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Before you bring your chameleon home, you must create a habitat suitable to its needs. While it may be tempting just to buy the first option you see, examining your options more carefully can produce better results. In this installment, we will cover information about the main types of enclosures that are available, and which may match your situation best.
Key Features for All Habitats
Certain features are ideal for any chameleon habitat. First, chameleons are arboreal and enjoy being able to get up higher. That means your enclosure will often be taller than it is wide. Additionally, you want to make sure the base of the enclosure is not actually on the ground. Your enclosure either needs to come with suitable legs or have the ability to be placed on a table or counter.
Drainage is also a concern as well as easy of cleaning. You want excess moisture to be able to quickly exit the living space, as well as any waste created by your chameleon. Even if you keep live plants in the habitat, drainage is always a concern.
Screened cages are one of the standard options on the market. These enclosures have a frame, typically made of wood, metal, or plastic, and the frame supports the screens that prevent your chameleon from making a break for it.
The screens feature a relatively tight weave for multiple reasons. First, it prevents your chameleon from being able to reach through the screen. Even though many people would assume the design would only need to stop the chameleon from squeezing through, it is better to make sure that they can’t even stick a toe through the material. Aside from the risk of injury (should the chameleon get a toe stuck), it is also less likely to be damaged from your chameleon using it as a climbing surface.
Finer mesh also limits the ability of live food, such as crickets, from being able to escape the enclosure. Not only will this help keep the food in reach of your chameleon, but it also keeps in out of your home!
If you live in a hot, humid environment, screened cages make an excellent choice. First, they provide superior ventilation. This helps keep the enclosure from getting stuffy or musty as air can flow freely through the space. It also prevents the enclosure from becoming too hot based on heat retention from the material itself.
Terrariums and Vivariums
There are glass and acrylic terrarium or vivarium options that are suitable for chameleons as well. Often, these have solid sides made of glass or acrylic, a solid base, and a mesh or screened top. These options are also commonly available, though take care not to accidentally end up with a unit meant to be used as an aquarium as they may not come properly equipped and may not feature ideal dimensions.
These forms of enclosures can be ideal if your home is in a cold or dry environment. Glass and acrylic enclosures hold heat and humidity more effectively than screened cages. This allows you to create a more tropical environment without affecting your overall home environment as dramatically.
However, since temperatures and humidity can get quite high, and ventilation is more difficult with these enclosures (as it is commonly limited to the top only) you will need to pay particular attention to environmental readings.
There are combination enclosures that feature a mix of glass or acrylic panels and screened sections. For example, the front of the habitat may be made of glass or acrylic, and the side may be half glass or acrylic and half screen. Some may even feature glass or acrylic panels that can be slide up or down to expose screened sections.
Hybrid solutions may be ideal if your weather varies drastically throughout the year. You can control ambient temperature and humidity more efficiently by adjusting the amount of ventilation based on current conditions.
This is part 1 in a multipart series focused on creating an ideal environment for your chameleon. Come back for additional advice to help you build your chameleon’s perfect home.