It is said that taking care of pet chameleons is difficult as they need close attention and can easily get ill if you’re not careful. There is a lot of truth to that statement but many of the health problems a chameleon can suffer are due to poor cage setups.
Making sure your chameleon’s enclosure mimics as much as possible their natural habitat before you even bring your pet home will go a long way to ensuring your chameleon has a long, happy and healthy life in your care.
To help you achieve this I’ve made a list of the 11 essential supplies you need to shop for in order to make a happy habitat for your pet chameleon.
This is the obvious starting point when setting up an authentic habitat for your pet chameleon. There is much debate in the chameleon keeping world about whether a wooden cage is best, whether glass is better at maintaining humidity or whether an aluminum framed screen mesh enclosure is superior. Personally, I feel a hybrid cage is the best option. This is a cage that is made out of both glass and screen, giving you the best of both worlds.
The screen part of a hybrid cage is great for allowing air to flow through your chameleon’s cage more readily. This helps prevent the build up of too much moisture in the enclosure which can lead to infections and other health problems later down the line. Whilst the glass element allows for much better viewing of your pet.
Hybrid cages also don’t get too hot which is important because although chameleons need heat, too much of it can cause them distress, further health problems and can make them feel uncomfortable.
The ideal size of a chameleon’s cage is 24x24x48 as it gives your chameleon plenty of room to climb but also hide when it needs to.
There is a school of thought that baby chameleons should be housed in smaller cages until they grow into larger adults. Personally I never saw the logic of that as they don’t have smaller spaces they grow into in nature so why the need for a small space in captivity?
The only logic I can see is it makes tiny babies easier to find and less further to fall but I never had a problem finding my baby chameleons when I had him, in fact trying to find him was part of the fun!
Check out my cage recommendations here
2. Heat Lamp
Chameleons, like all reptiles, are cold blooded and therefore cannot regulate their own body temperature and need an outside source to do this. In their natural habitat this would, of course, be the sun.
A chameleon will, first thing in the morning find a decent spot, sit under the sun and bask until it’s sufficiently warm enough before moving back to a cooler area. This will be repeated throughout the day.
In captivity, this is mimicked by providing a basking lamp that gives a hot temperature at the top of the cage for the chameleon to sit directly underneath and then a temperature gradient throughout the rest of the enclosure that the chameleon can move through.
As for the bulb you need to choose the correct wattage appropriate to the climate of where you live. I lived in a cool apartment with warm summers and cold, but not often freezing, winters.
Do not get an LCD bulb as these give off no heat at all and are useless for providing a warm basking spot for your chameleon. If you’re concerned about heat at night during the winter you can get a ceramic heat lamp but I found this unnecessary for where I live.
Read more: Chameleon Lighting
3. UVB Light
This is absolutely essential to a chameleon’s survival. Chameleons absorb UVB light from the sun that enables them to produce vitamin D3 in their skin. This in turn enables them to absorb calcium from their food, without this the chameleon will eventually develop metabolic bone disease, a terrible illness where a chameleon’s bones become twisted and misshapen.
Obviously, the sun is not readily available to provide for this in captivity so as keepers we must also mimic this in their enclosure. This is done by using a UVB bulb and kit which is placed on top of the enclosure.
UVB bulbs need to be changed every 6-9 months because while it will still be working the amount of UVB rays it emits will decline to levels too low to benefit your chameleon. I was always surprised just how much my chameleon perked up and showed brighter colors whenever I changed out his UVB bulb.
Just to add in that you may have seen coiled UVB lights available like the one pictured below.
Do not buy one of these for your chameleon! I know they are cheaper and compact but these have been known to cause serious eye problems in chameleons in the past. Manufacturers claim to have fixed this problem and I have no reason to disbelieve them but I think the longer tubes are better at providing more UVB coverage in the chameleon’s cage.
4. Full Spectrum Light
These are LED lights that mimic daylight for your chameleon and are essential for improving their vision. Many lights come labeled full spectrum but only ones that have between 6000k and 6500k are appropriate.
They often come included with the all in one UVB hoods but they are also available to by separately.
I’ve put these two together because it makes things easier when monitoring temperatures and humidity inside your chameleon’s enclosure. Making sure these are at the correct level is extremely important for your chameleon’s health and well being.
Basking levels for the three main species kept as pets should be no higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit and no lower than 85. These allow for a couple of degrees flexibility either way depending on which species you have.
