Jackson’s chameleons comprise three distinct subspecies native to the montane regions of Kenya. Large feral populations are found in Hawaii where specimens are often caught for the pet trade. Small numbers are also captive-bred. Whether caught in the wild or captive-bred it is important to remember that chameleons are difficult animals to keep in captivity.
Color, Size & Longevity
Male Three-horned Chameleons tend to be more brightly colored, with blue or yellow markings. Males of all the subspecies have 3 horns that make them look like mini-triceratops (2 subocular horns below the eyes and one rostral horn on the snout). Females of some sub-species do have horns, but sometimes less developed than those of the males. Adults may reach 12-15 in (30.5-38.1cm) in total (snout to tail) length, with a body length of about 5 in (12.7 cm). Adults can reach 0.9-1.8 kg but most weigh less. The typical life span of a three-horned chameleon is 3-8+ years. Also, they typically reach sexual maturity between 6-9 months of age.
Feed a variety of gut-loaded insects such as crickets, mealworms, grasshoppers, roaches, superworms, silkworms, phoenix worms and wax worms as well as pesticide-free snails, slugs, caterpillars, sowbugs, spiders, and flies of appropriate size. Dust the adult non-breeding diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. Avoid products containing high levels of Vitamin D as this can lead to toxicity. A general vitamin/mineral supplement may be offered once weekly. Jackson’s chameleon may also be more sensitive to over supplementation of vitamin A than some other lizards so use caution.
Cage size & design
House adults in a large, vertical all screen enclosure. Chameleons should never be housed in a glass aquarium. Plastic-coated wire-welded mesh enclosures serve well. Minimum cage size is 2 x 2 x 3 feet but much larger is recommended.
Cage furniture & supplies
Provide multiple branches or twigs for climbing, potted plants (e.g. Ficus benjaminaor hibiscus) to provide visual security, and a full-spectrum light source for normal absorption of dietary calcium.
Temperature & Lighting
Jackson’s Chameleons, like other reptiles regulate their own body temperature and it is thus important to provide them with a temperature gradient inside their enclosure. Chameleons need an ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source, so invest in a good bulb such as the Zoomed Reptisun 5.0. Keep the UV light on for 10-12 hours per day. Remember these bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months. Chameleons also benefit from spending time outdoors in natural sunlight when the temperatures are appropriate (but beware of overheating -- make sure shade is always available). Maintain a temperature gradient of 70-80°F (21-27°C) with a basking spot that reaches 82-85°F (28-29°C). Never maintain a Jackson’s Chameleon above 84°F (29°C) for long periods of time. Provide a drop in temperature at night that ranges from 55°F to the low to mid 70s (13-24°C).
Water & Humidity
Chameleons will not drink standing water from a bowl. Their natural source of water comes from dew drops that build up on leaves. To duplicate this in captivity use a dripper and/or mister to provide the water needed on the leaves. This should be done a by either by misting the plants every 4-8 hours or with an automatic watering system. This misting also replicates the high humidity level (60-100%) needed to house a chameleon.
Chameleons are generally solitary creatures and do best when housed singly, however, one male with one or two females can usually coexist well in a large cage with many visual barriers. Males are moderately territorial and should not be housed together.
It is important to keep in mind that chameleons do best as primarily display animals. While they will tolerate handling to different degrees based on their individual personality, they tend to get stressed with excess handling. When you do handle your chameleon, do not restrain it but rather let the chameleon walk on you from hand to hand. For long-term success with all chameleon species, limited handling is recommended.