons do not nap during the day. So if their eyes are closed any longer than a few minutes it may mean something wrong in its set up that needs fixing. Check temperatures, lights or if there’s a loose insect that’s been bugging your baby chameleon.

To Wrap Up

As I said, in the beginning, there are few things cuter than a baby chameleon. They’re just so tiny that you never want them to grow up. Unfortunately, like everything else they do but if you’re planning on getting a chameleon, getting them from when they are babies is the best way to go.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a good overview of how to care for baby chameleons and a solid base from which to care for them as they reach adulthood where they will hopefully live a long and happy life with you.

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