Veiled Chameleon

Chamaeleo calyptratus

by Michael Fry

Copyrightę 1995 All Rights Reserved

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When you select a chameleon, it is equally important to choose the right species as it is to choose a healthy individual. There are many species of chameleons available. Some are much easier to keep than others. Some species are better left only to the experienced, while others are better suited to the beginner.

Veiled Chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are frequently referred to as the hardiest of the true chameleons. They are also one of the most colorful species of chameleons, making them ideal for beginners and experts alike. With proper care, they will not only survive, but thrive and breed in captivity.

Two distinct subspecies of Chamaeleo calyptratus have currently been identified C. calyptratus calyptratus and C. calyptratus calcarifer. Both are similar in appearance, with a few distinctions.

Animals of both subspecies display a large, cranial fin or casque. Males of both subspecies have higher casques than those of their female counterparts. However, the casques of C. c. calyptratus males are considerably larger than those of male C. c. calcarifer. Adult male C. calyptratus can reach lengths of up to 24 inches, including tail. Females are smaller, averaging about 13 inches in total length.

Both subspecies of C. calyptratus survive in the climatically diverse area of the western coast of Yemen and the southwestern coast of Saudi Arabia.

Yemen has a low coastal plain bordered by the Red Sea. This plain rises sharply into mountain peaks with can reach altitudes of 12,000 feet. This extreme topography creates different climates. Moisture evaporating from the Red Sea is trapped by the mountains. As a result, the low plains along the coast are not only hot, but humid as well. As the moisture moves up into the mountains, it forms clouds which rain down on the western slopes. Some areas here receive large amounts of rainfall. In Ibb, a town north of Ta'izz, the mountains receive as much as 80 inches of rain annually. This rainfall supports lush vegetation and an abundant insect population. Much of this rainfall does not reach the higher mountain regions, so the plateaus are much dryer. To the north, in Saudi Arabia, where the mountains are absent, the climate is quite arid.

Natural habitat of C. calyptratus can be divided into four different types:

This ability of C. calyptratus to survive this very diverse habitat is probably what has lead to it surviving so successfully in captivity. This species has been kept under a variety of different conditions and seems to readily adapt to different environments.

There is a common misconception that C. calyptratus require arid enclosures with little moisture, because they are native to the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, those animals more common in the pet trade generally originated from the more lush areas of Yemen. This is more evident when one looks farther at the population distribution of C. c. calyptratus and C. c. calcarifer. C. c. calcarifer inhabits the western arid coast of Saudi Arabia, while C. c. calyptratus lives in the remaining, more humid region to the south in Yemen. Since most of the animals available for sale in the US pet trade are C. c. calyptratus, it is clear that a lush, well-planted enclosure might be more appropriate. In the dryer areas of their region, sightings are usually associated with small bodies of water. So the availability of water and moisture should not be down-played with this species.

C. calyptratus is one of the most aggressive species of chameleons. For this reason, they should NEVER be housed together, or even in visual sight of another chameleon. Upon spotting another chameleon, both males and females will respond dramatically. The only exceptions to this are females who are receptive to mating. They will remain passive at the sight of a male. In all other cases, when a C. calyptratus sees another, they will respond aggressively. C. calyptratus housed in separate cages but in visual range to each other will expend a great deal of energy displaying to each other. They will neglect eating and drinking. The stress of this can weaken or kill them.