Chameleons drink water by licking droplets off leaves. They need a lot of water to stay adequately hydrated. This water is provided by rainfall in the wild or by misting the enclosure twice a day for chameleons kept as pets.
Amount of water needed
There are no real set amount chameleons should drink and like any living creature, they’ll drink as much as they need to quench their thirst.
Having said that some species seem to drink more than others. So a panther chameleon will probably drink more overall than a veiled chameleon because of where their natural habitat is and the amount of rainfall there.
Panther chameleons live in hot rain forests in Madagascar and veiled chameleons in drier parts of the Arabian peninsula.
It’s not straightforward to get them to drink though because of the way they drink water.
What you need to do is make sure you provide them with enough and often enough to give them a good chance of getting the hydration they need.
If they don’t drink enough water serious problems can arise from them being too dehydrated.
Chameleons need water at least once a day but twice is better for them. This also depends on what the climate is like where you live.
If it’s a warmer climate the water you provide will dry out quicker, possibly before your chameleon has even had a chance to drink it so you need to provide it more regularly. A cooler climate then not so much.
As I live in a cooler climate for my chameleon I was able to mist just once a day and that would be enough for my veiled chameleon.
There were times I would go a few days not misting him but my regular schedule was normally once a day or every other day.
The best schedule is to ensure your chameleon has near constant access to water and this can be achieved by using a dripper like the one mentioned above.
How chameleons drink
Chameleons are in many ways wonderfully odd creatures. It’s why we love them right? This oddness is no different when it comes to their drinking habits.
Chameleons don’t drink like other animals do in the wild. Take a horse for instance. You can lead one to water, you can’t make it drink but that horse will know it’s water.
A chameleon on the other hand? First of all good luck trying to lead one to water but even if you were successful that chameleon wouldn’t have the faintest idea it’s water you’ve led them to.
The only way a chameleon can spot water is if it’s either moving water, specifically dripping down leaves or if it’s in drop form like morning dew.
Even when water is cascading down leaves either side of a chameleon and landing on its head it will still take a while for it to actually recognize that water is present.
Chameleons drink water by licking droplets formed on leaves from the morning dew or a rain shower.
In fact, chameleons are so bad at recognizing water that evolution has even helped some species along.
It’s believed the casque and grooves on their heads is there to help water drip down it and form in a little pool so the water automatically falls into their mouths.
Chameleons do not drink by absorbing water through their skin or casque. I fell for this silly myth when I first got my chameleon and it’s a dangerous myth. They do not have the ability to do this and can only drink in the way described above.
How to provide water
To get a chameleon to drink water you have to imitate how they perceive and access water in the wild. The best ways to do this are:
- Hand Misting – This is where you spray your chameleon’s enclosure with water from a hand spray bottle. I recommend you get a pressure pump spray like the one pictured below. Using one you where have to continuously pump the spray gun hurts your wrist before too long.
- Dripper – This can be used in combination with the hand misting method. Drippers can be something as simple as a deli cup filled with water and a pinhole made in the bottom for the water to drip out. This is then placed on top of the enclosure.
A better option is a purpose made dripper, which is a plastic tub filled with water with a little tap in the bottom that can be set to make the dripping slower or faster.
- Hamster Bottle – For the same reason a dripper is useful. You can attach this to the side of your chameleon’s enclosure and have it so a drip of water just stays there and catches the light. While your chameleon won’t drink from it in the same way a hamster would it will see a drop sitting there and lick it up.
Another drop will eventually form again for your chameleon to drink. I must say I had mixed results when I tried this. I could never set it so drops would form consistently enough for my chameleon to notice but you may have better luck with a better hamster water bottle.
- Ice Cubes – Not a very good option in my view but it is an option. Similar to the dripper but instead of a cup you just put some ice cubes on the roof of the enclosure and let them melt. While this provides water it doesn’t drip consistently. Instead it just sort of splashes down at random intervals.
While this does make the enclosure wet your chameleon won’t register it as water and will be less likely to drink. Better to use if you’re in a hurry to get out the door and need a quick solution.
- Foggers – For a while foggers were seen as a bit pointless for providing water to captive chameleons. Sure it really looks nice seeing a nice fine mist envelop the enclosure but it doesn’t leave much behind.
Something obvious was missed though as chameleons often drink dew drops off of leaves in the morning.
So by fogging in the morning before the lights came on so the water didn’t evaporate meant that captive chameleons can mimic their conditions in nature and drink droplets left behind by the fog.
- Auto Mister – Hands down the best option in my view but it’s also the most expensive. An auto mister is a pump and reservoir set on the side or roof of the enclosure with two nozzles placed inside.
