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Jackson's Chameleon

Jackson’s Chameleon Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Jackson's Chameleon

Overview

Chamaeleo jacksonii xantholophus

Cool climate or montane or highland group of chameleons are native to areas in Africa where they are found at higher elevations and, therefore, cooler temperatures. One of these species included in this group is the Jackson’s chameleon.

While generally gentle, they are easily stressed by handling, and the more stressed they are, the darker their colors. Chameleons are arboreal (tree climbing) and use their prehensile tails to hold on to branches as they climb. Their cone-shaped eyes can move independently of each other so that they can see 360 degrees around them. They have long, sticky tongues—nearly twice the length of their bodies—that they quickly protrude from their mouths to catch moving insects.

Table of Contents

Typical appearance and behavior

  • Jackson’s chameleons are easily recognized by the three horns on their faces: one (the rostral horn) on the nose and the other two beneath each eye; only males have these prominent horns, while females either have no horns or poorly developed rostral horns
  • Both males and females have prominent spines running down their backs
  • When young, they are brown and gradually turn green as they mature; males may have yellow on their heads and backs and blue flanks, while females are deeper green than males and may have a reddish hue
  • Males grow to 8–10" long, while females reach only 7–8"
  • They are very territorial and should be housed individually or they will fight

Characteristics

Care difficulty Advanced
Average Life Span 2-5+ years with proper care
Average adult size 7-10 inches, depending on species
Diet Insectivorous
Minimum habitat size 24”L x 24”W x 36”H for one adult

Habitat

Habitat size

Provide an appropriately sized and shaped habitat to accommodate normal activity; chameleons are arboreal species, so vertically oriented habitats with room for climbing are preferable. The minimum size enclosure for a single adult is 24”L x 24”W x 36”H for one adult. Chameleons are best housed individually in well-ventilated aquariums or mesh/screened habitats, with tightly fitting lids to prevent escape, as long as appropriate temperature and humidity levels can be maintained. If using a screened habitat, be sure there are no sharp edges on which chameleons can get injured. Plastic coated or PVC mesh is often safer than metal screening for this reason. Most species of chameleons reach full size by 18 months under ideal conditions.

Building your habitat

  • Décor - Chameleons can become very stressed if they don’t have adequate hiding spaces. Provide numerous visual barriers with densely planted artificial or live plants (such as ficus, pothos or other nontoxic vegetation), commercially available vines and branches so your chameleon can climb freely throughout the habitat and choose the temperature at which to perch and bask. Branches and vines should be of varying widths appropriate to the size of your chameleon’s feet as they grasp and climb
  • Substrate - Because Jackson’s chameleons are housed at high humidity levels, substrates that are easy to clean and less likely to become moldy are best. They also spend very little time on the ground, preferring to climb on branches and vines higher up in the habitat, so they require little to no substrate. Partner with your veterinarian on substrate recommendations if you have a gravid, egg-laying female. Commercially available paper-based substrates and bark are recommended. Small, particle-sized substrates, such as sand, gravel and mulch, should not be used in chameleon habitats, as they commonly irritate chameleons’ eyes and the delicate skin around their mouths. Plus, chameleons often ingest these indigestible substrates and develop potentially life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstructions
  • Temperature - Provide a temperature gradient in the habitat so that chameleons—who are ectotherms whose body temperatures depend on their environmental temperatures—can move around and adjust their body temperatures accordingly. Daytime temperatures should range from 82–85°F for the warm end/basking zone down to 70°F for the cool end; nighttime temperatures can reach 55–60°F. Monitor the temperature with at least two thermometers: one in the cool zone and the other in the hot (basking) zone. Heat may be provided by an incandescent or ceramic heat bulb. Heat sources should be attached to thermostats to regulate temperatures. Hot rocks should not be used as a heat source, as they can burn reptiles. Reptiles not kept at the appropriate temperature ranges are more likely to become immunosuppressed and get sick
  • Lighting - Chameleons require full-spectrum ultraviolet (UV) lighting for 10–12 hours a day to expose them to UVB rays to enable them to make vitamin D in their skin so that they can absorb dietary calcium. UV bulbs should be turned off at night to establish a clear day-night cycle and changed every six months, as their potency wanes. Chameleons in well-ventilated mesh habitats also can be placed outside in direct sunlight if it is warm enough, as long as they have adequate spots for hiding and shade
  • Humidity - Cool climate chameleons require a habitat humidity of 50–75% to stay hydrated and shed properly. Use a humidity gauge to monitor humidity levels. Spraying the enclosure multiple times per day will help maintain humidity and allow chameleons to drink droplets of water from the décor. Commercial drip systems, misters and bubblers also may be used as long as they are cleaned once or twice a month with diluted bleach and rinsed thoroughly to prevent bacteria and mold from growing in them, leading to potential medical problems. Humidifiers are particularly notorious for growing microbes and should be avoided.

