Jackson’s Chameleon Care

Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii ssp.)

Difficulty: Hard

Published: April 11, 2018

Last Updated: June 13, 2023

Jackson's chameleon native range - Kenya and Tanzania

The Jackson’s chameleon is a diurnal arboreal lizard native to Kenya and Tanzania. There is also a significant invasive population on the Hawaiian islands. They prefer cool, humid mountain slopes with plenty of rain and vegetation. They have also been observed to thrive alongside humans in hedges, small trees, gardens, and plantations.

They are a medium-sized chameleon, ranging between 7-14” (17-35cm) in length, depending on subspecies, with males being larger. The Jackson’s chameleon is generally recognized as a bright green lizard with darker patterning, which changes based on mood, temperature, and intent — not camouflage. Males are distinguished by three forward facing horns, not unlike a Triceratops dinosaur.

Chameleons are relatively short-lived, as reptiles go. Male Jackson’s chameleons can be reasonably expected to live up to 9 years, while females only live up to 5-6 years. This makes them longer-lived than most other chameleon species.

There are 3 known subspecies of Trioceros jacksonii:

  • jacksonii jacksonii
  • jacksonii merumontanus
  • jacksonii xantholophus

All three are listed as species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to widespread natural occurrence and tolerance of habitat modification. However, CITES lists all chameleons as Threatened due to habitat destruction and collection for the pet trade.

There is a common misconception that chameleons are difficult to keep in captivity, but thanks to captive breeding efforts and modern husbandry research, captive-bred Jackson’s chameleons sourced from quality breeders are actually fairly hardy with consistent care and a proper enclosure. That being said, Jackson’s chameleons are still more difficult to keep than Panther or Veiled chameleons, and according to Chameleons and Vitamin A, “there is ample evidence to illustrate that chameleons are far better suited to life in the wild and should not be considered a domesticated animal.”

Fun facts:

  • Jackson’s chameleons are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs.
  • Jackson’s chameleons have been observed to set “traps” for insects by wiping a whitish-yellow substance from their temporal gland onto a branch, then waiting for bugs — particularly flies — to land nearby. This is called “chemical luring.” (Chemical Prey Luring in Jackson’s Chameleons) This same gland is also used to deter predators by emitting the scent of toxic decay.
  • Chameleons have zygodactylus feet, so instead of a typical paw with a “palm” and several fingers, it looks like they have no “palm” and two very thick fingers. They actually have 5 toes, but 2 are grouped to point inward, and the other 3 are grouped to point outward — perfect for a climbing lifestyle.
  • Another trait specific to chameleons is their eyes. A chameleon’s eyes can rotate 180°, and can move independently of the other. They may also be able to magnify a subject in their vision. (Land, M. 1995. Fast-focus telephoto eye. Nature, 373: 658-659.)
Jackson's Chameleon Care Guide

Contributed by Stan Szeto

Jackson’s Chameleon Care Guide — Table of Contents

  1. Shopping List
  2. Jackson’s Chameleon Subspecies
  3. Enclosure Size Guidelines
  4. Lighting & Temperature Requirements
  5. Humidity & Water Needs
  6. Enclosure Drainage Designs
  7. Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
  8. Feeding Your Chameleon
  9. Taming & Handling Tips
  10. Common Illnesses & Other Health Info
  11. Additional Resources

While I do not encourage using this care guide as your only source of information on Jackson’s chameleon care, this guide has been constructed to provide a solid foundation of information that, if followed, should ensure a happy, healthy chameleon for the duration of its lifespan.

Special thanks to herpetologist and passionate chameleon researcher Petr Necas for his contributions to this guide.

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