• Matt

Chameleons - Our first year

Something a little different for this blog. Ordinarily these pages are lined with tiny plastic models painted in bright colours. This time however, I want to catalogue our brand new guests to our home, a pair of Panther Chameleons.

I hope on this page I can provide first time knowledge to anyone else thinking about becoming the custodians of these wonderful creatures.

But before I offer up our Chameleon diary, I want to cover the initial setup and vivarium.

When we were looking for advise on vivarium's, we found lots of sites from America and most of those dated back to the early 2000's. While I don't believe the information within these pages to be incorrect, I was looking for more recent advise and maybe not importantly, but advise from the UK.

It's important to note that the actual vivarium we've picked is very much due to the climate in England. Temperature here is often around 22 degrees Celsius in the summer getting higher on a good day. Humidity can often be around 50%.

To achieve the optimum conditions for a Panther (or Veiled) Chameleon in the UK, a glass vivarium is important to control things like temperature and humidity. Something you just couldn't do with a mesh cage.

For convenience of anyone reading this, here are the specs and items of our starter setup;

The Setup

1 - Exo Terra Glass Vivarium, Large X-tall. 90x90x45cm

While you could purchase smaller vivarium's for baby Chameleons, please consider housing these animals in the biggest enclosure you can accommodate. Growing to adulthood aside, these are living creatures and deserve as much space as you can offer them.

2 - Compact Top Terrarium Canopy, Large. 90x9x20cm

This light fixture is designed for the top of the Large X-tall Viv we went for. It can house 4 bulbs on two independent switches. Currently is using a pair each of the below Exo Terra bulbs.

25w Daytime Heat Lamp x2

13w Reptile UVB 100 bulb x 2

Smaller enclosures are likely to only need a single bulb of each of these. Personally, we've installed these pairs of bulbs on a circuit/switch each. That way we can completely turn off the Daytime heat lamps while leaving the UVB bulbs on.

Importantly Chameleons need all of the bulbs listed on this blog. While picking up our Panthers this morning we overheard a family talking to the pet shop manager about their sick Chameleon. Two things I worked out eaves dropping; That one they had bought this animal as a pet for the kids. Do not do this. While kids can participate with the care of a Chameleon, the onus is on you the adult, to look after them. Secondly, this family had failed to provide a UVB bulb. Their Chameleon was severely unwell due to this. They left the shop without purchasing said bulb...

3 - Ceramic Reflector Clamp Lamp

To provide a basking spot for your Chameleon, you'll need a basking lamp. We purchased the above Clamp Lamp, a 150w Daylight Basking Bulb and a self adhesive support to hang the ceramic lamp shade above the top left of the vivarium.

This also came with a thermostat to regulate the 150w bulb. A neat bit of kit that the lamp plugs into rather than the wall socket. It acts like a dimmer switch for the Basking light depending on the temperature within the viv.

4 - Exo Terra Combometer

To monitor the cooler section of the viv and the humidity, we picked up a combometer. It attaches to the top of the enclosure and monitors the stats on a small LCD display.

5 - Misting

Chameleons need moisture in the air and absorb a lot of this at night time. During the day you'll need the the humidity to be around 60-70%. At night, this needs to be closer to 100%. To start with, we picked up a hand held pump action mister. As I currently go to bed quite late I'll make sure to mist the enclosure before calling it a night. You can purchase automatic misters which we might look into later on, but with a sealed glass viv, I worry it could get too saturated in there.

6 - Substrate

There are two choices here that I am aware of, standard bark or "artificial" forest floor or the Bioactive substrate. The artificial substrate is cheaper but I believe this to be a false economy as this will need to be partially or fully replaced each month.

We opted for the Bioactive substrate which allows for the use of live plants and greatly improves waste management.

For a Bioactive setup you'll need the following;

Clay balls to line the base 5cm of your viv.

A mesh layer to prevent the clay balls mixing with the substrate.

The substrate itself such as an earth mix

Lastly, a layer of forest floor bark.

You'll also need to introduce a colony of insects to act as those refuge collectors. We bought two tubs of Springtails and two packs of Giant Orange woodlouse. The Springtails are small enough to go unnoticed but the woodlouse, they're not so lucky. In fact our male Panther spotted one within a few hours of being in his new home. That's an ex-woodlouse now.

5 - Foliage.

In most cases you might start off with fake plants and we certainly have a couple of those to begin with, just while the real plants establish. I'll aim to come back here and add to the list of safe plants we have in our vivarium but our first selection was a Golden Pothos (AKA Devils Ivy).

Chameleons require foliage for two main reasons, to drink water droplets from and to hide within. While our male has spent his first day in plain sight, the female has tucked herself away hidden in the leaves.

6 - Water

Water. Not surprising that you'll need to consider your water source and while the misting will certainly help you'll also need some kind of dripper. Before investing in a automated version, we've settled with a container placed on top of the viv with pin prick holes in the bottom. This can simulate rainfall in a certain part of the enclosure when topped up and we're getting a dish to catch most of it below to not flood the vivarium.

It's important to also include lots of branches for your Chameleons to navigate their enclosure. If you're picking fallen branches from a local woodland like we did, avoid any near the beaten path. Worst case the branch is covered in pesticide from the local council.

The Chameleons

So with the housing listed off, I want to share with anyone reading this our journey with our two Chameleons. Originally we aimed to purchase 1 male Panther due to the colours they display. However while on the waiting list at our local pet shop one male arrived with 1 female. We're told they hatched together and have so far spent the their first 6 months alive together. Now I can't say for sure that either one of them would be concerned if they didn't see the other again, but my own humanity couldn't be the reason they were separated. For now, I'm told as infants there is plenty of space for the pair of them in the extra large viv. The aim is to house them separately before they reach adulthood but time is currently on our side.


Our male chameleon has been named Duke on account of his subspecies being a Nosy Mitsio. Nosy seemed a likely nickname and historically, the nickname nosey was given to another. So the Duke of Wellington was the inspiration. Here he is at the pet shop;

and here is is day one of his new home;

Duke seems to be exceedingly mild in his temperament and pretty happy to sit front and centre in the vivarium. He has also displayed limited fear of the humans walking around him.

Within the hour of being in his new home, he fired his tongue off at a branch. There was nothing there as far as I could tell but I took this as a cue he was hungry. He showed no concerns with eating a locust out of my hand.


Duchess was the obvious counterpart for our female panther. While Duke is confident, Duchess is shy. The journey home from the pet shop obviously didn't go down well with her and she shot out of the box as soon as we got home. She has spent most of day 1 hidden amongst the leaves and only came out when I was feeding Duke.

Both chameleons spent a lot of the first day displaying dark tones and this could be an indicator of stress. While I don't doubt the drive home wasn't stressful for them I was happy to see their colours brighten when the basking light when off at sundown. Chameleons darken during their sunbathe to absorb more heat and Duke almost instantly brighten up when it was off.

Duchess has picked the small plastic branch pictured above as her sleeping spot. It's high up, hidden and out the way. Just like we were told is their preference for sleeping. On the other hand, Duke has fallen asleep on an exposed branch front and centre of the viv.

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