What is the proper lighting setup for a pet chameleon?

It is quite easy to see many pet lovers have considered taking chameleons as one of their pets. They are unique creatures with unusual features that set them apart from other house pets. If you decide to keep one as a pet, you need to know that these colorful creatures are quite fragile and have very specific needs. For them to live long and healthy, you will need to provide them the right care. That includes setting up the appropriate habitat where they can move around and do their regular routines. The set up will also include the proper lighting as cold-blooded animals like chameleons will need an outer source of heat and light so that they can self-regulate their body temperatures. If you fail to provide them with these specific needs, they will just soon fall sick.

Additional interesting facts about chameleons:

  • Veiled chameleon eggs take anywhere from 150 to 200 days to hatch. For the egg of a rare Parson’s chameleon, however, it takes about two years.
  • A chameleon’s tongue has an unusual ability. As its tongue is naturally longer than its body, it can be extended to a remarkable length.
  • They like running water rather than still water. That’s why you’ll see them drinking water drops from leaves after a heavy rain.
  • The term chameleon is derived from the words “chamai” and “leon” which means “earth lion” in Greek.
  • Shedding skin is a normal cycle for chameleons. Younger chameleons shed as frequent as two to three weeks. The shedding slows down as they age, however. A fully mature chameleon may shed every or twice a month.
  • The incubation period for egg-laying species takes from 4-24 months, so be patient.
  • Small species of chameleons lay 2 to 4 eggs, large species, however, lay 80 to 100 eggs.
  • Each of a chameleon’s eye can be turned 360 degrees at the same time, either looking in the same direction or different things.

Professional lizard owners understand that significance of UVB lighting in lizard care. Still, their positions regarding the specifics of delivering appropriate lighting to various lizard species vary. Note that even though these lizard has been gifted with unusual features, it still has very specific requirements when it comes to proper care as they are more fragile than many other lizard species. As such, it is critical that adequate UVB lighting is provided for them to ensure a desirable overall health.

UVB: A Vital Element to a Chameleon’s Health

Chameleons need adequate levels of the activated form of vitamin D (known as D3) in its bloodstream so that it can properly use dietary calcium. Lizards transform dietary vitamin D to D3 when they are exposed to light which has wavelengths from 290 to 315 nanometers (this is the UVB part of the light spectrum). In their natural habitat, these lizards absorb UVB radiation from the sun.

To provide adequate best UVB bulb for hameleons, keepers use commercially produced full-spectrum reptile bulb or by regularly exposing their pets to natural unfiltered sunlight.

Geographic Locations and Behavioral Considerations

More than 150 species of chameleons can be found from Spain to India and south to Madagascar. Over this vast geographic locations, these lizards experience a wide range of UVB levels, as they are exposed to the sun’s radiation with changing latitude and habitat. In addition to this, the behavior of chameleons changes greatly, as many of them are forest floor dwellers like the stump-tailed chameleons (Brookesia peyrierasi), others, like the veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) live, unprotected and exposed, on branches atop dry plateaus.

To determine the appropriate UVB lighting for your lizard, you also need to consider its natural habitat and behavior. For lizards that live near the rainforest floor that is exposed to very high UVB levels, a relatively low UVB lighting source will just be fine. However, for those who naturally came from a habitat with higher UVB levels, like forest-edge habitats, should be provided with higher levels of UVB lighting.

UVB Rating

Most bulbs are rated for the percentage of their overall radiation as emitted in the UVB range. Those categorized as low-UVB bulbs produce 1 to 2 percent UVB, moderate bulbs produce 4 to 5 percent UVB, and some high-UVB output bulbs produce about 10 percent or more of their radiation in the UVB part of the light spectrum. When buying a UVB light for your pet’s enclosure, it is necessary that you read the packaging carefully, as many bulbs are packaged as “full-spectrum” bulbs but do not actually produce UVB light.

Bulb Types

A full-spectrum fluorescent tube is a much-favored option for hobbyists as they  are available in a wide variety of sizes, wattages, as well as UVB concentrations. The drawback to this type of lighting source is that they do not produce any heat at all. To keep your pet warm, you will need to install a separate basking light. Compact fluorescent bulbs have been available in the marketplace for some time now. However, independent testing in its efficacy in contributing to proper pet care is still in its early phase.

Mercury vapor bulb is another lighting option. It is known to produce high levels of UVB radiation. Mercury vapor bulbs produce both light and heat. However, these bulbs are more expensive than fluorescent bulbs and may also produce too much heat for some species.

Best Practice

It is highly recommended for chameleon keepers to provide moderate UVB levels to species from generally warm habitats. For those lizards that spend much time in the shade, bulbs that emit low UVB levels are more appropriate. Chameleons naturally seek out UVB light. However, it is not yet established whether the behavior is self-limiting as some chameleons have the tendency to expose themselves to too much UVB. As a result, they tend to develop health problems.

An appropriate lighting for a pet chameleon, lights should be placed  top of a screen top instead of one that is made from glass or plastic. You also need to make sure that the lizards can crawl to within a foot of the light. Also note that the light needs to be turned on for 10 to 14 hours each day, depending on the season as well as the native habitat of the chameleon.

Note, however, that lighting is only part of the many other requirements of your pet to live healthy longer. Make sure that you are thoroughly knowledgeable of all things that will contribute to your pet’s overall health.