If you know someone with a ‘chameleon’ as a pet, chances are very good that it’s actually a veiled chameleon. They are one of the most common and popular chameleons.
Veiled chameleons are known for their ability to change colors, the distinctive casque on their heads, and their long tongues that can catch prey in a split second. However, chameleons are not the easiest animal to care for – but, spending time learning about them can change that!
What is a veiled chameleon?
|Scientific name||Chamaeleo calyptratus|
|Common names||Veiled chameleon, Yemen chameleon, cone-head chameleon, Yemeni chameleon|
|Habitat||Arid to humid regions of the Arabian Peninsula and parts of Africa|
|Size||Males: up to 61 cm (24 in); Females: up to 35 cm (14 in)|
|Lifespan||5 to 8 years in captivity|
|Diet||Insects and plant matter|
|Color||Varies depending on mood, environment, and gender|
|Eyes||Can move independently and see in 360 degrees|
The veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) is a chameleon species native to the Arabian Peninsula, mainly Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They are also called Yemen chameleons, cone-head chameleons, or Yemeni chameleons. They are arboreal, meaning they live in trees and other large plants and they prefer warmer temperatures between 75 to 95 °F.
Veiled chameleons are one of the largest chameleon species, with males reaching up to 24 in length and females up to 14 in.
They have a casque, which is a helmet-like structure, on their heads that grows larger as they mature. They also have a crest of small spines along their backs and tails.
Their coloration varies depending on their mood, environment, and gender. Males are usually brighter and more colorful than females, with bands of yellow, green, and blue, while females are mostly green with white, orange, yellow, or tan mottling.
Veiled chameleons are primarily insectivorous, meaning they eat mostly insects but consume some plant matter, such as leaves and flowers. They have a long, sticky tongue extending up to twice their body length and catching prey in a fraction of a second. Their eyes can move independently giving them a 360-degree field of view, offering them a significant advantage when hunting or avoiding predators.
How to care for a veiled chameleon?
Of all the Chameleon species, the veiled chameleon is one of the most beginner-friendly, along with the panther chameleon. With that said, however, they are still not the best for a beginning lizard keeper.
They have complex needs that must be met in order to thrive, and their health can decline quickly when their environment is off.
They are also very sensitive to stress, affecting their health and behavior.
Cage size and setup
Veiled chameleons need a large and well-ventilated enclosure that mimics their natural habitat. The minimum cage size for an adult veiled chameleon is 24″ x 24″ x 48″, but bigger is definitely better.
The cage should have a screen top and sides to allow air circulation and prevent overheating. They should also have plenty of branches, vines, and plants for the chameleon to climb and hide in.
Live plants are preferable, as they provide humidity, oxygen, and edible foliage for the chameleon. Some good plants to use are ficus, hibiscus, pothos, and dracaena.
The cage should also have a substrate, such as paper towels, newspaper, or reptile carpet, that is easy to clean and does not pose a risk of impaction if ingested by the chameleon.
Their substrate should be cleaned or replaced regularly. As it gets old and dirty bacteria can start growing in it, threatening your chameleons health.
Temperature and lighting
Veiled chameleons need a temperature gradient in their cage, with a basking spot of about 90 to 95 °F and a cooler area of about 75 to 80 °F. The temperature should be monitored with thermometers and regulated with a thermostat.
A good thermostat is a necessity for any reptile. Without one, or with a subpar-quality thermostat, you easily run the risk of the heat failing or overheating and cooking or burning your reptile – Yikes!
The cage should also have a UVB light to provide 10 to 12 hours of daylight and help the chameleon synthesize vitamin D3 – an essential nutrient for calcium absorption and bone health. The UVB light should be replaced every 6 to 12 months, as it loses its effectiveness over time.
The cage should also have a regular incandescent light or a ceramic heat emitter to provide heat and a day-night cycle for the chameleon.
Water, hydration, and humidity
Veiled chameleons need constant access to clean water since they can quickly become dehydrated. However, they do not drink from standing water, such as bowls or dishes, but rather from droplets on leaves or mist in the air. Therefore, the cage should have a drip system, a misting system, or a fogger that provides water for the chameleon to drink.
