The veiled chameleon is the most popular pet chameleon.
These fascinating lizards make great pets for intermediate keepers who want to dive into the world of chameleons.
This species is easily recognizable for their tall head crests and blue-green color. They are also one of the largest, most widely available and affordable pet chameleons.
Keep reading for our complete guide to this iconic species. We share how to care for them, their lifespan, diet, colors, size and more.
|Common Name||Veiled chameleon, Yemen chameleon|
|Scientific Name||Chamaeleo calyptratus|
|Range||Southwestern Saudi Arabia, western Yemen|
|Size||10 to 24 inches|
|Color||Mint green with yellow and aqua bars|
|Diet||Crickets, hornworms, grasshoppers, cockroaches|
|Tank Size||100 gallons|
|Temperature||72 to 85°F|
|Humidity||50 to 75%|
Veiled Chameleon Species Guide
The veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) is a large species of chameleon in the family Chamaeleonidae. They share their genus with several other notable species, including the flap-necked, common, and Senegal.
Veiled chameleons are native to a thin strip of land in southwestern Saudi Arabia and western Yemen.
Within their relatively small range they are surprisingly adaptable. They can be found in woodlands, shrubs, fields, and even on trees along roadsides, parks, and gardens.
Because of their adaptability, fast growth, and early reproduction, their wild populations are currently doing well.
The hardiness of this particular species has led to their widespread success as a pet.
In 1991 the first veiled chameleons were brought to the United States. The first captive-bred specimens were hatched by the San Diego Zoo in 1991.
Since 1991 they have grown in popularity and are currently raised by professional and hobbyist breeders.
Veiled chameleons are unique from other chameleons because of their impressive head crests, which grow up to 3 inches tall.
They are also known for their large size, docile temperament and relatively simple care. They are not suitable for someone without prior reptile experience, but are a good first species for intermediate hobbyists who are new to this family of reptiles.
These Old World lizards are perfect for someone looking for a large, impressive display reptile.
When resting and relaxed, they are a uniform minty green.
These colors change to brilliant hues of green, blue, turquoise, and orange when they become excited or agitated.
They are known to use their colors to control their body temperature, communicate with each other and signal stress.
In the wild, the average veiled chameleon lifespan of both males and females is shorter. Predators, diseases, food shortages, and parasites mean that their life expectancies are 3-5 years.
Pet veiled chameleons can live for 5-8 years with good care.
Females typically live closer to 5, while healthy males can push 8 years.
As pets, these lizards can develop several common health problems if their diet, husbandry, or care is wrong.
This means that they should only be kept by hobbyists who have experience caring for delicate reptiles.
The most frequent health issues in veiled chameleons are:
- Metabolic Bone Disease
- Hypovitaminosis A
Metabolic bone disease results from an imbalance of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Poor diet and a lack of UVB light are both contributing factors.
This condition comes on gradually and worsens over time if not corrected.
Symptoms include misshapen limbs, tail, or spine, a drooping head crest, bowed legs, and lethargy.
Hypovitaminosis A is a deficiency of vitamin A. Much like metabolic bone disease, it results from an improper diet and has many of the same symptoms.
A lack of this essential nutrient can result in a disfigured spine, discharge from the eyes, skin problems and food refusal.
It can be tricky to identify illnesses in already shy and sedentary species.
Taking your pet to an exotic animal veterinarian for regular exams can help to catch and address any health problems early.
Veiled chameleons are eye-catching reptiles with an exotic, unique look.
A common misconception is that chameleons change color for camouflage. However, veiled chameleons’ base colors are already perfect for blending in with their surroundings. They actually use their color to communicate with rivals, attract mates and signal stress.
Male and females are both light, minty green with pale green and yellow bars on either side of their ribcage. They are uniformly light green when relaxed, with the colored bars barely visible.
Veiled chameleons can change from a pale, mint-green to a darker green in a matter of minutes.
If stressed, angry, or agitated, veiled chameleon colors darken to a brilliant aqua.
Their pale green bars become bright yellow and orange with dark blue edging.
Overall, males have richer colors and more intricate patterns than females.
Veiled chameleons are named for their large, distinctive crest (also called a “casque”) on their heads.
Males’ crests are larger and more colorful than females’, reaching up to 4 inches in height.
The reason for their head crests is still unknown. So far, theories for its purpose include use for temperature control, water collection, communication or as a way to amplify sound.
This species is thinner than other types of chameleons, though they share many of the famous characteristics. They have hands and feet specially adapted for grasping branches, a prehensile tail, and cone-shaped eyes that can move independently.
Chameleons have a unique way of changing their colors that isn’t found in other animals.
Instead of altering the pigments in their skin like squid and octopus, they alter the structure of their cells to reflect different wavelengths of light.
