Do You Speak Chameleon?

Using Body Language to Detect Signs of Stress and Illness

Though chameleons don’t vocalize like most other animals, that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective at communicating. Chameleons send three main types of messages to predators and their fellow chameleons: territorial messages, receptive messages and deterrent messages. They change their body language and coloration to communicate.

Gaping and Hissing Indicate Stress

A severely stressed chameleon may gape, bite or hiss at any potential predators or threats. If your chameleon has ever gaped or hissed at you, that’s a sign he feels fear, anxiety or stress around you. If this is the case, limit your interaction with your chameleon, provide a safe living environment with plenty of hiding spots and do not handle him unless it is necessary.

Be Aware of Injuries and Illness

Chameleons experiencing pain and discomfort may also hiss or bite. Chameleons may have an injury on their legs or bodies that you don’t immediately notice. Eye infections and other illnesses can also cause a chameleon to behave with hostility toward you. Keep your cage clean at all times to prevent the chameleon from becoming sick or injured, and if you have any reason to suspect illness or injury, always contact a licensed reptile veterinarian immediately.

It’s All in How You Stand

Your chameleon will change his body language and posture to send messages. For example, if a chameleon wants to guard his territory from a trespasser or repel a competitor male, he will usually turn to the side to help himself look larger and more intimidating.

Communicating With Color

Contrary to popular belief, chameleons do not automatically change colors or patterns to match their surroundings. Instead, the main reason chameleons change colors is to communicate.

Chameleons are largely solitary animals, except when they are mating. Males will almost always keep other males out of their territories. The first stage of a territorial interaction between two rival males is usually for them both to display the brightest coloration possible.

Meanwhile, a female can indicate her interest in mating by changing to a receptive or non-receptive coloration, depending on her reproductive state. A female chameleon who is carrying eggs will often adopt a more exaggerated form of her non-receptive coloration. Since a female chameleon can lay eggs even without the presence of a male, color change is one indicator to be mindful of if you have a female chameleon.

Chameleons often adopt dark or sharply contrasting patterns when attacked by a predator, as well, presumably to send the message that they are dangerous or unpleasant prey.

As cold-blooded animals, chameleons can also regulate their body temperatures by changing colors. They turn darker when they need to warm up, and paler when they need to cool off.

Knowing how your chameleon communicates and understanding his or her mood changes is the first step toward becoming a more effective chameleon keeper and ensuring your pet remains healthy and happy.

The Top 5 Most Important Things to Know Before Bringing Home a Chameleon

Chameleons make captivating and intriguing pets. Between their jewel-like colors and their unique adaptations, they can be fascinating to watch and interact with. However, chameleons have specific needs related to their habitat and diet that make them relatively high-maintenance.

Here are the top five things new chameleon owners should know about keeping them healthy before adopting one as a pet.

1. Chameleons need plenty of room to roam.

One mistake many first-time chameleon owners make is not buying a large enough cage. Healthy chameleons are active and energetic. They instinctively enjoy hunting and exploring their surroundings.

When it comes to keeping a chameleon happy and healthy, a bigger enclosure is always a good choice. Chameleons also need a cage that’s taller than it is wide, so they can climb vertically. Some truly dedicated chameleon owners even opt to create a free-range habitat for their scaly friends.

2. The more plants, the better.

Chameleons prefer plenty of foliage, vines and climbing areas to simulate their natural habitat. Having lots of plants not only gives them places to hide and climb; it helps provide different temperature gradients throughout the enclosure. Many chameleon keepers opt to use real plants for a naturally beautiful look.


3. Chameleons need a highly varied diet.

Making sure a chameleon gets enough nutrition is very important. Malnourished chameleons can fall prey to health problems such as bone disease and organ failure. Unlike keeping a dog or cat, feeding a chameleon isn’t as easy as pouring some kibbles into a food dish.

