In this caresheet I’ll be covering comprehensive information – all you need to know about keeping Yemen Chameleons, also known as Veiled Chameleons, in captivity. I’ll be covering Veiled Chameleon housing, heating, lighting, the importance of UVB, humidity and water needs, handling, keeping them together and even more comprehensive care such as breeding Yemen Chameleons. Read on!
Meet the Yemen Chameleon / Veiled Chameleon
In the UK you usually see Chamaeleo calyptratus referred to as the Yemen Chameleon, whilst in other countries, Veiled Chameleon is more common. It’s just a regional difference, both names refer to the same species. One takes the name from the Yemen area where this chameleon is commonly found in the wild, the other refers to the large casque, a “veil” that is prominent, especially on males.
This large chameleon – which comes from the Arabian Peninsula – reaches sizes of between 12 – 24″ including the tail, which is often held curled up when not being used to balance. Males are usually larger than females, and we’ll discuss the other differences between the sexes later.
Although the name suggests they come from Yemen, they have a range of habitat across Saudi Arabia too. When people think of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, they often think of desert, but Yemen chameleons from from jungles along mountain ranges and as such, require a habitat that simulates a forest, not a desert.
One of the most known things about chameleons is that they can change colour to camoflauge. Yemen chameleons are an attractive light and bright green most of the time, simulating bright foliage within the jungle. They can also have bands of yellow and brown. They can only change colour within these ranges, putting a chameleon next to a bright or dark backdrop might make it go lighter or darker in colouration, but you won’t see them turning bright pink, for example!
They also change colour depending on habitat and mood. A stressed or cold chameleon will be dark and drab, whilst a gravid female may have brown or even black markings. A male in mating season who is happy and in the correct habitat will have the brightest colours of all.
Yemen Chameleons are not long lived, with a lifespan of between 4 and 8 years old. You should bear this in mind if purchasing an adult, especially if the age is unknown.
There are several options for Yemen chameleon / Veiled chameleon housing and you will probably realize during your research that it’s quite highly contested, especially on some vocal Facebook groups. In my opinion, there’s no completely perfect setup available for this fairly specialist animal, but there are three different types of setups that meet their needs, and can be close to perfect with a few modifications.
We recommend a minimum of 24 x 18 x 36″ for a Yemen / Veiled Chameleon. This is an arboreal species that you will rarely see on the floor and bear in mind that males will be bigger than females. There is no maximum size as long as you can obtain your temperatures and humidity and there are a range of much larger setups on the market. We always recommend exceeding the minimum requirements wherever possible!
Wooden Vivariums are a popular option for chameleons. The advantages of using wooden vivariums for chameleons is that they’re easily available, there are a few size options, they hold heat extremely well and hold humidity fairly well. The downsides of using wooden vivariums for chameleons is that the ventilation is low. The solution is that you will definitely need to modify a wooden vivarium by adding additional ventilation. Our chameleon vivariums come with extra ventilation which we install ourselves.
ReptiBreeze Mesh Enclosures
ReptiBreeze is a brand of mesh enclosures made by Zoo Med. It has an aluminium lightweight frame with mesh panels instead of the more traditional wood or glass. This makes this the most “open air” enclosure possibly, meaning it has maximum airflow and ventilation. On the downside, it’s available in very limited sizes and in my opinion, the largest size is the only viable option for an adult Yemen Chameleon, at 61x61x122cm (24x24x48″). Another downside is that mesh doesn’t hold heat or humidity well, and some people find they need to add a perspex panel to one or two of the sides to help maintain heat and humidity. You have to purchase a substrate tray at additional cost, and even with this, there’s no allowance for a deep layer of substrate.
- Chameleon Setup (24x24x48 ReptiBreeze Screen Cage)£225.00 – £399.00
With the advent of the new range of Habistat Glass Tanks we are now happy to recommend the larger sizes of Habistat Tank as a viable option for a Yemen Chameleon. Glass is the most expensive option and these larger tanks are very heavy, but glass holds heat better than mesh (less so than wood, but chameleons are not high temperature species), and holds humidity the best of all three options. Whilst you can’t modify your enclosure for ventilation the way you can in wood, and it has far less ventilation than a mesh cage, the Habistat enclosures do have open topped mesh lids and we find the ventilation adequate.
