Lighting & Temperature Requirements for Jackson’s Chameleons

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Jackson’s chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day, like humans. This also means that they need a source of bright light in the enclosure during the day — and they like a LOT of light. One HO T5 6.5K full-spectrum fluorescent tube set in a reflector fixture alongside your UVB should provide plenty of light.

Here are our picks for full-spectrum chameleon lighting:

Jackson's Chameleon Lighting Specs

Contributed by Gabe Espinal

Why full-spectrum?

Bulbs that produce full-spectrum light are thought to stimulate more natural behaviors and promote mental health in animals. Personally I think we humans need to be using them ourselves in our indoor environments — have you ever noticed how much lovelier things look in sunlight? Full-spectrum bulbs also promote optimum plant health if you plan on having live plants in your enclosure.

Chameleons see color particularly well, so full-spectrum lighting is a must-have for this pet.

What is UVB, and why do chameleons need it?

There are 3 types of ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Most animals require regular exposure to UVA and UVB in order to produce vitamin D3, see properly, and to be brief — to thrive in general. Even humans need UVA and UVB for vitamin D3 synthesis and mental health, although since we don’t have scales to protect us, staying out in UVB for too long will give us a sunburn.

Vitamin D3 is important because it helps animals metabolize calcium for muscle, bone, and nervous system health. When they don’t get enough D3, they because deficient, which leads to Metabolic Bone Disease.

  • PRO TIP: UVB rays can’t go through glass or plastic, so using a mesh enclosure will help your cham get maximum UVB benefit.

Since Jackson’s chameleons are diurnal nature UVB lighting is required for them to live in captivity. This should be provided 12 hours/day, every day. I recommend using a T5 HO (high-output) fluorescent UVB bulb to help the rays get all the way to the bottom of the enclosure and create a more effective UV gradient.

We recommend the following UVB bulbs for Jackson’s chameleons:

PRO TIP: T5 HO UVB bulbs need to be replaced every 12 months to stay effective, even when they still appear to be “working.” Use a permanent marker to note the day of installation on your bulb so you don’t forget!

Do Jackson's Chameleons Need UVB?

Male demonstrating fluorescence under UV light. Contributed by Stacey Vandenhoudt.


Data from wild Jackson’s chameleons in Hawaii (T. j. xantholophus) shows that they prefer areas with daytime temperatures between 61-81°F (16-27°C) and nighttime temps between 39-64°F (4-18°C). (Preliminary Study of the Behavior and Ecology of Jackson’s Chameleon of Maui, Hawaii) However, this data can only be applied to wild-caught T. j. xantholophus and their descendants, and should not be applied to the other two subspecies.

As pets, Jackson’s chameleon keepers have noticed that they get the best results with the following temperature gradient:

  • Basking area (hot spot) — 83°F (28°C)
  • Shade temperature — 68-72°F (20-23°C)
  • Nighttime temps — 50-59°F (15°C)

Temperatures are sourced from Dr. Frances Baines’ UV Tool, adjusted according to observations from Bill Strand and Petr Necas.

Note that T. j. merumontanus prefers cooler temperatures than the other two, with a basking temperature around 79°F (26°C), shade temperatures of 64-68°F (18-22°C), and a nighttime drop preferably under 59°F (15°C).

What is a temperature gradient?

A temperature gradient describes the variation in temperature within a given area. Providing a range of temperatures within your enclosure more closely mimics nature than keeping the entire area the same. This is especially important since reptiles are cold-blooded, and rely on variations in the temperature of their environment to get warmer or cooler as needed.

Measure your temperature gradient with a combination of an infrared thermometer (temp gun) and a digital thermometer. The temp gun measures surface temperatures, which is very important for making sure that your basking surface isn’t too hot or cool. The digital thermometer measures air temperatures, which are going to be naturally lower than the basking surface temperature since surfaces exposed to heat will absorb heat, while air diffuses heat instead. I use the Etekcity 774 temp gun and Zoo Med Digital Thermometer + Hygrometer to keep track of these two measurements.

How do I create a basking spot?

Jackson’s chameleons typically bask twice per day, typically in the early morning and later afternoon for no more than 30 minutes each.

In order to create a basking spot (and at the same time, your temperature gradient), all you need is a heat lamp. I recommend a dimmable ceramic-socket dome lamp with a white light halogen or incandescent heat bulb like the Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot 50w or 90w Philips PAR38 halogen flood bulb.

For an adult Jackson’s chameleon, a 50w reptile heat bulb should be enough to get the right temperatures. For younger individuals in smaller enclosures, you may need a lower wattage. This is why I recommend getting a dimmable lamp. If the bulb is getting too hot, you can dial it down to get the right temperature at your cham’s favorite basking perch.

  • PRO TIP: When buying the floodlight, look carefully at the wattage description. If it’s an “energy efficient” bulb, that means it is as bright as the advertised wattage, but actually uses much less energy, and therefore won’t generate enough heat.

The lamp should be placed on top of the enclosure, never inside. Some keepers prefer to hang the dome lamp from a lamp holder like this one designed by Zoo Med.

As your Jackson’s chameleon settles in to its new home, you may notice that it doesn’t typically bask directly under the heat source. Instead, they make themselves “taller” by flattening their body, turning dark on one side, and then facing the heat source with that side. This is called lateral basking.

Do you *have* to provide a night drop?

Yes. Jackson’s chameleons prefer lower temperatures than other chameleons due to their montane origin. Many keepers have noticed that their chams are healthier when the temperatures are allowed to drop significantly at night.

Of course, this can be tricky. The easiest way to provide a nightly drop in temperature is to turn off all heat sources at night. You can also run an air conditioner in its room to get the temperature down further, but I don’t advise this if you have other species in the same room that are less cold-tolerant. My husband and I kept our Jackson’s in our bedroom with our geckos so they could all benefit from the air conditioning that we run at night.

Do Jackson's Chameleons Need a Night Drop?

Contributed by Stacy Kitchin


Keep reading:

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