How Do I Set up a Chameleon Enclosure?

Drue Tibbits

The health and longevity of chameleons kept in captivity depend, in part, on the setup of their enclosures. Chameleons need safe, clean enclosures of the correct size, structures for climbing, and temperature regulation of their cages. They also need proper light and water sources. Some chameleons may require humidity regulation as well.


Most chameleon species do well in reptile screen enclosures. The screen allows air movement within the cage and helps prevent fungal growth or infections that may result from trapped humidity. Rhampholia and Brookesia species are exceptions; most of these types of chameleons require high humidity levels and do better in enclosures with glass sides. Cage size is an important consideration, and young chameleons need smaller cages than adults do. This helps them find their food easier and aids in temperature regulation.

Chameleon cages should be tall enough to facilitate climbing.
Chameleon cages should be tall enough to facilitate climbing.

Cage height is more important than width as chameleons prefer to climb. Plants are an important addition to the chameleon enclosure; these reptiles not only use the plants for climbing, but they obtain their water by licking the plants' leaves. Natural plants are best, but artificial ones can suffice. Ficus is a popular plant for chameleons that like to climb branches, while pothos is suitable for those species that climb vines. Before placing the plants in the cage, a thorough washing removes dangerous pesticides and fertilizers.

The bottom of the chameleon enclosure should be clean and free of substrates. A layer of paper towels can help keep the cage clean, but loose substrates may harm the chameleon. These sensitive reptiles need both a basking light and a light that provides UVB rays. Chameleons do not use heat rocks but instead bask while resting on branches. They are sensitive to temperatures, so a cage thermometer is necessary to monitor the chameleon enclosure and check the heat of the basking area.

Food cups are unnecessary as chameleons prefer to hunt live prey. As for drinking water, these reptiles have very specific requirements. They do not drink standing water, so there is no need to supply water dishes. A daily misting of the plants inside the chameleon enclosure provides water that the animals can lick from the leaves.

Some chameleon species do better with a water drip arrangement. This is a paper or plastic cup with a small hole in the bottom and set above a plant. Water drips from the hole and onto the leaves of the plant, providing a moving source of water for the chameleon.

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