Which is best?
When it comes to the question “which is best”, they all have different pros and cons. Your budget and what you like the look of are also things that will come into play as well as the location of the tank and the temperature of the room it’s in. Here are Reptile Cymru we’ve put together setups in all three options to give you the final say, but if you’re not sure which to go for then we’re always happy to talk through the options and figure it out with you.
Some people may recommend you buy a small setup and upgrade; we don’t. You shouldn’t be buying a chameleon that is less than 8 weeks old, and after that, this is a fast growing species that hunts well and should have no problem settling in to an adult tank, as long as your temperature and humidity is correct. Buying small tanks and having to replace in 6 months just costs you more money in the long run, and isn’t necessary.
Heating and Basking
Yemen chameleons / Veiled chameleons enjoy basking in the jungle canopy. You will want to have a basking area of 100F at the very top of the enclosure, with an ambient dropping to 70F near the bottom of the enclosure. The middle of the enclosure should then naturally fall around 75-80F. This allows the chameleon to move between temperatures and thermoregulate.
Turn off all your lights at night time.
Night time Heating – Night time temperatures can be 70-75F throughout. As the night time temperature requirement is fairly low, if the enclosure is in a warm room you may find you do not need any night time heating. If you do need night time heating, a heat mat is an option for smaller setups, or we prefer a ceramic bulb. Whichever you use, make sure it’s attached to a thermostat.
Controlling Heat – You should always control your heat sources with a thermostat. Your heat source plugs into the thermostat and a probe goes into the vivarium. The probe detects the temperature and then automatically adjusts the heating element to the correct heat output. This gives your animal the correct temperature at all times, whilst also saving electricity!
Measuring Heat – You should have a thermometer – either analogue, or digital – in the enclosure as it is possible for thermostats to be faulty and you want to double check that your temperatures are correct. Ideally having one on the hot end and the cold end, or having one with two probes provides you with the best information.
UVB lighting is essential for Yemen Chameleon health. We use the research from the Arcadia Lighting Guide to provide Yemen Chameleons with a UV Index of 3-4.
It’s very important to take the height that your chameleon basks and spends their time at as your distance, and not the bottom of the tank. If this distance is between 12-15% from the light, you can use a T8 12% UVB or a T5 6% UVB. If your enclosure is much larger and your basking zone is 15-24″ away from the UVB light, you can use a T5 12%.
You can read more about the differences between T8 and T5 lighting in our UVB guide.
Your UVB lighting should be on for 10 – 12 hours a day, which you can set on a timer if you’d like. Always turn off your UVB lighting and your basking bulb at night time.
- Arcadia D3+ Reptile Lamp, 12% T8£23.99 – £29.99
- Arcadia D3+ Reptile Lamp, 14% T5£25.99 – £31.99
- Arcadia D3+ Reptile Lamp, 12% T5£23.99 – £29.99
- Arcadia D3 Reptile Lamp, 6% T5£22.99 – £28.99
- Arcadia D3 Basking Lamp£39.99
- Arcadia T8 Control Unit (Dry)£32.99
- Arcadia T5 Control Unit£61.99 – £66.99
- Arcadia Pro T5 Kit£54.99 – £62.99
Yemen Chamelons will rarely go to the bottom of the tank and are unlikely to drink from standing water, and they do not bath in a water bowl. However, having a water bowl in the enclosure does raise the humidity and covers all options if they did want to drink. In the wild Yemen chameleons will drink from leaves, so when you spray the tank make sure you spray the leaves. Having some silk plants in the enclosure can be very good for holding water droplets, and there is also the Dripper plant which we recommend. This pumps water up from the water bowl to the top of the plant, creating moving water the chameleon is more likely to drink from, as well as increasing humidity in the air.
There’s no need to ever take your chameleon out and bathe them, unless recommended by a veterinarian or similar for shedding problems or dehydration. In general, this would be very stressful.
