The vast majority of chameleons are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs without developing an embryo inside their body. Female chameleons do not need a mate to lay eggs, and will lay unfertilized eggs every three to six months.
A noticeable exception to this is the ovoviviparous Jackson’s chameleon, which gives birth to live chameleons which have hatched inside her body.
This article will focus on chameleon egg laying in general and caring for pregnant (gravid) chameleons.
Like most species of birds and mammals, chameleons have a cycle of developing eggs capable of fertilization should the female chameleon find a suitable mate within the time period.
Again, like most species of birds and mammals, this period is short, leaving only a small window of time for fertilization before the egg is fully formed inside the female.
Once the eggs are fully formed the female needs to lay the eggs in order to begin the cycle all over again. So yes, chameleons can and will lay unfertilized eggs without the need to find a mate beforehand.
There are many variables for determining this. The frequency at which female chameleons lay eggs will depend on environmental conditions, like whether she’s too hot or cold, how well hydrated she is and how well she has been fed.
On average, a chameleon will lay a clutch of eggs every three to six months. If you have a female chameleon as a pet, it’s best to try to help her lay eggs only once every five to six months because egg carrying and laying is very taxing on a female chameleon’s body.
Ultimately you have little control over this, but you can help matters by lowering the temperature by just a few degrees in her enclosure and try feeding her a little less, around every two to three days instead.
Some chameleons will start laying eggs as young as six months, whilst I’ve heard of others not starting to lay eggs until two years old.
It’s even possible to raise them to lay only once clutch of unfertilized eggs or none at all! It all depends on conditions of the enclosure, feeding schedule and the genetics of the chameleon itself and its ancestry.
The best piece of advice for owning a female chameleon is to always be ready for and to keep an eye out for this eventuality.
Having a female pet chameleon is really no different to having a male in terms of care requirements except for providing the right conditions to help her lay her eggs.
A female chameleon ready to lay eggs will spend more time than usual on the floor. She will eat less and may stop eating altogether but will carry on drinking, she will likely scratch on the ground, at the sides of her enclosure and may even dig in plant pots.
Female veiled chameleons will often, but not always, show absolutely stunning colors to indicate they are carrying eggs.
Keep an eye on your chameleon’s size as well. If she is gradually getting fatter while your feeding schedule is still the same, there’s a good chance she’s carrying eggs also.
If you see a few of these behaviors present you need to prepare an area for her to deposit her eggs.
A female chameleon won’t just lay her eggs anywhere. In the wild she will find a secluded spot of damp dirt, dig a hole, lay her eggs and then bury them meticulously before leaving them to incubate and hatch.
The spot will be in a cool place to ensure the ground remains moist, so the hatchlings can crawl out when they are born.
Recreate the same conditions for your chameleon:
Find a wide topped container, a large flower pot will do and one that is at least twelve inches tall and twelve inches in width.
Fill the container about three quarters of the way from the top with soil that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals or pesticides. Washed play sand also works well for this purpose.
Moisten the soil enough so you can make a tunnel all the way to the bottom that’s stable enough not to collapse.
Test how moist the soil is by digging a tunnel with a spoon, as if you were digging a hole in wet sand at the beach. If the tunnel you dig is stable, mix the soil again so it looks undisturbed.
Place the container in the cage and leave well alone. When your chameleon is ready she will move into the pot, dig a hole and lay her eggs.
Do not disturb her while she is doing laying her eggs and do not let her see you looking. Doing so could cause her to be egg bound, a condition requiring veterinary treatment.
A good tip to increase privacy and prevent disturbance is to put a screen up to block her from being seen while she lays her eggs
How long it takes to lay eggs
Once she has dug the tunnel, laying her eggs can take anywhere from an hour or two to a couple of days.
Some chameleons will take a long time and will dig several test tunnels in the dirt first before settling on a comfortable one, so don’t be alarmed if you see several holes dug, as this is normal behavior.
Number of eggs
On average, a female veiled chameleon will lay between twenty and eighty eggs, while a panther chameleon will lay between ten and forty. In extremely rare cases, a veiled can lay up to two hundred! Whilst the tiny pygmy leaf chameleon will lay just one or two.
Unless your chameleon has recently been mated, the eggs are going to be infertile, so there’s no need to keep them and worry about how to incubate them. As they are organic matter, they can be discarded in your recycling compost bin or just in your garden.
Egg laying puts a massive strain on a chameleon’s body. All that digging she does accompanied by the act of laying the eggs itself will leave your chameleon feeling very weak at the end of it.
When you see that your chameleon has finished covering and flattening down the sand, give her a little time to rest and then gently, if she will allow, pick her up and place on her favorite branch. She will need plenty of water and food.
Start off by giving her a good, long misting with a fine and luke warm spray. This will get all the sand and dirt off her body and give her the opportunity to get a much needed drink.
Afterward, give her a couple of large feeder insects heavily dusted in pure calcium. This is important because her calcium levels will be depleted after all that effort.
Give her extra food for the next three or four days so she can regain her strength and then return to her regular feeding schedule after that.
This is when a chameleon retains her eggs inside her and becomes egg bound. This happens when she is unable to lay her eggs due to incorrect husbandry conditions or if a laying bin hasn’t been provided.
It can also occur when she lays a clutch of eggs, but not all of them are released. Egg binding is a rare occurrence but is very serious, so you need to be on the lookout for this.
If you see signs of illness such as sunken eyes, not eating for long periods of time, open mouth breathing, then your chameleon could have a problem.
These symptoms can mean your chameleon has any number of health issues, but you can check for signs of egg binding by feeling the sides of her stomach and seeing if you can feel any eggs.
If you suspect your chameleon has become egg bound, you will need to take her to the vets as soon as possible. If egg binding is diagnosed, your vet will likely inject her with oxytocin to induce laying, several of these may be required over a few days.
In the event that this doesn’t work, surgery to remove the eggs will be the only other option and something that your vet will discuss with you.