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How Do I Set up a Chameleon Terrarium?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Images By: n/a, n/a, Sebastian Duda, Africa Studio
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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A proper chameleon terrarium should be set up before you bring your new exotic pets home. Large mesh or screened-in enclosures are typically recommended, since these allow for adequate air circulation. Sterile soil can be used as a substrate, and tall plants and trees can be added for the chameleons to climb on. These lizards and their enclosures should be misted with water several times each day, and heat and ultraviolet lamps should be provided as well.

Before you purchase a chameleon for a pet, you should have a chameleon terrarium set. This will help your new pet get acclimated to his new environment. It will also be much less stressful for him, since he won't need to be moved to a new home.

Juveniles and some smaller members of the chamaeleonidae family, like the leaf chameleon, can be kept in a small chameleon terrarium. Usually, an enclosure the size of a 20- to 30-gallon (75.7 to 113.6) aquarium would be sufficient for these smaller lizards. On the other hand, larger chameleon species, like veiled chameleons, require a much larger enclosure. An enclosure that is at least 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) tall and a couple feet (0.6 meters) wide should be used.

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Although a large glass aquarium may seem ideal for a chameleon terrarium, a mesh enclosure is typically better. Chameleons need a humid environment, and glass enclosures simply do allow air to circulate properly. This type of moist environment can be a breeding ground for bacteria that will make your pet ill. The shiny surface of the glass may also cause a chameleon to constantly see his reflection, and being a territorial animal, this can stress him out a great deal.

A simple chameleon enclosure can be constructed very easily with very little money. Vinyl-coated screen can be wrapped around a frame of wood. Purchasing a mesh reptarium, on the other hand, may be a little easier, but it will most likely be much more expensive.

After you have either built or purchased your chameleon enclosure, you can then add the substrate to the bottom of the cage. Live plants are usually recommended in a chameleon terrarium, since these can help contribute to the moisture in the environment. Sterile soil is usually best, but some chameleon owners used ground up coconut husks as a substrate.

Small trees and plants can then be added to the soil. Research each plant you add to the enclosure, however, since some can be irritating or even toxic to your pet. Ficus and umbrella trees, along with pothos plants, are all considered safe and acceptable plants for a chameleon terrarium.

Water is an essential component of any chameleon terrarium, and a humidity of around 80% is considered ideal. Most chameleons will only sip water that has pooled on leaves, so a water dish may a useless addition to your pet's enclosure. Instead, your chameleon should be misted with water several times each day. You can do this manually with a spray bottle, or you can purchase an automatic mister.

Light and heat are also important additions to your chameleon terrarium. A basking lamp should be placed on one side of the terrarium. The temperature on this side of the enclosure should be around 85 degrees F (29.4 degrees C) during the day and a little cooler at night. Special ultraviolet (UV) lights should also be left on for a good portion of the day, since ultraviolet rays are necessary for proper calcium absorption.

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