Senegal Chameleon

These small chameleons need room to climb

Senegal Chemeleon
Noah Eldhart/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

Senegal chameleons are one of the four most popular species of pet chameleons. They are smaller chameleons and native to West Africa but are still just as beautiful and fragile as the other species.

Like many lizards, these chameleons don't tolerate a lot of handling, so may not be the best pets for small children. But by providing the ideal environment and diet for your pet chameleon, you can make sure your delicate reptile lives a long time

  • Name: Senegal chameleon, Chamaeleo senegalensis
  • Size: Six to eight inches long
  • Lifespan: Up to five years (females who lay several clutches of eggs may not live as long)

Behavior and Temperament of the Senegal Chameleon

While they are striking to look at, Senegal Chameleons are not suited for novice lizard owners. In addition to their aversion to being handled, they can be aggressive toward other chameleons, even potential mates if they're not in the mood.

It's best to house them separately if you have more than one and be content to watch them rather than play with them. 

Senegal Chameleon Housing

The Senegal chameleon is a sensitive reptile. The environment needs to be just right for a Senegal to thrive in captivity and housing is one of the most important parts of a chameleon's environment.

A mesh or screened enclosure is your best option for a Senegal chameleon. Air circulation and ventilation along with the abundance of climbing options are perfect; just be sure the enclosure is of adequate height. Senegals will climb vertically in a cage, not from side to side. 

Your Senegal's cage should be equipped with plenty of vines and artificial plants to climb as well. You'll also want a dripper system unless you are diligent enough to mist the enclosure several times a day. Chameleons drink their water off of plant leaves, not out of a bowl, so it is crucial there are wet leaves in the enclosure that your Senegal can drink from daily.

Although mesh cages are best for chameleons, they are awful for maintaining the humidity Senegals require. This is where the dripper systems and automatic misting and fogger systems can help (again, unless you're planning to mist several times a day). Without a high humidity level in the cage, your Senegal chameleon will become dehydrated, lethargic and may have difficulty shedding, among other problems.

If you plan on using a glass tank to house your chameleon, a 29-gallon high tank is usually recommended.

Lighting

Your Senegal enclosure should have both heat lights and a full spectrum UVB light. The heat lights keep the basking area around 85 degrees and don't allow the rest of the enclosure to drop below 70 degrees. The UVB lighting increases metabolism, appetite, activity, and most importantly, synthesizes Vitamin D3 which is crucial in the calcium absorption process for your chameleon.

Without UVB lighting your chameleon will likely develop metabolic bone disease, not grow properly and suffer from weakened or broken bones. Even if you provide calcium in your chameleon's diet, without the UVB lighting, the animal won't be able to absorb it.

Make sure your UVB light is placed about 12 inches away from the highest point in the cage that your chameleon can reach, to avoid thermal burns and ensure that your heat lights won't melt your mesh or screened enclosure.

Food and Water

A Senegal chameleon in captivity likes to dine on crickets, mealworms and other insects that are readily available in the pet trade. It catches its prey by shooting its long tongue out of its mouth. The tongue sticks to the insect and retracts back into the chameleon's mouth. A healthy chameleon focused on catching its food will successfully catch the insect in nine out of ten attempts.

Gut-loaded insects that are dusted with a calcium powder should be offered every few days, if not daily. You should never put more crickets in your chameleon's enclosure than he will eat. Crickets left overnight may start biting your chameleon and cause small wounds that can become infected.

Also, since chameleons eat live prey, it is important to have a regular fecal examination performed by your exotics vet to check for microscopic intestinal parasites.

Choosing Your Senegal Chameleon

As with most exotic lizards, it's best to get a Senegal chameleon from a reputable breeder; it's not possible to ascertain what parasites or other potential hazards a wild-caught variety may have been exposed to. 

Ideally, you'll be able to watch a Senegal chameleon eat before buying one. If it refuses food, this could be a red flag. And if its eyes are cloudy or it has excess mucus around its nasal passages and mouth, these could be signs of a respiratory infection or another ailment. 

A chameleon with dry patches on its skin may be having problems shedding, which also is not a good sign.

Common Health Problems

Senegal chameleons, like many reptiles, are prone to respiratory infections and stress-related ailments. Calcium and vitamin A deficiency, which result from poor diet, are common as well. 

One of the more obvious diseases that afflicts chameleons is stomatitis, otherwise known as mouth rot. This will show as a redness around its mouth, and possibly drooling as well. 

And as mentioned previously, Senegal chameleons and other lizards are at risk for metabolic bone disease, which happens when the animal can't absorb calcium properly. This painful condition weakens the animal's bones so that its legs appear wobbly. It also will have a poor appetite and may appear lethargic. They may appear to have wobbly legs, or become lethargic and have a poor appetite. 

If your chameleon seems unwell or is acting strangely, don't hesitate to consult a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. Most of these illnesses can be treated successfully if caught early. 

Similar Breeds of Chameleon

If you like the idea of having a chameleon for a pet, you may want to comparison-shop before committing to one. Here are some other options to consider

You also can check out our profiles of other chameleon breeds here.