Apart from food and water, light is the most important thing to get right when setting up a pet chameleon’s habitat. Get the wrong lights and a chameleon’s health will go downhill extremely quickly.
If any mistakes in lighting aren’t fixed quickly then it’s likely that damage to a chameleon’s health caused by these mistakes is irreversible, meaning a short life for your pet.
I know the above sounds alarming but you must understand the importance of getting a chameleon’s lighting correct from the beginning.
What lights do chameleons need?
I’ve written a more detailed article on this topic here but to summarize a chameleon needs two types of light to survive. A third one is optional but is useful to make the habitat less dingy looking and therefore making your chameleon happier.
The lights your chameleon needs are:
- Heat light – This is essential as chameleons can’t thermoregulate their body temperature and instead rely on the sun to regulate it for them. A heat lamp provides a spot for the chameleon to bask in and also helps maintain the ambient temperature of the cage.
- UVB light– This is also essential as chameleons need UVB rays to manufacture vitamin D3 in order to absorb dietary calcium. Without this, they can develop many health problems particularly metabolic bone disease, an extremely painful condition for chameleons.
- Grow light – A nonessential light for your chameleon’s health but one that’s recommended as it really lights up the cage displaying your chameleon’s colors better. This makes them happier and more active. A grow light is extremely beneficial for the plants in the enclosure as it will enable them to thrive in what are otherwise quite low light conditions, even with the UVB and heat lamps.
What heat lamps are available?
There are plenty of heat lamps available that you can use for your chameleon’s enclosure. These usually come in the guise of standard household incandescent or halogen spotlight bulbs.
They are also available as specially made basking bulbs for reptiles. These are often more expensive though and just as good as household ones although some do have a tighter beam meaning the heat can be more concentrated in one spot.
Do not buy any LED bulbs though as they do not give out any heat.
I recommend buying halogen bulbs mainly although some incandescent bulbs work perfectly fine too. 50 watt halogen bulbs are the equivalent of 100 watt incandescent bulbs and will be fine for any of the three main species kept as pets.
You may need to go up or down in wattage though to get the correct temperature. This depends on the temperature of your house or apartment, time of year and so on.
What UVB lights are available?
Here you will need to buy UVB bulbs specifically made for reptiles as standard UV lights made for tanning or the strip lights you see in shops and offices just won’t cut it.
There are three types of UVB lights available on the market:
- Strip lights – These are the type of lights you see in tanning salons or shops but have been specifically designed to provide reptiles with the levels UVB that they need.
- Compact lights – These are bulbs that look identical to the energy saving lights you have in your home. They also come in coiled bulbs like the one pictured below.
- Mercury Vapor Bulbs – These look like standard spotlight bulbs but are specifically designed with reptiles in mind. They provide UVB and heat making them two types of light in one bulb.
Now you’re probably thinking ‘why don’t I just buy the mercury vapor bulb? It’s so much easier as it provides all that I need.’ A perfectly reasonable idea.
There’s only one type of UVB light you should consider buying for your chameleon though and that’s strip lights. I will prove you to you why this is the case and why you should ignore all other types of bulb.
Take a look at the above image and pay particular attention to the bottom left part. It shows the depth and breadth of the light penetration from a strip light with a reflector. As you can see it’s wider and deeper than other UV options.
Furthermore, the intensity of the UV index is lower at the top of the cage than the compact bulbs. This is important because if it’s too intense your chameleon can suffer from thermal burns if it’s too close to it for too long.
Do chameleons need 5.0 or 10.0 UVB bulbs?
These numbers (6 and 12 for arcadia bulbs) indicate what percentage of the light emitted by the bulb is UVB rays. Generally, 5.0 is for forest species of reptile and 10.0 is for desert species. With chameleons though it’s less clear.
I will save going deep into the debate of 5.0 vs 10 here and just say that if you have a chameleon in a screen topped cage, the cage isn’t too densely planted and you have a good reflector then a 5.0 bulb will be OK.
If you have a more densely planted cage and you want to make sure your chameleon gets a good dose of UVB then go for a 10.0.
To make it a bit simpler go for a 5.0 UVB bulb if you have a Jackson’s chameleon and a 10.0 UVB bulb if you have a veiled chameleon or panther chameleon.
Either way just make sure there’s enough plant coverage for your chameleon to shade under should they need to get away from the rays for a while.
Also, make sure to change your bulbs every 6 to 9 months as the amount of UVB emitted declines over time.
What grow lights are available?
These are similar to heat lamps but are more available in LED. Here I recommend you buy LED as heat isn’t necessary for grow lights. The important part is the brightness and the spectrum.
Lots of grow lights will say full spectrum but look out for ones that say 64000k in particular as this is the same spectrum as daylight that will make the enclosure’s plants thrive.
Remember these aren’t essential for your chameleon’s health but they’re great for the health of your plants. They also make the habitat look awesome and really display your chameleon’s and plants colors beautifully.
Don’t buy full canopies or separate floor standing lamps as these won’t be suitable for your chameleon’s cage. Instead, just buy single bulbs and use them in a fixture alongside the UVB and heat lamps.
