Chameleons are absolutely beautiful reptiles! They’re fascinating with their bright colors, varying patterns, independently moving eyes, and who could forget that tongue!!
Uniqueness and beauty aside, do chameleons make good pets? And if so, do they make good pets for beginners?
Join us as we highlight some of the most popular chameleons found in the pet industry and discuss some of the chameleons that can make awesome pets for the right person!
The Best Chameleon Pets
We chose panther chameleons as our best pick because they are readily available, generally hardy, and have a huge network of forums, message boards, FB groups, and breeders that serves as a resource for advice and knowledge.
Panther chameleons are generally docile and their care requirements are relatively easy compared to many other lizards.
Panthers showcase brilliant colors and patterns that range from orange and red to blue, green, and yellow!
Before we get too far into our look at these three chameleons, we want to stress some overall recommendations and tips for having a chameleon (any chameleon) as a pet.
Always Choose Captive Bred Animals
The are no good reasons to ever choose a wild-caught chameleon as a pet and every reason to choose a captive born animal; that goes doubly so for beginners.
Advantages of Captive Born Chameleons
- Significantly reduces chance of parasites
- Minimizes acclimation and quarantine times
- Improved health and vitality of the chameleon
- Your breeder is a resource to answer questions and assist with problems
General Factors to Consider
- Female chameleons are almost always more docile and have calmer temperaments
- Older chameleons are usually wild-caught and should be avoided, likewise very young chameleons can pose difficulties and be fragile
- Chameleons are not cuddly, they don’t enjoy being handled (irregardless of what you might have heard or seen on the Internet and Youtube), and are a pet to look at and enjoy by viewing
In This Article
The 3 Best Chameleon Pets
The 3 Best Chameleons for Beginners
Our Best Pick: The Panther Chameleon
The Panther chameleon, scientific name – furcifer paradalis, is a large chameleon species that is native to the Madagascar coast.
The males are large, frequently reaching sizes of 16 to 18 inches in length with some measuring over 20 inches. Females are usually smaller ranging from 12 to 14 inches.
The patterns and colorations of these chameleons are truly impressive and it makes the panther chameleon a favorite among reptile keepers!
Panther chameleons are unfortunately short-lived, averaging about 5 years.
As large tree dwelling lizards, panthers require and equally large enclosure with ideal cage dimensions being roughly 3 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet or larger.
Benefits of Panther Chameleons
- Amazing color and pattern morphs available
- Setup and care is comparable to other medium-large sized lizards
- Unique ability to alter their coloration, posses eyes that move independently
Our Runner Up: The Veiled Chameleon
The veiled chameleon, scientific name – chamaeleo calyptratus, is a large chameleon species that is native to the Arabian peninsula in the countries of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Adult male veiled chameleons can reach sizes of 2 feet with females being a bit smaller and usually maxing out approximately 18 inches.
Veiled chameleons have what is called a casque, a growth on top of their heads, that act as a water collector; drops of water form and roll down the chameleon’s head towards its mouth so that it can drink!
Like panther chameleons, veiled chameleons require large enclosures ideally being 3 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet or larger. A larger sized enclosure is always better if you can provide one.
Veiled chameleons live for approximately 6 to 8 years on average.
Benefits of Veiled Chameleons
- Veiled chameleons are the most inexpensive of the three and are readily available
- Setup and care is relatively simple
- Veiled chameleons’ casques make them especially unique
Our Favorite: The Jackson's Chameleon
Jackson’s chameleons are one of our favorites, with three protruding horns, and docile disposition, and with a better-than-average chameleon-lifespan, it’s easy to see why!
The Jackson’s chameleon, scientific name – trioceros jacksonii, is a moderately sized chameleon species that is native to Africa in south-central Kenya and northern Tanzania.
Adult males can reach a size of 15 inches but typically they average between 6 to 10 inches. Females tend to be smaller and stay between the 6 to 10 inch range.
Young Jackson’s chameleons are mostly brown in color but develop brighter green coloration as they mature. Males oftentimes are more brightly colored with blue and yellow markings.
Jackson’s can live up to 10 years in captivity, but between 5 years and 8 years seems to be the average.
