Chameleons are reptiles whose natural habitat is the African rainforests and deserts. Some species are carnivores, while others are omnivores. They are known for their ability to change color, their long tongues, and their eyes that can move independently of each other. What makes them an interesting animal is that they can change colors to blend in to their background or attract mates, but where do chameleons live?
There are over 150 species of chameleons in a wide range of sizes. Most chameleons are found in Madagascar and all over the African continent. However, some species live in Europe, India, and even North America, although they are not native to North America.
This article discusses where chameleons live in the wild and the climate they prefer when in captivity.
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Where Do Chameleons Live In The Wild?
Chameleons live mainly in rainforests and deserts in Africa, with a high concentration in Madagascar. While they are primarily found in Africa, some can be found in Europe, the Middle East, and Southern India.
Chameleons in Africa
The majority of chameleons are found in Africa. Over half of the 160 species of chameleon are found only on the island of Madagascar. Madagascar is also home to the most impressive and unique species of chameleons.
The continent of Africa covers a vast geographic area, so it has every climate imaginable. Chameleons can be found in most of these climates.
- Northern Africa. Northern Africa is mostly arid deserts, including the Sahara Desert. The chameleons native to Northern Africa thrive in dryness. While most species of chameleons prefer high humidity and mild climates, some species have adapted to survive and thrive in the desert.
- Central Africa. Central Africa covers a wide range of climates, so it is home to various chameleon species. Some species of chameleon that can be found in Central Africa include the Chamaeleo gracilis, the Chamaeleo senegalensis, the Chamaeleo dilepis, the Kinyongia xenorhina, and the Trioceros quadricornis.
- Southern Africa. Unique species of chameleons can be found in Southern Africa, including the dwarf Bradypodion species, Pygmy chameleons, Chamaeleo jacksoni, and the huge Chamaeleo melleri. Southern Africa is home to large mountain ranges. Montane species of chameleons live on or near mountains where the temperatures are cooler. These species have adapted to the cool temperatures and do not prefer high heat.
- Madagascar. As mentioned before, the island of Madagascar, located in Southern Africa, is home to over half of the world’s chameleons. Madagascar is the pinnacle of the chameleon world and is home to a wide range of chameleon species, from the biggest to the smallest to the most colorful. Some species are only found in Madagascar.
Chameleons in the Middle East
- Saudi Arabia. There are not as many species of chameleons living in the Middle East compared to Africa. The most notable country for chameleons is Saudi Arabia. Only a few species are native to Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. The most commonly found species of chameleon is the Chamaeleo calyptratus, or the veiled chameleon.
Chameleons in Europe
- Spain and Portugal. Only two species of chameleon are found in Europe – Chamaeleo chamaeleon and Chamaeleo africanis. These species are limited to areas in southern Spain and Portugal.
Chameleons in India
- Sri Lanka. One species of chameleon can be found in select areas in India. Sri Lanka is a large island off the southern tip of India and is home to the Chamaeleo zeylanicus.
Chameleons in North America
- Chameleons are not native to North America. However, some chameleons have hitchhiked on imported trees and produced a population. For example, there are now hundreds of thousands of Jackson’s chameleons and veiled chameleons on every island in Hawaii. These species are considered invasive. Another example is south Florida and southern California, where species of chameleons have established populations.
What Do Chameleons Need To Live Happily?
Most chameleon species live in trees and bushes. However, some species live in grass or small bushes. In an enclosure, chameleons need branches and plants because they dislike walking on flat surfaces.
Chameleons live in a variety of habitats, depending on their species. They are found in rainforests, lowlands, deserts, semi-deserts, mountains, and shrub savannahs.
Because different species of chameleons require different habitats, it is best to base their care on which species they are. If you have a pet chameleon or plan to bring a chameleon home, figure out where your species of chameleon is native to before creating its habitat.
Chameleons eat insects such as locusts, grasshoppers, mantids, crickets, and stick insects. Larger species of chameleons eat birds and small lizards. Other species, albeit few species, eat plant material as well. To determine what to feed your chameleon, it is best to first figure out what they eat in the wild.
The Diet of Different Species
Different species of chameleon require a different diet. Each chameleon species in the following list requires a unique diet when kept in captivity.
- The veiled chameleon, or Chamaeleo calyptratus, is native to Arabia and is insectivorous but eats leaves when water is not available. This species can be maintained on a diet of crickets and consume 15 to 20 crickets a day.
