The First 30 Days with Your Pet Chameleon

Chameleon on branch


© Philippe LEJEANVRE / Getty Images

If you’ve decided to add a chameleon to the family, you have much to look forward to, but you should also prepare for a period of adjustment.

Chameleons have unique and particular requirements for both their habitat and their care. They are also stressed quite easily. With patience and planning, you can make the first 30 days with your chameleon go as smoothly as possible.

Before Bringing Your Chameleon Home

Finding the right spot for your chameleon's enclosure is a top priority. Chameleons enjoy the warmth of natural sunlight, but don't appreciate draughts. However, you must also consider the size of the chameleon’s cage. Enclosure setups are typically 3 x 3 x 4 feet or bigger, which means your chameleon will require quite a large space in your home.

These exotic reptiles require an advanced set up to achieve the correct temperatures, humidity, and conditions that meet their liking. Setting up a habitat from scratch can take a bit of time, making it crucial to completely set up their cage before bringing your chameleon home. You will also need to test out all the technical equipment to ensure it is working properly.

Once the habitat is set up, allow the heat lamps and misters or drip systems to run to raise the temperature and humidity to the required level. Putting a chameleon in a cage that doesn't have the right conditions can quickly lead to health problems and, if they are already feeling stressed about a new environment, this makes the proper conditions even more important.

Day 1

When you are ready to bring your chameleon home, it is a good idea to have the habitat misted and to have fresh, gut-loaded food ready. This will eliminate the need to disrupt the environment while your chameleon gets settled in.

Do not be alarmed if your chameleon immediately hides or lacks vibrant color. These reptiles do not acclimate to change easily, so give them time. You may find them sleeping for long periods.

During sleep, a chameleon’s color is pale and unexciting. This does not mean they are sick.

You should keep the environment adjusted to the right conditions, minimize any noise and major activity around the home, and avoid the temptation to try to handle them.

Day 10

By day 10, your chameleon should be getting used to their new home and to their immediate surroundings. However, keep in mind that they are very cautious creatures so any interactions should be done slowly and patiently.

At this stage, you may wish to start hand-feeding to build trust. Be sure to hold your hand a comfortable distance away from your chameleon to prevent them from feeling nervous. They can then make a choice to come closer if they feel comfortable. If you aren’t keen on holding an insect directly in your hand, a pair of tongs or tweezers works as well.

Don’t be disappointed if your chameleon is too wary to take the insect at first. Building trust with this timid reptile takes patience. Leave it for the day and try again the next day - never force things. Eventually, your chameleon will learn that your presence means food, not danger.

Even if you're successful with hand-feeding, you should still avoid handling your reptile at this stage. Chameleons are observation pets to begin with, and it is extra important to avoid any unnecessary stress during the first month. Even with good intentions, grabbing at your chameleon or forcing them to come to you will break the trust you are building. To them, this will only look like a predatory action.

Day 30

With a whole month inside their new home, your chameleon will most likely be more comfortable with exploring their surroundings. And with a little diligence, they may even be eating out of your hand!

Regular handling of a chameleon isn't a necessity and it shouldn't be forced, but if they are confident and actively approaching you, you can start to attempt more contact. Again, you must allow the chameleon to come to you in their own time. Otherwise, you will only break the trust.

To start working towards a tame chameleon, simply leave the chameleon’s cage door open and place a branch near the opening. This will allow the chameleon to explore outside when they feel ready. Once they are comfortable with this, try placing your hand near the branch. Do not grab or try to coerce your chameleon onto your hand. Allow them to grow accustomed to your hand being there. It may take many tries before your chameleon is confident enough to climb onto your hand.

Once they willingly climb onto your hand, you can reward your chameleon by feeding them tasty treats or taking them to a bright, sunny spot to roam and bask. This will begin to connect handling with good things, encouraging your chameleon to come out more readily.

Keep in mind that every chameleon is different, so you may get to this point faster than 30 days. On the other hand, some chameleons are extra cautious and may take much longer. Every one has its own unique personality and some types of chameleon are more susceptible to stress from environmental changes and handling.

Even if you are successfully able to hold your chameleon, it is important to remember not to handle these reptiles too often. Chameleons are solitary creatures that do not enjoy large amounts of handling.

Adding a chameleon to your home is an exciting experience but requires a gentle period of adjustment. These incredible creatures make fascinating pets but the transition to your home can be stressful for these timid creatures. With preparation and patience, you can make this experience as stress-free as possible.