Having a hygrometer like this one allows you to constantly measure three things at once. The humidity, the ambient temperature of the rest of the cage and the basking spot using the probe. Just simply attach the device to the side of the cage and you’re good to go.
To make things easier you can use a separate thermometer to measure the basking spot directly under the heat lamp. I opted for an infrared thermometer like this.
They’re great because you can just point the laser at the spot without bothering your pet, you can even measure the temperature of your chameleon itself without bothering them giving you extra assurance they’re getting warm enough.
6. Branches and Vines
Your chameleon will spend its entire life climbing around vines and branches. It will very rarely go on the floor and as such it will need you to provide plenty of vines and branches to climb around on.
You can provide these in on of two ways or both if you want to mix things up a bit. You can either gather branches from the woods, sterilise them and place them in your chameleon’s cage or you can do what I did and buy bendy flexible vines.
These work best in screen cages because you can attach them to the mesh using cable ties and easily move them around again if they don’t look right in their original position. I recommend buying a large and small vine as it will give your chameleon a variety of perches to climb on and you can twist them together to give a more authentic jungle look to your chameleon’s enclosure.
7. Live Plants
You can of course buy artificial plants but live plants are a much better choice for a variety of reasons. Live plants will keep humidity levels up much better than any artificial plant can, they’re safer for if your chameleon feels like having a nibble on the leaves and some will and some will do more than others, and they have much better foliage cover for when your chameleon needs to hide. The ability to hide will make your chameleon feel a lot safer and reduce stress levels.
Not all plants are created equal though and many of the plants available are either toxic to your chameleon should they choose to take a bite out a leaf or they’re just not suited for being kept inside and in the same conditions as inside your chameleon’s enclosure.
The most popular choice of plants are:
- Ficus Benjamina (Weeping Fig) – A good sturdy choice that has good leaf cover but I found them difficult to care for as they can drop their leaves really easily if you put them in the wrong place or even slightly over water them.
- Pothos (Devil’s Ivy) – Hands down my favourite plant to have. They grow very quickly and easily, they have lots of leafy green foliage and the vines are excellent for climbing. I used to love watching my chameleon climb up the trailing vines from his hanging basket. Can also be kept as a standing plant which also works really well.
- Schefflera (Umbrella Plant) – A good leafy choice with beautifully shaped leaves that provide lots of foliage cover. Not really sturdy enough for a chameleon to climb on though.
- Dracaena – Like having a mini palm tree in the enclosure. They look good and can provide an ok place to hide behind but the bare trunk look of it never really captured my heart.
Read more about what live plants to use for pet chameleons in my article here.
I’ve given a more detailed comparison of the different types of substrate for the bottom of the enclosure here in my article, to sum up though you don’t really need much more than paper towels.
There are many different types of substrate available, some commercially available and some you can get yourself for free. Some keepers put nothing at all at the bottom as they figure the chameleon spends 99% of its time above ground so why bother? There’s logic to that. I recommend paper towels though as they absorb water easily and are easily replaced but it really does depend on personal preference. Some substrates are risky for chameleons though so be careful.
9. Misting System
Chameleons need water like every other living creature. They need it not only to quench their thirst but for humidity purposes as well. In captivity this can be provided by either misting your chameleon’s enclosure, dripping water from above or a combination of the two.
This can of course be done by hand with a pump sprayer and I did so myself for a couple of years but it’s so much easier to automate your chameleon’s set up wherever possible. Not only is it easier it also gives piece of mind.
Using a misting system like the mist king made such a difference to me. It meant I could go away for a few days and not worry quite as much and I always knew my chameleon would be watered at the same time every time because I could just set a timer for it to come on when I needed it to.
See my mister recommendations
Foggers are needed to provide the high nighttime humidity requirements of Veiled, Panther and Jackson’s chameleons. This is achieved by running them on a low to medium setting for a few hours at night.
They’re also useful in winter time when apartments and houses are drier because of heating and because they just look so cool when fogging the cage.
11. Power and timer strip
With lights needing to be turned off and on at specific times of the day, misters needing to be set and foggers over night you don’t have the time to be there to switch these things on yourself and why would you want to anyway? This is where a power strip like this designed for use with a reptile setup really comes in useful.
It enables you to have all your lights, misters and foggers all plugged in and timed in one place.