Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
Veiled chameleons are large, 22” long chameleons with a green and yellow striped pattern, sometimes interspersed with brown and blue (females being less colorful than males). Veiled chameleons are easily identified by the unique pointed shape of their skull, which is especially prominent in males. This feature is called a casque. And like other chameleons, veiled chameleons have wide, splayed toes (“zygodactylus feet”), bulging independently-moving eyes, and a curled tail.
Veiled chameleons (also known as Yemen chameleons) are native to Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, where they can be found in subtropical to tropical areas located near the mountains. Being arboreal, they prefer to inhabit trees, very rarely coming down to the ground.
Veiled chameleons are among the most common chameleons in the pet trade. If you pay attention to providing excellent veiled chameleon care, your pet can live for up to 6-8 years, with females typically having a shorter lifespan.
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional veiled chameleon terrarium. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
- Front-opening 24” x 24” x 48” mesh cage, or larger
- Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture
- 50w Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot bulb, x2
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge, x2
- Lutron Credenza plug-in lamp dimmer, x2
- 22″ Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 OR Arcadia Forest 6% UVB bulb
- 24″ Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO fixture
- 22″ Arcadia JungleDawn LED Bar
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- Exo Terra Mister
- Zoo Med The Big Dripper
- Zoo Med Repti Cooler
- 5 gallon plastic bucket
- Live or artificial foliage (preferably live)
- Zip ties
- Arcadia EarthPro A supplement
- Repashy Calcium plus LoD supplement
Veiled chameleons need an enclosure that is large enough to give them adequate opportunity to thermoregulate, explore, hunt, and generally exercise natural behaviors. They are also arboreal, which means that they are a tree-dwelling species, and generally prefer to live in tall terrariums.
This is why the minimum recommended enclosure size for a single veiled chameleon is 24”L x 24”W x 48”H. If at all possible, larger (such as 48″ x 24″ x 48″) is always better! In fact, it may be required for particularly large males.
Here are some enclosures that are appropriate for housing veiled chameleons:
- Zen Habitats 2’x2’x4′ PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- Zen Habitats 4’x2’x4′ PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- Dragon Strand Tall Screen Chameleon Cage System
- Dragon Strand Tall Hybrid Chameleon Cage System
- Dragon Strand Large Screen Atrium + Drainage
- Dragon Strand Large Hybrid Atrium + Drainage
- Zoo Med ReptiBreeze 24″x24″x48″
Although it is commonly stated that chameleons “must” be housed in full-mesh cages, the truth is more complicated than that. If you live in a particularly dry climate, a full-glass, wood, or PVC enclosure may be a more suitable choice. If you live in a moderate or high-humidity climate, it’s still ideal to cover two sides of a mesh enclosure with sheets of opaque plastic to increase the chameleon’s sense of security in its environment (and thereby decrease stress).
Can multiple veiled chameleons be housed in the same enclosure?
In the wild, veiled 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 looking for a mate. For this reason, it’s best to house only one chameleon per enclosure.
Lighting & UVB
Veiled chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they need exposure to bright light and UVB during the day. UVB and daylight lighting should both be on for 12 hours each day.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), distance must be considered. As a rough estimate, to provide appropriate UVB to a veiled chameleon in a 24” x 24” x 48” enclosure with a basking branch that places the chameleon’s back 6” below the top mesh, you will need one of the following UVB bulbs:
(The above recommendations are approximations. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of ~3.0 at basking height.)
A UVB bulb isn’t bright enough to meet a veiled chameleon’s light needs, as bright light is important to their mental health. So you will need to supplement with a bright, 6500K T5 HO fluorescent or LED lamp, long enough to span at least most of the top of the enclosure.
I recommend using one of the following daylight lamps for this purpose:
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Veiled chameleons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, veiled chameleons warm up by basking in a warm patch of sunlight. In captivity, sunlight can be replicated with a heat lamp.
- Basking area temperature: 85°F (29°C)
- General temperature: 72-78°F (22-25°C)
- Nighttime temperature: 55-65°F (13-18°C)
The heat lamp should only be on for about 3 hours each morning.
Generally speaking, it doesn’t take much to achieve such a low basking temperature. A couple of white 50w reptile heat bulbs such as the Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot should be plenty. Using two bulbs creates a larger basking area to heat your chameleon more evenly. However, if you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial down the heat down with a plug-in lamp dimmer or switch to lower wattage bulbs. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.
The basking area should be a vine or branch placed directly under the heat lamp, placing your chameleon’s back about 6” below the mesh. Because your veiled chameleon is arboreal and will be living in a tall enclosure, the warmest temperatures will be at the top (near the heat lamp), and the coolest temperatures will be toward the bottom. You will need vines, branches, and foliage at all levels to allow for proper thermoregulation.
To measure the general temperature of different areas of your terrarium, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source. The Etekcity 774 is a good infrared thermometer, and most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well.
