Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)

By Snaketracks / August 31, 2020
Jackson's chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)
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Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) Care Guide

The Jackson’s Chameleon is a species of chameleon native to East Africa. In recent years it has also been introduced via the pet trade to Hawaii, Florida, and California. In Hawaii, it is considered an invasive species because it is deleterious for some native insects.

Jackson’s Chameleon care might be somehow challenging for amateur hobbyist, as this chameleon species requires some special care and can get easily stressed.

However, captive-bred Jackson’s Chameleons sourced from quality breeders are fairly hardy. With a proper enclosure and consistent care, Jackson’s Chameleons should enjoy a happy captive life.

On the other hand, wild-caught specimens should be avoided as they are usually extremely stressed, carry a heavy parasite load, and have difficulty acclimating to captive conditions.

As follows we provide you with a care guide for Jackson’s Chameleons that we hope could help you to better care for and enjoyment of your Jackson’s Chameleon.

There are 3 known subspecies of Trioceros jacksonii:

  • jacksonii jacksonii
  • jacksonii merumontanus
  • jacksonii xantholophus

Quick Reference Section

Table of Contents

  • Family: Chamaeleonidae
  • Scientific Name: Trioceros jacksonii
  • Other Common Names: Jackson’s Horned Chameleon, Horned Chameleon, or Kikuyu Three-horned Chameleon
  • Habits: Diurnal
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Color: Bright green and light colors
  • Length (male): 23-33 cm
  • Length (female): 25-33 cm
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years in captivity
  • Other Distinctive Features: The generic name, Trioceros, is derived from the Greek τρί- (tri-) meaning “three” and κέρας (kéras) meaning “horns”. This is about the three horns found on the heads of males somewhat reminiscent of the ceratopsid dinosaur genus Triceratops.
  • Predators: Jackson’s young chameleons are preyed upon by carnivorous spiders, birds, snakes, and adult chameleons. Adults are hunted by snakes, monkeys, shrews, birds, parasites, and spiders.

Horned Chameleon Facts

Jackson’s Chameleons were not discovered by a scientist named Jackson; rather their name comes from an ornithologist and prior governor of Kenya, Frederick Jackson.

Jackson’s Chameleons have been observed to set “traps” for insects by wiping a whitish-yellow substance from their temporal gland onto a branch, then waiting for bugs — particularly flies — to land nearby.

This is called “chemical luring.” This same gland is also used to deter predators by emitting the scent of toxic decay.

Jackson’s Chameleon Reproduction

Jackson’s chameleons can mate year-round.

They are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to offspring soon before they are ready to hatch from their egg sac.

After a five- to six-month gestation, 8 to 30 live young are born. The subspecies T. j. merumontanus gives birth to five to ten live young.

Females can mate again as soon as 20 days after giving birth.

Sexual maturity is reached at nine to ten months old.

Jackson’s Chameleon Habitat

Jacksons horned chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii jacksonii)
Jacksons Horned Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii jacksonii)

Enclosure Requirements

Like other chameleons, Jackson’s Chameleons are arboreal. Meaning they live exclusively in trees. Therefore they need vertical enclosures.

The more room you provide for your  Jackson’s Chameleon the better.  A longer enclosure will also allow you to provide a warm end and a cooler end for your chameleon’s well-being.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Jackson’s Chameleons are less territorial than other chameleon species. However, it is better to house them separately.
  • Neonates can be housed alone, or in groups for a month and then separated into smaller groups as long as aggression or competition for food is not an issue.
  • Avoid placing the enclosure in drafty or noisy areas of your house. This is a stress trigger.
  • Also, make sure your Jackson’s enclosure has enough ventilation.

The best known pet enclosure suppliers offer enclosure kits specially designed for Chameleons. For example the Zoo Med Reptibreeze Chameleon Kit is a good option.

Other options include the Zoo Med Reptibreeze Open Air Screen Cage and the Zoo Med ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe Open Air Aluminum Screen Habitat.

Substrate

Jackson's Chameleon on stick (jacksonii jacksonii xantholophus)
Jackson’s Chameleon on stick (jacksonii jacksonii xantholophus)

No specific substrate is needed for Jackson’s chameleons. But flat newspaper, paper towel, coconut fiber, potting soil with no added chemicals or perlite work well.

Newspaper is an inexpensive, easy to clean, and a very safe substrate to use. The downside is that it doesn’t look “nice” and should be replaced daily.

A good looking alternative to newspaper is a paper towel substrate. Paper towels hold moisture well and will help stabilize the humidity of your enclosure.