Veiled chameleons colors change for multiple reasons, including:
- Communication with rivals or mates
- Mood signaling
- Temperature control
- Displaying reproductive status
Knowing what your pet veiled chameleon’s color means can help you understand its mood, health, and happiness.
Individuals that are relaxed and content are mint-colored with very faint cream or green bars. Pale greens are the “resting state” of veiled chameleons.
Bold colors are typically used to display aggression or excitement.
Aggressive males show more oranges, yellows and reds than usual.
Bright, vibrant greens and blues are a sign of excitement rather than aggression.
Dark colors like dark gray, black, or brown, indicate stress, illness, or cool temperatures.
Chameleons may turn dark while basking to help absorb more heat. An adult that stays dark constantly is a sign that something in its environment is not right.
Females change their colors to dark green, brown, or black to let males know they are not interested in mating.
A baby veiled chameleon will hatch from the egg at 3-4 inches in length. However, they grow to be one of the largest species. In just 9 to 12 months they will reach their full adult size.
Full grown veiled chameleons reach 10-24 inches long.
A large male can grow up to 24 inches long from nose to tail, though 20-21 inches is average.
The average length of a female is 10-14 inches; nearly half the size of males!
Females are much smaller, but typically thicker and more robust.
Their tail can make up almost half of their total size. Their tails are normally tightly curled, making them seem shorter than they truly are. It is only when they are using their tail for climbing or balancing that their full length becomes apparent.
Just as size depends on gender, so does growth rate.
Males grow faster and mature around 9 months, while females can take 12 months. Both are considered fully grown after 1 year.
Babies grow quickly as they are most vulnerable to predators like birds, snakes, and spiders when they are very small.
|Age||Weight (grams)||Length (inches)|
|0 – 3 weeks||2 – 3||3 – 4|
|1 month||5.5 – 8.5||4 – 6|
|2 months||20 – 35||5 – 7|
|3 months||40 – 70||8 – 12|
|6 months||125 – 170||12 – 18|
|9 months||145 – 190||13 – 20|
|1 year||150 – 250||14 – 24|
Veiled Chameleon Care
The veiled species is one of the best for new chameleon keepers, though not for people who are new to reptile keeping.
Veiled chameleon care can be technically challenging for new keepers.
These lizards needs precise temperatures and humidity in their enclosure that change from day to night.
Owners should also be attentive to their reptile’s behavior and appearance. This will help them to quickly spot any health problems.
These lizards make fascinating pets but take time, effort, and experience to keep healthy and happy.
Wild veiled chameleons live among the branches of bushes, shrubs, and trees.
They are found in rural and agricultural regions, suburbs, and even around city parks and gardens. A pet veiled chameleon habitat should closely mimic their natural environment.
These lizards need a large tank with plenty of foliage and décor to feel safe and secure.
- Tank: 100+ gallon, raised 5-6 feet off the ground.
- Substrate: Coconut fiber, orchid bark, newspapers, or paper towels .
- Décor: Lots of plants, logs and branches for climbing.
- Lighting: Ambient room lighting, minimum 12 hours of darkness
- Temperature: 72-80°F, with a basking spot of 85°F.
- Humidity: 50-75%.
An adult chameleon needs a 24”x24”x48” tank that is raised 5-6 feet off the ground.
The interior should be filled with vegetation, branches, and wooden dowels that are sturdy enough to support their weight. For vegetation and foliage live plants like pothos and hibiscus are the best choice.
If you grow live plants in their tank, an organic topsoil mix is a good choice of substrate. Coconut fiber, orchid bark, newspapers, or paper towels are also good choices.
For good airflow the tank should be have two or three plastic-coated mesh sides.
During the day, veiled chameleon temperatures need to be a gradient of 72-80°F, with a basking spot of 85°F. At night, temperatures should drop by 5°F.
The gradient should be vertical, with the warmest spot closest to the top.
Use a UVB light fixture set on a 12-hour day/night cycle from 09:00am to 09:00pm to light your chameleon’s tank. All UVB bulbs should be replaced every 6 months. Even though the light output appears the same, the amount of UV radiation decreases over time.
Veiled chameleon humidity is one part of their husbandry that most new keepers struggle with.
Keep the humidity at 50% throughout the day and increase it to 75% during the night.
Mist the enclosure twice daily to let water accumulate on the foliage. You can also use a reptile drip system to automatically provide water at all times.
Veiled chameleons will not drink standing water but instead get their hydration from water droplets on leaves and in the air.
Chameleons are ambush hunters that have a unique hunting style only found in their family.
First, they spot insects and other invertebrates with their excellent vision. Once they have a target in sight, they use their dappled color and peculiar swaying walk to blend in with branches while they move close enough to strike. Finally, they launch out their long, sticky tongue to snag the prey and pull it into their mouths.
A veiled chameleon’s method of hunting is fascinating to watch.
