Originally, there were two officially recognized subspecies of veiled chameleon, the C. c. calyptratus and the C. c. calcarifer. The main difference between the two is the size of the cranial helmet—called a casque. However, recent studies have found the C. c. calcarifer to be a hybrid and not a valid subspecies.
The veiled chameleon often goes by the name Yemen Chameleon.
The adult size of your pet veiled chameleon depends on its gender. Typical males grow to a length between 17 and 24 inches (43.2 to 61 cm) from the tip of the snout to the end of their tails. Females will typically reach a total length of 10 to 14 inches (25.4 to33 cm).
Veiled chameleons are not heavy-bodied lizards, with males weighing in at about 3 to 6 ounces (85 to 170 grams) and females at 3 to 4 ounces (85 to 118 grams).
Veiled chameleons don’t have very long lifespans when compared to other Old World lizards. Captive-bred females typically live up to five years and males can live up for up to eight years when kept properly.
There’s no denying that veiled chameleons look awesome. They can change their own color, have impressive casques on their heads, they can shoot their long sticky tongues 1.5 times the length of their bodies to catch prey, they have curly prehensile tails, and they come in a stunning array of color patterns. Plus, their eyes operate independently, so they can look many different ways at once.
Aside from their similarities, male and female veiled chameleons vary in four areas: males typically have a higher casque height than females; males have a tarsal spur on each of their hind heels, whereas females do not; adult males and females display different coloration; and males generally have a larger total body length than do females.
Veiled chameleons are noted for having a huge variety of color patterns, even in lizards that come from the same clutch. Even though they come in all the colors of the rainbow, there are still some generalizations that can be made.
Males usually have light gold or yellow bands with orange fringes that alternate with turquoise to yellow-green. The underside and throats of the males are usually a lighter blue-green with dark blue-green spots. Females are smaller and tend to have horizontal rows of white patches with dark edges, usually in a lateral display, although males can have these horizontal rows, too.
Veiled chameleons are one of the most commonly kept and widely available types of chameleon. They're highly adaptable and hardy, spectacularly colored, and impressive in size without being too large. However, veiled chameleons tend to have aggressive tendencies and most don’t like to be handled. That said, veiled chameleons are best left to intermediate and advanced herpetoculturists.
The majority of your pet chameleon’s diet should be made up of insects like crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, roaches, locusts, wax worms, and silkworms, but veiled chameleons aren’t strict carnivores. Their diets should have bits of plant material in addition to insects.
Ideally, you should feed your veiled chameleon a diet that’s as close to what it would eat in the wild as possible. Fresh vegetables like broccoli bits, grated carrots, cut-up spinach, and small pieces of fresh fruits should be offered periodically. You can also feed your chameleon some dandelion leaves or romaine lettuce. or keep a potted hibiscus plant (as long as they’re all pesticide-free). The cool thing about having a live hibiscus plant is that it doubles as decoration and food.
Juvenile veiled chameleons should be fed twelve to twenty small crickets every day. Adult veiled chameleons should be fed insects every other day. Twelve large crickets or five to six super worms or wax worms should suffice.
Dust your chameleon’s food with a calcium supplement every other week to make sure they’re getting all the proper nutrients. This is particularly important if your veiled chameleon is kept indoors.
Chameleons don’t like to drink from water bowls. Mist your chameleaon’s cage twice per day and provide a drip watering system to ensure adequate hydration.
When cared for properly, veiled chameleons enjoy a hardy constitution. In general, chameleons are not easy animals when it comes to assessing illness or treating them—they are good at disguising their symptoms. Owning and caring for a healthy chameleon begins with the selection of a healthy specimen. Always know your breeder and thoroughly inspect the chameleon before purchasing. Also, do your due diligence and research the species first: will you be able to offer the feeding, cleaning and care requirements for up to eight years, maybe longer?
Another important thing to check off your list before bringing home a new chameleon is securing a reptile vet. Look for a vet that is advertised as specializing in “reptiles” and not just “exotics,” and be sure to ask plenty of questions when vetting them.
Common health conditions you may run into include:
They may look cool, but veiled chameleons tend to be on the aggressive side, even when captive-born and bred. They don’t enjoy being handled and the jury is still out on whether or not they can be successfully tamed. As long as you know these facts and respect the veiled chameleon’s temperament before purchasing one, you’ll be able to maintain a happy and successful pet-owner relationship.