- The common chameleon, or Chamaeleo chamaeleon, is native to Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. This species eats mainly wasps and mantises. The common chameleon should not be fed crickets exclusively. Only half of their diet should be crickets. The other half should consist of a mixture of waxworms, earthworms, flies, grasshoppers, green leaves, oats, and fruit.
- Jackson’s chameleon, or Trioceros jacksoni, is native to Kenya and northern Tanzania. This species eats ants, butterflies, snails, caterpillars, lizards, worms, geckos, leaves, and berries. This species should be fed a mixed diet, including kale, lettuce, dandelion leaves, bananas, apples, tomatoes, crickets, and waxworms.
What Do Chameleons Need In Their Enclosure?
Your vivarium should be tall enough so that your chameleon can climb and be spacious enough to provide a thermal gradient. Avoid putting your chameleon in an all-glass enclosure, even if it has a screen top. This means you can not keep a chameleon in an aquarium. Wire mesh enclosures are best because chameleons need cross ventilation.
Your enclosure should have an escape-proof metal mesh top that fits snugly onto the tank. The top should have strong clips that lock it on. It must also be made of metal mesh so you can place a heat lamp on top of the cover.
Your chameleon also needs a heat pad. Heat pads help increase humidity and regulate the temperature of the entire tank. They are manufactured to be left on for twenty-four hours a day. They are much safer and more effective than heat rocks.
Reptile heat pads can be placed on the underside of the glass bottom of the enclosure. You can stick it on the glass on one of the far ends of the tank. Attach the rubber feet of the heat pad at all four corners of the underside of the tank.
Putting the heat pad on the underside of your tank prevents heat from being trapped underneath the enclosure. You can set your heat pad to low-medium heat for enclosures with wooden bottoms.
Heat lamps are also necessary. Place a heat dome with a bulb on top of the cage. You will also need a UVB light to let your chameleon synthesize vitamin D3 in their skin and metabolize calcium. Keep a constant day/night schedule as well as a heating schedule.
Chameleons need a moving water source since they can not recognize standing water as water. You can get a water “bubbler” or aerator to create a waterfall.
As for bedding, chameleons need loose coconut fiber substrate found in reptile departments at pet stores.
What Size Vivarium Should A Chameleon Live In?
The size of the vivarium your chameleon needs depends on its size. With the many different species of chameleons, they come in a wide range of sizes. Full-grown adult chameleons need a vivarium that is at least four feet long, three feet wide, and four feet high.
Do not believe the myth that animals will only grow as large as their container. This is not true. Your chameleon’s habitat must be large enough to comfortably enclose your chameleon at its biggest size.
What Is A Chameleon’s Natural Habitat?
It is hard to say what a chameleon’s natural habitat is because there are over 150 species that are native to many different countries, and therefore different climates.
Most species of chameleons prefer mild climates with high humidity. However, some species are adapted to desert-like conditions and will not thrive in high humidity.
Chameleons inhabit tropical and mountain rain forests as well as savannahs and deserts. Chameleons in the rain forest live mostly in trees or bushes. Some species live in low vegetations or on the ground.
What Climate Does A Chameleon Like To Live In?
In general, most chameleon species prefer warm climates with high humidity. However, there are 158 species of chameleons, each with their own preferences. Some desert chameleons do not like high humidity because they have adapted to the desert.
Chameleons make an exciting pet because they blend in to their habitats thanks to the color of their skin. They also can change color to either warm up or cool down. They turn darker to warm up because dark colors absorb heat more efficiently.
Another thing that makes chameleons unique is their long, sticky tongues. Some species of chameleon have tongues that can stretch out two to three times the length of their bodies. This helps them catch insects.
Most chameleons prefer a warm or mild climate with high humidity. The species found in southern Africa and Madagascar are native to rainforests and prefer high humidity. Montane species have adapted to cooler temperatures, and desert species have adapted to low humidity.
If you plan to keep a chameleon as a pet, you must research what species your chameleon is. This will help you provide the best habitat for your pet as well as feed them the proper diet.
Some species of chameleons can be maintained on crickets alone. Other species need a mix of diverse insects, and some need insects and plant material. To determine what to feed your chameleon, do your research or consult an expert.
The proper enclosure for a chameleon will be made with metal mesh to allow cross-ventilation. It will be large enough to comfortably keep a full-size chameleon and have a heat pad and heat lamp, a UVB light, running water, proper bedding, and plenty of branches and plants.
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