You just simply fill the reservoir with water, set the timer and let it do its thing. It creates a really fine mist and completely soaks the enclosure. I moved to this when I got fed up with hand misting.
With the dripper, method make sure you set it so it drips over a favorite leaf your chameleon is often nearby.
I find it even more effective if you can get the drip to land on a leaf which then, in turn, drops down on a few other leaves so your chameleon has a choice of leaves to drink from.
I found it quite fun trying to see how many leaves I could get one drop to cover.
When hand misting or using the auto mister it’s important to keep it going long enough so that your chameleon can notice water is there and start the drinking response.
Just simply soaking the enclosure is not enough your chameleon needs to know there’s water around.
You’ll know you’ve sprayed enough when the enclosure is wet and your chameleon starts opening and closing their mouth.
I also want to add that you shouldn’t be afraid to spray your chameleon directly.
Many people say this is a bad idea and it is if you just continuously do it and do it with too powerful a water jet. It’s ok if you just quickly run the spray over them and then move away again.
Your chameleon will likely be a bit startled when you do it at first but this is no different to getting a rain shower in their natural habitat so you shouldn’t be alarmed by your chameleon’s reaction.
Just make sure you have your hand pump spray set on the finest mist setting possible and you’ll be ok.
Never, ever directly spray a baby chameleon like this though. They’re far too small for it and could in fact drown. Only direct spray an adult size chameleon.
How not to provide water
- A Water Dish – A complete waste of yours and your chameleon’s time. Filling a dish with water might seem like the most obvious choice, after all, it works for virtually every other pet there is but a chameleon is not like every other pet.
A chameleon will pay absolutely no attention to standing water because it won’t even have the ability to recognize it as water and will just go without drinking. A chameleon could be on the brink of dying from dehydration and it still won’t drink it because chameleons just cannot recognize still water as water.
- A Fountain – While these look nice and give a nice tranquil sound to your chameleon’s habitat I don’t recommend them. Mainly because they’re just not as effective as misting or drippers but also because the water is constantly recycled I would be too concerned about the possibility of bacteria and parasites entering my chameleon’s system.
- Showering – This is when you place your chameleon on a plant, put them in a shower cubicle and direct the shower at the wall so it bounces off and hits the wall. While this is actually a viable way to provide water it should only be done as a last resort if you think your chameleon is too dehydrated and needs a good dose of water.
- Bath – Another silly idea that some people have gotten into their heads is that chameleons like baths. They don’t, they live in trees and they very rarely go on the ground much less go to standing water and drink or bathe in it. They’re just not biologically or evolutionary adapted for this. Your chameleon will not get any hydration this way. Instead, it will just get unnecessarily stressed out.
It does all depend on what the water supply is like in your area. I live in a hard water area but always used water straight from the tap without any issues for my chameleon.
If you’re concerned about water just prepare water the day before in a lidless container and let it sit overnight to let any chemicals contained within it evaporate. A water filter will work just well too.
If your water supply comes from a ground well underneath your home you may have some concerns about water safety you can get reptile water conditioners.
How to tell if they’re drinking enough
Chameleons won’t often drink in front of people. The concept of a shy drinker in chameleons is common so it’s not always easy to determine of they’re drinking enough.
I was lucky enough to witness my chameleon often drink in front of me and it was lovely to see.
You will know your chameleon is getting enough by checking their urates. This is the white part of their poo that is, in fact, their urine as they don’t get rid of urine waste in liquid form.
If the urates are white then your chameleon is getting enough water.
If it’s yellow don’t be freaked out by this straight away. I see people get extremely worried about this too quickly.
This may sound weird but think of your own urine. Sometimes it’s clear meaning you’re well hydrated and sometimes it’s yellow meaning you could use a bit more water. The same applies to chameleons.
If you see yellow urates just take it as a sign you need to be increasing the amount and frequency of water you provide.
Alongside white urates your chameleon will have generally plump looking skin with few wrinkles in and their eyes will be nice and bulgy not sunken into the skull.
It’s when you start seeing frequent yellow urates alongside sunken eyes, wrinkled skin and misshapen casques in veiled chameleons is when you need to start being concerned.
Just a little word on dehydration to finish off this article. Dehydration in all animals is bad news but if it gets too far gone in chameleons it is quite difficult to bring them back to full health.
This is why it is of paramount importance you maintain a good watering schedule to keep your chameleon happy and healthy.
If you suspect your chameleon is suffering from severe dehydration I recommend you try giving them a shower as I mentioned as a last resort.
You should also take them to a fully qualified herp vet, which is a vet specifically qualified to care for reptiles. They will be able to help further and provide rehydration medication.