Like all chameleons, they need to be housed individually in enclosures that are as large as you can provide; a minimum of 2ft by 2ft by 3 ft.
Benefits of Jackson's Chameleons
- Very unique with their three horns
- They are the smallest of the three and can live comfortably in a relatively smaller enclosure
- Jacksons have the best temperaments of most any chameleons
What Makes a Good Pet Chameleon?
A “good pet chameleon” is not necessarily an “easy” reptile to keep.
ALL chameleons require an extra sense of responsibility and care than do many other reptiles. However, a determined and responsible individual can absolutely own a “good pet chameleon!”
One of the most important rules for success in owning a chameleon is the keeper’s expectations of the chameleon and how those expectations match the reality of keeping such a lizard.
Chameleons truly do not enjoy being handled; a more truthful statement would be to say that, handling your chameleon can actually harm it from all of the stress.
Chameleons will appreciate being observed and “loved” from afar. That doesn’t mean that owning a chameleon isn’t rewarding. To the contrary!
Having chameleons and witnessing their lives through the “window” into the worlds we create for them is a spectacular way to interact with nature and these incredibly unique and beautiful reptiles!
Perhaps a chameleon isn't for you?
How about a crested gecko?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do you say chameleons don't like to be held, my chameleon wants to climb on me all the time?
Yes, some people handle and hold their chameleons. Some will even insist that their chameleon “likes” all the handling and cuddling. It’s a natural desire for us as humans to want to interact with our beloved pets in this way.
But we must understand that reptiles, and especially chameleons, are not the same as we are. Their needs are different, contact and interaction with us equals stress.
Stress kills chameleons. period.
Most chameleons, mistakenly seen as enjoying walking or climbing about on their human owners, are actually trying to escape from the stressful environment.
There is no debate that chameleons are healthier and live longer the less we handle them.
Can I have a male and female chameleon in the same enclosure?
The short answer is ‘no.’
Chameleons are territorial and even males and females with fight each other. Many times to the death (especially if in an enclosure where one cannot get away from the other).
If they don’t die from the fighting, many will perish because of the incredible amount of stress. (Again, STRESS KILLS)
Do chameleons bite?
Chameleons bite, they have teeth, and they can hurt!
Some chameleons bite and let go; others bite and hold on for dear life, pulling and tearing into flesh.
Not only does biting hurt you and can cause harm to your chameleon, but the stress from being in a situation where your chameleon bites you also causes stress!
Chameleons are best left viewed at a distance and not handled.
Senegal, Flap-Necked, Graceful Chameleons
Flap neck chameleons are large chameleons reaching 14 inches and are native to sub-Saharan Africa.
- Senegal chameleons are smaller chameleons averaging 7-12 inches
- a bit more rare and not as likely to be seen as the top three chameleons
- all of these can be found captive-born
- The most common chameleon found in Madagascar
- Often called “jeweled chameleons because of their stunning coloration
- Adults average 6-12 inches
- Unusual for chameleons, the females are the more ornate and colorful
- Remarkably small in size, averaging 3 to 3 1/2 inches (some species can be as small as 1 inch!)
- Resemble dead leaves, twigs, or moss
- One of the few species that can be housed in groups
- Short lifespan of 1 to 3 years
Chameleons are not the easiest pets, or easiest reptiles to keep. That said however, they can make good pets; even for beginners!
I think the biggest hurdle for many people and especially beginners is that they just are not good pets for handling.
I view chameleons much in the same way that I do tropical fish; they are incredibly satisfying to care for and look at, but handling them just isn’t something that is conducive to good husbandry.
Chameleons also require a commitment to care and maintenance on a level that exceeds what other reptiles require.
None of those things make them bad pets or even difficult pets, but one does need the appropriate attitude and have the proper expectations of what chameleons are, how they are maintained, and what requirements they demand.
If chameleons have piqued your interest and you are thinking about getting one (we think that’s a great idea by the way) just do your research.
Prepare and develop the right mindset before you purchase your chameleon and we guarantee that you’ll be more successful and your chameleon will be happier, healthier, and live much longer!