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How Do I Set up a Chameleon Enclosure?

Drue Tibbits
Drue Tibbits

The health and longevity of chameleons kept in captivity depend, in part, on the setup of their enclosures. Chameleons need safe, clean enclosures of the correct size, structures for climbing, and temperature regulation of their cages. They also need proper light and water sources. Some chameleons may require humidity regulation as well.

Most chameleon species do well in reptile screen enclosures. The screen allows air movement within the cage and helps prevent fungal growth or infections that may result from trapped humidity. Rhampholia and Brookesia species are exceptions; most of these types of chameleons require high humidity levels and do better in enclosures with glass sides. Cage size is an important consideration, and young chameleons need smaller cages than adults do. This helps them find their food easier and aids in temperature regulation.


Cage height is more important than width as chameleons prefer to climb. Plants are an important addition to the chameleon enclosure; these reptiles not only use the plants for climbing, but they obtain their water by licking the plants' leaves. Natural plants are best, but artificial ones can suffice. Ficus is a popular plant for chameleons that like to climb branches, while pothos is suitable for those species that climb vines. Before placing the plants in the cage, a thorough washing removes dangerous pesticides and fertilizers.

Chameleon cages should be tall enough to facilitate climbing.
Chameleon cages should be tall enough to facilitate climbing.

The bottom of the chameleon enclosure should be clean and free of substrates. A layer of paper towels can help keep the cage clean, but loose substrates may harm the chameleon. These sensitive reptiles need both a basking light and a light that provides UVB rays. Chameleons do not use heat rocks but instead bask while resting on branches. They are sensitive to temperatures, so a cage thermometer is necessary to monitor the chameleon enclosure and check the heat of the basking area.

Food cups are unnecessary as chameleons prefer to hunt live prey. As for drinking water, these reptiles have very specific requirements. They do not drink standing water, so there is no need to supply water dishes. A daily misting of the plants inside the chameleon enclosure provides water that the animals can lick from the leaves.

Some chameleon species do better with a water drip arrangement. This is a paper or plastic cup with a small hole in the bottom and set above a plant. Water drips from the hole and onto the leaves of the plant, providing a moving source of water for the chameleon.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size enclosure does a chameleon need?

Chameleons require spacious enclosures to thrive, with the size depending on the species. For example, a Veiled Chameleon should have a minimum enclosure size of 24”W x 24”D x 48”H. Larger species need even more space. Vertical space is crucial for their climbing behavior, so taller enclosures are preferred over longer ones.

What type of lighting is best for a chameleon enclosure?

Chameleons need UVB lighting to synthesize vitamin D3, which is essential for calcium absorption. A linear fluorescent UVB bulb spanning most of the enclosure's length ensures adequate exposure. Additionally, a basking light is necessary to provide a temperature gradient, with a basking spot around 85-95°F, depending on the species.

How often should I mist my chameleon's enclosure?

Chameleons require high humidity levels, typically between 50-70%. Misting the enclosure 2-3 times daily helps maintain these levels. Automated misting systems can provide consistent humidity and hydration. It's important to allow the enclosure to dry between mistings to prevent bacterial growth.

What plants are safe to put in a chameleon enclosure?

Live, non-toxic plants like Ficus, Pothos, and Hibiscus not only provide a naturalistic environment but also help maintain humidity. Ensure plants are free of pesticides and fertilizers. Artificial plants can be used but offer less in terms of humidity control and environmental enrichment.

How do I ensure proper ventilation in my chameleon's enclosure?

Proper ventilation is critical to prevent respiratory infections and mold growth. Enclosures should have a combination of solid and mesh walls to facilitate airflow while retaining humidity. The top of the enclosure is often mesh, allowing heat and stale air to escape while fresh air circulates through.

What substrate should I use in the bottom of a chameleon enclosure?

Substrates for chameleons should be easy to clean and non-ingestible to avoid impaction. Reptile carpet, paper towels, or bare-bottom enclosures are recommended. Avoid using small particulate substrates like sand or gravel. Some keepers opt for bioactive substrates, which include live plants and microfauna, to create a self-sustaining ecosystem.

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    • Chameleon.
    • Chameleon cages should be tall enough to facilitate climbing.
      By: Sebastian Duda
      Chameleon cages should be tall enough to facilitate climbing.