Jackson's Chameleon

Chamaeleo jacksonii

by Michael Fry

Copyrightę 1996 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.

Jackson's chameleons were probably the first chameleons to be kept successfully in captivity. They are a small to medium-sized lizard. Males are equipped with three horns, one on their nose (referred to as the rosteral horn) and one which extends from each of the orbital ridges around the eyes (these horns are called preocular horns). Females may have no horns, only the rosteral horn, or all three horns.

C. jacksonii are native to Mt. Meru and Mt. Kenya in Africa. However, in 1972 36 animals were imported to Hawaii to be sold in pet shops. When they arrived, they were released into the back yard of a pet shop owner to recover from the stress of importation. These 36 animals have since established a sizable (although inbred) population of wild C. jacksonii in Hawaii. This Hawaiian population is the source of nearly all of the animals for sale in the United States.

There have been three distinct subspecies of C. jacksonii identified, C. j. jacksonii, C. j. merumontana, and C. j. xantholophus, the later being by far the most common of the animals available in the US pet trade.

C. jacksonii are easily identified. Adults are green and reach maximum length of approximately 10 inches (total length). Both males and females have a distinctive dorsal ridge that displays a very rough pattern of saw-tooth-shaped scales. All forms of C. jacksonii have no gullar crest. This can also help identify this species and differentiate them from other three-horned species of chameleons.

The natural habitat of C. jacksonii receives as much as 50 inches of rain annually. So humidity and water availability is critical for this species. As a true montane chameleon, C. jacksonii require cooler temperatures and one might expect from an equitorial reptile. Average daytime temperatures in their natural habitat is about 75 degrees F. Evening temperatures frequently drop to 60 degrees F or lower. Therefore, it is best in captivity that temperarures not exceed 80 degrees F. Young animals should not be exposed to temperatures in excess of 78 degrees.

Despite the preference for cooler temperatures, these animals are avid baskers. However, care needs to be taken that animals do not overheat as a result of basking lights which are too warm. Signs of heat stress in C. jcaksonii include a lightening of the skin and open-mouth breathing.

C. jacksonii is not an aggressive chameleon. Territorial battles between males are largly ritualistic. For successful long-terms housing of this species, however, it is best to house animals individually.

When purchasing a C. jacksonii make sure you are purchasing a captive bred animal from a known and respected breeder in the continental US. Many animals are colleced from the wild in Hawaii and sold in the United States under the label 'captive bred'. Animals collected in the wild of Hawaii suffer from the same parasite problems that are observed in their African counterparts. They have just as much difficulty making the adjustment to captive life and any other wild caught chameleon. So Hawaiian wild caught animals should not be considered as pets.