Chameleons are insectivores that rarely eat dead insects, so if handling live bugs grosses you out, you may want to consider a different pet. In the wild, chameleons eat a wide variety of insects, which have, in turn, eaten many different types of fresh vegetation. A chameleon keeper can replicate these circumstances by feeding the insects a diet of fresh vegetables, fruits and greens before offering the live insects to the chameleon. This essential practice is called gutloading.

Calcium and vitamin intake are also crucial for healthier chameleons. You can buy powdered supplements to dust feeder insects with before placing them in the enclosure.

4. Chameleons have specific lighting requirements.

Using appropriate lighting is absolutely critical to your chameleon’s long-term health. Chameleons must have UVB light to survive because it allows them to absorb the calcium from their food. Over time, lack of UVB will lead to metabolic bone disease, a serious health condition that causes malformed bones.

It’s equally important to create a temperature gradient, with warmer temperatures near the top of the enclosure and cooler temperatures lower in the cage. This range of temperatures allows your cold-blooded chameleon to seek out its own comfort level by hanging out at different levels within the habitat.

If you can keep your pet safe and secure outdoors, you can also take your chameleon outside to soak up natural sunlight. The sun provides both UVB rays and basking temperatures that are far superior to artificial lighting.

5. It’s essential to avoid dehydration.

In the wild, chameleons lick water droplets from leaves to get the hydration they need. First-time chameleon owners may overlook the importance of proper misting, but it’s vital if you want to avoid the health problems that arise when a chameleon becomes dehydrated.

In addition to providing your pet’s only water source, frequent misting also helps maintain proper humidity levels in the chameleon enclosure. For keepers who are using live plants in their chameleon’s enclosure, misting has the added advantage of keeping the greenery watered, too.

What Type of Chameleon Is Right For You?

Chameleons make fascinating and exotic pets, but their specific needs must be met in order for them to stay healthy and happy. If you’ve never owned a chameleon before, be sure to research them thoroughly before bringing one into your home.

To help you choose the best chameleon, here’s an overview of some of the most common types of chameleons kept as pets.

Panther chameleon: At more than a foot in length, this type of chameleon is known for stunning colors. They also tend to be friendlier than many other types of chameleons, making them a popular choice for first-time chameleon owners. The panther requires daytime temperatures around 80 degrees F and 70 percent humidity.

An adult male panther chameleon.
Image source: Chameleon Forums

Veiled chameleon: Like panther chameleons, veiled chameleons are good around people and adapt well to captive conditions. Veiled chameleons only live about 6-8 years in captivity, and males are the larger of the two sexes, growing to be about a foot long. They need daytime cage temperatures around 80 degrees F and a relative humidity of 70 percent.

Carpet chameleon: This is a smaller species of chameleon that also makes a good choice for a pet. They have a short lifespan, usually only 2-3 years. Daytime temperatures should be around 75 degrees F, with 65 percent humidity.

Jackson’s chameleon: Popular for their three small horns, these chameleons can live 8-10 years in captivity. Handling and human interaction can be more stressful for this type of chameleon than for the first three on this list. Younger Jackson’s chameleons are less colorful than some other types of chameleons, but their colors brighten as they mature. A daytime temperature of 75 to 80 degrees F and a humidity level around 65 percent is required.

Proper Care Starts With a Good Habitat

When you’ve decided what kind of chameleon to get, make sure you know how to properly create and maintain your pet’s environment. Since they’re solitary creatures, even smaller chameleons require a large amount of personal space. Be prepared to set up a habitat that includes lighting, plants, temperature and humidity control, and plenty of room to climb and explore.

Having done your homework about how to create the perfect habitat, it’s equally important for you to be able to recognize the warning signs of a sick or stressed animal. This will ensure you’ve chosen a healthy chameleon to bring home.

Choosing a Healthy Chameleon

First, make sure you’re purchasing a captive-bred pet chameleon. The capture and shipping process puts an enormous amount of stress on wild-caught chameleons, making them much more susceptible to illness. Ask plenty of questions about the care of the chameleon, and only buy from a reputable source.

