Of all the chameleon species kept as pets, the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) is the most popular. Native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, these lizards are hardy, long-lived captives when properly cared for.
With impressive casques on their heads, prehensile tails, independently rotating eyes and color changing abilities, veiled chameleons are fascinating reptiles. Their hardiness and wide availability from pet shops and breeders makes them a good choice for beginners. However, they are still challenging pets requiring specialized care.
Veiled chameleons can grow over 2 feet long from nose to tail tip. Lifespans average 4–8 years for males and 2–4 years for females. Providing proper housing, nutrition and care is key to helping them thrive in captivity. This care guide will cover keeping your veiled chameleon healthy at every stage of life.
Housing Your Veiled Chameleon
Veiled chameleons are arboreal lizards that spend their lives high up in trees and shrubs. Creating a habitat that allows for climbing and perching is vital for their health and happiness. The more vertical space, the better.
For juveniles under 8 months old, the minimum sized enclosure is 16” x 16” x 30” though bigger is always preferable. Adult veiled chameleons need a larger 24” x 24” x 48” screened habitat at the bare minimum. Excellent ventilation is crucial, so opt for an enclosure with screen sides versus glass. Check out my cage recommendations here.
The floor can be lined with disposable substrate like reptile carpet or paper towels for easy cleaning. Avoid loose particulate substrates that could cause impactions if ingested accidentally. Furnish the enclosure generously with branches, vines, and non-toxic plants for climbing, basking and shelter.
Maintaining a proper temperature gradient allows your veiled chameleon to self-regulate its body temperature by moving around the habitat. The cool end should be 70-80°F, while the warm, basking area should be 85-95°F. At night, temperatures can drop to 65-75°F.
Good hygiene is also important. Spot clean waste and uneaten food daily. Every 1–3 months, take everything out to fully disinfect the enclosure and decor. Keeping their home clean will help prevent disease.
Further Reading: Veiled Chameleon Cage Setup Guide
Further Reading: How To Clean A Chameleon Cage: Items You Need For The Job
Further Reading: 25 Beautiful Plants That Are Safe For Chameleons
Veiled Chameleon Diet
In nature, veiled chameleons are insectivores that also occasionally eat plant matter. Replicating this diverse diet is important. Feed size appropriate (no bigger than the width of their head) live insects like crickets, morio worms, roaches and flies as the staple food items.
Gut load feeder insects with nutritious produce like collard greens and carrots for 24 hours before feeding off to your chameleon. This helps provide a balanced diet. Juveniles need feedings 1–2 times daily, while adult veiled chameleons only require insects every other day.
Some veiled chameleons will accept vegetable and fruit pieces directly. Try chopped greens, melons, berries and edible flowers offered fresh daily in a shallow dish. Remove uneaten portions after four hours. Keep in mind, insects should still make up the majority of the diet, not produce.
Proper calcium and vitamin supplementation is critical, especially for growing juveniles. Use calcium powder without D3 daily. Also provide a multivitamin twice a month and calcium with D3 twice a month. A varied, nutritious diet goes a long way to preventing illness.
Further Reading: What Do Chameleons Eat? Diet & Nutrition Guide
Further Reading: The 3 Supplements A Pet Chameleon Needs
Hydration & Humidity Needs of Veiled Chameleons
Like most chameleons, veiled chameleons struggle to recognize standing water as drinkable. Instead, they naturally lick moisture from leaves, branches and other surfaces. Replicating this in captivity is crucial.
Misting the enclosure at least 1–2 times a day provides moisture. Use a hand mister on a low setting to lightly coat foliage and allow droplets to form that your chameleon can drink. The entire habitat should dry out between mistings. You can also use an automatic mister to make life easier, you can check out my recommendations for them here.
Another option is to install a drip system that slowly releases water down onto well-positioned leaves and vines. Locate water sources near basking spots your chameleon frequents.
Signs of good hydration include white urates, bulging eyes, smooth skin and normal activity levels. Dehydration can quickly become fatal with symptoms like lethargy, wrinkled skin, yellow urates and sunken eyes. Maintaining proper moisture is essential.
Veiled chameleons require pretty easy to provide for humidity. During the day around 50% is fine, this is normal room humidity level, so no special measures need to be taken to provide it. There’s no need to worry if it goes a little higher, up to 75% either.
At nighttime, they need the humidity raised up to between 80%-100%. This can be provided by running a fogger on low level at night. Check out my recommendations for foggers here.
Lighting and Heating
Like all chameleons, veiled chameleons need specialized lighting for health. Provide full spectrum UVB bulbs for 10–12 hours daily. Allow some direct natural sunlight into the enclosure too when possible. You also need a day bulb that mimics the sun’s light frequency, this is not the same as a UVB bulb. This helps plants grow, keeps your veiled chameleon more active, and helps display their colors better.
Establish a thermal gradient with basking bulbs over a basking spot between 6 and 12 inches from the roof of the cage. The ambient cool end can be 70-80°F. The basking spot should reach 85-98°F. Always provide branches that make it easier for your chameleon to climb up and down for thermoregulation.
At night, all artificial lighting should be turned off and temperatures can drop to 65-75°F. Monitor the warm and cool end temperatures with separate, reliable thermometers and adjust heat sources as needed. Proper lighting and heating prevents metabolic and bone issues.
Further Reading: These Lights Are Essential For A Pet Chameleon
Further Reading: Best Chameleon Lights In 2023
Handling Your Veiled Chameleon
While veiled chameleons tolerate gentle handling better than other species, they still prefer to be observed rather than handled excessively. Give a new veiled chameleon 3–4 days to settle into their new home before attempting any contact.
I always recommend never handling them unless necessary, as handling stresses them out, and stress is a big cause of many health problems. However, if you still want to handle them, you should limit handling sessions to 10–15 minutes once or twice a week. Never grab forcefully or restrain them. Support the body fully when holding and prevent falls or escapes. Signs of stress include hissing, puffing out the throat, changing to dark colors and gaping the mouth.
Males may become territorial and aggressive, especially towards other males. Some female veiled chameleons may also fight with each other. It is possible to house male and female chameleons together and, in rare instances, male, but you should definitely not attempt this unless you are a very experienced keeper. Veiled chameleons are solitary and are perfectly happy being housed alone.
Further Reading: Can you hold a chameleon? The Answer Might Disappoint You
Common Health Issues
The specialized care needs of veiled chameleons makes them prone to certain health conditions, often stemming from improper husbandry. Metabolic bone disease, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration and parasitism are some main concerns.
Ensure UVB lighting, gut loaded and supplemented insects, ambient temperatures and humidity levels meet the recommendations here to avoid issues associated with poor care. Establish a relationship with a herpatological vet to diagnose and treat any problems early. Have checkups every 6–12 months to keep their health in check. Read my article about the health problems chameleons suffer from and how to prevent them.