Cuban False Chameleon Care Sheet

Cuban False Chameleon (Anolis barbatus)

Difficulty: Intermediate

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cuban false chameleon care sheet (anolis barbatus) feature image

The Cuban false chameleon (Anolis barbatus) is also known as the Western Bearded Anole. It is a larger lizard around 7″ / 18cm SVL (snout to vent length) and a thin tail slightly shorter than its body. The head is large, with bulging, independently-moving eyes; fused eyelids, a vertically-compressed body, short limbs, and a dewlap adorned by a ridge of spike-like scales.

As implied by their common name, Cuban false chameleons can be found on the western side of Cuba, occupying the transition zone between dry forest and upland rainforest. They are categorized as a “twig giant” ecomorph and perch primarily on narrow branches and twigs.

Preferred for their relatively calm dispositions, Cuban false chameleons are becoming more common in the US pet trade. However, there is still much to learn about optimal Cuban false chameleon care and their potential maximum lifespan in captivity.

Cuban False Chameleon Shopping List

These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional Cuban false chameleon terrarium. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.

Cuban False Chameleon Terrarium Size Requirements

Cuban false chameleons need a terrarium that is large enough to give them adequate opportunity to thermoregulate, explore, hunt, and generally exercise natural behaviors, although they are considered more sedentary than other Anolis species. They are also arboreal, which means that they require a tall enclosure. The minimum recommended enclosure size for housing a single Cuban false chameleon is 18″L x 18″W x 36″H, or 45 x 45 x 90cm. If possible, however, larger is highly recommended!

For the lizard’s mental health and ease of access, it is best to use an enclosure that is front-opening and opaque on all sides but the front. It also must be well-ventilated to discourage stagnation and mold growth.

Here are some terrariums that ReptiFiles recommends for housing Cuban false chameleons:

Can multiple Cuban false chameleons be housed in the same enclosure?

Due to conflict concerns, it’s best practice not to house multiple Cuban false chameleons together.

Lighting & UVB for Cuban False Chameleons

Cuban false chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they need exposure to bright light and UVB during the day for best mental and physical health. Light sources should be turned on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter, with gradual adjustments in-between.

Alternatively, you can use a smart timer (I’ve been happy with Kasa) to sync your lights with local sunrise and sunset times.

UVB Lighting

UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), distance between the lizard’s back and the UVB lamp must be considered. 

Your bulb of choice should span most of the length of the enclosure, mounted in a reflective T5 HO fixture such as the Arcadia ProT5 or the Vivarium Electronics T5 HO fixture

(These recommendations are approximations based on the assumption that there is mesh between the lamp and basking area. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of around 2.0 – 3.0 in the basking area.)

General Illumination

A UVB bulb alone isn’t bright enough to simulate sunlight for a diurnal species. So you will need to supplement with a bright, ~6500K T5 HO fluorescent or LED lamp, long enough to span most of the enclosure. This is particularly important if you have live plants in the enclosure, but it is also valuable for providing additional illumination and supporting your pet’s general wellbeing as a diurnal lizard.

The Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar and the Bio Dude Glow & Grow are my preferred choices for this purpose.

Cuban False Chameleon Temperature Requirements

Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is regulated automatically. Cuban false chameleons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, Cuban false chameleons warm up by basking in a patch of sunlight. In captivity, the warmth of sunlight can be replicated with heat lamps.

  • Basking area temperature: 90°F (32°C)
  • Cool side temperature: 72-82°F (22-28°C)
  • Nighttime temperature: 65-72°F (18-22°C)

Two 60w heat bulbs housed in a dual dome lamp should be enough to do the job for one lizard. If you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial down the heat down with a two-socket rheostat. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.

The basking area should be branch or vine directly under the heat lamp. The warmest temperatures in the enclosure will be at the top (near the heat lamp), and the coolest temperatures will be toward the bottom. You will need to place climbing material at all levels of the enclosure to allow for proper thermoregulation.

To track the temperatures in your terrarium, use digital probe thermometers. One should have the probe secured with a zip tie on the basking surface under the heat source, and there should be another probe in a shaded area near the lower middle of the enclosure. Most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well for this purpose.

Cuban False Chameleon Humidity Requirements

Cuban false chameleons do best in a high-humidity environment, with an average humidity around 80%, ranging as low as 40% during the day and up to 100% at night.

Humidity should be measured by at least one digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure. Note that low humidity levels can cause health problems for your pet, but so can insufficient ventilation.

To raise the humidity in your Cuban false chameleon’s enclosure (and provide an extra source of drinking water), use a pump-style pressure sprayer to wet down the enclosure every morning and evening, preferably when it’s dark. If needed, you may mist again (lightly) in the mid-afternoon. Installing an automatic misting system like MistKing is strongly recommended if you have a busy schedule.

If you live in an area with a dry climate, it may be beneficial to install a cool mist humidifier or fogger such as the Evergreen Reptile Humidifier to help with maintaining a high-humidity environment at night. Program it to turn on and off for a few hours prior to “sunrise”. Humidifiers, foggers, and misters must be used with distilled water and periodically disinfected to prevent illness. Never use a humidifier or fogger during the day, as this increases the potential for illness.

Substrate Options for Cuban False Chameleons

Cuban false chameleons spend the majority of their lives in the trees, so substrate may not seem particularly important, but it still offers important functions. Aside from providing a cushion against falls and a comfortable walking surface, the right substrate can also help maintain healthy humidity levels in your terrarium.