As with any type of pet, many factors come into play when evaluating a chameleon’s overall health. Some things to look for when examining a potential chameleon include:

  • Straight limbs (bent legs can be a symptom of malnutrition or metabolic bone disease)
  • Healthy-looking skin (no wounds, scratches or bruising)
  • Ability to strongly grip branches
  • Alert, with bright eyes (chameleons who spend a lot of time with their eyes closed are probably sick)
  • Clear, bright coloration (a brownish color is normal for some chameleons, but dark skin can indicate illness)
  • No signs of swelling, scabs or discharge in or around the mouth

Getting a pet represents a lifestyle change and a commitment to another creature’s health and well-being. With proper care, a chameleon can be an amazing pet who can bring you years of enjoyment.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Illness in Your Chameleon

One of the biggest challenges of being a pet owner is noticing and interpreting the indications that your pet may be getting sick. After all, they can’t tell you something isn’t feeling right. With pet chameleons, it can be especially difficult to notice signs of illness because they’re wild animals, and therefore instinctively mask weakness or injury.

Unless you already know what to look for, you may not realize your chameleon is sick until it’s too late. Here are some things to look for as you evaluate the health of your chameleon.

Common Symptoms of a Sick Chameleon

If your chameleon is lethargic, lacks appetite, has started sleeping more than usual, or is lying on the bottom of his cage, these are clear warning signs his health may be at risk. Carefully monitor your chameleon’s daily routine and get to know his normal habits and behaviors so you’ll be more apt to notice as soon as something seems amiss.

  • Dehydration
    Dehydration is the most common cause of death for captive chameleons, and can cause fatal kidney or liver failure if untreated. The biggest warning signs of dehydration in chameleons are sunken eyes, weakness, weight loss and skin that has lost its elasticity or appears overly dry. Unlike animals that drink from water bottles or dishes, chameleons depend on their environment to provide their water source. If your chameleon is showing symptoms of dehydration despite having a properly misted habitat and the correct humidity level, this may signify a larger health problem and should be evaluated by a vet immediately.
A dehydrated chameleon with sunken eyes.
Image source:
  • Eye Infection
    Eye infections are also relatively common among chameleons in captivity, and may be easily remedied if you notice the problem early enough. If your chameleon’s eyes appear to be irritated or show any signs of discharge or swelling, use a magnifying glass to see if any debris has gotten into his eye. If so, try gently flushing the chameleon’s eye with water to clean out the source of the irritation.
  • Respiratory Infection
    The cause of a respiratory infection in chameleons is usually environmental and can often be traced back to a failure to maintain an adequate temperature in your chameleon’s habitat. Symptoms include labored or audible breathing, as well as weakness. A vet may prescribe a course of antibiotics to help your chameleon recover more quickly.
  • Misshapen Bones or Limping 
    Reptiles in captivity can easily develop nutritional imbalances. If you see a chameleon with brittle or malformed bones that can’t support their normal movement and limb function, it may be a sign of metabolic bone disease, which is caused by an imbalance in calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D. The best way to combat metabolic bone disease is through a combination of proper UVB lighting and a balanced diet that includes vitamins and minerals.
  • Stress
    As with many other animals, stress can be a major factor in your chameleon’s overall health and well-being. Possible causes of stress for chameleons include an inadequately set up habitat, excessive human handling or another chameleon kept inside the same cage. Symptoms of stress include darker-than-average coloration and refusal to eat. This problem is easily solved by determining and removing the source of the stress.


This blog post is not medical advice. It is only intended to provide a brief overview of some warning signs of illness in a chameleon. If you notice any changes in your pet chameleon’s behavior or activity, we highly recommend making an appointment with an experienced reptile veterinarian as soon as possible. There’s no substitute for an in-person evaluation with a vet who has the knowledge and expertise to properly diagnose and treat your precious pet.

