Chameleons embody an assortment of unusual adaptations: alien feet, panoramic vision, and a record breaking tongue length. Can you blame me for staring? Of course, I can't ignore their most stunning trait: an ever-changing skin tone, which is used to convey mood, regulate temperature, and sure, some chameleons use it for camouflage. There are over 200 known species of chameleons in the wild, but in captivity, the Veiled Chameleon (Chameleo Calyptratus) rules the reptile industry. If you've made your way to this article, you're probably wondering: What do Veiled Chameleons eat? Well, to understand these glamorous pets, you must start with their wild cousins.
Around half the wild population of chameleon is located in the islands of Madagascar, the rest are scattered across deserts, jungles, and mountains. Instinctual insectivores, they launch their projectile tongues at any bug that comes within reach. Except, in the bushes of the Arabian Peninsula, Veiled Chameleons aka Jemen Chameleons have developed a surprising taste for foliage. They wander in a stealthy search for protein, grazing plants and flowers along the way. In captivity, scores of Veiled Chameleons appreciate the variety vegetables add to their diet and benefit from the nutrition and moisture that comes with it.
What Are The Best Greens To Feed My Veiled Chameleon?
By simply walking into the produce section of your local super market, you will see many foods that can be incorporated into your lizard's diet. But, there are harmful foods as well. Whether they cause gradual or immediate ailment, you should be wary of spinach, iceberg lettuce, avocados, onions, rhubarb, and many more. Before introducing a new item, it's best to do a little research to ensure the item is safe. Here is a list of healthy foods to feed your Veiled Chameleon:
Veiled Chameleon Food List (plants)
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Dandelion greens
- Sweet potato
- Sweet red peppers
How Often Should I Feed My Veiled Chameleon?
Growing chameleons should be fed insects once or twice a day, greens and vegetables can be offered daily or multiple times per week, leaving fruits as weekly treats. An adult Veiled Chameleon's appetite won't be as demanding, so feeding can be reduced to an every other day basis, maintaining the same schedule for plant matter.
What If My Veiled Chameleon Won't Eat Vegetables?
Insects are the main component of the baby Veiled Chameleon diet. Most hatching chameleon's refuse plant matter, but offering fruits and vegetables from a young age could help establish the habit of eating them when they're older. They may start taking to the food more regularly as they grow, some even prefer it to insects. Nevertheless, Veiled Chameleons have been known to continue acting as insectivores their whole adulthood. Your chameleon's preferences cannot be changed, but don't worry. Your lizard can be fully sustained from insects so long as you take measures to produce proper nutrition in each meal.
In the video below you can see a Veiled Chameleon that absolutely enjoys every food offered. Fruits, Vegetables and of course insects! It is so cute!
Let´s Talk About Crawlies! - Feeder Insects
The world of reptiles is packed with bug lovers. Meaning: the reptile industry could not prosper without a steady source of feeder insects. Your first thought was most likely of crickets, the top used meal for captive reptiles in the pet industry. Yet, insects are the most diverse group of animal's on planet earth, surely crickets can't be the only option? When you're looking for this type of Veiled Chameleon food, there are a few things to consider:
There is no shortage of size options for insects, from fruit flies to super worms and every stage in between. It's best to follow a simple rule of thumb when choosing what your chameleon will eat: An insect should be roughly the same size as the space between the reptile's eyes. Feeding anything larger than that space poses the risk of choking.
I'm sure you already know that insects are invertebrates who's spines have been traded out for a hard outer shell. This shell is made of a substance called chitin, which, depending on the insect, can become an issue upon excessive feeding. Mealworms, for example, are notorious for their highly chitinous shells. After eating them as a staple, your poor chameleon may eventually succumb to impaction.
After buying a bag of crickets from your local pet store, it might feel as if your Veiled Chameleon is literally eating your wallet. At $0.07-$0.12 per cricket, each meal they eat will quickly add up to unsustainable prices. But your wallet can avoid such a gruesome fate; online vendors sell a variety of insects for a major discount. Ever receive a box of 2,000 worms in the mail? It's more fun than it may sound.
Moisture, ash, protein, and fat content are the main components of feeder nutrition. Insects that contain more protein and moisture will obviously be healthier than those containing high levels of fat and ash. Unfortunately, many of the most common feeders were bred for quantity rather than quality. It is up to you to decipher what goes into your Veiled Chameleon's diet. Here I will go over the nutritional value of some common feeders insects:
Veiled Chameleon Food List (Insects)
- = Okay on a daily base
(Although I recommend to stick with crickets, roaches and locusts on a regular base.)
- = Use as treat
- Crickets ( 69% moisture, 1% ash, 21% protein, 6% fat)
- Dubia Roaches ( 61% moisture, 2% ash, 28% protein, 7% fat)
- Horn Worms ( 85% moisture, ?% ash, 9% protein, 3% fat)
- Butter Worms ( 58% moisture, 1% ash, 16% protein, 5% fat)
- Locusts (65% moisture, 1% ash, 20% protein, 11% fat)
- Phoenix Worms ( ?% moisture, ?% ash, 17% protein, 9% fat)
- Meal worms ( 64% moisture, 1% ash, 19% protein, 14% fat)
- Super worms ( 59% moisture, 1% ash, 19% protein, 15% fat)
- Silk Worms ( 76% moisture, 7% ash, 64% protein, 10% fat)
- Wax Worms ( 62% moisture, 1% ash, 16% protein, 20% fat)
Gut loading - Make The Food Healthy!
