Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)

By Snaketracks / August 31, 2020
Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
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Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) Care Sheet

The Veiled Chameleon is a large chameleon species found in the mountain regions of Yemen and Saudi Arabia where there is very little water.

This chameleon has also been introduced via the pet trade in Hawaii, where it is considered an invasive species.

There is a breeding population established on Maui and can also be found in the wild in Florida, where escaped or released pets have established populations.

Originally, there were two officially recognized subspecies of the Veiled Chameleon, the C. c. calyptratus and the C. c. calcarifer. The main difference between the two is the size of the cranial helmet—called a casque. However, recent studies have found C. c. calcarifer to be a hybrid and not a valid subspecies.

The Veiled Chameleon is the hardiest chameleon species in the pet trade.  Their hardiness comes from the fact that water is scarce on its natural habitat.

Therefore, Veiled Chameleon care is less challenging than other species’ care. However, this does not mean Veiled Chameleons are suitable for the beginner herpetologist, because they still need some special care and investment.

The Veiled Chameleon is also the larger chameleon species seen in captivity and one of the most outstandingly colorful. It is noted for having a huge variety of color patterns, even in lizards that come from the same clutch. Its hardiness and its look make it a very popular chameleon among hobbyists.

As follows is some insight on what it’s like to care for a Veiled Chameleon and what kind of work they require.

Quick Reference Section

  • Family: Chamaeleonidae
  • Scientific Name: Chamaeleo calyptratus
  • Other Common Names: Cone-head Chameleon and Yemen Chameleon
  • Habits: Diurnal
  • Length (Male): 35-60 cm
  • Length (Female): 25-33 cm (even if the female is shorter, it has a thicker body)
  • Weight (Adult Males): about 3 to 6 ounces (85 to 170 grams)
  • Weight (Adult Females): 3 to 4 ounces (85 to 118 grams)
  • Lifespan: 5 years in the wild, 6-8 years in captivity. Males live longer than females
  • Diet: Omnivores – they eat insects, leaves, and flowers
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

What Does A Veiled Chameleon Look Like

Young Veiled Chameleon
Young Veiled Chameleon

Newly hatched young are pastel green in color and develop stripes as they grow. Adult females are green with white, orange, yellow, or tan mottling. Adult males are brighter with more defined bands of yellow or blue and some mottling.

Other Distinctive Features:

Both male and female have a decorative growth on their head that looks like a party hat and is called a casque.

The casque acts as a water collector. At night, droplets of moisture roll down the casque and into the chameleon’s open mouth.

Males also have a spur on each hind leg.

Veiled Chameleon Reproduction

Male Veiled Chameleon
Male Veiled Chameleon

Veiled Chameleon are oviparous.

They reach sexual maturity at four to five months.

Breeding

Males display for females during courtship, performing behaviors such as “head rolls” and “chin rubs”.

Females change color when they are receptive to breeding, and males are more likely to court them during this time.

Egg Laying

Female Veiled Chameleons can produce three clutches of eggs a year.

They lay large clutches of up to 85 eggs that are buried in the sand.

The eggs are white with a tough skin. The embryos experience a diapause, a length of time when they are dormant in the egg before they begin developing.

Egg Hatching

Eggs take 6 to 9 months to hatch.

Veiled Chameleon Habitat

Piebald Veiled Chameleon
Piebald Veiled Chameleon

Enclosure Requirements

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

The more room you provide for your Veiled 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.

A mesh enclosure is always better than a glass enclosure for these chameleons, as they require ventilation.

Enclosure Tips:

  • Veiled Chameleons are territorial. Thus, it is mandatory to house males singly
  •  Avoid placing the enclosure in drafty or noisy areas of your house. This is a stress trigger

Best known pet enclosure suppliers offer enclosure kits specially designed for Chameleons. For example, there is the Zoo Med Reptibreeze Chameleon Kit.

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

Substrate

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

A newspaper is an inexpensive, easy to clean, and very safe substrate to use. However, it doesn’t look “nice” and of course it should be replaced once a day.

