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Jackson's Chameleon Care
Chameleons are fascinating reptiles that can thrive in captivity if treated with the proper care. The Jackson's Chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii) is a species native to Kenya and Tanzania. However, populations of these amazing creatures have been established on the Hawaiian Islands as well.
I received a Jackson's Chameleon male, Squishy, from one of my students a few years back. Since then, I've cared for many chameleons and was even lucky enough to witness the birth of tiny hatchlings!! Although these exotic pets are fun to watch, they also require lots of care. The average life span for a Jackson's Chameleon in captivity is 5-6 years. You must be prudent and follow strict daily routines to help these creatures survive. This hub will give you the information you need to help your chameleon live a happy and healthy life.
Male chameleons have three-horns which resemble that of a triceratops. Although female chameleons may also have horns, their horns are smaller and much less developed in comparison to males. Females also tend to be smaller in size. While adults chameleons range in size from about 9 - 13 inches long (including the tail), their hatchlings are a little over an inch at birth.
Color is a good indicator of how your chameleon is feeling. Chameleons display dark and dismal shades (such as black) when they are distressed or ill. Females chameleons will also turn black if unreceptive to a male's advances. Males exhibit bright shades of green with blue or yellow markings, yet females are much more subdued in color. Juvenile chameleons range in shades of brown and begin changing color at about 4-5 months old.
As an insectivore, your Jackson's Chameleon will thrive on a daily regimen of "gutloaded" crickets (insects that are fed a calcium-rich diet). You can also offer your chameleon treats such as meal worms, superworms, waxworms, and silkworms. Although you can usually purchase these food sources from your local pet store, raising your own insects is much more convenient. Other bugs that you happen to capture (i.e., grasshoppers, praying mantises, flies, roaches) also make delightful treats provided that they are non-venomous and pesticide-free. Make sure to remove uneaten insects from your chameleon's enclosure after every feeding session.
Adult chameleons should be offered 2-5 live insects daily. Avoid over-feeding and always provide a constant source of water (see Hydration). Hatchlings, which survive on fruit flies and pinhead crickets, need extra care as they have not yet learned to hunt efficiently. Provide a safe feeding environment and always feed each chameleon separately.
In the wild, Jackson's Chameleons lap up droplets of rain from leaves. They do not generally drink standing water, therefore, it is important to set up a drip system to provide a flowing water source. Place the drip in an area that will cascade over foliage in your chameleon's enclosure. Misting the plants (using a spray bottle of water) is also recommended several times daily. A hygrometer can be purchased to monitor humidity levels (50 to 60 percent humidity is ideal).
Chameleons need an enclosure large enough for them to roam freely. Because they are arboreal (tree-dwelling) creatures, the habitat you create must allow for lots of vertical movement. The preferable size for an enclosure is 24"x24"x48", yet our chameleon cages were built much larger. NEVER keep your chameleon in a glass terrarium as they need fresh air circulation. Also, chameleons are very territorial should also be housed separately.
Use many non-toxic plants and vines to create a lush environment for your chameleon. Chameleons enjoy shady and sunny areas, so decorate accordingly. No substrate is needed, however, you may line the floor with paper towels to assist with cleaning. Your chameleon's habitat should be cleaned regularly (remove feces to prevent the growth of bacteria) and free of any debris that may be ingested (i.e., wood chips, pebbles, etc.)
My fiancée built an outside cage (photo) for each of our chameleons. Outside enclosures are only recommended for tropical-like temperatures (as chameleons need high humidity to survive). Inside enclosures are best for variable weather conditions or in cases of extreme heat or cold. If you live in cold weather, a heating lamp/heat emitter may also be required.
Remember- no matter where you reside, you must always be mindful of the temperature and humidity levels in your chameleon's enclosure!!
TEMPERATURE & LIGHTING
Keep your chameleon's enclosure at about 70-80 F (21-26.5 C) during the daytime, with a drop of about 10-15 F (5-10 C) at night. Chameleons are diurnal creatures that rely on sunshine as an ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source for regulating body temperature. Thus, time spent outdoors (when the weather is appropriate) is highly beneficial.
When indoors, you must mimic this natural light source by providing a basking area at the top of your chameleon's enclosure. Choose a good bulb (such as the Reptisun 5.0) for this purpose, and make sure your chameleon cannot come in direct contact with it! Also, keep in mind that chameleons are highly sensitive to overheating. Do not let the basking area temp. exceed 85 F (29 C) as your chameleon will not be able to tolerate the heat!!
During the mating ritual, males proudly strut and bob their heads. A female who is receptive will allow the male to approach, however, a female who turns black and starts to sway is not interested in a reproductive encounter. If a successful mating does occur and the female becomes gravid (pregnant), you can expect her to give birth to a clutch in about 6-9 months.
Although most reptiles are egg-layers, Jackson's Chameleons are live-bearing animals. A clutch may consist of 3-30 tiny egg sacs. The mother chameleon will typically give birth in an area that will allow the egg sacs to drop down and break open. Females are also capable of sperm retention, so it is possible for them to give birth to multiple clutches after one successful mating.
Baby chameleons are extremely delicate and are more sensitive to temperature than adults. Newborns will be ready to feed upon fruit flies within 24 hours of their birth. Also, be careful when misting babies, as they can drown if sprayed directly in the face.
Chameleons are easily stressed and should be treated as display animals rather than cuddly pets. Unlike cats and dogs, chameleons do not respond well to physical contact. Although tolerance to being held will vary between individuals, limited handling is recommended. However, if you are holding a Jackson's chameleon, be very careful. NEVER pull a chameleon off of its perch! Damage to a chameleon's legs/feet/toes will tremendously decrease its chances for survival. Always allow your chameleon to walk onto your hand rather than grabbing for it. Once your chameleon trusts you, it will learn to crawl to your hand when you offer a ride.
"Caring for Your Jackson's Chameleon" Photographs and Text by Michael Fry
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