Are Chameleons as Pets a Good Idea?
Some people don't understand the appeal of keeping a lizard as a pet. Some make it an important part of their identity. Whether you are a passionate herpetoculturist (someone who loves everything about reptiles) or only just dipping your toes in the terrarium, you may have wondered are chameleons as pets a good idea? There is no doubt they are fascinating animals in the wild. Their ability to change color is well-known, but does this mean they will survive well in the domestic environment? Are they a suitable pet for everyone?
In this AnimalWised care guide for pet chameleons, we not only only answer whether chameleons make good pets, but we look into what specifics they need to ensure their health and well-being.
Do chameleons make good pets?
As much as we would like to provide a yes or no answer to this question, whether chameleons make good pets is not a straightforward subject. Whether they are a suitable pet for you depends on your experience, temperament and what it is you want to receive from keeping a chameleon:
- Temperament: one of thew main issues is that chameleons are delicate animals. They are wild animals which have evolved the ability to change color as a way of eluding predators. Since they are prey animals, it is likely they will see a human as a potential threat rather than a carer. Unlike cats and dogs, chameleons have not gone through the centuries-long process of domestication. If we keep a chameleon as a pet, we are keeping captive a wild animal.
- Safety: their delicateness is also a physical issue. Many reptiles such as snakes are also kept as pets, but they are often more susceptible to being handled. Chameleons, however, will not enjoy being handled. Even ones which have well-tolerated human company will much prefer to stay on their safe branch in a terrarium than being picked up and have to walk over a potential threat.
- Exotic pets: another issue with keeping pet chameleons is to do with the pet industry. Chameleons are exotic pets which do not have the infrastructure around them as other more common companion animals. This means many people can charge a high price for selling them. While there are undoubtedly reptile specialists who respect the animal, encouraging people keeping chameleons as pets also encourages illegal or irresponsible selling of these animals.
- Care: since chameleons are not commonly kept as pets, many veterinarians do not have the expertise to deal with their specific conditions. We will need to have access to a specialist exotic animal veterinarian who can help in the case of a health problem. They also need specific care requirements which can be expensive, something we detail further below.
If you are still considering keeping a chameleon as a pet, it is important you know what to expect. They will not be a cuddly creature you can snuggle up to. In fact, many reptile experts will recommend we consider them similar to tropical fish. They should be enjoyed in observation with minimal interaction. Similar considerations need to be made when keeping other exotic animals such as pythons as pets.
Where do I get a pet chameleon?
There are many different types of chameleons and greater interest has made some pet stores seek out breeders to meet the demand. AnimalWised does not recommend purchasing chameleons from most exotic reptile stores as they are often from breeding farms which do not sufficiently consider the quality of care they deserve.
You can often tell chameleons are brought from breeding farms because the animals may have missing digits or noticeable wounds. This is due to how they are fed. The lizards are kept in large tanks where insects are thrown to them to be fed. The result is the animals bite each other unintentionally. Keeping them in this way can also result in cannibalism.
Buying and selling over the Internet is not recommended either. There is little regulation and, all too often, animals are purchased which have been abused. Safe shipping is also an important issue.
If you do wish to purchase a chameleon, you will need to find an approve breeder which can guarantee their level of care. They will have proper incubation and will not keep them in unsafe environments. A legitimate breeder will be happy to show you their setup, so be careful if they refuse to do so.
The best option is to go to rescue centers for exotic animals. Many people decide to abandon reptiles since they are long-lived animals that have a level of care which is a responsibility not all can meet. Depending on where you live, solidarity groups exist to help protect abandoned animals. You will not have to pay a high price (you may be required to donate to keep the organization running).
Other reptiles might not be as fragile as the chameleon, but they have their own considerations. Green iguanas as pets also need to be well cared for, but they are often less fragile than chameleons.
Chameleon terrarium requirements
Before you bring a chameleon into the home, you will need to have their habitat prepared. This is the space which they will spend the majority of their time. Chameleon terrariums will need to have specific light and temperature settings to ensure the well-being of the lizard.
While you can make your own terrarium for chameleons, you should only do so if you are confident in your abilities. For most, purchasing a quality commercial terrarium is the better option. Unlike some lizard terrariums, we will need to ensure the height of the chameleon's space is sufficiently tall. The minimum size of a chameleon aquarium is 60 cm x 60 cm x 120 cm (23.6" x 23.6" x 47.2"), meaning it is twice as tall as it is wide. However, this is the minimum space. Making the terrarium as large as possible is ideal.