You've learned to judge an insect on size, digestibility, affordability, and nutritional value, but the type of bug you're feeding will never be as vital as how the bug lived. Gut loading, the process of feeding nutritious foods to insects previous to being eaten, is the most important aspect to a reptile's diet. Passing the vitamins and nutrition from bug to lizard becomes especially important to Veiled Chameleons who don't consume vegetables themselves. With an empty stomach, insects are practically junk food.
There are three main methods of gut loading insects. Personally, I recommend using a mix of these. Your local pet store may sell commercial gutloads, such as Fluker's High-Calcium Cricket Diet. Most commercial feeds are not recommended for use as a main nutrient source, but like I mentioned before, are fine along-side other options. If you're keen on the idea of buying your gutload, many insect vendors create and sell their own formulas. Some are high quality mixes, created by experienced bug breeders and reptile keepers, but it depends on the individual seller. Use your best judgment when choosing. Alternative to buying pre-made gutloads, you can make your own. Try not to be intimidated by this, as making a gutload is essentially just blending dried vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, or pre-formulated animal foods such as bird and reptile pellets together.
In combination with the dry portion of your gutload, most reptile keepers recommend feeding insects wet foods as well. This means giving the bugs what you should be offering your chameleon: fresh greens, vegetables, and fruits. Gutload 12 to 24 hours before the insects are ingested by your Veiled Chameleon, and, tadaaa! Your lizard has officially eaten a very healthy meal!
Breeding Bugs - Interested In Becoming A Bug Papa/ Mama?
You can buy from pet stores, order in bulk, or, as I'm about to discuss, breed your own insects. The process of breeding insects can be steadfast or tumultuous, depending on many factors. In the best case, it can save you heaps of money, as well as supplying endless, regenerating meals for your Veiled Chameleon. Is it really worth the effort for you, though, when you can buy relatively cheap insects online?
Should I breed my own insects?
Breeding insects takes time, effort, and a small handful of cash. Maintaining a whole colony (or more) of bugs will be efficient to those who's reptile collection is large enough to warrant such measures. If you require over a thousand bugs per month, then it would be smart to consider cutting costs through breeding. For the people who only plan to own a Veiled Chameleon or two, the benefits may not outweigh the hassle. There is one exception to this rule, however. Insects that are highly nutritious but too pricey to order in bulk. I believe these are worth breeding for reptile enthusiast with one lizard or ten!
Dubia Roaches (The most recommended breeder insect)
Dubia Roaches are widely considered the best breeder insect, and sometimes the best feeder altogether. These roaches make hearty meals, but can cost up to $1.00 per adult female. This is mainly caused by their indefectible breeding habits. Females can live up to three years, live-bearing nymphs (baby roaches) every month. Their inability to escape caging, infest your house, or fly makes them easy to work with. Not to mention, they lack a stench and don't lay eggs that require incubation. Dubia Roaches make easy, long-lasting, and ultimately ideal breeders.
A Quick Word On Parasites
Once you buy a Veiled Chameleon, it is safest to run a fecal exam, checking for parasites or viruses which could have been contracted in their previous home. After you're sure the animals is clean, keeping it separate of other potential carriers (other pets) reduces the risk of infection, but you're still not in the clear. The insects that you feed your chameleon are capable of passing parasites to your pet without you even knowing. Fecal exams should be run multiple times a year to prevent any parasites from getting out of hand.
Supplements - Overview
By providing a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit, greens, and gutloaded insects, your Veiled Chameleon will have ingested numerous vitamins and minerals. In an artificial environment, however, diet alone isn't always enough to sustain health. I suggest you utilize to a schedule of supplements in addition to their meals.
Calcium deficiency and MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) is common in the reptile industry, making calcium an essential supplement for your chameleon's well being. You should look for a powdered calcium supplement that lacks phosphorus, and usually vitamin D3. While both vitamins are necessities in their diet, each can be hazardous when too much is present in the system. Phosphorus binds to calcium, making it unusable and D3 becomes toxic in excess. Most insects are high in phosphorous and if your Veiled Chameleon is exposed to proper UVB levels, it should be able to produce D3 itself. A multi-vitamin supplement should also be added to their meals. Keep note that while excess calcium can be expelled through liquid in a reptile's stool, your chameleon could over-dose on multi-vitamins. To ensure the health of your Veiled Chameleon, dust insects lightly with calcium three times a week, and multi-vitamins twice a month.
Recommended Veiled Chameleon Supplements
Now that you know everything I can tell you about the Veiled Chameleon Diet, what will you do with the information? Whether you stash it in the back of your mind, dive into a rabbit hole of further research, or rush to find a chameleon of your own, I hope you remember the wild cousins of these glamorous pets. From specialized panoramic vision, to a tongue that's longer than the length of their bodies, the Veiled Chameleons of the Arabian Peninsula really are one of the most unique creatures this world has to offer. Sometimes I wonder: Do they have dreams of the juiciest bugs and freshest greens being served to them by human butlers as they sleep, clinging to the twigs of treetops? Probably not, but that doesn't mean our pets don't deserve the best they can get.
I´d love to read from you in the comment section below if this Jemen Chameleon Diet Guide has helped you