Jackson's Chameleon UVB Requirements & Other Lighting
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. I recommend installing either two T5 HO 6500K fluorescent grow lamps, or a single high-PAR LED grow lamp to meet your chameleon’s visible light needs.
Here are my picks for daytime chameleon illumination:
- The Bio Dude Glow & Grow 22″ LED
- Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar, 22.5″
- Vivarium Electronics T5 HO Dual Bulb Light Strip
If you have live plants in your setup, I recommend using LEDs over fluorescents for best growth.
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 (which is strongly recommended with this species).
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 keep it brief, 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.
Since Jackson’s chameleons are diurnal, UVB lighting is required for them to stay alive in captivity. This is not an optional part of their setup! Use 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.
How to set up UVB for your Jackson’s chameleon
Jackson’s chameleons are classified under Ferguson Zone 2-3, and according to leading chameleon breeder/educator Bill Strand, they should receive a UVI of 3.0-4.0 in the basking area. This should be the area of highest temperature and UV in the enclosure. (T. j. merumontanus should have a basking UVI no lower than 4.0.)
The strength of UVB that a reptile is exposed decreases in proportion to increased distance from the bulb, so it’s very important to take distance into consideration when you’re installing the basking area. Specifically, you need to pay attention to the distance between the UVB bulb and the chameleon’s back when it’s on the basking surface:
Lamp mounted above mesh (recommended for safety):
Without mesh obstruction:
The above distance recommendations assume a ~30% mesh block. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement. For more details on adjusting basking distance based on mesh obstruction, see the Facebook group Reptile Lighting > Guides > Guide 1: Using T5-HO lamps above a Mesh Screen.
If you need more distance between your snake and the UVB in the basking area than your enclosure’s setup will allow, I recommend using a UVB Riser to strategically increase the distance for your snake’s safety. (Here’s a product review I did for one by Custom Reptile Habitats in 2022!)
- 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!
- UVB rays can’t go through glass or plastic, so make sure there’s nothing but mesh between your chameleon and the UVB lamp!
Jackson's Chameleon Temperatures & Heating
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. The heat 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.
My preferred heat bulbs for Jackson’s chameleons:
- 60w Exo Terra Daytime Heat Lamp (incandescent)
- 50w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp
- 50w Zoo Med ReptiTuff Halogen Heat Lamp
- 90w Philips PAR38 Halogen Flood Bulb
Optimal wattage will vary depending on the distance between your chameleon and the heat lamp, as well as your room temperature. Higher wattage = more heat, and lower wattage = less heat. Halogen bulbs produce more heat per watt than standard incandescents. Start with a 50w halogen for adults (large enclosure), and a 60w incandescent for juveniles (small enclosure), and work your way up or down from there as needed. For particularly large adult enclosures, you may need a cluster of 2 heat lamps. For making small adjustments in temperature, the heat lamp’s dimmer function can be very helpful!
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.
Keep reading about Jackson’s chameleon care:
- Introduction to Jackson’s Chameleons
- Jackson’s Chameleon Subspecies
- Shopping List
- Enclosure Size Guidelines
- 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
This page contains affiliate links.