If you choose coconut fiber, Zoo Med Eco Earth is a good choice.

If a particulate or natural substrate is used avoid the following: beddings with small particles (sand, kitty litter, etc.), cedar, gravel, corn cob bedding, and any that could hold excess moisture. Moisture trapped in bedding can promote bacterial and fungal growth.

Plants & Branches

Jackson's Chameleon (jacksonii jacksonii merumontanus) on branch
Jackson’s Chameleon (jacksonii jacksonii merumontanus) on branch

Jackson’s Chameleons are arboreal which is why they need climbing facilities – branches and plants (live or fake) to climb on.

You should create a dense area of non-toxic plants on one side for hiding (so that your chameleon can feel secure) and on the other side create a more open exposed area of branches for basking.

You may choose to simply collect wood from a forest. However, this is not 100% safe unless you make sure you remove any harmful microorganisms.

To do so, first, scrub the wood with a 5% diluted bleach mixture. After the scrub is complete, preheat your oven to 300°F and bake the wood for 30 minutes. This should sterilize the wood and make it completely safe for your chameleon.

Temperature

Jackson’s Chameleons require a daytime temperature gradient of about 70 to 80°F (21 to 26.5 °C), with a basking spot up to a maximum of 85°F (29 °C).

At night, they should have a temperature drop of about 10 to 15 °F (5 to 10 °C).

Beware that Jackson’s Chameleons do not tolerate temperatures higher than 90 °F (32 °C) very well.

It is key to set up an environment that provides a gradient of temperatures. You can easily monitor the temperatures in different parts of the cage by placing thermometers or hygrometers in a multiple places.

Provide a ceramic heater for a basking area day and night.

Another good heat sources that can be used outside your chameleon’s enclosure (placed 12-24 inches from the cage walls) are 50-75 watt incandescent bulbs.

Ceramic elements and incandescent bulbs can be used 24 hours per day, without affecting the chameleons’ daily light rhythms.

However, heat rocks or other heating elements under the cage or at the bottom of the cage are not recommended because they can cause burns in your chameleon.

One tip would be to use a thermostat for all heating elements in order to ensure the temperature is kept exactly where it needs to be.

Lighting

You absolutely must provide your Jackson’s Chameleon with 12 hours of UVB rays. This spectrum (290-320nm) can be provided by special light bulbs or natural unfiltered sunlight.

Remember to replace these every six months or based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Without this spectrum, chameleons are unable to properly utilize calcium inside their body, regardless of how much they ingest and might get a condition called metabolic bone disease, or secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism.

Humidity

In captivity, Jackson’s Chameleons need a humidity of 50 to 80%. Excessive humidity can cause eye infections and upper respiratory infections in these animals.

Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl, but they will drink water from droplets sitting on objects (usually leaves) in their surroundings. Therefore, misting serves as a water source.

Misting can be done by hand or with commercially-made foggers. A reptile fogger will make water vapor to condense on the cage walls and furnishings, raising the humidity and providing water droplets for drinking.

Misting the animal itself is controversial, as it seems to stress some.

Check out our post about the difference between misters and foggers to learn more.

Cleaning

Cleanliness in the cage is vital in preventing bacterial and mold growth. Clean your chameleon’s enclosure at least three times per week.

Once a month, remove the chameleon and plants to give the enclosure a thorough cleaning using a reptile-safe disinfectant.

Feeding

jackson's three horned chameleon (trioceros-jacksonii)
jackson’s three horned chameleon (trioceros-jacksonii)

Jackson’s Chameleons are mostly omnivores.

In the wild, they prey on insects, centipedes, isopods, millipedes, spiders, small lizards, small birds, and snails. But in captivity, they are fed mostly with crickets (learn to build a cricket farm) and some other insects such as mealworms, super worms, waxworms (all in limited quantities), roaches, silkworms, flies, fruit flies (for young chameleons), and grasshoppers.

Wild-caught insects should only be fed if you are certain they have not been exposed to pesticides, and always avoid fireflies.

Besides insects, they can be fed commercial “gut-loading” food in addition to dark leafy greens (collards, kale, dandelion leaves, mustard greens), oats, broccoli, alfalfa hay, and other fruits and vegetables.

Adding calcium supplement powder to the crickets’ diet is also recommended (i.e.: Zoo Med Repti Calcium with D3).

Be careful how you use supplements with Jackson’s Chameleons. They are especially sensitive to excess amounts of synthetic vitamin A.

Vitamins given improperly might cause too little or too much of the vitamins to be ingested. Too little creates vitamin deficiencies. Too much spur vitamin toxicity, which can lead to gout, edema, or even death.