Feeding and hunting is one of the most interesting parts of owning this pet.
Wild veiled chameleons are primarily insectivores and eat locusts, moths, beetles, cockroaches, and flies. Some have been seen to munch on leaves and flowers to get extra water in their diet.
Veiled are one of the few species that will eat plants, along with invertebrates.
A pet veiled chameleon’s diet should closely match the diet of their wild relatives.
Insects should also be gut-loaded. Crickets, grasshoppers, dubia roaches, and hornworms are good staples.
Adults need 5-6 large insects every 2 days, while pets under a year old should be fed daily with as many small insects as they will eat in 15 minutes.
Lightly dust insects with a calcium and multivitamin supplement prior to each feeding.
Their enclosure should also have edible live plants like pothos, hibiscus, schefflera and ficus for them to eat at their leisure.
Veiled chameleons do not like to be held.
They may tolerate occasional, gentle handling, but this should be done only when necessary. Examples of this include taking them to a vet or cleaning their enclosure.
In general this is a hands-off pet.
Their main defense against predators is blending in with the background to avoid being seen. Being handled stresses them because they are unable to use their camouflage and feel exposed to predators.
Owners who want a similar reptile pet who likes be held should consider an Ackie monitor.
Are They Good Pets?
Veiled chameleons are widely considered the best chameleon species for hobbyists and intermediate reptile owners.
Despite their popularity in the reptile-keeping hobby, this species is not suitable for novice lizard owners.
As a whole they are not a good pet for people new to reptiles.
The veiled chameleon is often recommended as a starter species for intermediate owners who are looking to get into raising this group of lizards. They are hardier and more forgiving of improper husbandry, but still need precise environmental conditions and a carefully balanced diet.
Potential owners should be aware that these lizards do best with minimal interaction.
These reptiles are sensitive to lights, movement, and noises which can make handling a stressful experience for them.
|Come in beautiful colors and are widely available from breeders.||More expensive than other popular reptile pets.|
|One of the easiest chamaeleonidae to care for.||Need top-quality care and husbandry to avoid health problems.|
|Are quiet, calm, and not destructive or aggressive.||Should generally not be handled.|
|Fascinating to watch as they move around, hunt, and camouflage in their enclosure.||Must be housed alone.|
Veiled chameleons are easy to breed and are sold at numerous exotic pet stores, reptile shows, and from online breeders.
Most are sold as hatchlings, but it is also possible to find juveniles and adults for sale.
Baby veiled chameleons typically sell for $50, while adults and unique morphs can go for $500.
Males are more expensive than females because of their brighter colors and larger size.
Male vs Female Differences
There are many reasons why you may want to know the gender of your veiled chameleon.
Males and females grow to different sizes, have varying color intensities, temperaments, lifespans and even care needs.
Generally male veiled chameleons are much larger, more colorful and have taller casques than females. They can grow up to 24 inches long from snout to tail, while females rarely pass 14 inches.
Males have a raised, knobby bump on the heel of their back feet, which females do not.
From the moment they hatch these tarsal spurs are very distinct and are a clear indicator of a male.
Another difference is that females require more care than males.
Female veiled chameleons do not need to mate with a male to lay eggs. If they have no place to lay, they retain the eggs in their bodies and may become egg bound. From the time they are 9 months old, females should be provided a nesting box filled with damp vermiculite or peat moss in case they ovulate.
When veiled chameleons were first described there were two subspecies:
- Veiled (Chamaeleo calyptratus calyptratus)
- Short-casqued (Chamaeleo calyptratus calcarifer)
However, the short-casqued is now categorized as Chamaeleo calyptratus calyptratus.
There are no true subspecies, though there are several morphs.
Morphs are selectively bred to have a more colorful and vibrant appearance.
These morphs have only been bred in the last decade, so are still relatively uncommon and highly sought after by hobbyists.
Piebald veiled chameleons are a morph with irregular colorless patches on their bodies, usually on the head, tail, and feet. Their colorless, pinkish-white patches have very little pigment so blood vessels and nerves beneath the skin show through. Because of this they are more commonly known as the translucent veiled chameleon morph.
Hypermelanistics are currently one of the rarest morphs. As of 2010, they were only bred in the United Kingdom. The hypermelanistic morph is caused by additional pigment which results in chameleons with very dark colors and black stripes over their bodies.
Keeping a veiled chameleon is a dream for many people.
This species is well known for their head crest, large size and mint-green colors. They are also one of the most popular and widely bred.
Though hardy and adaptable, they should really only be kept by experienced hobbyists.
Their health can decline quickly if not kept with precise temperatures and humidity. With a careful owner and proper setup, they usually do well in captivity.
This beautiful species is best left for intermediate to advanced keepers only.
Is a veiled chameleon worth the challenge? Do you have experience keeping one?
Let us know in the comments.