Yemen Chameleons require a humidity of around 50-60%, with spikes up to 80% with a daily misting to simulate rainfall and encourage them to drink from the plants. In the wild they live in jungle areas in and around mountains and do not do well with stagnant air, which is why it’s important to have not just humidity, but adequate airflow and ventilation in the enclosure as well.
It’s also important not to go too high on humidity. Humidity too high can cause respiratory problems and skin problems. You don’t want your enclosure to be soaking wet and your glass shouldn’t be covered in condensation if there is adequate airflow. You only want to increase the humidity by spraying long enough to encourage them to drink.
You’ll need a hygrometer in the tank to measure the humidity.
Decor and Substrate
Whilst your Yemen Chameleon is unlikely to spend much time on the ground, having a substrate that mimics the natural environment and holds humidity is recommended. We use Orchid Bark, but you could also use something like Coco Fibre, Forest Bedding or Arcadia Earth Mix. It needs to be able to hold moisture without getting moldy.
You’ll need a wide range of branches at different sizes and thicknesses up the entire length of the vivarium. Try to have some horizontal from side to side, as well as diagonally vertical. Lots of plants, whether plastic, silk or real, will help hold moisture and provide hiding places that simulate the foliage of the jungle.
There are lots of live plants that can be kept in with Yemen Chameleons, but be aware that if you do keep live plants embedded in the substrate you’ll need to add a drainage layer and you’ll also need a plant bulb such as the Jungle Dawn LED bar if you want longevity and growth from your plants.
Yemen Chameleons shed frequently, especially as they grow. Babies seem to be eternally shedding as they grow constantly. It may come off in small pieces, or it may come off in one piece.
Often, they will eat the shed, so you might not even notice. As long as your humidity is correct the shed should not get stuck to the chameleon and seeing them shed very frequently is no cause for concern. As they mature they will shed less and less, but even adults shed their skin regularly.
Social Needs and Housing Together
Although you will often see baby Yemen Chameleons living in groups at the breeder or reptile shop, adult Yemen chameleons are extremely territorial, get stressed out by each other – including two females – and should be kept alone. We will never sell two chameleons to live together. If you do want to breed in the future, you will need to keep them separate for the majority of the year and introduce only for breeding.
Sexing Yemen / Veiled Chameleons
Sexing Yemen Chameleons is easy. Even as babies males will have a visible spur on the back of their feet. An experienced breeder or reptile shop should have no problem identifying the sex of your chameleon before it goes home, allowing you to decide which sex you want to keep. Males are larger, have a more impressive crest and have brighter colours, but they do get bigger, so if going for a male we’d advise larger than the minimum setup.
Females are smaller and whilst still have lovely bright green colours, are not quite as impressive looking as males. They can also lay eggs even without being with a male, so you’ll want to be prepared for that with an egg box. Egg laying can always have health consequences, but these can be minimized by making sure your female has a good diet and plenty of space to lay. Some females will never lay eggs without a male, but it’s impossible to know in advance. Because of this, males tend to be more popular than females, and thus higher priced as well, but a female Yemen Chameleon still makes an excellent pet.
Yemen Chameleons are keen hunters and great eaters. They have a long sticky tongue which allows them to catch livefood with great speed and precision from quite a distance. Their 360 degree rotating vision allows them to spot movement easily.
They will take a wide range of live insects such as crickets, locusts, dubia roaches, mealworms, and waxworms as an occasional treat. You can free feed by dropping the livefood into the vivarium and allowing the animal to hunt, or if you’re worried they may not find it, for example if it’s a young chameleon in a very large tank, you can put the livefood into a deep bowl or cup that it can’t escape from, but make sure it’s not too deep – you want the chameleon to be able to get out if they fall in!
With time and patience, most chameleons will feed from the hand as well.
Livefood should be kept in cool, well ventilated containers and gut loaded with fresh dry vegetables, or a pre-made mixture such as our Livefood Care Pack which comes with both nutrients and hydration. Don’t use a water bowl with livefood, the humidity will cause them to die and they’re prone to drowning.
Food should be dusted with a multivitamin D3 supplement once a week and straight calcium on all other days.
