Jackson’s chameleons are arboreal, which means that they spend most of their lives in small trees and shrubs rather than on the ground. As pets, they are more likely to thrive in a vertical enclosure than a horizontal one.
Newborn and juvenile Jackson’s chameleons should be housed in a 16” x 16” x 30” enclosure until they are roughly 10-12 months old.
Adult Jackson’s chameleons should be housed in 18” x 18” x 36” minimum. If you can provide more space, they will use it. Many anecdotal accounts report adults doing very well in 24″ x 24″ x 48″ enclosures, which I believe is a better choice for long-term housing.
What kind of enclosure do you need?
Chameleons require lots of air flow, which means your pet Jackson’s chameleon will generally be happiest in a mesh or screen enclosure rather than the traditional glass or plastic ones used for most reptile species. We recommend the following commercially-available enclosures for Jackson’s chameleons:
- Dragon Strand Large Keeper Kit*
- Dragon Strand Medium Tall Screen Atrium System*
- Dragon Strand Medium Tall Clearside Atrium System*
- Zoo Med ReptiBreeze, Extra Large
- Exo Terra Screen Terrarium, Large
*Dragon Strand enclosures are widely regarded by experienced keepers as some of the best enclosures to use for chameleons. Although expensive, they’re worth the investment!
If you live in a dry climate (like me), it may be better to use a glass or PVC enclosure for housing your chameleon. These are better at retaining humidity, an essential component of a chameleon’s environment. Here are some PVC enclosures that can be appropriate for housing chameleons:
However, keep in mind that these enclosures, when inadequately ventilated, can trap stagnant air and encourage bacterial growth which in turn may lead to respiratory infections and other illnesses. If you want to use a PVC enclosure, I recommend buying a small fan to help keep the air moving.
If you live in an area with mild, humid weather, you may be able to place your chameleon’s enclosure outdoors. This is popular practice in areas like Florida and Hawaii of the United States. But if your weather report isn’t consistent with the temperature range required by Jackson’s chameleons, it’s best to keep them inside.
- PRO TIP: If you have a cat(s), ensure that the enclosure is set up in an area that they can’t reach. Cats love to climb, and if they attempt to climb on the mesh of your chameleon’s enclosure, it will likely topple over, potentially injuring the chameleon inside.
Pros and cons of free-ranging
Some keepers claim that free-ranging is the best way to keep chameleons. Olimpia Martinotti, the biologist behind Much Ado About Chameleons (you’re going to find me referencing her a lot in this guide), experimented with free-ranging, and this is what she observed:
- Sustains multiple chameleons in a relatively safe environment because they have enough space to get away and have their own territories.
- You get to see more natural behaviors as the chameleons interact with each other.
- Chameleons tend to relax and become more friendly when not restricted by space.
- More space means more exercise, which improves muscle tone and helps reduce obesity and its associated problems.
- Encourages more natural thermoregulatory behavior.
- Harder to control the environment (temp gradients, humidity, etc.).
- Controlling and collecting water runoff becomes challenging.
- The free-range room will need some modifications to install extra light fixtures, misters, etc.
- Can’t simply release feeder insects for hunting, so you must use a bug cup or hand feeding, which is very time-intensive.
- The free-range room must be 100% reptile-proofed, or else the chameleons can may find impossible hiding places and even die.
- You may accidentally step on one if you’re not watching.
- Very dangerous if you have children, other pets (cats), etc., even if they’re not “allowed” in that room.
Can more than 1 chameleon be housed in the same enclosure?
Many people who are new to reptiles get worried that their new chameleon will feel lonely without a “friend” to share its enclosure with. Allow me to soothe your mind — it won’t.
In the wild, Jackson’s chameleons are fairly solitary. They may cross paths with other chameleons in the trees every once in a while, but they don’t actively seek each other out unless they’re a male looking for a mate. These interactions typically go without incident because the chameleons have enough space to escape if one turns hostile.
Reptile enclosures rarely allow enough room for reptile “roommates” to escape from each other if needed. As a result, the chameleons end up in a state of perpetual stress. Jackson’s chameleons are less territorial than other species of chameleons, with territorial conflicts typically composed of more posturing than actual fighting, but it can still come to a fight if they are trapped together — this is especially the case with males.
That’s the simple explanation. According to Petr Necas, author of “Chameleons: Nature’s Hidden Jewels,” explained the topic more in-depth as an admin of The Chameleon Enthusiasts (text is slightly adapted from the original for better comprehension):
“Chameleons are not solitary animals. Rather, they are social ones with a need to keep distance between themselves and others, yet used to sight contact to mates, even several at same time.
“However, immediate vicinity of another chameleon (as in same cage or in the cage directly adjacent) is stressful, as the chameleons do not the space to escape and therefore get quite nervous.
“In the wild, they are used to visual contact to other members of the same species at a certain distance. Each species has a threshold (in Jackson’s, this is about 6ft), that provokes them to a behavior that we incorrectly perceive as aggression and stress. For example, a gravid female veiled chameleon adopting black coloration, opening her mouth, and shaking on the branch is not stressed if reacting in a male; she is just signalling him: ‘I am gravid, do not even try to approach me with proposals.’ She will, however, get stressed if the male comes closer than about 10ft and she has no way how to escape and hide.
“As sight contact to members of same species is natural, we can provide it in captivity in a way to place the animals in separate cages e.g. on opposite walls of the same room, in a distance exceeding the aggression threshold. The cages should be equipped with enough foliage to easily hide and come off the sight contact if needed. This way, the captive chameleons will feel even more close to the nature and will usually display much more natural behavior, showing vivid colors and a variety of behavioral patterns.”
My conclusion: Save yourself some money and stick with just one chameleon and use a mirror at a strategic distance to mimic interaction with another chameleon. If you want another, however, you will need another enclosure to go with it, placed on the opposite side of the room.
To quote Chameleon Forums: “Think of chameleons like betta fish — they are beautiful, but they cannot live with others.” (It makes more sense if you’ve ever had a betta.)
- Introduction to Jackson’s Chameleons
- Jackson’s Chameleon Subspecies
- Shopping List
- Enclosure Size Guidelines (YOU ARE HERE)
- Lighting & Temperature Requirements
- Humidity & Water Needs
- Enclosure Drainage Designs
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
- Feeding Your Chameleon
- Taming & Handling Tips
- Common Illnesses & Other Health Info
- Additional Resources