Naming Your Chameleon, Part II: Language & Literature

Once you take the plunge into pet ownership, the next big, important decision you have to make is choosing a name. Just because your chameleon will never come running when he hears you calling his name doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your time to pick out a moniker that’s a good fit for your little buddy.

Way back in February, we looked at some sci-fi-inspired names for chameleons. Now, we’re back to bring you more inspiration if you’re having trouble deciding on the perfect name for your pet.

Words or Names in Other Languages

Every pet has defining aspects of their personality, or the perfect adjective to describe something distinctive about their appearance. For example, many chameleons are naturally inclined to be a little on the shy side. If you’ve noticed your little guy or gal lives up to that reputation, use Google Translate to look up the word for “shy” in other languages. You might find a cool-sounding word you really like. By the same token, you might also discover something you love by looking through lists of names that are popular in other countries.

Names of Gods and Goddesses From Mythology

The Egyptian deity Sobek, in his traditional crocodile-headed depiction.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Ancient mythology is the source of so much inspiration. The stories and archetypes have been used and reused in countless ways — why not in picking the perfect name for your pet? Of course, we’re all familiar with Zeus and Thor, but how about branching out to some of the lesser-known gods and goddesses as inspiration? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Loki (Norse trickster god)
  • Selene/Luna (Greek and Roman goddesses of the moon)
  • Sobek (Egyptian god of the Nile, represented with the head of a crocodile)
  • Bia (Greek and Roman goddess of force and energy)
  • Anubis (Egyptian god of embalming, represented with the head of a jackal)
  • Iris (Greek and Roman goddess of rainbows)
  • Kvasir (Norse god of inspiration)
  • Lakshmi (Hindu goddess of good fortune, wealth and well-being)
  • Kokopelli (Native American god of farming and fertility, also associated with music)
  • Sedna (Inuit sea goddess)

Shakespearean Names

Titania, queen of the fairies, as depicted by Edwin Landseer in his painting Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Does your pet deserve to take center stage? Shakespeare’s plays are a treasure trove of memorable characters with wonderful names. Here again, we’re not judging you if you go with a tried-and-true favorite such as Hamlet or Macbeth, but with 38 plays, there’s plenty of room to branch out. In fact, Shakespeare is a pretty cool name all by itself — but let’s look at some other ideas for Shakespearean-inspired names for your little actor or actress.

  • Desdemona (Othello)
  • Rosencrantz or Guildenstern (Hamlet)
  • Viola (Twelfth Night)
  • Orsino (Twelfth Night)
  • Titania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  • Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)
  • Cleopatra (Julius Caesar)
  • Caliban (The Tempest)

We hope you’ve found some inspiration in these suggestions. What did you name your chameleon, and where did you get the idea? Let us know in the comments. Who knows; your idea might spark a future blog post!

How Can You Help Protect Earth’s Most Fragile Species?

Our planet is facing an extinction crisis that is almost entirely human-caused. Scientists and conservation experts estimate that Earth is currently in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals within the past half-billion years. In other words, we’re currently experiencing the worst epidemic of mass species die-offs since the dinosaurs began their decline 65 million years ago.

Photo by Viktor Kern on Unsplash

Though extinction is a natural part of life, if left to its own devices, Earth loses species at a “background” rate of approximately one to five per year. However, biologists warn we’re now losing species at an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

As an animal lover, you’re undoubtedly alarmed by these statistics. Preserving our planet’s biodiversity is important to our environment, as well as the health of the living things it supports. So what are some ways you can get involved and protect endangered species?

