Often recommended as a beginner’s chameleon, the Yemen (or Veiled) chameleon is a fascinating animal to keep, and is justly popular in captivity. Whilst being somewhat more complicated to keep than some other species, it is very possible to give a Yemen chameleon a long and happy life as a pet.
Found across Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Yemen, this species of chameleon originates from drier habitats than you might think. Its varied habitats – plateaus, mountains, and valleys – are what make it such a good captive; the species’ ability to thrive in such a lot of different temperatures and humidities mean that its needs are easier to meet than those of more delicate species. It has also been introduced to Florida and Hawaii, where it thrives in the wetter environment.
Although the wild Yemen chameleon very rarely sees rain, its moisture needs are met by night time fogs and morning dew. It’s not an open desert chameleon, but is found in trees and shrubs near to a water source. In a captive situation, they will drink water droplets sprayed on to leaves, or can absorb a large amount of moisture through the lungs if fogged overnight.
As a relatively large animal (males 43 to 61cm/17 to 24” total length, females 35cm/14”) housing needs to be spacious. Wooden or glass vivariums of 90 x 90 x 60cm/36 x 36 x 24” work very well, although wooden vivariums must be well sealed and very well ventilated. Glass terrariums are suitable as long as they have a mesh roof and additional ventilation low down in front or at the sides. Mesh terrariums are often recommended, but are impossible to keep draught free; in a temperature and humidity controlled environment or in a sunny corner of the garden they work fine, but in a domestic situation they are rarely effective.
UVB lighting is essential, and should be provided with a T5 unit across the top of the vivarium. Ideally, use the stronger bulbs – 10 or 12% – and provide plenty of shade, so that your pet can self regulate their UV exposure. Heat should be supplied via a white basking bulb suspended above the habitat. Temperatures should be 30 to 35ºC in the warmest area, with an ambient of 24 to 32ºC – all heat sources should be controlled with a thermostat. At night the temperature can drop to between 19 and 24ºC, which means that in many centrally heated homes no supplemental heating will be needed at night. If it is, it should be provided with a ceramic heater on a thermostat. Always check temperatures with a good digital thermometer.
Water should be provided via droplets sprayed on to leaves and raised humidity at night. Automated sprayers and drippers are available, but the vivarium should be allowed to dry out between soakings.
Yemen chameleons can be greedy, and will accept any livefoods offered to them. Some of them will accept salad and flowers, but this varies between individuals. Always offer them greens, and make sure that both livefood and greenery are always dusted with a good multivitamin/multimineral supplement or calcium.
Be very careful with females; if overfed, it’s extremely common for them to try and produce eggs when they are too young, which can lead to fatal egg binding. Be sure that a female always has a deep enough substrate to dig in if she feels the need to lay eggs. The males are notoriously grumpy, but if hand fed and handled gently from a young age most of them can be trained to become friendly.