The humidity level should stay between 50 to 70% at all times. This can be measured with a hygrometer and maintained with the water sources and live plants. The cage should be misted at least twice daily, and the water should be dechlorinated or filtered to avoid harming the chameleon.
Pro tip: An automatic mister is a lifesaver! Just make sure you keep it full and check that it’s working periodically.
Food and diet
Veiled chameleons need a varied and nutritious diet that consists mainly of insects, such as crickets, roaches, locusts, worms, and flies. The insects should be gut-loaded, meaning fed with fresh fruits and vegetables, before being offered to the chameleon to enhance their nutritional value. The insects should also be dusted with calcium and vitamin supplements, especially for young and gravid chameleons, to prevent metabolic bone disease and other health problems.
Veiled chameleons should be fed every day or every other day, depending on their age and appetite, and the amount of food should be adjusted according to their body condition and weight.
They should also be offered fresh plant matter, such as kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, and mustard greens. Dark green leafy vegetables like these provide additional vitamins and minerals your chameleon needs.
All plants offered as food should be washed, chopped, and placed in a shallow dish or hung from the cage.
Veiled chameleons typically live 4-8 years in captivity – a short lifespan compared to other old-world lizards.
Males live longer than females, usually between 6-8 years, while females only live 4-6 years, on average.
Potential health issues of veiled chameleons
Veiled chameleons are prone to several health issues, some of which can be fatal if not treated promptly and properly. Some of the most common health problems of veiled chameleons are:
- Metabolic bone disease
- Respiratory infection
Behavior and temperament of veiled chameleons
Veiled chameleons are solitary and territorial animals – they do not tolerate the presence of other chameleons or animals in their space very well.
They are also very shy and easily stressed, so they do not enjoy being handled or disturbed by humans. They are best observed from a distance and only handled when necessary, such as for cleaning or veterinary purposes.
Veiled chameleons communicate with their body language and color changes, indicating their mood, health, and social status. For example, bright and contrasting colors can mean excitement, aggression, or readiness to mate, while dark and dull colors can mean fear, stress, or illness. They can also display various postures and gestures, such as puffing up, hissing, or biting, to warn or threaten potential rivals or predators.
For a chameleon, veiled chameleons are inquisitive and intelligent animals. They are capable of learning to recognize their owners and respond to their cues. Using positive reinforcement and treats, they can also be trained to perform simple tasks, such as targeting, climbing, or fetching. However, they should not be overstimulated or bored.
Veiled chameleons are sexually dimorphic – simply meaning there are noticeable differences between males and females. Males are larger, more colorful, and have a bigger casque than females.
The most notable difference, however, is the presence of spurs. Males have a pair of spurs, small bumps, on their hind feet, which females lack.
Both, males and females, reach sexual maturity at about 5 to 8 months old.
Veiled chameleons are oviparous (they lay eggs). They breed seasonally, usually in the spring or summer, depending on the climate and the availability of food and water. Their mating process involves a complex ritual of color changes, head bobbing, and tail curling by both partners. The male approaches the female and mounts her from behind, holding her neck with his mouth and wrapping his tail around hers. The male then inserts one of his hemipenes, which are paired reproductive organs, into the female’s cloaca, which is a common opening for the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. Copulation lasts for about 10 to 30 minutes, and may be repeated several times over a few days.
The female veiled chameleon can store the male’s sperm for several months until she is ready to lay eggs. She can also produce multiple clutches of eggs from a single mating. In most cases, when the female doesn’t store the male sperm, she will lay her eggs 20 to 30 days after mating in a hole that she digs in the soil or sand.
The clutch size usually varies from 20 to 50 eggs, but there can be as many as 80 eggs depending on the size and condition of the female. Larger females typically lay more eggs than smaller females.
The female covers the eggs with soil and leaves them to incubate. The incubation period can range from 4 to 9 months, depending on the temperature and humidity. When hatchlings emerge from the eggs they will have a yolk sac attached to their belly, which provides them with nourishment for the first few days.
Veiled chameleon hatchlings are independent from birth and receive no parental care – when the yolk sac runs out they will have to fend for themselves.