Before I bought my first chameleon, I had no idea how much one would cost to buy. I also had very little knowledge of how much it would cost to buy the equipment I needed to provide for it, but I knew I really wanted this pet. I researched different places to buy a chameleon in order to find out how much they sold for.
On average, a chameleon costs anywhere between $30 and $750 to buy. The exact price is determined by the age of the chameleon at time of purchase, the species, sex and whether the seller is a private breeder or pet store.
The cost of a chameleon doesn’t end with buying the chameleon itself. You also have to consider the initial set up costs of housing the chameleon, lighting, plants to furnish their habitat, misting equipment to provide water, and monitoring equipment to measure the temperature and humidity of the enclosure.
Once you have all that set up there’s the ongoing maintenance costs of feeding, replacing lighting equipment and veterinary bills but don’t worry I will outline all these costs in this post. Let’s dive in.
The cost to buy a chameleon
The amount you spend on a chameleon mainly depends on what species you buy, the age at which you buy it, and where you buy it from. There are too many species to list the prices of, and most of them are not suitable to be kept as pets, particularly for beginners. The price of the three most popular species are as follows:
|Veiled Chameleon||$30 for a baby – $75 for an adult|
|Panther Chameleon||$275 for a baby – $750 for an adult|
|Jackson Chameleon||$75 for a baby – $90 for an adult|
My first chameleon was a veiled chameleon. They are the most commonly available to buy and are therefore the cheapest. Veileds are the easiest chameleon to care for, making them perfect for beginners. A baby veiled chameleon will set you back around $37 from llreptile for a female and $47 for a male. Adults will sell for a little more, but I recommend getting a baby and raising them. Just make sure the baby is at least 3 months old before purchase.
Slightly more difficult to care for, the panther chameleon is more colorful than the veiled, and its price reflects that. A baby panther chameleon starts at around $275 going all the way up to $465 from Chromatic Chameleons depending on its locale. Juveniles and adults range from $450 to $750, again depending on locale.
Probably in between the other two in terms of difficulty to care for, with prices not too dissimilar from veileds. Babies sell for around $75 while juveniles and adults go for around $90 from Backwater Reptiles. Like the panther chameleon the prices depend on locale and coloration.
The cost of a chameleon set up
I will go over each item in more detail throughout the rest of this guide, but for those of you wanting quick answers, these are the average costs for the essential items you must have in place before you purchase your chameleon.
|Enclosure||$60 – $300|
|Ligthing||$100 – $200|
|Watering Equipment||$8 – $160|
|Plants & Vines||$120|
|Food & Supplements||$25|
|Digital Thermometer||$8 – $30|
|Timer Power Strip||$25|
If you’re a keen bargain hunter and manage to get all these items at the cheapest end of the market, you’re looking at around $360 before you’ve even purchased your chameleon. This, however, would involve buying second hand items and basic watering and lighting equipment.
It is very important you have all these things in place before you buy your chameleon.
There are a few different options for chameleon cages available on the market. The main two I recommend are screen cages with aluminium frames.
All glass enclosures and hybrids of different materials are available, but I would always choose the screen cage as I feel these are better for a chameleon’s well-being.
Some chameleon keepers think you should buy a small baby cage if you buy a baby chameleon to enable the chameleon to get used to and grow into its environment. Personally, I do not think this is necessary unless you are breeding chameleons. A small cage may be useful if you intend to travel with your chameleon, though.
If you want to get a small cage you can pick a 16x16x30 (inches) aluminum screen cage up for around $60 or a slightly larger glass one for around $100.
When getting a full size cage I recommend a 24x24x48 one.
An adult chameleon screen cage will cost between $110 and $160 and a wooden one with glass doors or a hybrid glass and screen one between $160 and $300.
Now that you’ve got your chameleon a home to move into, it’s time to take care of their lighting needs. It is of paramount importance you get this correct from the beginning, and I’ve written a more detailed article about this here to help you with your setup.
