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The Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) Purchase and Captive Care

by Petra Spiess

This article appeared in the July 1997 issue of Reptiles Magazine

Veiled Chameleon Captive Diet

Veiled chameleons, as mentioned before, are primarily insectivorous but will take some plant matter in their diet. Providing feeder insects with the correct balance of calcium to phosphorus is of critical importance in the veiled chameleon captive diet. If reptiles are not provided with a balanced diet, they will develop a dietary deficiencies such as a condition called metabolic bone disease. Metabolic bone disease is a calcium deficiency that results from an improper diet, and may also be caused by the lack of vitamin D3. Veiled chameleons require a diet that has a 2:1 calcium to phosphorous ratio. To provide this, it is necessary to fortify the insects before they are fed to the animal. Domestic crickets are the staple of the veiled chameleon captive diet; however, crickets only have a 1:1 calcium to phosphorous ratio. There are several ways to improve the calcium content of crickets and other prey items. The first is a procedure called "gut-loading".

Gut-loading involves feeding the feeder insects a good, high calcium diet before they are fed to the chameleon. The reasoning behind this considers that predators not only consume the prey item, but they consume the intestinal contents of the prey as well. The intestinal contents of prey items plays an important role in providing a well balanced diet. Variety is extremely important in captive reptile diets, and as such, it is important to vary the gut-loading material fed to feeder insects as well. Here is a sample gut-loading regimen: week 1-Collard greens, oranges, tropical fish food flakes, week 2-Mustard greens, melon, crushed dry iguana diet, week 3-Crushed alfalfa pellets, carrots, crushed high quality cat food. This may seem rather elaborate and a pain, but it is important in providing the chameleon with as wide a variety of nutrition as possible. Varied diets lessen the chance of a dietary deficiency, and contribute greatly to the overall health of the animal. Other insects may be offered to the chameleon as well including: king mealworms, mealworms, nightcrawlers (yes, veiled chameleons will eat them, but it makes a mess!), cockroaches, waxworms, pill bugs, and houseflies. The first five insects on this list can be purchased from commercial breeders, bait shops, or pet stores, but the rest must usually be collected. It is difficult to provide enough variety in the veiled chameleon diet solely by relying on the stock kept regularly at pet stores or bait shops, so check around the classified section of herp magazines to locate some sellers of the more exotic insects. Another way to provide variety in veiled chameleon captive diets is to collect insects from a pesticide free area. I use a fine mesh net and sweep it through an area of tall grass. This "meadow plankton" can be a valued part of a captive diet. Do not feed veiled chameleons too many wax or mealworms, these insects have a very low Ca:P ratio and can cause problems. Offer two or three different insects at one feeding (provided that the insects will not kill each other in the food dish). Another very important aspect of veiled chameleon captive diets is calcium supplementation.

Although gut-loading improves the nutritional content of feeder insects tremendously, it is also important to ensure that the chameleon is getting enough calcium. Calcium supplementation is an easy way to provide for this necessity. High quality calcium supplements can be purchased at good pet stores, or through mail-order companies. After the insects have been properly gut-loaded, put some insects into a plastic bag and add a pinch of supplement. Shake the bag up and down like a shake-and-bake pork chop so the insects are completely coated. If one keeps a large amount of feeder crickets around at one time, it may be difficult to get some in the bag without inadvertently freeing a large number of extra crickets, which will soon end up in your bedroom chirping all night and driving you crazy. To avoid this annoying encounter, simply place a cardboard tube from a used roll of toilet paper or paper towels in with the crickets. A good number of crickets will always choose to hide in such areas, and the tube can be easily lifted, with the crickets inside, and shaken into the coating bag. The feeder insects should be coated with calcium supplement every day for young veiled chameleons, and every other day for adult veiled chameleons. Young veileds must be fed every day, twice a day if possible. The best starter food source for young veileds is small crickets, as young veileds tend to regurgitate other insects such as mealworms (Tremper, 1995). Adult veileds will eat every other day. The best way to offer feeder insects to veiled chameleons is in a raised dish. Use an opaque dish with smooth sides so the insects cannot crawl out, but the chameleon can easily locate its food. This prevents the insects from dispersing into the cage and irritating the animal while it sleeps. Variety and proper supplementation are the most important aspects of the veiled chameleon captive diet. Another important aspect of veiled chameleon captive diets is providing clean drinking water.

It is very important to provide veiled chameleons with clean water on a regular basis. Veiled chameleons, and many other arboreal lizards, will not drink from a standing dish of water (although I have heard they can be trained to do so). Veileds just don't seem to recognize water for what it is unless it is in motion. The best way to provide veiled chameleons with water is to set up a drip system. There are several ways to set up a drip system, but the easiest is to just place an ice cube on the top of the enclosure, with a cup at the bottom to catch the drips as the cube melts. It is best to place the water source so that it drips onto the side of a leaf, where the animal can easily lap it off. Other drip systems can be made from deli cups or medical IV tubing. Some companies are even selling large plastic containers with spigots on them as commercial chameleon drippers. Although these systems work well, they are expensive for what they are. Be careful with drip systems, they can quickly flood the animal's cage, creating an unhealthy situation. Misting the enclosure has an advantage over drip systems, it raises the relative humidity. The relative humidity in the enclosure should be kept around 50-60% most of the time, this can easily be accomplished by misting the enclosure once or twice during the day.

Conclusion

The veiled chameleon is an impressive and challenging reptile to keep. Although the veiled chameleon is among the hardiest of its genus, it still requires rather specialized care. Anyone who is considering keeping veiled or other chameleons should seek out and read as much of the available literature as possible before purchasing the animal, do not purchase and then attempt to learn all that is required to keep these animals successfully. Learning what is required beforehand will reduce stress on both the keeper and the kept.

 

Literature Cited

Annis, John M. 1995. "Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) Natural History, Captive Management, and Breeding". In Care and Breeding of Panther, Jackson's, Veiled, and Parson's Chameleons. Advanced Vivarium Systems. pp. 77-99.

Bertoni, Ribello M. 1994. "Veiled Chameleons". Reptile and Amphibian Magazine. July/August 1994. pp. 65-77.

Henkel, F. W. and Heinecke, S. 1994. Chamaeleons im Terrarium. Landbuch.

Tremper, Ronald L. 1995. "Herptoculture of the Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)". In Care and Breeding of Panther, Jackson's, Veiled, and Parson's Chameleons. Advanced Vivarium Systems. pp. 101-108.

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