Latin name: Chamaeleo Calyptratus
The veiled or Yemen chameleon belongs to the family Chamaeleonidae: a distinctive and highly specialized group of lizards restricted to the Old World. They are distinguished from other lizards by their parrot-like (zygodactylous) feet and independently mobile eyes. The other unique feature shared by all chameleons is their rapidly extrudable tongues, which may be as long as their body length. Chameleons are also renowned for their ability to change colour. Contrary to popular belief, this colour changing ability is not solely for camouflage, but more likely for communication; to express moods and possibly to attract a mate. Male veiled chameleons grow to total length of about 50cms (20 inches) including tail, whilst females are smaller, reaching only 35cms (14 inches). The lifespan is around 4-8 Years, with males usually living longer than females, although both are quite short-lived compared to many other reptiles.
Facts & Information
Origin: Veiled chameleons originate from the mountain regions of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Benefits of keeping: Veiled chameleons make excellent and fascinating pets, but unlike Bearded Dragons they are not “hands on pets” and will prefer to be left to their own devices in a vivarium. Like all chameleons, they are solitary animals and must be kept on their own, adults only come together for breeding and then only for very short periods.
Chameleons are often portrayed as difficult animals to keep and some of the 160 or so species known have complex needs which may be troublesome to replicate. Veiled chameleons have adapted very well to captivity and although they do have specific requirements they are a very easy species to keep. In fact, more veiled chameleons are actually kept and bred in the UK than exist in the wild!
Housing: Veiled chameleons require an arboreal enclosure with more height than floor space and a terrarium or vivarium approximately 60cm wide by 90cm tall is suitable for an adult. Good ventilation is a critical requirement for this species as stagnant air can cause a lot of health problems for your chameleon. If using a melamine vivarium, it is important to choose one that has been specifically designed to allow for the extra ventilation required, such as the Vivexotic Chameleon Vivarium with its front flow ventilation system (see the ‘My Perfect Vivarium‘ web tool for additional housing suggestions).
Substrate and Furnishings: Veiled chameleons are highly arboreal (they live in trees and love climbing) and rarely venture onto the ground, so plenty of climbing facilities should be incorporated into the enclosure. They also like lots of foliage to hide in. Live plants can be used but it is important that only non-toxic varieties are used as lizards may try to eat them [see Diet and Feeding below]. It is also important that any plants used must not have sharp spines, so it is often more practical to use artificial plants.
Choice of substrate is down to personal choice and some keepers may prefer not to use any at all. There are a good range available: Exo Terra Forest Moss, Plantation Soil, Jungle Earth and Forest Bark are all suitable. Substrates should be changed regularly.
Heating: A daytime basking area of around 95°F (35°C) is essential, as are cool areas ranging from 68-84°F (20-29°C) although no extra night heat is needed for veiled chameleons if the room stays above 16°C (60°F). A basking lamp is the best heat source as chameleons do like to bask. Exo Terra Daytime Basking Spotlights are suitable and should be set on a timer to give 12 hours light and heat per day.
Two thermometers should be used so that a careful check can be made of the basking area and the cooler area of the enclosure.
Lighting: As well as needing good bright lighting in the form of a spotlight, veiled chameleons also require ultraviolet light (UVA for normal vision and activity levels and UVB for normal calcium metabolism), which must be supplied by specialist reptile UV lamps or tubes. A high UVB fluorescent tube, such as Exo Terra Repti Glo 10.0, ideally fitted with reflectors, should be used to supplement the lighting and may be fitted to a timer to give 12 hours light/day. These must be replaced every year, even though they may look fine, as all fluorescent bulbs lose their UV radiation within this time.
Water: Unlike most other species of lizards, chameleons do not take water from a water bowl and will only drink from moving water which is a very important issue to bear in mind when keeping them. Water should be provided by misting the enclosure twice a day to allow your chameleon to take moisture from the droplets on the plants and branches. The Exo Terra Monsoon Misting System is ideal as it automates the process, perfect if you are out in the day. Alternatively a drip system can be used to meet your chameleon’s moisture needs, such as the Exo Terra Dripper Plant.
Diet and Feeding: Veiled chameleons are unique amongst chameleons in being omnivorous. As well as the normal insects, they will take as some plant material, such as dandelion leaves, cabbage, turnip greens, nasturtiums, broccoli, apples, green beans, carrots, melon, peaches and bananas (with skin). Not all veiled chameleons will take plant matter, so if your chameleon rejects any offerings do not be concerned.
Young chameleons should be offered food twice daily. Only offer as much food as the animal will take and try not leave uneaten insects in the cage. Food should be of appropriate size for the animal. As guidance, the length of the food should be roughly equal to the width between the chameleon’s eyes. Adult chameleons can be fed daily but it is recommended that they should miss one day a week.
Suitable insects are crickets, locusts, waxworms, giant mealworms etc. All insects should be well fed so that they contain maximum nutritional value when presented to the Chameleon. They normally come with food, such as bran, in the container. Once or twice a week insects should be dusted with a good quality reptile mineral/vitamin supplement powder before offering them to the lizards.
Shedding: Veiled chameleons shed their skin at regular intervals as they grow. The old skin is pushed off in patches and is normally eaten by the chameleon. Your veiled chameleon should go through this process every 3-4 weeks as a juvenile, dependant on its rate of growth, but less frequently as an adult. Prior to sloughing, your veiled chameleon may become disinterested in food and its skin may take on a dull or milky appearance. Shedding may take just a few hours when your chameleon is young, but last several days as an adult, so do not be alarmed if it is taking longer than you would normally expect.
Most veiled chameleons will shed without any need for extra help, but if you want to assist your veiled chameleon during this time you should try to raise the humidity in the vivarium to help it loosen its skin. You can do this by lightly misting the tank with water more frequently than you would normally.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Chris Newman, REPTA and The Federation of British Herpetologists in the preparation of this guide.