The lighting setup not only provides heat for your chameleon but it also provides UVB light, essential for the production of vitamin D3 so it can absorb calcium. Without UVB lighting your chameleon will get ill very quickly and, if not fixed, will eventually die.
First, you need to provide a basking light for your chameleon so it can warm up in the morning and thermoregulate its temperature throughout the day. Your chameleon will need to be able to sit underneath a spot bulb and then be able to move away to cool off.
You will need a lamp fixture for the heat bulb. These are widely available in pet stores and on Amazon for around $20 and are mostly fitted with an Edison screw fixture.
As for the bulb there’s a pretty open secret in the world of chameleon keeping. The secret is a light bulb. What I mean by that is a standard halogen bulb from any hardware store is the same as a bulb sitting in a box with a picture of a lizard on. The only difference, aside from the packaging, is the standard bulb is a fraction of the cost.
Throughout my chameleon’s life, I mainly used PAR 20 50W halogen spot bulbs made by Phillips. Any brand will do, but I found this particular brand didn’t pop if a bit of water landed on the bulb, provided a safe amount of heat, had a good life span of around three or four months of daily use, and you can pick one up for around $6.
For the UVB light you will want to get a starter kit as it is much easier to set up with this. The kit usually comes with a fixture, reflector, 5.0 bulb and a daylight bulb to help plants grown and to display your chameleon more clearly. These can be bought for around $125.
Your chameleon will need a good amount of water on a daily basis. This isn’t just for hydration purposes but it’s also needed to maintain its humidity levels.
The cheapest way to provide this is to just get yourself a decent hand pump spray. Don’t go for the standard spray bottle as you have to constantly spray and believe me this starts to hurt your wrist pretty quickly.
A good pump spray will cost you around $6 from any hard wear store.
I think misting once or twice a day is just fine to provide enough water, but if you want to keep things topped up and to give your chameleon near constant access to drinking water, I recommend getting a dripper system to put on top of the cage.
You can make this yourself out of a plastic cup, but I found this a little tricky to get a good drip rate going. Too much and it flows out, but too little, and your chameleon will barely notice it.
If you want to provide a dripper you can pick up the big dripper for around $12 from any good pet shop or Amazon.
However, if you want to really make sure your bases are covered and make yours and your chameleons’ life that much easier, you can just fully automate the whole thing with an auto mister.
I eventually switched to this myself, and it really made things easier and provided more peace of mind whenever I went away on vacation and had to leave my chameleon in someone else’s care for a while.
Automatic misters range from $35 all the way to $180 for a top of the range one.
Plants and furniture
So you’ve sorted a home out for your new scaly friend to move into, you’ve got some lights to show off their colors, keep them warm and provide some much needed UVB and you’ve figured out a way to provide some water. Now it’s time to kit out their new apartment.
The price of your chameleon’s furniture really depends on what plants you want to get for them. I recommend at least one hanging basket, two or three large plants sturdy enough to climb on and a few small ones. Buying these will probably be around $80 to $100 from a nursery or hardware store. I do not recommend buying plastic plants as some chameleons eat leaves from time to time.
As for extra branches to climb on you can do this for free by simply gathering sticks and branches from the woods. You will have to treat them first by boiling them to kill off any potential bacteria and parasites. Makes sure you sand them down too to remove the risk of any sharp areas or splinters.
I don’t really have woods near me so instead, I bought some bendy vines for my chameleon’s home. They come in two sizes and are around $15 for both. These were more than enough to take his weight and provide good climbing space.
If you want to know more about what plants to provide for a chameleon I made a comprehensive list of the best ones here.
Temperature & Humidity Monitoring
You need one of these because it can really help provide peace of mind that your chameleon’s ambient temperature and basking temperature aren’t too low or too high and that the humidity is in the correct range.
It’s really important to get a gauge on this right from the beginning because knowing the temperature and humidity of these areas can help to eliminate the causes of any health problems you might notice, and it’s just good to know you’re keeping your friend happy and healthy.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on this. I bought one for around $15.