Cleaning your habitat

  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect water and food bowls and spot-clean the habitat daily to remove droppings
  • Thoroughly clean the habitat at least once a week:
    • Place the chameleon in a secure habitat
    • Scrub the tank and furnishings with a reptile habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
    • Rinse the tank and all furnishings thoroughly with water, removing all traces of habitat cleaner or bleach smell
    • Dry the tank and furnishings and add clean substrate before putting the chameleon back into the habitat

Feeding

A well-balanced Jackson's chameleon diet consists of:

Things to remember when feeding your cool climate chameleon:

  • Crickets should be no longer than the width of the chameleon’s head
  • An open bowl of shallow water may be provided on the floor of the habitat, but chameleons typically don’t drink from standing water and prefer to drink water droplets off plants or habitat screens
  • Commercial drip systems, misters and foggers or hand misting 4–5 times per day can provide water on plants for chameleons to drink
  • Feed juveniles daily and adults every day to every other day
  • Juveniles can be fed as many insects as they will eat at a time, while adults typically eat between 5 and 15 insects every 2–3 days
  • Insects may be placed in the habitat for chameleons to catch or may be hand fed, one at a time, to tamer chameleons
  • Uneaten insects should be removed from the habitat to prevent them from chewing on and injuring chameleons; alternatively, chameleons may be removed from their habitat and fed in a separate feeding container to monitor appetite and prevent injury from uneaten insects
  • Sprinkle food with a calcium supplement containing vitamin D3 every other day for juveniles and twice a week for adults
  • Sprinkle food with a multivitamin once a week; because chameleons cannot make vitamin A from its precursor, beta carotene, be sure the multivitamin supplement contains preformed vitamin A so your chameleon doesn't develop vitamin A deficiency

Care

  • Chameleons regularly shed their skin; ensure habitat humidity is at an appropriate level to allow proper shedding
  • If chameleons retain small pieces of shed skin on their feet, toes or heads, increase habitat humidity to aid in shedding

Where to buy a Jackson's chameleon

Jackson’s chameleons are available for purchase at your local Petco Pet Care Center location. Please call ahead to check availability.

Supplies

Habitat mates

  • House adult Jackson’s chameleons separately
  • Do not house different reptile species together

Health

Signs of a healthy chameleon

  • Active, alert and interested in their habitat and in humans
  • Clear eyes, nose and mouth
  • Body and tail are filled out
  • Skin is supple and smooth without lesions, discoloration, swelling or retained shed skin
  • Tongue protrudes and retracts from mouth normally
  • Eats and passes stool regularly
  • Grasps habitat décor and climbs normally

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian)

  • Weight loss or decreased appetite
  • Mucus or discharge from mouth, eyes, or nose
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Lethargy
  • Inability to close the mouth or retract the tongue
  • Twitching/tremors/seizures
  • Bumps, sores, wounds, discolorations, or abrasions on skin
  • Labored breathing
  • Weakness or paralysis of limbs
  • Abnormal feces
  • Nonrotating eye(s)
  • Swollen abdomen

Common Jackson's chameleon health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Gastrointestinal disease Runny or bloody stools, caked or smeared stool around the vent, weight loss, loss of appetite; caused by bacterial, viral or parasitic infection Consult your veterinarian
Metabolic bone disease Inability to absorb calcium due to insufficient UVB light or improper amounts of dietary calcium/vitamin D3; if untreated, can lead to deformed, softened or fractured bones, swollen limbs, decreased appetite, weakness and lethargy Consult your veterinarian and provide ample UVB lighting, a balanced diet and the proper amount of calcium/vitamin supplements
Respiratory tract disease Labored breathing, mucus and/or bubbles in the mouth or nose; can be caused by inappropriate habitat temperature and humidity, leading to secondary bacterial, viral or fungal infection Consult your veterinarian and ensure habitat has the proper temperature and humidity
Vitamin A deficiency Signs include swelling around the eyes/lips/head, dull skin color, squinting and discharge from eyes, retained shed skin; may be caused by ingestion of beta carotene (vitamin A precursor) in diet, rather than preformed vitamin A, as chameleons cannot make vitamin A in their bodies Consult with your veterinarian and provide proper diet and nutritional supplements

FAQs

  • What do Jackson's chameleons eat? Chameleons eat a variety of live insects, including gut-loaded (recently fed) crickets, mealworms, calci-worms, superworms, Dubia roaches, flies, butterworms, silkworms, hornworms, earthworms and waxworms.
  • How big do Jackson's chameleons get? Male Jackson’s chameleons grow to 8–10" long, while females reach only 7–8".
  • How long do Jackson's chameleons live? As pets, chameleons live about 2–5 years with proper care.
  • Where can I buy a Jackson’s chameleon? Jackson’s chameleons can be found at Petco Pet Care Center locations; however, please call ahead to check availability.

Additonal Care Sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile. Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about Lizards and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If your pet is sick or you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.