Grow lights are not a substitute for heat lamps or UVB lamps. They give off no heat or UVB. They are an optional add on for your chameleon’s cage. You will still need to buy UVB and heat lamp.
Best chameleon lights
To make this more digestible I will break it down into a heat lamp section, UVB, grow lights and I’ll recommend some fixtures to put them in at the end.
These products I recommend based on my own personal use of them and from reviews and feedback received on Amazon.
Best Chameleon Heat Bulbs
1. Any Standard Spot Light Bulb
I’m going to let you in on a bit of an open secret here. When it comes to heat lamps for your chameleon you can use any standard spotlight bulb providing it’s the correct wattage and correct fitting.
Sure, there are bulbs with pictures of lizards on the box that claim all sorts of benefits but in reality, what you want is heat and a standard halogen bulb can provide that.
That’s not to say ones made by reptile companies are no good, I recommend a brand below but many of them are overpriced for what they are when in reality a plain bulb will do.
You may have to try different wattages to get the correct temperature and you may need different ones for summer and winter. 60 watts is a good starting point to get the correct temperature.
I also recommend buying a multi-pack of bulbs like these because you never know when one will blow. You don’t want your chameleon to go without heat for too long when this happens.
You’ll also need a fixture to fit them in. I recommend the 8.5 inch Flukers Lamp because it’s well priced, does the job you need and, most importantly, has a dimmer switch.
You may not need a dimmer switch but having the option there is extremely useful as you never know how hot your chameleon’s cage can get as a result of changes in ambient room temperature.
2. Zilla Mini Halogen Bulb
I recommend these because they are so unbelievably cheap and are made by a decent reptile product brand.
The best thing about these is they’re absolutely tiny, easily available on Amazon and they give you a very handy guide on the box as to what temperature they reach at different distances from the center of the bulb. Very useful information as you can set your chameleon’s basking branch distance correctly from the get-go.
The only downside is you have to buy the mini halogen dome lamp made by the same company to hold them. Not that this is much of a downside as that lamp is cheap too and has handy clips that you can connect to the roof of the cage to stop it moving about when cleaning.
As ever, make sure you buy a spare or two as you don’t want to be left without a bulb if one of them blows.
Best Chameleon UVB Bulbs
There are only two bulbs you need to consider when choosing a chameleon’s UVB light. Again I’ll use an image to illustrate why:
To explain, Ferguson zones determine what type of basker a reptile is. Chameleons fall mainly into zone 3 and sometimes zone 4. This means they bask in the open sun for zone 3 and midday sun for zone 4. This will be species-dependent of course but broadly speaking this is where they sit.
As you can see the arcadia and reptisun T5 strip brands cover all zones. You’ll also notice a couple of mercury vapor bulbs do as well but remember, these don’t have the breadth and depth of strip lights and are actually more expensive than buying the strip light and basking bulbs separately.
So it should come as no surprise as to what my recommendations are. These are both 22 inch bulbs to fit in 24 inch fixtures as these fit across the top of the most common size chameleon cage of 24x24x48.
1. Arcadia D3 T5 UVB Bulb – 22 Inches
This is the best UVB light available for chameleons at the moment. I tried 3 different brands before I settled on this one.
All UVB bulbs need changing after 6 months because they don’t put out the same level of UVB rays when they’re fresh out of the box. Arcadia bulbs can go for 9 months, 12 months even at stretch before they need replacing.
The only downside is they’re not widely available in the USA as much as they are in Europe so they’re not as easy to get as other brands.
2. Zoo Med Reptisun T5 UVB Bulb – 22 inches
If you have difficulty finding the Arcadia bulb in stock then the only other option I recommend is the Reptisun.
It is a very close second to the Arcadia bulb. The only difference is it’s just not as bright as the Arcadia, even though it’s still excellent, and you’ll have to change it after 6 months as they don’t last as long as Arcadia bulbs.
Regardless of what bulb you buy just make sure you get a T5 and not a T8 as T5s are so much brighter. You need to get a reflector too with your choice of fixture.
This is available on Amazon complete with the fixture and reflector you need for it.
Best chameleon grow lights
Grow lights are more for the live plants in the cage but they are also very helpful for your chameleon’s vision. It took me a long time to realize the benefits of a grow light and many dead plants later I finally got one.
Plants really do thrive under a grow light and I definitely saw improvements in my chameleon’s alertness when I got one so it’s a worthwhile investment.
Jungle Dawn 15 Watt LED Terrarium Bar
This bulb really does blow the competition out of the water. It’s definitely not cheap but it’s well worth the money on Amazon.
My plants went from being tired old looking things to bright, colorful and standing proud in the space of a week.
It gives off a brilliant white color and doesn’t dim over time like other brands.
There is also no need to buy a separate fixture for this although it would benefit from a reflector.
The link above leads to the 34w version, which is 22.5 inches long so will fit across the largest chameleon enclosures. Other watts are available for smaller lengths. Just choose the appropriate size for your enclosure.
To Wrap Up
I hope you have found this little guide helpful and you learned something new about what lights are best for chameleons.
Any questions or comments leave them below and I’ll get back to you when I can.