Chamaeleo calyptratus

© 2009-2010, Michael Jacobi and

Common Name(s): Veiled or Yemen Chameleon

Experience Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Range: Southwestern Saudi Arabia and western Yemen (also introduced into Florida and Hawaii)

Habitat: Varied: dry mountain plateaus, temperate mountain slopes, or humid coastal plains

Habits: Highly specialized arboreal lizard

Behavior: Highly territorial and asocial; best housed alone

Temperature: Daytime 80-90°F with 95-110°F basking spot; nighttime drop to 70-75°F

Housing: A large screen enclosure designed for chameleons that is planted with Ficus, Schefflera, Pothos and has vine or branches for additional perching spots and no substrate (bare floor). An adult male will require a 24 x 24 x 48" high cage, adult female: 18 x 18 x 36" high.

Lighting: 12 hours/day illumination by UVB emitting reptile fluorescent tube such as Zoo-Med's Repti-Sun 5.0 plus incandescent lamp to provide appropriate basking spot

Captive Diet: Omnivorous as adult; both insects (crickets, silkworms, hornworms, superworms, roaches) and plant matter (dark greens, fruits and vegetables, dandelion and hibiscus flowers, see comments below)

Comments: The Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) is a fairly large and colorful chameleon species from the Arabian Peninsula. This adaptable and hardy lizard has adjusted to a wide range of habitats and these traits contribute to it being an excellent introduction to captive chameleon care for the novice keeper. Although many true chameleons are demanding captives that only thrive under the care of highly experienced keepers, the Veiled Chameleon is not difficult for beginners to raise as long as guidelines regarding housing, UVB lighting and diet and dietary supplements are followed. The relatively straightforward housing and care requirements, impressive form and interesting behavior make the Veiled Chameleon a fascinating and rewarding chameleon species for any dedicated herpetoculturist.

The Veiled Chameleon is one of the larger chameleon species in captivity, and is easily distinguished by the tall casque rising from the head of males. These helmeted males may reaching a total length approaching two feet, while females have a total length of 15-18 inches. The colorful males may be turquoise and green with irregular yellow bands, orange or copper streaks and blue spots, but most females are comparatively drab green except when displaying their gravid coloration of dark blackish-green with orange streaks and blue and yellow spots. Because of their greater size, impressive casque and brilliant coloration, males are more popular than females for those just wanting one specimen. Females may produce eggs even if not bred and egg-laying complications may arise, so we certainly suggest you stick to a lone male unless you are interested in breeding chameleons and want multiple specimens. Fortunately, Veiled Chameleons can be readily sexed as soon as they hatch; males have a prominent spur on the back of their hind feet that is absent in females.

Screen enclosures allow for essential airflow and open space and are best decorated with live plants, such as a Ficus and/or Schefflera and assorted horizontal branches and vines. Veiled Chameleons thrive best in cages without substrate or standing water. Primary lighting should be provided by UVB emitting fluorescent tube, such as Zoo-Med® Repti-Sun™ 5.0, and a separate standard incandescent light bulb should provide a basking spot at the upper end of the optimal temperature range. Both lights should be timer-controlled so they are on for 12 hours each day. Unlike many reptile bets, the Veiled Chameleon appreciates a nighttime drop in temperature, and no heat source is necessary during the 12 hour dark period.

Baby Veiled Chameleons grow rapidly on appropriately-sized gut-loaded crickets that are dusted with a calcium supplement containing vitamin D3 such as Sticky Tongue Farms® Miner-All I™ or Rep-Cal® with D3 once or twice a week. Adults are omnivorous and both insects and plants comprise a healthy diet. Gut-loaded crickets of appropriate size dusted once or twice a week with a calcium supplement containing D3 may comprise the bulk of a veiled chameleon's insect diet, but silkworms, hornworms, superworms and roaches can be used to add variety for optimal health. Many adults lose their wariness and may even become accustomed to shooting their sticky tongues at large insects held in their keeper's fingers. Accepted plants vary with individual preference and you should experiment to find your chameleon's favorites, but many veiled chameleons with eat the Ficus, Pothos and, more rarely, Schefflera plants decorating their cages. Chopped dark greens (e.g., romaine, mustard, kale, endive) and other plants your chameleons prefer should be offered once or twice a week in an elevated dish. Flowers to try include dandelion (and its greens) and hibiscus. Fruits and vegetables that are relished by many veiled chameleons include apple, strawberries and raspberries, mango, papaya, carrot and squash. Chameleons rarely drink still water from a bowl and drip systems and periodic misting are necessary to provide clean water. Droplets of water should fall and form on leaves where the chameleon may lap them when thirsty. Veiled Chameleons will not tolerate excessive humidity, and care should be taken to ensure that cage dries out between waterings and no substrate is used so water from misting and plant watering does not accumulate.

This care sheet provides only general information regarding Veiled Chameleon care. Although it provides a good foundation for successful captive husbandry, we recommend you also read one or more of the books listed below.

Recommended Reading

Jackson's and Veiled Chameleons: Facts & Advice on Care and Breeding (Reptile Keeper's Guide).
Barron's Educational Series.

DE VOSJOLI, P. & G. FERGUSON (eds.). 1995.
Care and Breeding of Panther, Jackson's, Veiled, and Parson's Chameleons.
The Herpetocultural Library, Advanced Vivarium Systems.

DORVAL, C. 2006.
Chameleons in Captivity (Professional Breeders Series).
ECO Publishing/Serpent's Tale.