One of the building blocks of proper chameleon husbandry is preparing and maintaining
a captive environment where your chameleon will flourish. Obviously, having a well suited enclosure is a top priority.
Personally, I prefer to mimic the chameleon's natural environment as much as possible. By doing this, you can ensure
that the chameleon, especially wild caught specimens, will be comfortable in their new home.
The first step is to obtain the proper cage. In most cases, screened cages with five
sides being screen, are the preferred method of housing chameleons. Glass aquariums or fish tanks do not allow for
enough ventilation. Thus, with the high humidity requirements of these lizards, bacteria can become a huge problem.
Another disadvantage of using glass tanks is that the glass often acts as a mirror. Because chameleons are primarily
solitary animals, if they constantly see their reflection in the glass, they view it as being another chameleon. This
can cause stress especially with territorial males, eventually making the chameleon more susceptible to diseases.
Therefore, the majority of chameleon enthusiasts feel it is imperative to provide an all-screen enclosure.
The next step is to determine what size enclosure is best for your chameleon.
Newborns, juveniles, and adults require cages of different sizes. Newborn and juvenile chameleons need smaller cages
so that they can find and hunt their prey with ease. I find that screened cages that measure 18"H x 18" W x 18"L work
well for these smaller chameleons. Most adult chameleons require a minimum cage size of 36"H x 18"W x 18"L. I always
try and allow for more space and find that 48"H x 24"W x 24"L cages provide a vast amount of room. It is also important
to remember that chameleons are arboreal and the height of the cage should be greater than its floor space. By offering
your chameleon a larger cage, you are encouraging them to be active, thus leading to a happier chameleon.
The size of the screening is also of importance. Most commercially produced chameleon
cages are equipped with the fine mesh type of insect screening often found in the windows for your house. A problem that
can arise with this type of screening is that many chameleons will climb on the screen. When they do this, their nails
will sometimes get stuck in the screen and they will proceed to rip out their nails and irritate the skin on their feet.
To prevent this, try and purchase a cage with a larger mesh ½" or larger. There are also some screens with a vinyl
coating, I believe one is called Aquamesh. These types of mesh are gently on your chameleon's feet. Some chameleons
will also persistently rub their noses on the screen ("nose-rub"), sometimes skinning themselves and producing wounds. The vinyl coated mesh is a great preventative measure against this habit. Something to remember when you increase
the mesh size is that the holes in the screen with get larger. This means that smaller feeder insects and unexpected
baby chameleons from live bearing species ( Jackson's Chameleons ) may be able to escape!
Once you have decided on a cage, try and place it in a low traffic area of your house,
free from constant human presence and out of the way of other pets like cats and dogs. Also, be sure that this place is
free of extreme temperature changes like drafts and opening doors in the wintertime.
To furnish your chameleon's cage, you will need to make a few decisions. Some people
prefer to use fake, plastic plants for their ease of cleaning and maintenance. I prefer to use live plants and find
that the same conditions that you need to provide for your chameleon will allow live tropical plants to thrive.
Chameleons love to hide and climb in plants so be sure that these plants have dense foliage. Chameleons will also
lick the water droplets from misting off of the leaves. Some chameleons, like Veiled chameleons, will even eat the
leaves in order to receive hydration and nutrition. Because of this, it is necessary to be sure the plants are non
Along with plants, other furnishings are a must. Branches, vines, and pieces of
driftwood provide proper basking and perching spots for your lizard. Provide different thicknesses of perches in
order to allow your chameleon to exercise their feet with different grasping methods.
Chameleons prefer to be housed individually because they are naturally solitary
in the wild. By housing your chams separately, you can easily monitor their food intake, prevent stress, and prevent
the chances of passing disease from one animal to another. If you choose to house them in groups or pairs, be sure
that you do not house two males together as they are often highly territorial.
There are other ways of housing your chameleon, which some keepers prefer. Some
make free roaming set-ups which use some branches and plants in a room where the chameleon is free to move around.
This gives the chameleon more room to move about. Other keepers prefer to house chameleons in greenhouses or outdoors
in large, walk-in type enclosures. As long as the temperatures can be controlled, either of these set ups would be
great for your chameleon(s).