Chameleons are insectivores. This means that almost their entire diet is made up of insects. However, they also sometimes supplement their diet with fruits and vegetables.
They also consume whatever plant matter remains undigested in the body of the insects they eat.
Fruits & Vegetables Chameleons Can Eat
The list of vegetables and greens are what you should be gut loading your chameleon’s insect it eats on a regular basis. You can also offer any of these to your chameleon by hand or in a bowl directly. The fruit list should be offered sparingly and not used in gut loading. Fruits are best kept as occasional treats and to help provide extra hydration.
- Sweet Potato
- Sweet Red Peppers
- Romaine Lettuce
- Mustard Greens
Anything on the greens and vegetables list are excellent choices for gut loading or offering directly. Feed your insects two or three from these lists each gut loading session to get a wide variety of nutrients in them for your chameleon to eat.
Why Chameleons Eat Them
There are two main reasons why chameleons would do this:
- Nutrition – As I said, chameleons are insectivores, but the trouble with insects is they’re not exactly loaded with nutrition. Sure, they’re a good source of protein and some have more fat than others, but when it comes to vitamins and minerals they’re not a very good source of these.
The only way for chameleons to get these essential minerals, particularly calcium, is from vegetation. This doesn’t automatically mean a chameleon will start chowing down on the nearest nutritious leaf or fruit, though.
I’ll come on to why they don’t always need to in a moment. But yes, in order to be healthy, they need this extra nutrition from plant sources.
- Hydration – The thing that will make them more likely to directly take a bite out of a leaf or hanging fruit is if they’re particularly thirsty. Rainfall isn’t always forthcoming in parts of the world where chameleons live, and some seasons are drier than others. Add to this the fact chameleons are not the best at consuming water means they can suffer dangerous periods of dehydration.
A leaf or fruit rich in moisture can really be a lifesaver in dry periods and bring a chameleon’s hydration levels back to normal.
How They Eat Them
The above explains why they might eat them in the wild, and it translates over to when caring for them as pets in captivity. Again, there are two ways to do this.
- Gut loading – Remember I said at the start that all chameleons will eat fruit and vegetables? Well, gut loading is how they do it.
In the wild, chameleons will eat near enough any insect they come across, and they’ll largely play a numbers game. As most insects gorge themselves on fruit and vegetables this means chameleons in a way do too because whatever fruits and vegetables are in the insect’s gut, and therefore the nutrition of those fruits and vegetables, the chameleon gets too when it eats the insect.
As a responsible pet owner, you have to recreate this in captivity by feeding your feeder insects with a wide variety of nutritious vegetables. Fruits are a good way to hydrate insects too but not necessary for providing nutrition to your chameleon. You should gutload around 12 hours or less before feeding them to your chameleon in order for your chameleon to get the nutritional benefit.
- Hand feeding – The other way to feed your chameleon fruit and vegetables is just offering them to it outright, either by hand or in a bowl.
Now you’ve probably seen videos of chameleons feasting away on various fruits, vegetables and leaves on youtube. To me, it looks utterly adorable, like in the video below, but don’t be disappointed if your chameleon shows no interest in eating them.
Remember, they are insectivores, not vegetarians. The truth is, most chameleons will show little to no interest in eating fruits and vegetables directly. In the 10 years I had my veiled chameleon, he only ate the leaves of his live plants twice and never anything I offered him.
All chameleons are different and, like people, have different tastes. Some will regularly strip the plant life in the enclosure bare and still demand more plant matter! Others will happily stick to insects and only insects, so don’t worry. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your chameleon if they don’t eat fruits and vegetables. Just gut load their feeder insects well and they will be fine.
Fruits & Vegetables To Avoid
For simplicity’s sake, I recommend you just stick to what’s on the list written at the beginning. These are all safe and beneficial for your chameleon. I would certainly avoid these though:
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Tomatoes (Leaves and Fruit)
While these foods probably won’t kill your chameleon outright they can cause other problems like either being too high in fat, like avocado, prohibit the absorption of calcium, be too acidic like tomatoes or are from the nightshade family of plants and are best avoided due to toxicity.
When To Offer Them
Insects should be gut load with vegetables and greens on the recommended list at every feeding time.
In terms of offering fruits, vegetables and greens on the list directly then this can be done at any time, but you might have more success in getting your chameleon to eat them if you’ve seen it taking bites out of leaves, or you’ve noticed signs of dehydration in its urates.
Remember though don’t be despondent if your chameleon refuses to eat them at all because most chameleons won’t eat fruit and vegetables directly offered to them and will just stick to eating insects.
So as you can see, chameleons can and do eat fruits and vegetables because vegetables are essential to them for nutrition purposes and fruit can help increase their hydration levels. Not all are good for them though, but if you stick to the ones on the recommended lists I’ve given here, your chameleon will get a good variety of nutrients in their diet.