Small Chameleon Starter Buying Guide
Prepared by Frank Payne
Everything you need for a basic chameleon habitat! This guide is intended for lesser chameleons, carpet chameleons, and other small chameleon species of similar native habitats.
Our Starter Guides are focused on the baseline necessities to care for your pet, making them ideal for first-time keepers. We also offer a Deluxe Guide if you want to go the extra mile! 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 reptile 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. We recommend a starter minimum 2’x2’x2’ PVC enclosure, or an absolute bare minimum 18”x18”x24” glass terrarium.
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 24 quarts (1 bag) of Zoo Med ReptiSoil for starter setups.
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.
For 2-foot tall enclosures, 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 small adjustments to find the “sweet spot” for your chameleon's basking area. (To automatically maintain your temps, you can also plug your heat lamp into a dimming thermostat)
A linear T5 HO forest UVB bulb or T8 10% UVB bulb in a reflective fixture is best for small chameleons, and should span nearly the entire width of the enclosure. Select your UVB setup based on your enclosure size:
- 2x2x2’ enclosure: 22” Arcadia T5 6% + 24” reflective T5 fixture
- 18x18x24” terrarium: 18” Reptisun T8 10.0 + 20” reflective T8 fixture
Lamps can be placed directly on top of a 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. Select the length based on your chosen enclosure size.
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). This can be best achieved using a simple outlet timer.
Decor & Enrichment
Small chameleons require a variety of specific decor items that are vital for security, health, and enrichment.
Branches & Vines
Chameleons are arboreal, so a vertical climbing scape is essential for basking and enrichment. We recommend providing at least 1 large branch and 1 climbing vine for a starter 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 1 large live plant that reach almost the full height of the enclosure. In the future we will have available plants of this size for purchase, but until then, Frank recommends 18-24” tall 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
- Critter keeper to house and gutload live insect feeders
Small Species Chameleon Setup Examples
22"x17"x24" - Contributed by Frank Payne