Before taking the plunge and buying your first pet chameleon you need to be aware of the amount of money it costs to purchase the chameleon itself, its equipment and running costs. It’s also useful to be aware of the amount of time it takes to look after it.
How much does a chameleon cost?
The average cost of a chameleon ranges between $30 and $300 depending on what species you buy, the age at which you buy it and where you buy it from. There are more expensive breeds than this but the cost of the three most common species kept as pets is:
- Veiled Chameleon – The cheapest to buy and easiest to care for. A baby chameleon will set you back between $20 and $30. Any more than that and you’re paying too much. Rarer translucent veileds will go for a little higher as babies at around $50. Juveniles and adults go from around $45 up to $75 respectively. A juvenile translucent veiled will cost around $50 and anything up to $100 for an adult.
- Panther Chameleon – 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 $150 going all the way up to $200 depending on its locale. Juveniles and adults range from $200 to $300, again depending on locale.
- Jackson Chameleon – Probably in between the other two in terms of difficulty to care for with prices not too dissimilar from veileds. Babies sell for around $50 to $80 while juveniles go for a bit more and adults up until around $150. 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 the guide but for those of you wanting quick answers to work out your costs these are the average costs for the essential items you must have in place before you purchase your chameleon.
- Enclosure – $60 to $300
- Lighting – $115
- Watering – $8 to $130
- Plants & Vines – $120
- Food – $3 to $25
- Live Food Enclosure – $10 to $20
- Digital Thermometer – $8 to $30
- Digital Timers – $20
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 $350 before you’ve even purchased your chameleon.
I cannot stress enough the importance of having all these things in place first before you buy your chameleon. I will layout these costs in more detail and in order of their importance.
How much does a chameleon cage cost?
There are a few different options for chameleon cages available on the market. The main two are screen cages with typically aluminum frames or wooden enclosures with glass doors.
Which one you choose depends on personal preference but I would always choose the screen cage as I feel these are better for the 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 $130 and $160 and a wooden one with glass doors or a hybrid glass and screen one between $160 and $200.
Chameleon lighting setup costs
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 right 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, and 5.0 bulb and can be bought for around $50. Make sure you get the 24-watt bulb that is 22 inches long as this will fit perfectly on the top of most screen cages. I recommend this one from Amazon.
Chameleon Water Costs
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 Isambard in someone else’s care for a while.
Cost of Plants and furniture for a chameleon
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, not good if those leaves are plastic.
Be sure to check out my articles on what plants are safe for chameleons and more on my recommendations in my enclosure setup guide coming soon.
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 Isambard’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.
Cost of thermometer for a chameleon
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 $10. It needs to have the ability to measure two areas and provide humidity readings so get one with a probe attached. My one lasted the entire ten years I had Isambard and I never needed to change the batteries once.
Cost of Digital Timers for a chameleon
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.
These can be bought for around $15-$20 a pair and should last for as long as you have your chameleon. You need to get two, one for each light and set them for twelve hours on and twelve off, this worked well for my chameleon.
Cost Supplements for a chameleon
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 post on feeding to learn about supplementation schedules and recommended brands to use.
Cost of Food for a chameleon
I’ve deliberately placed this just before the purchase of the chameleon itself because you’ll want to get food in place not much more than a day or two before your chameleon comes to live with you. 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.
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 juveniles you will want to buy a lot of food at first because juveniles 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.
Cost of Insect Enclosure for chameleon live food
If you’re buying all these insects to feed your chameleon with you’re going to need a place to keep them.
You can, of course, keep them in the plastic tubs they arrive from the store in but I found they wouldn’t stay fresh for as long as when I put them into a larger tub.
What you get all depends on what insect you feed them with. A decent sized storage bin from any hardware store will do fine for about $10-$20. Make sure it has a lid though!
There are also a variety of cricket keepers available for about the same price. This makes them easier to catch and gut load as crickets like to hide in dark places and many keepers come with tubes that are removable so any crickets can be easily picked out.
Before going on to maintenance costs check out my article outlining all the things that are essential for a pet chameleon’s wellbeing.
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. 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.
Chameleon 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 around $30 a year and then there’s gut loading insects on top. 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.
Chameleon 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 months. This will add up to around an extra $50 a year on top of your existing maintenance costs.
Plants costs for chameleon
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!
Vet Bills for chameleon
Again this is entirely up to you 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.
Electricity costs to look after chameleon
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.
So putting it all together the maintenance totals are at the very least:
- Food & Supplements – $330
- Lighting – $60
- Plants – $60
- Vet – $350
- Electricity – $220
Total – $1020
The time it takes to look after a chameleon
Now that we’ve dealt with the money you’ll likely spend I want to say a quick word about the amount of time you’ll spend.
You’ll likely spend around twenty minutes a day tending to your chameleon’s care through misting, feeding, preparing your insects for the next feed and so on. Auto misters can save time a lot but you’ll still need to change the water.
Cleaning takes around ten minutes or so every couple of weeks and mainly just means changing the paper towels out when they get too yellow looking from all the water they’ve absorbed.
Where a chameleon can get more time consuming is if you want to hand feed it or try and get them used to being comfortable around you. This can require a great deal of patience holding food out and leaving your hand there for them to walk on.
This is ok if you don’t have a bust day ahead but if you do I would just cup feed them instead. Hand feeding isn’t exactly a necessary part of owning a chameleon but it can be fun and is a good way to get you used to them and maybe, just maybe, they might tolerate you a little bit.
So 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.
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