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Yemen Chameleon Care Guide

Chamaeleo calyptratus

Quick facts

Longevity: Approx 5-8 years (males generally live longer than females)

Temperature in basking area: 95f (35c)

Humidity: 50%

Dietary: Omnivorous

Disposition: Shy and can be aggressive

Cleaning: Spot clean daily, full clean approx. every 6 weeks (unless living in an established bioactive enclosure)


The Yemen chameleon is an old-world lizard which originates from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, where it can be found inhabiting trees in the mountain regions. They are diurnal, meaning that they are mainly active during the daylight hours. Yemen chameleons are often found camouflaged amongst the leaves and foliage of trees and will use their extrudable tongues, which may be the same as their body length, to capture their prey. In the wild they are an opportunistic feeder, taking whatever prey they happen to come across. They are different from other lizards due to their independently movable eyes and parrot like feet. They are also renowned for their ability to change colour, which is usually more to do with being an expression of mood than to camouflage. Male Yemen chameleons usually reach adult lengths of 20 inches (50cm) including their tail however, the females are considerably smaller reaching only 14 inches (35cm). They live for around 4-8 years, with males usually having a longer lifespan than females. Their breeding season in the wild usually occurs from July to September, with the females laying clutches of approximately 30-60 eggs… larger females may sometimes lay even more! Females can continue to lay clutches every 3-4 months throughout the summer. Unlike other lizard species commonly kept in captivity, chameleons do not usually like to be handled at all. They much prefer to be observed and left well alone. Forcing handling upon them will undoubtedly cause stress which will in turn lead to a failure to thrive. If wanting a chameleon as a pet, it is best to accept them for their unsociable demeanour and let the pet/owner relationship be solely on their terms! If you can get your chameleon to tong feed or hand feed, this really is as good as it will probably ever get between you and your scaley friend.


For an adult chameleon an arboreal vivarium of approx. 60 x 60 x 90cm will suffice. A glass or wooden vivarium can be used successfully, providing that they have adequate ventilation. If buying a wooden enclosure, prepare to have to add mesh ventilation to the top or side, as chameleons require high levels of ventilation to prevent against respiratory infections. Mesh cages are available but speak with an advisor at your pet store as to which will be best in your home, taking into consideration other pets and room temperatures. Correct temperature gradients within the vivarium are to be maintained using the appropriate, guarded heat sources, thermometers and thermostats. A tree or jungle theme will be required to ensure the chameleon feels comfortable and safe within his environment and plenty of different sized branches and foliage should be provided. You can use either artificial or live plants, however a live, bioactive set up will need more planning and preparation than its artificial counterpart.


A hot spot of 95f (35c) should be provided in one area of the vivarium, with cooler temperatures being maintained elsewhere at around 70-75f (21-23c) during the day. Night-time temperatures should be allowed to drop to around 66f (19-20c) in the hot end. Having these hot and cold areas within the vivarium will allow your pet to 'thermoregulate', choosing to move freely in and out of the heat. Allowing the temperatures to drop at night will also provide your pet with a clear day and night cycle, encouraging their natural behaviours. Heat bulbs and heat mats can be used to achieve the necessary temperatures, however they must be guarded and used in conjunction with a suitable thermostat. Thermostats ensure that heat sources reach and maintain the recommended temperatures within the hot and cold areas, thus allowing your pet to metabolise correctly. Guarding of the heat sources is an essentially important (and often overlooked) aspect of a vivarium set up providing safety for your pet. Unguarded heat sources and ones which are not thermostatically controlled when your reptile will be in close contact with them, lead to many vets seeing and treating pets with burns which could have easily been prevented.


With this species of lizard being diurnal, they are naturally subjected to high levels of UVB throughout the day. A 10.0 or ‘zone 3’ strip bulb can be used with a reflector, to ensure that your pet can benefit from the same levels of UVB they would have in the wild. Like us, a reptile’s skin is responsible for producing vitamin D. When providing your pet with UVB, you are recreating its natural exposure to sunlight whereby the UV penetrates the skin. In conjunction with the correct temperatures within the vivarium, it allows the pro vitamin D3 which your reptile has produced to change to pre vitamin D3. It is impossible for the body to absorb and use calcium without Vitamin D. It is recommended to provide your pet with a natural way of creating D3 to prevent against commonly seen and preventable diseases such and MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) and calcium deficiency. Of course, it is strongly recommended to use the best UVB on the market at the current time, as per your reptile specialists advise.