Power strip & timers
Let’s face it who can be in the exact same place at the exact same time every day? I don’t know anyone who can so you really need a timer to make sure your chameleon’s lights turn on and off at the right time every day.
Getting the zilla power center makes life so much easier as you will be able to power all the things you need to look after your chameleon and keep them on timers all in one place.
Your chameleon needs supplement powders sprinkled on its food as they provide back up vitamins and minerals in case your feeder insects don’t provide enough.
These supplements need to be a calcium powder without d3, a calcium powder with d3 and a multivitamin and will cost around $15 for all three.
Read my supplement post to learn about schedules and recommended brands to use.
You’ll need to get live food at least two or three days before you get your chameleon. This will ensure it’s as fresh as possible and lasts as long as possible while you get used to feeding schedules and learning when to get more food.
How much to buy beforehand really depends on what age you buy your chameleon. If, like most people, you buy your chameleon when they’re babies, you will want to buy a lot of food at first because babies eat a lot every day.
A cost effective way is to buy a tub of small crickets for about $3. A tub will contain around 250 crickets and should keep your chameleon going for around ten to twelve days before you need to restock.
I personally don’t like crickets so I planned ahead and started a roach colony about six weeks before I bought my chameleon. This cost me around $10 to start and by the time he arrived I had enough to feed him on. In fact that roach colony meant I had food for him, for free, for a year as it grew to a large size very quickly.
Before going on to annual costs, check out my article outlining all the things that are essential for a pet chameleon’s wellbeing.
Annual chameleon maintenance costs
Now you’re all set up and your chameleon is nicely moved in it’s time to consider how much money you’ll spend keeping them happy and healthy each year. These costs will of course vary depending on brands bought, suppliers used, how good you are at keeping plants alive and so on. I will, therefore, base this on my maintenance costs and will work them out as an annual cost rather than monthly.
Annual Food & Supplement Costs
As your chameleon ages, they eat less so your food bill will get cheaper over time but I would say around $180-$350 a year for live food purchases, again it depends on what insects you buy, whether you breed them or not and so on. Supplements will cost around $30 a year.
Then there’s the cost of gut loading insects with nutritious food before feeding to your pet. It all depends on what you use, whether you make your own or buy a ready-made gut load, but $120 a year seems like a good average to expect.
Annual lighting costs
A decent halogen bulb will last between two and three months so replacing these will cost $20 and $30 but you can again reduce this cost if you buy a bulk pack, something I recommend as it’s always good to have a spare bulb to hand.
UVB bulbs will last for a long time but they stop giving out sufficient UVB after about six to nine months. This will add up to around an extra $50 a year on top of your existing maintenance costs.
This one is entirely dependent on your ability to keep a plant alive and how ravenous your chameleon is for plant matter. I was pretty terrible at keeping plants alive so I probably spent around $60 a year on new plants.
Although it is quite rare I have heard of chameleons completely stripping plants down to the stem on a fairly regular basis. If you’re unfortunate enough to have a chameleon like this you could be shelling out this much every couple of months!
This entirely depends on how much vets cost in your area, but vet bills can be really expensive, especially if your chameleon requires lots of treatment. I recommend taking out an insurance premium on your chameleon for around $10 a month, as this will cover any big treatments that hopefully won’t be required.
On top of that, I’d keep around $200 aside for any routine visits like fecal tests for parasites or any other general checkups that might be necessary, so around $350 a year for health care costs would be adequate.
A cost that often gets overlooked when working a chameleon’s budget out. Assuming you run two lights for twelve hours a day at around $0.30 per kilowatt-hour, the average annual cost for around two kilowatt-hours a day will be around $220 for the year. Add to this the cost of running any automatic misters as well, this will add around $20 extra.
So, putting it all together, the annual totals are at the very least around $1040
That’s it for another post. I really hope you found this cost break down useful in deciding whether to get a chameleon or not. As ever, leave any comments or questions below, and I’ll get to them as soon as I can.