A number of hobbyists purchase reptiles to breed. Chameleons are not easy to breed, however, so don’t think of your veiled chameleon as an opportunity to make money.
When setting up a new home for pet veiled chameleons you’ll need several things:
Veiled chameleons are solitary creatures and should be housed separate from each other in as large a cage as possible. You can start your baby chameleon in a small enclosure, but you will need to increase the size as your pet grows. As noted above, they have a tendency toward aggression; forcing them to share a habitat can easily lead to fighting and injuries – and large veterinary bills. Ideally, an adult chameleon’s cage should be at least 24 in long x 24 in wide x 48 in high.
Veiled chameleons need humidity for good health, but humid air can lead to stagnant air, mold growth, and a generally smelly environment. To keep your veiled chameleon’s air as clean as possible, make as much of the habitat open to air as you can using reptile safe screens for the sides, as well as for the top, since glass and plastic tops can block the UVB wavelengths your veiled chameleon needs for good health (see Light, below).
Substrate for the bottom of the enclosure is not needed and may even be a breeding ground for mold. Simple paper, like butcher’s paper, paper towels, or plain newspaper can be used and is easy to change out a few times each week.
Veiled chameleons are arboreal, meaning they like to hide under leaves and climb on branches. If these amenities are absent, your chameleon may become stressed and ill. Furnish your chameleon’s home with broad-leafed plants like Ficus and Hibiscus. Though not limited to these plants, do make sure that any plant or branch you choose for your chameleon’s habitat is non-toxic and pesticide-free. Plastic plants can be mixed in with your live plants for a pleasing look and for additional hiding spots.
As for the perching branch, anything that’s larger in diameter than your pet’s grasp should do, but don’t let it be a slippery type of branch. Place perching branches diagonally across the chameleon’s enclosure, like a path for your chameleon to travel around on, and place some underneath the basking lights too.
Chameleons go through a basking period each morning, and they rely on the sun and other heat sources to maintain proper body temperatures throughout the day.
In order to provide the proper ambient and basking temperatures, you’ll need to purchase both incandescent and fluorescent lights and some thermometers with digital readouts to monitor them with. The ambient temperature range during the day should be between 74 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (24C – 32C) and shouldn’t drop more than 10 degrees at most during the nighttime.
Fluorescent lights will provide the main source of light, with the incandescent providing the basking area, or hot spot. Place a flat surface or perching branch under the basking light for your pet, and always make sure there is at least a 6-inch space between the top of the cage and the basking light. For fluorescent lighting, make sure to maintain a 2 to 4 inch-distance from the top of the cage to prevent your pet from burning itself.
It is a necessity to have ultraviolet lighting (UVb) lighting for your pet chameleon. They need UV rays to convert inactive vitamin D into active vitamin D. That allows the body to absorb and process calcium from the gut. Without proper UVb lighting, most chameleons will develop metabolic bone disease, a very serious health problem in reptiles. Change your UVb bulb every 9-12 months—even if it is still working, it loses its ability to emit UVB rays over time—and be sure not to have glass, plexi-glass, or plastic directly underneath the bulb as it will block the rays.
Always provide plenty of clean, fresh drinking water to your veiled chameleon in the form of a drip system and by misting plants within its enclosure. Chameleons don’t like to drink from water bowls; in the wild they prefer to find their water dripping from leaves. Misting your pet’s cage twice per day and providing a drip watering system will ensure adequate hydration as well as ambient humidity.
Veiled chameleons are native to the Arabian Peninsula; Yemen, and Saudi Arabia in particular. They can be found in three main regions and distinct climates: the humid low coastal plains of Yemen and south Saudi Arabia, the rain-fed western and southern mountain slopes of south Yemen, and the high plateaus of southern Saudi Arabia and north Yemen. Their native environment contains harsh extremes, forcing them to evolve into the incredibly adaptable creature they are today.
It hasn’t traveled extensively in the natural sense; veiled chameleons are in fact considered an invasive species in Maui and in parts of Florida—in particular, the Florida Everglades—where people have released their pets into the wild. Needless to say, it is never recommended to release your veiled chameleon into the wild. If you find that you are not able to care for your chameleon, contact a local wildlife refuge that is equipped to safely care for and rehome them.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Adam Denish, VMD.