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Chameleons in Hawaii

There are two different species of chameleons to be found on the islands of Hawaii. If you keep chameleons, you may be excited to know that both of these species can be kept as pets, so long as they are legal in your area.

These solitary lizards are stunning with their colorful displays, but may be difficult to spot in the wild due to their tree-dwelling tendencies and abilities to blend in with their environment. While both species found in Hawaii share a range of similarities, they differ in some ways you would never guess.

Chameleons in Hawaii

1. Jackson’s Chameleon

Jackson's Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) on a branch 'Ewa Forest Reserve Kalauao Sector, Hawaii, USA
A Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) on a branch ‘Ewa Forest Reserve Kalauao Sector, Hawaii, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Chamaeleonidae
  • Scientific Name: Trioceros jacksonii
  • Other Names: Jackson’s Horned Chameleon, Three-Horned Chameleon, Kikuyu Three-Horned Chameleon
  • Adult Size: 7 to 14 inches long
  • Lifespan: 9 years
  • Average Price Range: $90 to $250

The Jackson’s Chameleon became invasive in Hawaii after people illegally keeping these animals as pets released them into the wild. Native to Tanzania and Kenya, these chameleons are born brown, developing their bright green color around half a year old.

Males of this species are larger than the females and have bright blue or yellow markings in addition to their three signature horns. Females sometimes have horns as well, but these are smaller than the males’ horns.

This species differs from most other chameleons and reptiles in general because females give live birth rather than laying eggs.

These chameleons’ colors change, not for camouflage, but depending on their mood, needs, or temperature.  Jackson’s Chameleons are active during the day making their homes in trees. Though this chameleon does not change colors for camouflage, it still blends in with its woody environment.

This species is an insectivore, or insect eater, like most chameleons.

However, their diet of native Hawaiian insects is harmful to Hawaii’s ecosystem. Jackson’s Chameleons are also prey animals for other current and potentially invasive species, meaning they can make it easier for other harmful species to become established.

2. Veiled Chameleon

Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) hanging onto a twig with leaves in Buckingham, Florida, USA
A Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) hanging onto a twig with leaves in Buckingham, Florida, USA. – Source
  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family:  Chamaeleonidae
  • Scientific Name: Chamaeleo calyptratus
  • Other Names: Cone-head Chameleon, Yemen Chameleon
  • Adult Size: Males 16 to 24 inches long, Females around 12 inches long
  • Lifespan: 4 to 8 years
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100

Veiled Chameleons, like Jacksons’ Chameleons, were illegally introduced to Hawaii through the pet trade. Native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, Veiled Chameleons have a large casque or ‘fin’ on their heads with a fringe running from its mouth under its body.

They can change between a wide range of colors, including but not limited to white, gray, brown, yellow, orange, red, blue, green, and black.

Veiled Chameleons have a diet consisting mostly of insects, with flowers, leaves, birds, and small mammals as well. They typically live for around 4 to 8 years, spending most of their time in trees as an arboreal species.

Though these chameleons are climbers, females lay their eggs in holes they have dug in the ground, where they take around six months to hatch.

Their predation on native birds and insects is only one way in which these chameleons have become a threat to Hawaii’s ecosystem. Able to lay clutches of 30 to 95 eggs three times a year, their reproductive ability also contributes to the level of damage they have been able to cause.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Hawaii home to any native species of chameleons or lizards?

Hawaii does not have any native chameleons, lizards, or any other reptiles. All reptiles found in the wild on the islands of Hawaii are introduced invasive species.

What should I know before I buy a Chameleon?

Chameleons are not legal to own everywhere due to threats they can pose to local ecosystems if they were to escape or be released, so knowing the laws of your area is necessary. These reptiles can also be expensive and tedious to get established, having specific temperature, lighting, and dietary needs.

Chameleons tend to be stressed out by common handling as well, so it is recommended that they are most appreciated with your eyes and not handled more than needed.

If I can no longer care for my chameleon, what is my best option?

The best thing you can do for a pet that you can no longer care for is to surrender the animal to someone or an organization that can take proper care of them. If you release them in a suitable environment, they may thrive and become invasive as many species have in Hawaii.

If you release them in an unsuitable environment, they will not be able to survive and often suffer.

How can you tell the difference between a Jackson’s Chameleon and a Veiled Chameleon?

Though both species of chameleons have casques on their heads, the Veiled Chameleons’ casque is taller than the Jacksons’ Chameleons’ casque, which is also more angled back away from their face.

Veiled Chameleons are also larger. Male Jackson’s Chameleons will have their signature three facial horns, which are not found on Veiled Chameleons.

Wrapping up

Now understanding that Hawaii is not home to any native reptiles, you may find it less disappointing to know that there are only two species of chameleons that reside there. These lizards are strikingly colorful and very interesting to learn about or even keep if you have done the proper research.

Though Jackson’s Chameleons and Veiled Chameleons both dwell in trees and eat diets consisting primarily of insects, the Veiled Chameleon is larger with a taller casque and lack of horns. Jackson’s Chameleons have proven themselves to be unique to most reptiles altogether with females of the species giving live birth rather than laying eggs.

Whether you see them online, at a reptile show, or in the wild, it should now be easier for you to identify the chameleons of Hawaii.

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