Jackson Chameleon Cage Setup Guide

by Dave

Jackson chameleons are probably the third most popular choice of chameleon to keep as pets. They’re slightly more difficult to keep compared to veiled and panther chameleons but still among the least difficult. They’re also not as widely available as the other two but their more docile nature and horns on the fronts of their head make them an ever increasing popular choice.

Like other chameleons, setting up a Jackson chameleon’s cage correctly right from the start will save you a lot of worry and money. Poor husbandry is what often causes chameleon health problems

Jackson Chameleon Cage

The first thing to get in place is the cage itself but you can’t just jump in an buy any old cage as Jackson chameleons require a different type of cage from other reptiles and other more common types of pets. Before buying a cage you need to consider two things:

  • Glass v Screen – This is a subjective choice and there are arguments in favor of both. Some say screen is best of the airflow and ventilation it provides, others opt for glass as they feel it’s best for maintaining heat and humidity levels. Jackson chameleons need slightly higher humidity than veiled and panther chameleons but they will still be absolutely fine in a screen cage. If humidity is still a concern then a humidifier can be used to top levels up if necessary.
  • Size – Jackson chameleon need large cages, particularly when it comes to height. The perfect size is 24x24x48 inches. Any smaller than this will be a tight fit and uncomfortable. Jackson chameleons spend their entire lives in the tree tops on East African mountains and very rarely go on the floor so height is really important when choosing a cage.

Related article: Chameleon Humidity Guide

This hybrid cage from amazon is a great choice as it’s the best of both worlds. The front is glass so you get an excellent view of your Jackson chameleon, there are also extra led lights that really add to the viewing experience, a separate light source will be needed though. The sides are screen to provide more effective ventilation and airflow.

Where to put you Jackson chameleon cage?

Chameleons are solitary creatures and don’t really enjoy the company of other animals. Jackson chameleons are no exception to this, too much interaction or even close proximity of other animals means they can get stressed easily.

To avoid this stress I recommend, if you can, that you place the cage in a room that is the least busy. So if you have a home office or quiet bedroom this is ideal.

If only a couple of people live in your home then it doesn’t matter much where you place it as your Jackson chameleon will be ok with one or two people around. It may take a while for them to get used to it and they may never be fully trusting but this is just chameleon nature in general and over time your presence will hardly bother them.

If your home has lots of people living in it and there are rooms, like the living room that has lots of people in and out most days, dogs walking around and so on then a different quieter room will be ideal.

That’s not to say you can’t put them in places with lots of activity as there are plenty of chameleons in zoos that deal with lots of activity but I personally thing quieter is better for them.

Wherever you put your Jackson chameleon though you need to make sure it can if it wants to, climb to a position where it is above the head height of the tallest person in the room. Jackson chameleons are often hunted by from above and the ability to be higher up will make them feel safer.

Jackson Chameleon Cage Lighting

Lighting a really important part of setting up a Jackson chameleon’s cage. So important in fact I’ve written a more general article about chameleon lighting here.

Jackson chameleons need light both for heat but also for UVB that they use to absorb calcium from their diet into their bones.

Jackson Chameleon UVB Light

UVB rays from the sun are used by Jackson chameleons to convert vitamin D into vitamin D3 which is then used to absorb the calcium.

This UVB light needs to be provided to your pet Jackson otherwise its bones will begin to deteriorate. This is a very painful condition called metabolic bone disease (MBD) and is a leading cause of death in captive chameleons. With the right setup such as the one mentioned in this article, you can easily avoid this happening.

When shopping you will see strip bulbs available that have either the number 10.0 or 5.0 on. The temptation is to go for the higher number but this is only for desert reptile species like bearded dragons. 10 is too high for Jackson chameleons, they only need the 5.0 one, any higher can cause vitamin D3 overdose. Although this rarely happens it can cause issues for Jackson’s chameleon health. This lighting kit from Amazon that comes with the 5.0 bulb will provide adequately your Jackson chameleon needs. The bulb will need to be replaced every six to nine months though as the UVB output they provide does decline over time.

Jackson Chameleon Basking Light

As Jackson chameleons cannot self regulate their body temperature in the same way we do they need a heat source to enable them to do so.

In the wild, this isn’t a problem as Jackson chameleons just move in and out of direct sunlight and shaded areas in order to regulate their temperature. This is obviously difficult in captivity so instead, a basking spot needs to be provided at the top of the cage for your Jackson chameleon can move into and away from when needed. This creates a temperature gradient inside the cage so your Jackson chameleon can cool down afterward.

This basking lamp placed on top of a screen enclosure along with the 50w mini bulbs that fit it will provide a tightly focused basking spot for your Jackson chameleon. This bulb will create a basking spot hot enough for a Jackson chameleon, which is a temperature of around 90 degrees.

Giving Water To A Jackson Chameleon

I’ve written a more in depth article about giving chameleons water and how to do it, here but in short Jackson chameleons lots of water for hydration as well as humidity.

Jackson chameleons are difficult to provide water for in captivity, this is the case with all pet chameleons actually. Other pets are easy, you just provide a bowl of water for them to drink from or a water bottle attached to the side of their cage and they’re good to go. A Jackson chameleon will pay little to no attention to these things so you need to approach their water provision in a different way.