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

If you choose coconut fiber, you can check the Zoo Med Eco Earth.

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 beddings that would hold excess moisture. Because moisture trapped in bedding can promote bacterial and fungal growth.

Plants & Branches

two veiled chameleons on branch
two veiled chameleons on branch

As Veiled Chameleons are arboreal, they need climbing facilities – branches and plants (live or fake) to climb on.

Plants do also play a critical role in providing a sense of security, so be sure to provide your chameleon with one or two “areas of refuge”. Create a dense area of non-toxic plants on one side for hiding. And on the other side, create a more open exposed area of branches for basking.

Some safe live plants commonly used are weeping fig-trees, umbrella trees, and Pothos.

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 over to 300°F and bake the wood for 30 minutes. This should sterilize the wood and make it completely safe for your chameleon.

Temperature

During the day it is important to offer your Veiled Chameleon a heat gradient of 80°F to 95°F. It is key to set up an environment that provides a gradient of temperatures.

Temperatures in different parts of the cage can be easily monitored by placing thermometers in a few places.

The Chameleon will find its comfort level by basking at different levels within the habitat.

The heat gradient at night should be from 70°F to 85°F.

Provide a ceramic heater for a basking area all 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.

Lighting

You must provide your Veiled 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 bulbs every six months or based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

At night, the lights should be turned off. You can also use a night time bulb, which creates the illusion of a tropical nighttime atmosphere.

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

Humidity should be kept to a minimum for Veiled Chameleons. However, misting is important cause Veiled Chameleons get water by licking it from leaves.

Managing excess water is an important health issue. Thus, avoid stagnant water pooling on the cage floor.

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 individuals.

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.

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 plant to give the enclosure a thorough cleaning using a reptile-safe disinfectant.

Feeding

Veiled Chameleon eating crickets
Veiled Chameleon eating crickets

Veiled Chameleons are mostly insectivores. However, they are also one of several chameleon species known to consume plant matter, perhaps as a source of water during the dry season.

In captivity, they are fed mostly with crickets and some other insects such as mealworms, super worms, waxworms, roaches, silkworms, flies, fruit flies, 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, lettuce, and other fruits and vegetables.

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.

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 Veiled 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.

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.

Behavior & Temperament

Veiled chameleon being handled
Veiled chameleon being handled

Veiled Chameleons are the most aggressive of the commonly kept pet chameleons. They aren’t aggressive for the sake of it. But, they largely act aggressively due to territorial reasons. Veileds are the most fiercely territorial so they should always be housed individually.

Health Concerns

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

As previously mentioned, 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 Veiled 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, you can prevent metabolic bone disease with at least 12 hours of UV-B light daily.

Last but not least, a chameleon’s tongue is not sticky. It’s hollow and composed of three main elements: accelerator muscles, retractor muscles and the sticky tip, which is more like a toilet plunger.

The tip hits prey hard and creates suction around it before the chameleon retracts it. Because of this suction, the tip can get stuck on a feeder dish. Irreversible damage can result.

Sometimes the tongue no longer retracts, and it atrophies or even causes death if the chameleon cannot be taught to be hand-fed. (Source)

Price & Availability

Veiled Chameleons are sold between $60 – $499.

They are available for sale at PetCo.

Video On Veiled Chameleon Care

Conclusion

Veiled Chameleons are great looking creatures, that have a noticeable demand in the pet trade, because of the fact that they combine hardiness with a great look and also have an interesting size.

As it has been our current advice with other chameleon species, when selecting your Veiled Chameleon, always prefer captive-bred individuals over wild-caught ones.

This is because captive-bred individuals are healthier and have a more reasonable life expectancy. Imported wild-caught specimens usually carry a heavy parasite load, and are usually extremely stressed.

With a proper enclosure and consistent care, Veiled Chameleons should enjoy a happy life.

Other great pet chameleons are the Carpet Chameleon, Jackson’s Chameleon, and the Panther Chameleon.

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