Veiled chameleons do best in an environment with fairly low humidity during the day and high humidity at night: 40-50% during the day, and 80-100% at night as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently too high or low can cause health problems for your chameleon. However, it is natural for humidity to be lower in the warm area and higher in the cool area.
To raise the humidity in your chameleon’s enclosure (and provide an extra source of drinking water), use a pump-style pressure sprayer to wet down the enclosure every morning and evening, preferably when it’s dark. It’s also a good idea to mist again (lightly) in the mid-afternoon, or provide a dripper. An automatic misting system like the Mistking Starter system makes misting less of an inconvenience.
It’s best to also use a cool mist humidifier or fogger on and off for a few hours prior to “sunrise”. Please note that humidifiers and foggers must be used with distilled water and periodically disinfected to prevent illness. There should be no need to use the humidifier during the day.
Chameleon Academy proposes the following schedule for keeping a veiled chameleon appropriately hydrated:
- Fogger — 1:30-6:00 AM
- Mister — 1:30 AM, 6:00 AM, 9:00 PM
- Dripper — 3:00-5:00 PM
It’s also best to use distilled water for misting and fogging, as tap water is likely to clog your equipment and isn’t very good for live plants.
Because of the sheer amount of water that goes through a veiled chameleon’s enclosure on a daily basis, a traditional substrate layer will quickly get saturated. Instead, most keepers opt for using a drain at the bottom of the enclosure. There are many helpful videos online on how to rig your own drainage system using a table/shelf and a bucket. Here are a few I’ve found helpful:
- This thread from Chameleon Forums is an easy DIY drainage system modified from a substrate tray.
- If that doesn’t appeal to you, Chameleon Forums has another helpful thread that features several alternative DIY ideas from a variety of cham keepers in the community. Some of these projects are so simple, even I could do it!
- If your chameleon’s enclosure is a custom build, Olimpia Martinotti’s homemade drainage table might be a better (and more attractive) fit for your needs.
- I highly recommend listening to the Chameleon Breeder Podcast’s discussion on drainage options: Episode 10: Chameleons & Drainage.
Decorations play a vital role in your chameleon’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items provide hiding places, encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer!
Branches, vines, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a veiled chameleon terrarium. You can secure vines and branches with the help of zip ties looped through the mesh. Many chameleon keepers prefer to use live potted or hanging plants to maximize available foliage. (Live plants also help maintain humidity!) Arrange these items in a way that encourages your chameleon to climb and explore, provides an unobstructed place to bask, and provides a variety of options for places to hide as needed.
Note: Veiled chameleons are known to occasionally munch on the plants in their enclosure. This is thought to be more to assist digestion than to reflect an actual nutritional need. Here are plants known to be nontoxic to veiled chameleons:
- Coleus (Plectranthus spp.)
- Croton (Codiaeum variegatum)
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
- Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus sp.)
- Money Tree (Pachira aquatica)
- Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ (Philodendron erubescens)
- Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
- Umbrella Plant (Schefflera arboricola)
- Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina)
- Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
- ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
Veiled chameleons are insectivores, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a quick list of safe insects you can feed your pet chameleon:
- Banana roaches
- Black soldier flies and larvae
- Blue bottle flies and larvae
- Dubia roaches
- Hornworms and sphinx moths
- Mantis hatchlings
- Red runner roaches
- Snails (captive bred only)
- Stick insects
How often veiled chameleons need to eat depends on age:
- Juveniles — As much as they can eat, daily
- Adults — 4-5 bugs, every other day
Part of providing excellent veiled chameleon care is providing VARIETY in their diet! A highly varied diet is likely to create a healthier pet that always looks forward to mealtime.
Chameleons tend to be extra sensitive to the vitamins and minerals present in their diet. However, supplementation is still needed. Feeder insects should be lightly dusted with an appropriate supplement prior to each feeding according to this schedule:
- Every feeding: Arcadia EarthPro A (contains bee pollen)
- 2x per month: Arcadia Revitalise D3 or Repashy CalciumPlus LoD
All feeder insects should also be gutloaded with nutritious, species-appropriate food and water for 24-48 hours prior to offering.
Chameleons are generally best as elegant display animals rather than a “pet” that gets taken out regularly, but they can be tamed with persistent, gentle effort.
- After bringing your chameleon home, leave it alone for a 1-2 weeks to settle in. If your new pet hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle and make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.
- Introduce yourself with food via feeding tongs.
- Once your chameleon regularly takes food from your hands/tongs, encourage it to come to you. Try placing an artificial tree in front of the (open) enclosure for it to venture onto. Then you can encourage it to climb onto you.
- Always associate handling with good things, like a chance to climb in a plant in a sunny window, a tasty bug snack, or some supervised time outside. Handling is a stressful experience, but fortunately, chameleons can be bribed.
As you handle your chameleon, keep your movements slow, and never restrain it, instead allowing it to walk from one hand to another. Never grab your chameleon out of its enclosure!
The ReptiFiles Veiled Chameleon Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.