How You Can Help Save Endangered Wildlife

  • Avoid buying products made from endangered animals. All over the world, illegal wildlife trading operations remain in business due to high consumer demand for products containing parts from endangered or at-risk species like elephants, tigers, sea turtles, rhinos, sharks and whales. Keep a watchful eye out for any vendors selling items such as reptile skins, ivory, sea turtle shells, shark fins and beluga caviar. Conservation organizations have developed apps such as Wildlife Witness and WildScan to allow people to help police the illegal wildlife trade. Be a responsible consumer and download these apps so you can report this type of illegal activity whenever you see it.
  • Don’t buy pets if you don’t know their origin. Ongoing trade in wild-caught exotic animals has a huge effect on population numbers in the wild. Even buying wild-caught animal species from legal sources increases demand and encourages illegal trading.
  • Support conservation groups and programs. By volunteering with, or donating money to, wildlife conservation organizations, you can help them make progress in their mission to protect threatened species and habitats.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint. Global climate change is the biggest threat to all living things on our planet. You can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet; recycling and composting household waste whenever possible; reducing your energy and water use; and walking, biking or using public transport instead of driving everywhere.

Endangered Reptiles: A Closer Look

Though conservation organizations haven’t studied endangered reptiles as closely as they have many other at-risk animals, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that globally, 21 percent (594 species) of the total evaluated reptiles in the world are endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

In the United States, 32 reptile species are at risk, about 9 percent of the total. Island reptile species have been dealt the hardest blow, with at least 28 island reptiles having died out since 1600.

Get Involved: Conservation Organizations

If you’re inspired to donate to or volunteer with a conservation organization working to protect endangered animals and their ecosystems, here are some to get you started. There are so many of these worthy groups that we’re barely scratching the surface with this list, so be sure to do your own research to find causes that are close to your heart.

How to Create a Free-Range Chameleon Habitat

In last week’s post, we looked at the option of setting up a free-range chameleon habitat. For those considering doing this for their pets, let’s go a little more in-depth about ways to convert a space in your home into a place where chameleons roam free.

Building a free-range chameleon habitat isn’t a beginner project, due to the essential skills it requires. Make sure you’re up to the challenge before you have to hire a handyman because you bit off more than you could chew.

Image via Pinterest

What You’ll Need to Know

  • Basic carpentry: At minimum, you’ll need to install shelving and gutters.
  • Basic electrical knowledge – for wiring your lighting system
  • Intermediate plumbing skills to install the misting and drainage system

Setting up a Free-Range Chameleon Habitat

Keep in mind that the walls of whatever room you choose will be subjected to daily misting and round-the-clock high humidity, so your first step is to protect the walls. The easiest option is to use a high-quality exterior-grade paint. You could even go a step further and apply bathroom tiling to the walls. The important thing is to avoid mold, which thrives on water and could easily cause an expensive amount of damage if allowed to seep into floors and walls.

Next, install gutters to divert the water from the misting system. The gutters should be installed with a slight slope to ensure drainage. Here’s where the plumbing skills will come in handy, because you can set the gutters up in such a way that they route the water out of the house if you so choose. If you don’t want to plumb the free-range room, you can place buckets below the gutters and empty them manually.

Then, install lighting, heating and a misting system. It’s also a good rule of thumb to add a timer that automatically regulates temperature and lights, so you don’t have to remember to turn anything on or off. Another benefit of a free-range habitat is that it allows you to provide a range of temperatures, so the chameleons can choose where in the room they feel most comfortable.

It’s a Jungle in There

In the final stage of setting up your free-range chameleon habitat, you can get creative with plants. With more space, you can maximize the plant varieties and densities you use. Mix larger trees, such as ficus, with shrubs and coverage plants, such as pothos. Just be sure to only use nontoxic plants, and make sure any potted plants have plenty of drainage so they don’t become overwatered during the daily mistings.

As you’ve probably ascertained, creating a free-range chameleon habitat is a major commitment, and is not an easily reversible decision. However, if you’re ready to take the plunge, free-ranging could create a more natural home for your chameleon and lessen the stress of being caged.

Adopt, Don’t Shop: 5 Reasons to Get a Shelter Pet

Having a pet can change your life for the better in so many ways. Pets reduce stress, help lower blood pressure and are just plain fun to be around.

At Canvas Chameleons, our specialty is pets of a more scaly variety, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also love spending quality time with furry friends. If you’re looking to add a cat or dog to your family, please consider adopting from an animal rescue or shelter as your first choice. Let’s look at the most important reasons to adopt, not shop.

