What to Know About Veiled Chameleons

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 22, 2022
5 min read

Chameleons are some of the most unique types of lizards. They’re able to shift the color of their skin and have scaly, cone-shaped eyes. Veiled chameleons are a type of chameleon from the Arabian peninsula that have bright, vibrant colors.

Going by the scientific name Chamaeleo calyptratus, veiled chameleons are a species of brightly colored chameleons that live in trees. 

Veiled chameleons have casques on the top of their heads, which are bony protrusions that look somewhat like a shark fin. They use these casques to help collect water. Veiled chameleons also have a line of fringe from under their mouths that runs down their bodies. While all veiled chameleons are green with colorful markings, the males and females of the species are sexually dimorphic, meaning they have some distinct differences. 

Male veiled chameleons are larger, usually reaching between 17–24 inches in length, and they have a larger casque. Males are usually slender and have bright markings in shades of black, green, orange, turquoise, and yellow. Females are shorter in length, about 10–14 inches, but are heavier-set. They have smaller casques than the males and their bodies have mottled markings in orange, tan, white, and yellow shades.

Veiled chameleons tend to be very shy. When they feel threatened, they may darken their color, curl into a tight fetal position, and play dead. When this happens, it may take some time for them to uncurl and move again. They prefer to live alone and don't get along well with each other. This is particularly true for the males, who should always be kept apart. Females can live near each other, but not during the breeding season. By contrast, the breeding season is the only time that males and females tolerate each other.

Veiled chameleons are native to the border area between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. They’re found on and in forests, plateaus, and valleys in this area. They prefer to live in trees, bushes, or shrubs. While they can survive in a wide range of temperatures, they’re most comfortable in a range of 75–95°F.

In Hawaii, veiled chameleons were introduced as part of the pet trade, and they are now an invasive species. While rarely spotted, they are still a concern because they prey on native birds and insects.

Veiled chameleons primarily eat bugs and insects, which they catch by using their sticky tongues. They also eat plants. As most veiled chameleons live in dry climates, plants offer an additional source of water.

Veiled chameleons usually have a lifespan of about 4–8 years, with the females usually living about five years and the males about eight. 

Both male and female veiled chameleons reach sexual maturity at about four or five months. Within 18 hours of successfully mating, the female’s body darkens to a blackish-green with blue and yellow spots. About 20–30 days after mating, the females lay eggs, which may amount to anywhere between 30–95 eggs each time. Females may lay eggs without ever being exposed to a male, but those eggs will be infertile.

Veiled chameleons can be kept as pets, but they stress easily so care should be taken to make sure they’re comfortable. As they tend to not get along well with others of their species, keep all veiled chameleons separated. Veiled chameleon care includes the proper habitat and nutrition.

Habitat. Because veiled chameleons prefer to live in trees, their enclosures should be tall rather than wide. Adult chameleons should live in enclosures that are at least 36 inches tall. Their cages should be made of screen, not glass.

The best substrate, or base layer, for a veiled chameleon’s cage is a bioactive soil mix. This is a soil that has organic elements. Beginner chameleon keepers should stick with paper towels instead, as it’s much easier to clean. 

Veiled chameleons love to climb, so their enclosure should have plenty of climbable plants. The bottom two-thirds of the cage should be dense with foliage, while the top third should be mostly empty. Provide your veiled chameleon with at least two basking spots about 10 inches away from their light and another basking spot about a foot from their heat lamp.

Veiled chameleons are very sensitive to light and heat. They need a UVB bulb that’s at least 24 inches long. Do not use reptile basking bulbs. They’re too strong and can cause burns. Instead, look for incandescent BR30 or BR40 household flood bulbs, and use them with a deep dome.

Veiled chameleons are used to drier climates, so their enclosures should be drier during the day with moisture increasing in the morning and evening. The humidity level in their enclosure should be between 40–90%. You can use a manual pressure sprayer or an automatic misting system.

Food and water. Veiled chameleons will eat a variety of bugs and insects. Some of the best options for regular meals include:

  • Black soldier fly larvae
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Flies
  • Moths
  • Superworms

Hornworms and waxworms are okay as a treat every so often, but butterworms and mealworms are not recommended. 

You only need to feed fully-grown adult veiled chameleons every 3–4 days, but young chameleons should eat daily. Because most bugs and insects you purchase at the pet store are of low nutritional value, consider gut-loading your insects before feeding them to your chameleon. Gut-loading is a method of feeding the insects a high-quality diet before feeding them to your pets. 

To increase nutrition, you can dust the insects with calcium before feeding them to your chameleons, but the calcium supplement should not have D3 in it. You can also use a multivitamin twice a month.

A bowl of water in the enclosure is unnecessary because chameleons will only drink moving water. They’ll get most of their hydration from the morning and evening mist, but their enclosure also needs a dripper. Don’t let the dripper run constantly, or you’ll flood the enclosure. Instead, fill the dripper with a cup of water and set it to drop one drop per second in the morning or evening. Place the dripper above a plant or bowl to collect the excess water.