Chameleons are insectivorous lizards that have a varied diet in the wild largely consisting of two types of animals: insects and invertebrates. These include:
Larger species, like the Parson’s chameleon, can eat small birds, rodents, and lizards. Some chameleons will also eat plants.
This is their main diet in the wild but in captivity, their diet is more limited to the types of insects and worms that are easy to raise and breed.
What Do You Feed a Pet Chameleon?
As pets, chameleons will need to be fed a varied diet to enable them to get a broad range of nutrients into their system. A varied diet also prevents them from stopping eating if they get bored.
Keeping and breeding insects for pet food is now a large commercial operation with plenty of suppliers to buy from, either online or in pet stores.
The most common foods available for pet chameleons are presented in the table below. The nutritional information assumes that the insects are properly gut loaded and kept in good condition.
You should rotate staple foods every few weeks or so to keep your chameleon interested and you should offer two or three treats no more than once a week.
|Morio Worms||58%||20%||18%||3%||1%||1:8||High in fat so treats only|
|Horn Worms||85%||9%||3%||1%||1%||1:3||Illegal to use in the UK|
|Silk Worms||83%||13%||1%||3%||1%||1:2.4||Only for treats as can’t be gut loaded|
|Butter Worms||60%||16%||29%||1%||1%||1:18||High in fat so treats only|
|Wax Worms||59%||14%||25%||3%||<1%||1:7||High in fat so treats only|
|Dubia Roaches||66%||23%||7%||3%||1%||1:3||Excellent Staple Food|
Protein, fat, and fiber perform largely the same function in reptiles as they do in humans. Too much or too little can also cause similar problems in reptiles as they do in humans.
You may be wondering though what on earth is ash? And what does Ca:Pa mean?
Well, ash is all the left over bits that aren’t the nutrients listed above. These are usually salts, minerals and vitamins.
Ca:Pa is the calcium to phosphorous ratio. Chameleons need a Ca:Pa ratio of around 2:1 in order to properly digest phosphorus.
As you can see both the ash content and Ca:Pa ratio of all the insects listed are low. This explains why, when feeding a pet chameleon, we need to supplement their diet and gut load the insects before feeding.
Gut loading chameleon food
You probably saw gut loading mentioned earlier and wondered what it meant.
Gut loading simply means allowing the insects you intend to feed your chameleon to eat a variety of nutritious food for up to 24 hours before feeding time. I usually allow the insects to eat the night before.
You need to see the insects you feed your chameleon as empty containers into which you feed nutritious food. The nutrients resting in the insect’s gut will be passed on to your chameleon when they eat it.
The type of nutritious food really can be anything healthy. The foods I use are mainly romaine lettuce, sweet potato, broccoli, squash and fresh fruit. Think of all the goodness you eat (or should eat) to stay healthy. Those are the sorts of foods you gutload your chameleon’s food with.
Commercial gut loading formulas like Repashy Superload are available to sprinkle on the insect’s food to give an extra nutritional boost.
Supplementing A Chameleon’s Diet
Supplementing involves sprinkling multi vitamin and calcium powders on to the insects that get fed to your chameleon.
This is because of the low levels of vitamins and poor calcium:phosphorous ratios seen in all feeder insects for chameleons.
It’s very important to include this in your chameleon’s feeding schedule. Without supplements, your chameleon will begin to suffer various illnesses from poor nutrition.
Chameleons should be given calcium without vitamin D3 at every feed, calcium without vitamin D3 every other week and a multivitamin supplement every other week.
Please see my article on chameleon supplements for a more detailed explanation.
How much should a chameleon eat?
How much a chameleon eats is dependent on what stage of life they’re at.
Baby chameleons are like food dustbins! They eat so much food for such a tiny little creature. Up until the age of 6 months they need to be fed as much as they can eat, which is usually up to 15 small insects, twice a day.
Between 6 and 12 months their appetite slows down just a little bit and they get fed once a day up to around 10 medium sized insects.
After this their eating patterns are quite sporadic but offering them up to 6 full sized insects every 2 or 3 days means they eat pretty consistently.
Try not to over feed your chameleon in adult hood as they can become obese and/or go off their food entirely. I talk more about how much to feed a chameleon here.
Can Chameleons Eat Fruits & Vegetables?
They can but a lot of the time they are not interested in them. If you want to try and offer your chameleon any these ones are good:
- Romaine Lettuce
- Collared Greens
- Sweet Potato
- Red Pepper
Don’t worry if your chameleon doesn’t want to eat them though. Their taste for these varies from one chameleon to the next.
It’s more important to make sure these nutritious foods are included in gut loading rather than trying to get your chameleon to eat fruits and vegetables individually.
Why is my chameleon not eating?
The main reason a chameleon stops eating is it is being overfed the same insect too often.
This is why I highlight the importance of rotating both staple foods and treat food on a regular basis.
Other reasons your chameleon is not eating can be a result of a parasite infection, incorrect set up with regards to lighting and maintaining incorrect temperatures, or if your chameleon is female and is ready to lay eggs.
I talk more in detail about why your chameleon might not be eating here.
To Wrap Up
Feeding a chameleon needn’t be a difficult task. The key thing to remember is that insects need to be gut loaded and supplemented.
The best way to make sure your feeder insects are in great condition for your chameleon is to treat them as a separate pet.
This means you should feed them with healthy and nutritious food like vegetables, make sure you keep them in a separate well ventilated container to the one they arrive in so that it is large enough for them to have plenty of space, and that you keep it sufficiently clean by removing dead insects frequently.
Keep in mind that every chameleon is different and not all will like the same foods but if you offer them the ones listed here and broadly stick to the outlined feeding schedule, your chameleon should be able to live a long and healthy life on a healthy, nutritious and varied diet.
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