Frequently Asked Questions - Caging and Furnishings

Caging and Furnishing FAQ
This FAQ is a reflection of my experience and educated opinions on the matter and generally reflects the general consensus of the experienced forum members and experienced enthusiasts. Much credit is given to those with more experience than I who are always offering their expertise such as Kinyonga, Laurie, Jannb, Carol, Chris Anderson, Olimpia, Sandrachameleon, Trace etc.

Q: How many chameleons can I keep in one cage?
A: One. Let me say that again: one. Chameleons are solitary creatures and in the wild can easily just leave the area if another one is present. They are easily stressed by another chameleon being in such close proximity that they cannot escape from. Often times one will become more dominant and eat more of the food and prevent the other from being able to bask as much. The signs of this can be obvious or very, very subtle so you may not notice it until the more submissive chameleon becomes ill. If it is a male/female pair the male will be constantly placing stress on the female to mate and she will not thrive. In large cages with lots of foliage with experienced keepers who can recognize the subtle signs it can sometimes work but is definitely not recommended for anyone with conditions less ideal than that. Pygmys are the exception to the rule here as they tolerate others of their species in a cage big enough…
More information on co-habitation.

Q: What kind and size of cage should my chameleon have?
The most common species (veileds and panthers) require large cages of 24x24x48” tall as adults. Smaller cages can be used for younger chameleons but they will need an adult cage by about a year of age. Jackson chameleons can happily live in an 18x18x36” tall cage but bigger is always better. Horizontal cages are not appropriate for chameleons as they are arboreal (tree dwelling) animals and need vertical space to move throughout the temperature gradient. Horizontal fish tanks especially are completely inappropriate for chameleons and should not be used, period. The most commonly used cage is screened as this provides good ventilation and dispersal of heat to create a gradient. If keeping humidity up is a challenge then you can wrap some of the sides with shower curtain liner or acrylic panels or add a humidifier or misting system.

In areas of cold, dry climates a glass cage may be better suited for a chameleon. This does NOT mean a big fish tank. The glass cage should still be vertical and have ventilation at the bottom to allow for air circulation. The exo terra cages are a good example of ventilation at the bottom. Vertical glass cages are very heavy and very expensive and often not big enough, which is why they aren’t seen as much. That chameleons are stressed by their reflection in the glass is a myth.
More information on keeping chameleons in glass cages.

Q: What substrate should I use in my chameleon’s cage?
A: Substrate is not needed for chameleons since they are arboreal (tree-dwelling) lizards and should not be spending much, if any, time on the bottom of their cage. Substrates like mulch or dirt just harbor bacteria and mold due to the high amount of moisture in the cage getting trapped in it. Unsanitary conditions can lead to infection in your chameleon. You definitely do not want the crickets munching on grossness before your chameleon eats them. It also poses a risk for when your chameleon is hunting that he will pick up chunks of substrate with the crickets that are sitting on substrate. Ingestion of substrate can cause intestinal impaction and some people have had chameleons die from that. The best substrate is nothing at all! It's easier to clean and you don't have to worry about the risks.

Q: Should I use a waterfall in my cage?
A: While they can be pretty to look at waterfalls are not very appropriate for a number of reasons. We know that standing water can get pretty gross pretty fast, especially when warm. Well the little waterfalls are almost still considered standing water because it's not going through a filter that would keep the water clean. Water, even trickling water, in a warm moist environment is going to grow mold and bacteria very quickly if it's not filtered or cleaned regularly (as in daily). And it just takes a piece of shed shin, a stupid cricket falling in it, your chameleon pooping in it, etc. to produce a raging bacterial problem. And then with the water trickling it is aerosolizing that into the air, where your chameleon will breathe it. Or heaven forbid actually drink it! Even without direct contamination it still grows stuff all on its own due to the nature of the environment. So the sound of it is nice, but that's about the only pro to it. Lots of cons. It is the general consensus that you should not use them in chameleon cages for those reasons.

Q: What kind of water bowl should I give my chameleon?
A: None. Chameleons do not and should not drink from standing water sources. In the wild they do not go down to streams to drink - they drink the dew and rain drops on the leaves of trees. You need to simulate this with a dripper or heavy misting so that water droplets accumulate on the leaves of the plants in their cage. Some chameleons will drink straight from the dripper but it is usually off of the leaves the water collects on. Your chameleon may not be comfortable drinking in front of you so make sure if you have a dripper that it continues to drip for a solid period of time (at least an hour but preferably several hours) to give your chameleon a chance to drink. A standing bowl of water is a breeding pool of bacteria, especially if any debris or stupid crickets fall into it so your chameleon should not be allowed to drink from one even if they try. Best not to even have one to begin with for those reasons and that your chameleon could potentially fall into it and drown.

Q: Should I give my chameleon a heat rock or heating pad?
A: Definitely not. Your chameleon should not be spending much, if any, time on the bottom of its cage and would not utilize these heat sources anyway. Unlike ground dwelling lizards, chameleons do not seek a warm rock to bask on. They are strictly arboreal (tree-dwelling) reptiles and seek out sun from above to bask in. Reptiles in general have underdeveloped heat sensors on their feet and bellies since they seek heat from above in the form of warm sunlight, which is why they are often burned by heat rocks. Chameleons need a basking bulb from above their cage.

Q: What are safe plants for my chameleon’s cage?
A: Safe plant list

Q: Can my chameleon live with other species of lizards, frogs, toads, etc.?
A: While the idea of a jungle in a cage is appealing, this is discouraged for a number of reasons. It is hard enough to create an appropriate complete microenvironemnt for your chameleon in such a small space without having to take the needs of another species into consideration. It is virtually impossible to meet the appropriate temperatures and humidity and environmental needs of an animal from another habitat type. Chameleons will eat things that are smaller than them without regard for whether or not it is good for them so smaller lizards or frogs may be lunch for your cham. Other animals may introduce illnesses or parasites that your chameleon is particularly susceptible to having never been exposed to anything like it.

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