It is important that the terrarium is well ventilated, so terrariums with mesh will be a good option. Although it is preferable to use a metal mesh, look for those that are not aluminum as they can cut the fingers of our new chameleon.
Chameleon terrarium temperature and humidity
Before adopting a chameleon as a pet, we must know that inside of the terrarium requires fixed lighting, temperature and humidity:
- The lighting must be on for 10 hours a day. To achieve this. we can affix two fluorescent light tubes to the top of the terrarium (so we avoid burns). The lights should cover an area inaccessible to the animal. Fluorescent or compact 5.0 units offer the necessary uva/uvb light they require. However, we can also opt for a single mercury vapor lamp of about 100w or 160w that offers heat. This works for the minimum size of the terrarium. Install more if larger.
- The humidity is another important factor to consider. To maintain optimal levels of between 50% and 80% humidity, we need to spray the terrarium 4 times a day. If we prefer an automatic system, we can use an ordinary humidifier or a drip system.
- Finally, we must note the appropriate temperature for the chameleon, which is between 27 ºC and 29 ºC (80.6 ºF - 84.2 ºF) during the day and between 18 ºC and 22 ºC (64.4 ºF - 71.6 ºF) at night. It is very important that it is always stable as it is one of the most common causes of reptile death.
Remember that the place of origin of the chameleon will finish the terrarium's temperature, humidity and other variables. For this reason, it is important you discuss these care options with the person from whom you adopt the reptile.
Chameleon terrarium vegetation
To complete your chameleon terrarium, you will need to have an appropriate substrate. This can either be earth or gravel, although gravel is often easier to maintain hygiene. You will also need specific vegetation. Chameleons are arboreal animals, meaning in the wild they will climb from tree to tree. We need to let them exercise this behavior by providing suitable branches to replicate trees.
The right vegetation for a chameleon terrarium includes:
- Small ferns
- Mediterranean clubmoss (Selaginella denticulata)
- Mosaic plant (Fittonia verschaffeltii)
- Earth star plants (Cryptanthus)
- Climbing fig (Ficus pumila)
- Small pools of water
You can add charcoal to the gravel to prevent the appearance of verdigris or mold. The pools should be small and not too deep.
Pet chameleon diet
Chameleons are insectivorous animals that have a strong predatory instinct. For this reason they usually never accept dead animals as feed. You should consider this before adopting one. We must provide them with a rich and varied diet with different types of insects. They should be given about 3 large insects per day. Suitable insects and other animals we can feed chameleons include:
The insects that we provide our chameleon should always be based on their size. Before leaving them in their terrarium they should be dusted with calcium supplement. We can use special feeders for reptiles that allow the insects not to move freely around the terrarium, to prevent them from hurting our chameleon.
We can also provide vitamin supplements occasionally, but never excessively. They should only be provided during the breeding season, cold months or after suffering an illness.
To finish with the diet of a pet chameleon, it should be noted that these reptiles do not drink standing water. This means they will not drink from a dish. Instead, as part of keeping the terrarium humid, you will need to spray the leaves of plants until they are saturated. The chameleon will then lick up the moisture from the leaves.
Pet chameleon health
If you've never had a reptile as a pet before, you should consider the high costs of exotic vets before doing so. Your chameleon can suffer from different bone problems as well as other diseases throughout their life. It will be essential that you go to the specialist for check-ups.
You should also know that you will need to have someone tend to them when you are away from home for any more than a day. It is very important that you consider this before adopting. We should only adopt a chameleon as a pet if we are going to take good care of it.
This applies to other reptiles as pets, such as the boa constrictor.
Can you tame a chameleon
There are websites and videos which claim you can easily tame a chameleon. They state that you can use treats and positive reinforcement to allow the lizard to become used to you. However, this will not change the chameleon's nature. It is true that you may be able to help a chameleon become used to you, but it will never stop being a wild animal.
Chameleons will be frightened of you, especially if they have been raised in a breeding farm where they have experienced trauma. Trying to tame them can be very stressful. While we may enjoy letting them clamber on our arms or shoulders, they may be very frightened. Also, just because a chameleon seems to be serene one moment, it is not uncommon for them to bite or lash out in fear the next.
If you do find that a chameleon starts to trust you, then you can let them walk onto your arm or transport you to another part of the home. Do not force them to do anything or try to play with them in an inappropriate way. Respect their nature.
Again, if you want to know if chameleons as pets are a good idea, you need to ask yourself if they are suitable for you. Not only do they have specific requirements which need to be well met, they are the kind of pet which will not be suitable for every personality type.
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