Before I got my chameleon one of the first things I thought about was how much would I need to feed him? I also wondered whether chameleons could go without food for a while like other reptiles or whether they needed daily access to it.
So how much and how often do chameleons eat? Baby chameleons have a huge appetite and should be fed around twelve small insects a day spread over two feedings. As chameleons reach adulthood this should be reduced to five or six large insects once every two days.
How much to feed a baby chameleon
Most people buy chameleons as pets when they are babies at approximately three months old. You will be shocked at just how much such a tiny creature can chow down in a day!
Baby chameleons have ferocious appetites and will eat more or less what you give them.
There’s a tendency to overdo it because they’re growing babies and need lots of food but anywhere between twelve and eighteen insects are a good measure.
It’s best to divide these between two feedings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon but it’s not the end of the world if you can only be around to provide one feeding because of work or study commitments.
This is the time in your chameleon’s life that you will be spending the most money on food. Unless of course you do what I did in the beginning and start a dubia roach colony around two or three months before you plan to buy your chameleon.
I spent around ten dollars to start one up and by the time my guy was living with me I had a near constant supply of free baby roaches to feed him with and that easily kept up with his demands. It was a very worthwhile investment.
How often to feed a baby chameleon
Baby chameleons have very fast metabolisms and grow extremely quickly. This means they should have a near constant access to food.
As I alluded to above you should feed your baby chameleon twice a day if possible but if this isn’t always possible, once a day is ok but just make sure they are getting enough as this is the most important part.
How much to feed a juvenile chameleon
By juvenile, I mean a chameleon that is between six months and a year old. When they reach this age you can start tapering off how much you feed it. Reduce the number of insects down by about a third.
This may sound like a lot but as they approach a year old, most of their growing is done by then so they don’t require as much.
Around eight to ten insects are fine for between six and ten months old then reduce it by a couple more as they approach a year. Now is also a good time to increase the size of the insect your chameleon eats. No wider than the space between their eyes is a good rule of thumb to judge by.
How often to feed a juvenile chameleon
I still recommend feeding your chameleon daily but only once a day as opposed to the twice daily feedings when they are babies.
At this age, you can skip a day in between and not worry about your chameleon’s health being adversely affected. Again just make sure you stick to the amounts I suggested at each feed and your chameleon will be fine.
How much to feed an adult chameleon
Once you’ve successfully guided your chameleon to adulthood the feeding becomes easier still. Adults need about half the amount juveniles do and you can feed them full adult size insects. So around five or six insects will do fine.
I always thought it quite impressive my chameleon could eat an adult sized locust even though it was bigger than his head!
How often to feed an adult chameleon
I definitely do not recommend feeding your adult chameleon every day as it is completely unnecessary and can actually be bad for your chameleon for reasons I’ll come onto in a moment.
Feeding your chameleon every two days is desirable for the rest of your chameleon’s life, even every three days is ok too. Assuming all is healthy in other areas of your chameleon’s life you’re going to find it pretty difficult to underfeed it to a level that’s cause for concern.
The only time dangerous underfeeding can occur is really if you’re neglectful and barely feed it at all for weeks at a time. The fact you’re reading up on information about how to keep a chameleon healthy shows that you don’t fall into that category. However…
Can I overfeed my chameleon?
OK so here comes the controversial bit. I’m going to against the grain of accepted chameleon keeping wisdom here and say yes, you can definitely overfeed them and furthermore I think far too many keepers do overfeed them. Let me explain why.
Many people who buy chameleons think they are domesticated pets in the same way dogs, cats and guinea pigs are. Because of this they think chameleons need to be fed the same amounts, that they like lots of affection and so on.
Chameleons are not domesticated, they’ve only recently started to be regularly kept as pets and they have literally millions of years of evolution hard wired into their DNA that makes them act in ways different to the usual domesticated pets we keep.
In the wild chameleons have no idea where their next meal might come from. It could be anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks before they see a decent amount of insects to successfully hunt and satisfy their needs.
This means they will eat near enough as much as you will feed them because in their mind they need to fill up now while the going’s good.
Chameleons also don’t use anywhere near the amount of energy domesticated mammals use. They digest food over a course of days rather than hours, they don’t move a great deal if they don’t have to and they don’t use their own energy to keep their bodies warm, they instead use the sun.
In pet chameleons, overfeeding can cause all sorts of problems like gout, liver problems, kidney failure and ultimately a shorter life span.
I know you are just doing what you think is best for your chameleon by feeding them a lot but it’s really beneficial for them if you cut it down.
My chameleon lived for over ten years, this is quite rare in captivity and virtually unheard of in the wild.
I think a lot of his longevity was partly due to not feeding him too much. When he was well into adulthood I would feed him every three days and would sometimes leave it for a week before I offered any food again.
Many keepers also comment on their chameleons going off their food. The reasoning given for this is they are bored of their feeders. I can honestly say my chameleon never once went off his food in all the years I had him and I think a large part of this was due to the schedule I had him on as an adult.
Of course, this can then lead to concerns of…
Is my chameleon too skinny?
Chances are it is not too skinny despite the fact it may look like it is. Chameleons look like fragile creatures at the best of times, particularly when they’re young.
My chameleon looked pretty much the same weight his entire life, whether I fed him ten feeders a day or five feeders a week.
Chameleons don’t come in a uniform size, just like people don’t. Concerns about underfeeding and making your chameleon too skinny are reasonable though.
As I mentioned above though you’d have to be pretty neglectful or badly informed to let your chameleon get to a situation where it’s so skinny that it’s a problem.
What about chameleon supplementation?
Chameleons in captivity need to have their food supplemented with vitamins and minerals, particularly with calcium to make up for any shortfalls in their diet.
I never risked under supplementing with my chameleon and was careful not to over supplement. I recommend giving a very light dusting of calcium to the insects every feeding time and a light dusting of a multivitamin supplement once a week.
When their adults it’s not the end of the world if you don’t supplement every feeding. As long as you gut load your insects sufficiently before feeding them to your chameleon things will be OK.
However, I recommend at least one supplement dusting per week. Personally I dusted my chameleon’s food every feeding time and never had any problems with over or under supplementing.
To sum up
- Baby chameleons need: Between twelve and eighteen small insects a day spread over two feedings if possible. Lightly dust insects with supplements at each feeding.
- Juvenile chameleons need: Between eight and ten medium size insects a day. Lightly dust insects with supplements at each feeding.
- Adult chameleons need: Around five or six large adult insects every two or three days. Lightly dust insects with supplement at each feeding but don’t worry if you miss supplementing for one or two feedings a week. Make sure you do supplement at least once a week though.
So that’s it for another post. I hope you now have a better understanding of how much and how often to feed your chameleon and any worries about over and underfeeding have been eased.
Any questions or comments please leave them below and I will do my best to answer them.