Image source:

Top 5 Reasons to Adopt a Shelter Pet

  1. You’ll save a life. According to the U.S. Humane Society, 2.7 million adoptable pets are euthanized in shelters across the country annually. This number could be drastically reduced if more people considered adoption instead of buying from a pet store. When you adopt, you provide a loving home for a wonderful cat or dog and free up shelter space for another animal who might be in desperate need.
  2. You’ll be fighting puppy mills and irresponsible pet breeding practices. One of the reasons for this high rate of euthanasia is that there just aren’t enough homes for all the animals born every year. Well-meaning people who fail to have their animals spayed and neutered and who allow their pets to reproduce are part of this problem, as are negligent breeders. Puppy mills are the pinnacle of unethical breeding behavior. At these commercial kennels, mother dogs produce litter after litter of puppies in the name of profit. These puppy mills often abuse the animals, kill the mothers after they are no longer of breeding age and deprive their dogs of any chance to learn normal behavior and socialization.
  3. Many of the animals are already trained. Animal shelters and rescue groups are full of fantastic pets just waiting for someone to take a chance on them. Most adult pets arrive in shelters due to a human problem like a move or a divorce, not because there’s anything wrong with them. Many of these pets are already potty-trained and socialized to live with people, which can also save you time and money on training.
  4. You can find the perfect pet for your home. With the millions of shelter animals who need a great home, there’s sure to be one who is just right for you. When you adopt an animal from a shelter, you can meet the animals, play with them and get to know their personalities before bringing them home. Staff members will be happy to work with you to help you find a dog or cat who matches your needs in terms of size and temperament. This typically isn’t the case if you order a puppy or kitten from a breeder elsewhere in the country.
  5. Adoption will cost you less. Usually, when you adopt a pet, the shelter will include spaying/neutering, first vaccinations and sometimes even micro-chipping in the adoption price. This can save you money on some of the upfront costs of pet ownership.

If you’re looking for unconditional love and support, there’s nothing like adopting a pet to find a friend who will always be there for you. Get started on your journey to pet adoption with this guide from our friends at

Should You Set up a Free-Range Reptile Habitat?

Free-ranging is a growing trend among chameleon owners. Many chameleon keepers have chosen to devote part or all of a room to creating an open habitat for their pets. Free-ranging is especially beneficial for larger chameleon species, but any chameleon can enjoy this type of dedicated setup.

If your home has the extra space to create a free-range chameleon habitat, it might be time to consider this option for your chameleon husbandry. Let’s take a closer look at the rewards and risks of free-ranging for chameleons.

Rewards of Free-Ranging for Chameleons

  1. Giving chameleons more space to roam allows you to mimic their natural habitat more closely, which also means you’ll be able to observe much more relaxed behavior from your chameleons. Let those personalities shine through!
  2. An open environment makes chameleons more comfortable than being in a cage. Even overly aggressive or anxious chameleons usually become calmer when they don’t feel trapped by a cage.
  3. A larger environment to explore gives chameleons more exercise, which helps them maintain a healthy weight and muscle tone.
  4. In an open environment, chameleons can self-regulate their needs and adjust based on their condition, just as they would in the wild.
  5. More space allows you to get creative about using live plants.
Image credit: Pinterest

