Small Chameleon Deluxe Buying Guide
Prepared by Frank Payne
Make your chameleon's habitat a true work of ”Living Art!” This guide is intended for lesser chameleons, carpet chameleons, and other small chameleon species of similar native habitats.
Our Deluxe Guide has everything you need to build a reptile mansion! We also offer a Starter Guide for more basic setups. Be sure to check out our care guides on Lesser Chameleons and Carpet Chameleons for more information on how to set up your enclosure and keep your pet happy and healthy!
This Care Guide been curated by Frank Payne.
Frank Payne is a biology teacher, former AZA senior herpetology zookeeper, and breeder of exceptional lizards. He has been keeping and breeding reptiles and amphibians for over twenty five years.Read Full Care Guide
A chameleon enclosure should be tall enough to allow for a proper thermoregulatory gradient and have solid sides to best maintain the required humidity and temperatures. To build an extra enriching, multi-dimensional landscape that allows your pet to climb, hide, and explore to their heart's content, we recommend a 2’x2’x4’ PVC enclosure.
Substrate should be loose, highly moisture retentive, able to support live plants, and around 3-4” deep for stable humidity levels. We recommend at least 20 quarts (2 bags) of Josh's Frogs BioBedding Tropical substrate.
Note: BioBedding Tropical will support plant growth and allow adequate drainage within a proper chameleon humidity cycle, but this substrate on its own does not automatically create a bioactive habitat - further steps must be taken to achieve true bioactivity, such as adding additional substrate layers and microfauna.
Heat, Lighting, & Humidity
A small chameleon enclosure should have overhead heating, appropriate UVB, a daylight lamp, automated misting, and tools to monitor and control these elements.
A 50 watt halogen flood bulb is an ideal source of IR-A and IR-B radiation needed for healthy thermoregulation. When paired with a dimmable dome, you can make smooth, manual adjustments to find the “sweet spot” for your chameleon's basking area.
A linear T5 HO forest UVB bulb in a reflective fixture is best for small chameleons, and should span the entire width of the enclosure. The lamp can be placed directly on top of the screen lid (3-5” above primary basking perch) or mounted internally (7-9” above primary basking perch).
These diurnal, sun-seeking chameleons need a 6400-6500K daylight lamp to stimulate natural behaviors and maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. A full-spectrum LED daylight lamp is the strongest, brightest, and most efficient option.
An automatic misting system is the easiest way to guarantee consistent, appropriate moisture levels in your enclosure. In addition, chameleons' primary source of hydration comes from water droplets that form on the leaves, so a regularly scheduled misting cycle is crucial to their health.
Monitoring & Regulation
- 2 Gauges: Place one thermometer/hygrometer near the top and one near the bottom to monitor the necessary warm-to-cool temperature gradient.
- Timer: All reptiles should have a healthy circadian schedule: heat and UVB turned on during the day, then everything turned off at night to allow for total darkness and a natural temperature drop (~12hrs/day). A digital timer power strip is most convenient for a consistent light cycle.
- Thermostat: A dimming thermostat is the best way to keep your temperatures within an ideal range - just place the probe on your basking perch and set a max temp. The VE-200 has a built-in night drop timer that you can program to match your light cycle. (If using night drop, plug thermostat into a ‘continuous power’ outlet on your digital timer strip)
Decor & Enrichment
Small chameleons require a variety of decor items that are vital for security, health, and natural behaviors. Get creative with your decor, you can never have too much enrichment!
Branches & Vines
Chameleons are arboreal, so a vertical climbing scape is essential for enrichment and basking. We recommend providing 2-3 large branches and 1-2 climbing vines for a deluxe setup, but feel free to add more!
For an ideal modern chameleon enclosure, Frank Payne strongly recommends the use of live plants. Artificial plants are widely considered inappropriate for chameleons, as they simply cannot provide the same sizes, benefits, and naturalistic variation of live plants.
Chameleons should have at least 2-3 large live plants that reach 50-100% the height of the enclosure. In the future we will have available plants of this size for purchase, but until then, Frank recommends 24” or taller Ficus benjamina and Scheffelera species.
Tools & Feeding
Complete care also requires nutritional tools. Frank Payne recommends:
- Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
- Zoo Med Repti Calcium without D3
- Cricket Pen to house and gutload live insect feeders
Small Species Chameleon Setup Examples
Contributed by Frank Payne