Jackson chameleons do not drink standing water. Instead, they drink by licking water droplets that form on leaves in the morning or when water is dripping down them after a rain shower.

This needs to be recreated in captivity otherwise your chameleon will become seriously ill through dehydration. There are several ways to do this and how you choose will depend on your time constraints, budget, and personal preferences.

Hand Misting A Jackson Chameleon

This is where you fill up a plastic spray bottle, One with a pressure pump like this one is best. Simply fill it up, pump and spray the cage until everything’s nice and wet and your Jackson chameleon has begun the drinking response of opening and closing their mouth.

This soon gets old and tiresome because you have to mist at least twice a day and you have to do it until your Jackson chameleon begins the drinking response mentioned above and not just until the enclosure is wet. Even after all that your Jackson chameleon might be a shy drinker so you have to move away from the cage before they drink.

Dripper System For Your Jackson Chameleon

This method involves placing a water dripper on top of the enclosure and leaving it to drip at a slow to moderate speed onto leaf your chameleon hangs out under.

Drippers are commercially available which will enable you to have more control over the speed of the drops. If you don’t want to spend any money you can simply poke a small hole in the bottom of a plastic cup, fill it with water and leave it on top of the cage to drip. This can vary in success though as a lot of the time water comes out too quickly and can end up making a mess.

Jackson Chameleon Misting System

For so many reasons this is my favorite way of giving water to a chameleon. I’ve written an article about why misters are so great here but in summary, they’re the quickest and easiest way to provide water. Not only that they provide peace of mind, something you can’t put a price on because wondering whether your pet is getting enough to drink is a big and ongoing concern when you have a pet chameleon.

Misters aren’t crazy expensive but they’re not exactly cheap either but for the amount of time and worry they save they’re pretty much priceless in my opinion.

Drainage for your Jackson chameleon cage

Jackson chameleons require a lot of water so a drainage system in place will be required.

Most commercially bought cages like the one I mentioned earlier will have a piece of PVC at the bottom. Just drill a few small holes in the middle, not so big that insects can escape, and this will be enough to allow the water to drain out into a tray underneath. This one from Amazon has the correct dimensions for the cage size a Jackson chameleon needs.

The water can easily be emptied from the tray by a bucket placed in front underneath

Jackson Chameleon Monitoring Equipment

TA good way to make sure your Jackson chameleon’s cage conditions are correct is to monitor the temperature in the cage, the humidity levels and to make sure the lights turn on and off at exactly the right time every day.

You’ll need to check the temperature a couple of times a day in the basking spot and the rest of the cage and the best way to do this is with a temperature gun like this one. They’re very simple to use, very accurate and won’t disturb your Jackson chameleon.

Use A hygrometer to measure the levels of humidity in the cage. Digital ones are better as they’re more accurate and this particular one has great reviews

It’s almost impossible to be in the same place at the same time every day because we all have busy lives with work, school, and so on but it’s very important that your chameleon consistently has the same amount of time where the lights are on and off each day. The best way to achieve this is by using a pair of digital timers to turn each light on and off at the same time. This pair of timers will do the job perfectly.

Jackson Chameleon Furniture

Now you need to kit your Jackson chameleon’s home with decent some furniture. I don’t mean sofas and armchairs but furniture fit for a Jackson chameleon. This involves plants, vines, and flooring.

Jackson Chameleon Substrate

Flooring, or substrate, is a near constant source of debate among chameleon keepers. I’ve talked about this and what options are available in my article here. In my opinion, though, paper towels are best. Anything more just overcomplicates things and makes more work for yourself.

Jackson chameleon plants

I am awful at looking after plants. If you’re terrible at all things horticultural too it can be tempting to just use plastic plants in the cage but there are a few reasons I advise against doing that.

  • Live plants help with humidity – Live plants are living breathing organisms so they produce moisture in the air to help with this and they breathe out oxygen. This means your chameleon will have lots of fresh air to breathe and helps keep things fresh in the enclosure.
  • Plastic plants look rubbish– This is subjective of course but I like to think of it like this. Jackson chameleons are beautiful colorful lizards that live in beautiful colorful trees in African mountains, so why wouldn’t you want to do your best and try to recreate that look? A well planted chameleon enclosure looks amazing and even that little bit of nature in your living room can be so relaxing.
  • Jackson chameleons eat plants – Not often but sometimes and this reason alone should be enough to make you want to avoid plasti plants. It would be easier to tell you the things that won’t go wrong than what could go wrong should your Jackson chameleon decide to sample the artificial foliage.

Be careful when buying plants for your Jackson chameleon though as many are dangerous because they’re either toxic to eat or can damage eyes and skin when your chameleon comes into contact with them. You also need to make sure your chameleon can climb on them and have enough places to hide among the plants. I’ve provided a detailed list of what types of plants are beautiful and suitable for your chameleon here.

Conclusion

If you set up your Jackson chameleon’s cage properly and correctly from the start you’ll save yourself a lot of problems further down the line and your pet will thank you for it, not in obvious cuddly ways as that’s not the chameleon’s way! But they will be thankful in other ways by being healthy, happy and looking beautiful by showing their most vibrant colors.

You don’t have to go overboard with tons of plants but making it look as much like a rain forest as possible will not only look incredible but will really help your Jackson chameleon thrive and live a long, healthy and happy life.

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