Here are some reliable Cuban false chameleon substrate choices:

At least 4″ / 20cm of substrate will be needed. For an 18″ x 18″ enclosure, that will take at least 22 quarts of substrate material. For best results, add a generous layer of leaf litter on top.

Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months, depending on your needs.

Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Terrarium

Decorations play a vital role in your Cuban false chameleon’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items provide climbing opportunities, hiding places, encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer!

Options:

Dracaena, hibiscus, ficus, pothos, philodendron, spider plant, staghorn fern, bromeliad, and air plants are all safe options for live plants and will help maintain high humidity levels.

Feeding Your Cuban False Chameleon

Cuban false chameleons are primarily molluscivorous, which means that they are specially adapted to eat mostly gastropods like snails and slugs. In captivity they have proven willing to consider alternative prey, but captive-bred snails should still be considered an important part of their diet.

Juveniles should be fed daily, while adults can be fed every other day. Juveniles should be allowed to eat as much as they will day, while adults only need as much as they will take in about 5 minutes.

Best feeder insects for Cuban false chameleons: captive-bred snails, crickets, dubia nymphs, discoid nymphs, grasshoppers/locusts, black soldier fly larvae, mealworms, hornworms, silkworms

The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your pet is VARIETY. Provide as varied of a diet as you possibly can, and you will be rewarded with a healthier pet that always looks forward to mealtime.

Supplements

All feeder insects should be lightly dusted with a 50/50 mixture of calcium and multivitamin powders to correct the calcium-phosphorus ratio and provide extra nutrition at each feeding. There are many options, but Repashy CalciumPlus LoD is a solid all-in-one supplement for getting started. For best results, use as directed by the label.

Feeder insects should also be gutloaded and hydrated for at 24-48 hours prior to feeding.

Drinking Water

Although your Cuban false chameleon will get drinking water from daily mistings, it’s best to always keep a bowl of clean water available on a feeding ledge rather than on the floor.

Handling Your Cuban False Chameleon

Cuban false chameleons are fairly slow-moving and docile compared to other anoles, but they still generally make a better display animal than a “pet” that gets taken out regularly. If you would like to try to tame your false chameleon, go by these steps:

  1.  After bringing your Cuban false chameleon home, leave it alone for 2 weeks or so to settle in. If your new pet hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle and make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.
  2. Introduce yourself with food via soft-tipped feeding tongs. Meanwhile, make sure to get your hands in the enclosure daily for spot cleaning, water changes, etc. This will help get the lizard further used to you.
  3. Once your false chameleon regularly takes food from the tongs, encourage it to come to you. For example, entice it to climb onto your arm by bribing it with the tongs. 

If you have to pick up your false chameleon, always gently scoop it up from below and make sure its feet are well supported. Never approach quickly or from above, as this is predatory behavior that will scare your pet. Keep your movements slow, and only loosely restrain it (if at all), instead allowing it to walk from hand to hand. 

References

Bradley, K. (2011, December 1). Cuban False Chameleon. Reptiles Magazine. https://reptilesmagazine.com/cuban-false-chameleon/

Bradley, K. (2012, July 18). Cuban False Chameleon Breeding . Reptiles Magazine. https://reptilesmagazine.com/cuban-false-chameleon-breeding/

Climate & Weather Averages in Soroa, Cuba. (n.d.). Timeanddate.Com. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.timeanddate.com/weather/@12341486/climate

Connor, C. (2020, October 22). #DidYouAnole? – Anolis barbatus (Chamaeleolis Clade) . Anole Annals. https://www.anoleannals.org/2020/10/22/didyouanole-anolis-barbatus-chamaeleolis-clade/

Day’s Edge Productions. (2017). The Anomalies, Ep. 1: The Dewlap. Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/196017458

Herrel, A., & Holanova, V. (2008). Cranial morphology and bite force in Chamaeleolis lizards – Adaptations to molluscivory? Zoology, 6, 467–475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.zool.2008.01.002

Leal, M., & Losos, J. B. (2000). Behavior and Ecology of the Cuban “Chipojos Bobos” Chamaeleolis barbatus and C. porcus. Journal of Herpetology, 2, 318. https://doi.org/10.2307/1565435

Losin, N., & Dappen, N. (2018). The Lizard’s Tale. YouTube; Day’s Edge Productions. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjxk0RZh0_JRMlfTKe_4lLA

Low UV Species. (n.d.). Arcadia Reptile. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.arcadiareptile.com/lighting/low-uv-species/

Mahler, D. L., Lambert, S. M., Geneva, A. J., Ng, J., Hedges, S. B., Losos, J. B., & Glor, R. E. (2016). Discovery of a Giant Chameleon-Like Lizard (Anolis) on Hispaniola and Its Significance to Understanding Replicated Adaptive Radiations. The American Naturalist, 3, 357–364. https://doi.org/10.1086/687566

Mendyk, Robert & Augustine, Lauren. (2021). Cranial Biofluorescence in the Cuban false chameleon: A further character shared with true chameleons. Herpetology Notes. 14. 1315-1317.

Schettino, L. R., Losos, J. B., Hertz, P. E., de Queiroz, K., Chamizo, A. R., Leal, M., & González, V. R. (2010). The Anoles of Soroa: Aspects of Their Ecological Relationships. Breviora, 520(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.3099/0006-9698-520.1.1

Western Bearded Anole (Anolis barbatus). (n.d.). INaturalist. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/36534-Anolis-barbatus

The ReptiFiles Cuban False Chameleon Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.