Risks of Free-Ranging for Chameleons

  1. Creating a free-range chameleon habitat requires some do-it-yourself modifications – especially to lighting and plumbing – so if you’re not handy, you could end up spending a lot of money to hire a contractor.
  2. As you know by now, keeping chameleons hydrated is one of the major challenges of chameleon care. For a free-range habitat, you’ll have to set up a misting system just as you would do for a cage, but on a much larger scale. You’ll also need to find ways to protect your room’s walls and floor from the moisture and additional humidity.
  3. You’ll need to be hyper-alert to the fact that chameleons may be able to escape from the free-range environment. It’s a good rule of thumb to create a barrier that prevents chameleons from escaping and wandering around in the house. Because it’s smooth and seamless, stiff acrylic sheeting can work well as a fence around the perimeter of the free-range area.
  4. Free-ranging can be dangerous for chameleons. If you have other pets, or young children, make sure to keep them away from the free-ranging area. Also, when setting up the habitat, make sure it is chameleon-proof, and that there are no sharp items or exposed electrical wires that could hurt your pet. When you enter the room, make sure to look before you step, as well. Chameleons like to hide, so if you’ve provided lots of plant cover, you may not be able to find yours right away.

Is free-ranging the right choice for you and your chameleon? In next week’s post, we’ll explore tips for setting up an indoor free-range chameleon habitat.










How To Set Up Live Plants in Your Chameleon’s Cage

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Though chameleon owners can choose to use artificial plants in their pet’s cage, there are many benefits to using live plants in a chameleon enclosure. Among other things, they will help maintain humidity and moisture levels and provide a natural cover and climbing area. Some species of chameleon will even eat greenery, so providing real, nontoxic plants can keep your pets healthy, as well.

Light and Water

The UV lighting from chameleon lights is usually enough for plants to grow and thrive. Avoid placing plants directly under a heat lamp, as that can be far too hot and damage plants.

Though you will be providing live plants with some water by regularly misting your chameleon enclosure, you’ll probably still need to water them separately as well. A good way to tell if a plant is getting enough water is to stick your finger in the soil. It should be dry on the top inch and damp below that. Avoid over-watering plants, as too much water can drown the roots and cause them to rot.

Getting Started With Live Plants

In the wild, chameleons are an arboreal species living in and among trees. As you’re setting up your chameleon cage, keep in mind it’s essential to give them plenty of vertical climbing space to mimic their natural habitat and encourage their instincts.

When creating a naturally planted chameleon habitat from scratch, start by buying or building a wood planter box with drainage holes for water. Fill the bottom third of the container with rocks or gravel, and the rest with soil. It’s best to use organic potting soil that contains no fertilizers or pearlite (those small white balls found in some types of potting soil).

Next, choose nontoxic, hardy plants such as pothos, ficus and hibiscus. Planting in layers can give your chameleon plenty of places to hide and things to climb. When planning plant placement, a good rule of thumb is to use shade-loving plants on the bottom, leafy plants in the middle, and flowering plants at the top.

Shade-Loving Plants

Aspidistra plants, also known as “cast-iron plants,” provide good ground cover in shady areas. These slow-growing plants thrive in nearly any condition, making them excellent for indoor use. There are also many different species of nontoxic ferns that flourish in shady conditions and add beauty to a chameleon enclosure.

Aspidistra plants make a good ground cover.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Leafy Plants

With their bright green, shiny leaves and rapid growth, pothos plants are beautiful and very easy to care for. These plants grow rapidly in a variety of light and soil conditions, and can even grow with no soil at all.

Schefflera arboricola, also known as the dwarf umbrella tree, is a favorite among chameleon keepers. The plants are relatively easy to care for and are medium-light plants, which means they need bright but indirect light. When watering this plant, be very cautious not to over-water. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings.

Ficus trees (Ficus benjamina) are also very popular plants for chameleon enclosures because they require relatively high humidity and temperatures and prefer regular misting – just like a chameleon does. In the right conditions, a ficus tree can grow up to six feet tall. However, ficus plants will retain their tree-like shape regardless of their size.

A pothos plant has characteristically large, shiny leaves.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Flowering Plants

Hibiscus is a tropical plant that can grow up to six feet tall and is known for its colorful flowers. These plants are relatively easy to care for and also do well in warm, humid conditions.

Hibiscus plants have gorgeous, brightly colored blooms.
Image credit: Pinterest

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, there are many plants that make good choices for your chameleon enclosure. You can also consult with your local garden store for additional options. Happy planting!