SUBSTRATE Impaction is a fairly common problem seen within captive reptiles. An impaction is caused when an animal swallows something which becomes stuck in the gut, causing an obstruction. The most common culprit for causing this often, lethal problem in reptiles are the pale coloured beech chips. It is recommended in order to significantly decrease the risk of impaction with this species, to avoid using substrates altogether whilst your pet is young, then when they’ve gained size you can opt for a soil or ’coarse grade’ bark chip substrate. Paper towel or newspaper can be quickly and easily changed and is undoubtedly the most hygienic way in which to keep a hatchling or juvenile reptile. Newspaper and paper towel are also the best choice of substrate should you ever have a convalescing or quarantined reptile, as everything is disposed of and replaced. It is also easy when using these types of substrates to keep an eye out for things such as mites and to collect stool samples. It is recommended that your pet has an annual check-up with a reptile specialist veterinarian. A fresh stool sample should be taken along to the consultation to be checked for internal parasites.

HUMIDITY Yemen chameleons require a humidity of around 50%. The best way to provide the correct humidity for a chameleon is to spray the vivarium once or twice a day. When spraying, ‘make it rain’ so that the leaves are wet and dripping water droplets. However, on saying this, it important for the enclosure to fully dry out between spraying, so that mould does not occur within your chameleon’s environment.

FEEDING Young chameleons will require daily feeds of appropriately sized insects, juveniles 4-6 times a week and adults can be fed 3-4 times a week. The general rule is to offer live food no bigger than the gap between his/her eyes. Live food should always be dusted with a good quality, straight calcium supplement. As previously mentioned, live foods should always be gut loaded before being fed to your reptile. In the wild the insects a lizard eats will in turn have been off eating its own food, resulting in both fresh and partially digested food in the insects’ gut. Your reptile will benefit from these extra nutrients. Fish food, crushed dog/cat biscuits, fresh fruit and vegetables can all be offered to your crickets, mealworms and morio worms. Locusts prefer plenty of fresh leafy greens (bramble leaves and grass are also a good natural food source) and waxworms will only eat a honey-based feed. Recipes for waxworm feed can be found online and this can be made in bulk, frozen and then thawed.

HYDRATION A source of fresh, clean drinking water should always be provided and refreshed daily. Chameleons do not see standing water, it needs to be moving with light reflecting from it for your chameleon to recognise it’s there. Drippers are best way of providing this for a chameleon. A receptacle should be placed below the dripper to collect the dripping water, so the base of your vivarium doesn’t become water logged. Ensure this dish is covered to prevent your chameleon from drowning. Filtered water and spring water can be offered.

SUPPLEMENTS As previously mentioned, supplements will have to be used to coat the live food before it is offered to your reptile. If you are providing your reptile with a good quality spec of UVB and ensuring that it is changed according to the manufacturer’s advice, alongside offering well gut loaded insects, you should only ever need to use a straight calcium supplement. If in doubt however, you can always use a straight calcium one day, followed with a calcium containing D3 and multivitamins the next day. This will ensure your pet is getting everything however, the D3 your pet will naturally make from the UVB you provide will always be far superior to any synthetic D3 that they obtain through supplementation.

HYGIENE Regular cleaning or your pets enclosure is of course a very important aspect which will ensure your pets health. Daily ‘spot cleaning’ of the enclosure will be necessary to remove any faeces etc. Full cleaning of the enclosure where the substrate is removed, and the decoration is thoroughly cleaned, should also happen on a regular basis. When cleaning the décor or glass, use a reptile suitable disinfectant such as F10 which contains no dyes or perfumes. Ensure fresh clean water is available to you pet at all times. Food bowls and water dishes should be disinfected and wiped daily.

VETERINARY CARE An annual vet check is recommended so that a qualified, reptile specialist vet can give your pet a thorough examination. A weekly health check should be done at home to ensure that none of the following are observed: Unresponsiveness/lethargy Dull, sunken eyes Discharge or bubbles from the nostrils Redness, swelling, scabs or discharge from in or around the mouth Inability to close their mouth properly or holding their mouth unusually Gasping, popping or wheezing when breathing Redness, swelling, lumps or open wounds anywhere on the body Dirt or discharge around the vent

If any of the above are noticed, either contact us here at Riverview Reptiles for advise or contact a reptile specialist veterinarian for a consultation. We encourage all pet keepers to practise the responsible pet ownership obligations as per the Animal Welfare Act 2006 If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch

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