MOOD SWINGS AND COLOR SHIFTS
Currently a popular house pet among reptile aficionados, the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) originated from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In fact, it was so commonly found in Yemen that it is sometimes called the “Yemeni chameleon.” While the Arabian Peninsula is commonly associated with its desert regions, it is the greener subtropical and tropical regions that are home to the veiled chameleon.
A HIGH-RISE LIFESTYLE
In its natural habitat, the chameleon is arboreal, making its home up in the trees, where it can feed on insects, flowers, and leaves. They also drink from tree leaves, where rain or dew collects as water droplets. During droughts, the chameleons have been observed to eat leaves as a source of moisture.
PRETTY BOYS AND SERIOUS GIRLS
The veiled chameleon is also pretty large—the male of the species can grow up to 24 inches, with an average length of 14 to 18 inches. The female chameleons are around half as long, at 12 inches, and are less colorful.
The male chameleon is identified by its heel spur, a bony protrusion on the hind feet. Both male and female chameleons have a casque: a crest above the head believed to help channel rainwater into their mouths. In males, the case is larger and more ornately patterned than with females.
COLOR ME MOODY
Like most species in its genus, the veiled chameleon’s scales change color, but not necessarily to match its surroundings. A number of factors affect this color change: the lizard’s body temperature, its emotions, stress level, or state of health—it’s almost like a mood ring.
The color includes several shades and hues of green—deep olives, yellowgreen, moss—and some yellows, reds, and browns. Its patterns combine mottling, barring, and streaking. However, the chameleon’s color changes aren’t a direct attempt to blend in with its surroundings.
LIFE IN THE URBAN JUNGLE
Veiled chameleons adapt easily to life as pets, although they have several needs that should be considered. First, their enclosure needs to resemble their original habitats to some degree. They will need some height and foliage for it to resemble an arboreal environment, not to mention accommodate their size. Live plants are also recommended, like ficus trees, schefflera, hibiscus, and pothos. These will provide areas for climbing and hiding, which will be good exercise for them.
Second, they need a temperature gradient within their enclosure. This means sources of heat, like heat bulbs or rocks that they can bask on every morning. Chameleons also need UVB rays to help in their calcium absorption. As glass filters these rays out, a full-spectrum light may be needed inside the enclosure. At night, no heat will be needed, and in fact the chameleons will need the temperature drop. Of course, a natural-light enclosure can also ensure all this, when designed with the help of a reptile specialist.
Third, chameleons are territorial. Those wishing to care for more than one will need to provide one enclosure for each individual.
Fourth, the chameleon will need regular food and water. This means crickets— usually gut-loaded for better nutrition. These and other insects they catch by shooting out their tongues—almost twice their body length—at high speeds. Because they move slowly, veiled chameleons are ambush predators; they lie in wait for their insect prey and strike at the right moment. Juveniles of up to 12 months old can eat up to 12 crickets daily, while older chameleons eat less, around 10 crickets per day.
They drink water with regular misting. Because they evolved to live in the trees, chameleons tend not to drink from pools of water. Instead, they sip water droplets that collect in leaves. A mister can provide the water they need, whether by hand or automated with a timer. Some chameleon keepers also use a drip system to gradually splash water onto the leaves in an enclosure.
Fifth, chameleons benefit from regular interaction with their keepers. This can begin with feeding times and may progress from there. Not all chameleons welcome being handled, so getting to know your chameleon will take time.
Female chameleons lay infertile eggs periodically, and it is important to give them a place to lay eggs. Egg binding, which happens when the female cannot lay her eggs, is fatal to chameleons. A gravid female can lay her eggs in a laying bin of around 16 square inches with a 12-inch vermiculite substrate. She will then dig a tunnel in which to lay her eggs (around 20 to 70 eggs) and then will cover it completely. At this point, the laying bin should be left exactly as it is. The eggs usually incubate for six to nine months.
It is advised that female chameleons be at least a year old before they are bred. This gives them time to develop calcium stores for the eggshells.
Q:The veiled chameleon appears to be one of the most popular chameleon species. In your opinion, why is the veiled chameleon popular?
A:It is popular because of its ability to change color. Chameleons can change color depending on what they are holding on to. And there’s also their very long tongues; they can stretch these out to twice their body length. They are popular, and are bred and sold locally.
