Maintaining adequate humidity is one of the most difficult aspect of keeping a chameleon, especially since mesh enclosures are terrible at holding in moisture. However, this is a key aspect of ensuring your cham’s health and longevity.
Many sources claim that Jackson’s chameleons need 60-80% consistent humidity. This is false, and can actually kill your pet. In their natural habitat, humidity is as high as 100% at night, but falls to around 30% during the day. Simulating this in captivity is a key point of a healthy Jackson’s chameleon.
- PRO TIP: Wild-caught chameleons will need extra humidity and water to help them adjust to captivity.
The best way to monitor your humidity levels is with a digital hygrometer — preferably 2 of them. Place them on opposite sites of the enclosure to get an idea of your enclosure’s humidity gradient, as well as having a backup in case one malfunctions.
Often keepers make the mistake of thinking that humidity should be steady all the time, but this can cause mold, mildew, and illness. It is especially important to allow the enclosure to dry out during the day, which is why mesh enclosure tend to be more effective than glass.
How to maintain humidity
There are several ways to maintain humidity in your chameleon’s enclosure:
If you choose to use a pressure sprayer, prepare to spray your chameleon’s enclosure at least 2x/day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, for at least a minute each time. Misting from above is less likely to stress your chameleon than misting directly from the side. Exo Terra makes a good one for a good price.
Your hand will likely get tired, and it’s inconvenient if you have a busy or irregular schedule.
Automatic misting systems
You can program these to spray every 3-4 hours during the day for periods of 3-10 minutes each time. Experiment with misting periods of varying durations; a quick mist followed by a longer misting period may entice your cham to drink. When placing the misting heads, avoid soaking the entire enclosure. Leave some places that stay dry, like the basking spot.
- PRO TIP: Make sure to place your misting heads so they won’t accidentally splash your heat bulb — this can shatter it and potentially endanger your chameleon.
Or, you can use a regulating device like the iStat to monitor humidity, and when the humidity gets too low, it will automatically turn on the mister for a predetermined length of time. This tends to be more efficient. MistKing and Aquazamp are the best and most popular misting systems for chameleons.
Cool mist foggers
These are excellent for boosting humidity without increasing the temperature of your enclosure, especially if you live in a dry climate. But they don’t create water droplets, which can create problems for providing drinking water. Also beware of constantly running the fogger, as a perpetually moist environment encourages mold growth. Here are 3 rules for using a cool mist fogger successfully:
- Clean the entire unit at least 1x/week with F10SC or chlorhexidine to prevent bacterial growth.
- Do not run the fogger while the heat lamp is on – this can cause the air temperature to get dangerously hot!
- Always use distilled water, never tap.
However, they make an excellent companion for an automatic misting system or even a dripper, which we’ll talk more about below. The most popular and effective reptile fogger on today’s market is the Evergreen Reptile Humidifier.
- PRO TIP: Resist the temptation to add something fancy like a waterfall, fountain, or other water feature. While these may look nice and boost your humidity a bit, they get clogged and dirty FAST. Unless you’re willing to cycle it and make it fully functional as a bacteria ecosystem, it’s not worth the trouble.
Here’s what the experts do…
Instead of relying on just one method of water delivery, Jackson’s chameleon experts combine methods for optimal humidity control while reducing water waste. Try this:
- Manually mist with a pressure sprayer in the morning before the lights come on.
- Use a dripper to provide water during the day to keep the chameleon hydrated while the rest of the enclosure dries (this helps prevent mold/mildew).
- Manually mist again with a pressure sprayer at night after the lights turn off.
- Turn on a reptile fogger all night, keeping the flow at about medium or medium-low so the enclosure fills with fog, but doesn’t become saturated.
If you don’t have time to mist in the morning and evening, automated misting systems are amazing.
Many pet stores provide water bowls for their chameleons, which is misleading. Chameleons don’t drink from pools of standing water in the wild, so they’re unlikely to drink from water dishes — in fact, they’re more likely to poo in them.
Chameleons prefer to drink “rainwater,” or the water from your humidity maintenance tools, to stay hydrated. In fact, many chams quickly learn to drink directly from their automatic misting system’s nozzles by positioning themselves underneath the spray during misting periods. This is not a particularly efficient way to drink, and chameleons take a long time to drink their fill, so misting periods provide maximum benefit with a longer duration rather than shorter.
If you have a reptile fogger for humidity, supplementing with a dripper will provide a reliable place for your cham to get a drink whenever needed. If you are using a dripper, position it so the droplets will accumulate on a leaf or other surface for the cham to drink. I have seen a chameleon fire their tongue at water droplets on the screen ceiling of their enclosure, but I’m not sure if it was out of thirst or because they mistook the water for an insect.
If you are using a pressure sprayer, some chameleons learn to associate a spray bottle with water, and once stimulated to drink by normal misting, will drink if the bottle is pointed at them (note that not all chams will do this — some will run away instead.) One advantage of this is that you get direct insight into how much water your cham is actually drinking.
Tap water or distilled water?
Personally I don’t recommend using RO (reverse-osmosis) or distilled water — it’s not safe for humans to drink, so it’s not safe for reptiles. Use tap water if your area is safe. Tap water (assuming that it’s safe for humans to drink) contains minerals vital to your gecko’s health. Read more on the subject here.
This is heavily debated in the chameleon community, and many will tout distilled water until the day they die. But you have my argument, so you can make your own decision.
Can chameleons take showers?
Some chameleon keepers like to provide an occasional shower to simulate rain. Some chameleons like this, others don’t. Basically, place a large, water-tolerant plant in your shower and place the chameleon on the plant. Aim the shower head toward the wall so that only a fine mist reaches the chameleon, rather than dousing them in powerful jets of water. The water should be room temperature (cool, NOT HOT!). Do this for about 30 minutes at least 1x/week. This is especially good for rehydrating a dehydrated cham.
- Introduction to Jackson’s Chameleons
- Jackson’s Chameleon Subspecies
- Shopping List
- Enclosure Size Guidelines
- Lighting & Temperature Requirements
- Humidity & Water Needs (YOU ARE HERE)
- Enclosure Drainage Designs
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
- Feeding Your Chameleon
- Taming & Handling Tips
- Common Illnesses & Other Health Info
- Additional Resources