Gut loading feeder insects is the best way to transfer vitamins to your chameleons. It ensures the insects are rich in vitamins and free from toxins.

Chameleons can be fed either by hand or by placing all its food items into a bowl. Adults should be fed once per day, while juveniles require feedings several times per day.

Health Concerns

Chameleons frequently become ill for many reasons in captivity, but mostly they become ill because of captivity.

Captive-born chameleons are recommended over wild-caught chameleons, who tend to have more health problems. However, all chameleons are susceptible to get sick from a variety of sources: stress-related diseases, parasites, kidney failure, metabolic bone disease, and respiratory infections are the most common.

A pet chameleon should visit the veterinarian every six to 12 months for a checkup and should have regular fecal and blood tests to check for parasites and other diseases.

1. Stress

Stress is a very common reason for poor health in  Jackson’s Chameleons.  Chronic stress depresses the immune system and increases susceptibility to disease, usually culminating in death if the stress is not relieved. Captive-born chameleons are as susceptible to captivity-related stress as wild-caught chameleons.

Avoid common sources of stress like placing more than one chameleon together. Also, avoid exposing your chameleon to excessive handling, noises, excessive movement outside of the enclosure, inappropriate temperatures, or changes in the environment.

2. Bacterial, Fungal, and Viral Infections

Chameleons are susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. You can prevent these infections by keeping the enclosure clean, removing uneaten prey items daily, and keeping your chameleon from coming into contact with another chameleon.

Also, remember:

  • Chameleons are sensitive to many chemicals and toxins in the environment and should be kept away from household cleaners, aerosols, etc.
  • As with any reptile, you should wash your hands after handling it or items within its enclosure as there are diseases that can be transferred from reptiles to humans in this manner (Salmonella infection is one example).

3. Parasites

Chameleons can harbor gastrointestinal parasites. Parasites can be contracted through food, especially if hygiene is poor or if wild insects are fed.

Wild-caught chameleons usually harbor parasites, even when retailers label them as parasite-free.

Veterinary testing and treatment can eliminate parasites. Pet Chameleons should have yearly fecal tests by a veterinarian to check for them.

4. Upper Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infections are common among pet chameleons, and the cause is typically environmental. Signs include a gaped mouth, excessive mucus, popping or wheezing sounds, and inflammation and bubbling around the mouth and nose.

To prevent infections,  proper enclosure temperature and air quality should be maintained.

5. Other

Other problems that can occur in chameleons include egg-binding, organ failure (especially kidney and liver), cancer, and bone fractures due to insufficient vitamin D, calcium, or UVB radiation.

Kidney failure is a common cause of death in pet chameleons. It is often caused by long-term dehydration or by certain veterinarian-prescribed antibiotics. Appropriate enclosure humidity and an effective water drip system should keep your chameleon hydrated.

Metabolic bone disease is probably the top cause of pet chameleon growth defects and deaths. As previously indicated, metabolic bone disease can be prevented with at least 12 hours of UV-B light daily.

Temperament & Handling

Handling is stressful to them. So, as with other chameleons, they are pets better suited to being watched than handled.

They are territorial species, even if less territorial than other chameleon species.

Male Jackson’s Chameleons will defend their territory by changing to brighter colors, puffing up their body, and turning sideways so they look larger. They will also hiss and sway from side to side.

If this does not make their attacker go away they will then joust using their horns. They may lock horns and try to push each other off a narrow tree branch. The loser will deflate, change color, and then walk away.

Conservation Status

All three species of Jackson’s Chameleon are listed as species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to widespread natural occurrence and tolerance of habitat modification.

However, they are currently listed as CITES Appendix II, which includes species that even if not necessarily threatened with extinction, in which trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

Check out our in depth guide on reptile laws to learn more about the legalities of owning reptiles in your location.

Video On Jackson’s Chameleon

Conclusion

Jackson’s Chameleons are one of the most readily available chameleons in the pet trade. They are amazing creatures with resemblance to tiny Triceratops a must for most hobbyists.

Even when bought from reputed breeders, Jackson’s Chameleons frequently become ill for many reasons. But mostly they become ill because of captivity itself and the stress this situation produces on them. They would also become ill for reasons related to poor husbandry.

However, captive-bred Jackson’s Chameleons sourced from quality breeders are fairly hardy. With a proper enclosure and consistent care, Jackson’s Chameleons should enjoy a happy life.

Other great pet chameleons are the Panther Chameleon, Carpet Chameleon, and the Veiled Chameleon.

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