When people ask about handling Yemen Chameleons I tell them you can’t force an interaction with this species. If your chameleon doesn’t like handling and you force the issue, you make them perceive you as a threat which will damage future interactions. They’re also prone to stress, so forcing an interaction when they’re saying no will only make them even more stressed.
It’s easy to tell when a chameleon is telling you they don’t want to be handled. An unhappy, stressed or angry chameleon will become dark with mottled spots. They can fill themselves with air and expel it as a threat, and although they don’t tend to bite, they can open their mouths to threaten you, and may even headbutt if they feel seriously threatened.
Most chameleons are okay to come out of the tank on their terms. That means you can’t grasp them or hold them in place, but you can pretend to be a branch and let them walk out on you. Some will be quite happy to sit out on you until they get cool – don’t keep them out for too long and make sure the room is warm. On warm sunny summer days, some will enjoy basking in the sun and some people even have an outdoor enclosure for them. A reptibreeze is particularly handy for this since it can be easily folded down when not in use and is very lightweight, but always pay very close attention to the temperatures.
In short, I always warn people that a chameleon is not a lizard you can handle a lot. It’s mostly display, but there are interactions you can have on their terms and Yemen Chameleons often tame down well and tolerate people.
Breeding Yemen Chameleons
Before you even consider breeding you need to think carefully about the process involved. You’ll need two adult healthy chameleons of opposite sexes (your female should be around a year old and a minimum of 65-70g in weight), and you’ll need two permanent separate enclosures as you’ll only be introducing them for mating. You’ll need to have a veterinarian who deals with exotics and reptiles on hand, as there’s always the potential for injury during mating or problems during egg laying. You’ll need an incubator for your eggs, and you’ll most likely want several smaller enclosures for the babies to separate them out. You’ll have to correctly heat and light this like your adult enclosures and feed the babies for 6-8 weeks until they’re ready to go to new homes. Finally, you’ll have to be confident that you can sell them to people who have the correct knowledge and setups to keep them. Contacting reptile shops in your area to see if they will buy them is often the easiest option.
If you have considered all that carefully and still want to breed Yemen Chameleons, then read on! Watching chameleons hatch and grow can be a very rewarding process.
Mating and Egg Laying
Upon introduction a male will usually display full colours. He’ll expand his throat and puff himself up, curling his tail tightly and attempting to look as impressive and dominant as possible. A receptive female will retain her colour, turn and walk away, allowing the male to follow and mount her.
A non receptive female may show her angry or stressed colours, may open her mouth, hiss and attempt to headbutt or even bite him. If she’s still unreceptive after a few hours, remove the male and try again later. If you’ve already seen previous successful mating, she will not be receptive if already gravid and you should stop introducing them.
It’s critically important to provide a deep bucket or container filled with soil or a sand and soil mix. She needs to feel like she is laying her eggs in a suitable and secure place or she may retain them, leading to serious health problems.
Eggs are laid in large clutches, usually from 30 up to 60 or so eggs, although the first clutch of a females life may be smaller. They are laid 20 to 30 days after mating. Some females may go on to double clutch without being mated again and if so, this will be 90 to 120 days after the initial mating. I recommend only mating once per year to allow her to regain her weight, but you can’t stop a female from double clutching and should always be prepared.
Eggs should be removed from the lay box and transferred with care to an incubator. We use vermiculite as an incubation medium. Leave about half an inch between each egg. Yemen chameleon eggs are incubated at a lower temperature than many reptiles – at 80F. They will take between 165 – 200 days before hatching.
Hatching and Hatchling Care
After hatching the chameleons will need to be removed into a smaller version of the adult enclosure. If the clutch is bigger than 30, you will almost certainly need to separate them into smaller groups so there is less competition for food. You can then juggle them around based on size, making sure that the weaker ones are separated from the most dominant ones, so that all have ample opportunity to feed and grow. After 6 weeks or so they’ll be ready to go to new homes.
I really hope that this Yemen Chameleon / Veiled Chameleon Care Guide has covered everything you want to know. If you have a specific question for us about our chameleons or setups then please drop us a message on Facebook or an email. Thank you!