Veteran veiled chameleon keeper Albert Tagasa shared his knowledge of the creature with Animal Scene in this exclusive interview.
Q:Can you give us a basic introduction to the veiled chameleon and how it came to be in the Philippines?
A:Aside from its ability to change color, animal lovers and keepers worked to import them from the USA. From there, many animal lovers fell in love with these animals and many people just got them for pets.
Q:How big can you expect it to grow, how long is its lifespan, and what other basics should those interested in it know?
A:Males can grow as long as 2 feet, and females are smaller. Generally, according to what I’ve read in forums of keepers from around the world, they can live up to 10 years in captivity.
Q:What for you are the defining characteristics of the veiled chameleon, the thing or things that make them special and/ or distinguishes them from other, similar creatures?
A:Compared to other species of chameleons, this specie is the hardiest among them. They are easier to take care of; they can easily cope with our environment, most especially our weather. They are more stable healthwise compared to other species.
Q:Was it difficult for you to raise a veiled chameleon? What are the best things you’ve learned about keeping it, in your experience? What challenges did you face in its care, and how did you overcome these?
A:At first, I was confused and I was overthinking whether I could really raise them, and I always got negative feedback in response to questions about raising them. For example, people I asked would cite our weather, saying that it won’t survive here in the Philippines.
After all the negative comments and feedback, I finally decided to try taking care of a pair of veiled chameleons myself. At first, I babied them. I put them in a nice enclosure with a full set-up (live plants, wood branches, and a water mister).
The challenges I was concerned about after purchasing them was whether they would be able to easily cope with their new environment or enclosure. Would they eat, and could I really raise them to adulthood?
I continued to read and do research about their care as I kept them. Then I came to realize that I could just let them be! I just had to give them food, pet them, and give them fresh water everyday. Discovering this was the final key to overcoming my challenges. Yes, I encountered problems along the way, but because I was determined to do it right and was willing to do what it took to raise them, I overcome my fear that they might suddenly just die.
Q:What are the characteristics of a healthy veiled chameleon? Conversely, what signs should keepers look out for that indicate when it is sick? What are its common health problems that keepers should watch out for?
A:The characteristics of healthy chameleons, from my own experience, is that you see them eat and drink everyday. The changing of color sometimes indicates stress; if you see them change color in an instant, don’t touch them or try to hold them.
Dehydration is the number one problem in keeping chameleons. Let’s keep in mind that chameleons don’t drink from a water dish, they drink water from the leaves. So how can you make sure they don’t get dehydrated? The use of a water spray, water mister, and water dropper are among the ways to make them drink. When you spray water directly on the leaves in their habitat, you will see them licking the leaves or waiting for the water to drip from the leaves. You will surely enjoy watching them drink water.
Q:For someone who is interested in keeping the veiled chameleon for a pet, can you give them things to consider before taking the plunge? Who would they make ideal pets for? Or are they better suited to aficionados who want to study them? Do you have tips for those who want to care for them?
A:Owning these kind of pet requires time and dedication. If you are a busy person, then maybe this kind of pet won’t suit you. You need to feed and give them fresh water everyday with the use of a water spray (about 2-3 times a day). But you can also use a water mister with an automatic timer.
You must always know your pet’s attitude and temperament. Knowing these will help you understand your pets better.
Q:Are there any risks involved in keeping the veiled chameleon? If so then what is your advice on how to best avoid or lessen these risks?
A:They are not venomous, but sometimes, when they are frightened or scared, they show aggression. If this occurs, refrain from touching or trying to hold them. Males should be separated from females as they become more dominant due to the size difference. Females may become stressed because of bullying.
Q:How does the veiled chameleon interact with humans? Can they show affection the way traditional pets do (the way the “Tangled” chameleon does), or do they express themselves another way?
A:Yes, if you dedicate much of your time to them. When you put your hands in front of them, they will climb on your hand then you can cuddle them or pet them. Just be gentle and careful. (With editing by CFB)
TAXONOMY Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Reptilia Order: Squamata Suborder: Sauria Family: Chamaeleonidae Genus: Chamaeleo Species: C. calyptratus