Pygmy Chameleon Care

Rhampholeon brevicaudatus

Pygmy Chameleon

Pygmy Chameleon by 'Threat to Democracy' (flickr)


A big thanks to 'peterspets' from RFuk for this care guide!

Pygmy Chameleon Housing

You will require a waterproof vivarium of sorts, this can be in the form of an aquarium, an exo terra glass terrarium or even a large critter keeper. This will need to be well ventilated at the top and escape proof for crickets (pygmy chameleons require small food, and small food can be particularly good at escaping). These chameleons can be kept in groups of up to about 8 maximum, although only 1 male can be kept in any group. They do not require huge amounts of space; You can keep a group of 3 females and 1 male in an exo terra 45 x 45 x 45(cm) cube easily, obviously you can work out how much space more or less chameleons need from this.

A 1 inch to 2 inch layer of hydroleca or hydroton needs to be placed in the base of the viv, this needs to be washed well first. This is then covered with a layer of weed membrane and then a good 4 inches or more of coco coir. There are more choices besides than coco coir, but I find this is the best. If you choose to use live plants I would use ficus Benjamin as this plant thrives well in the kind of environment you will be creating for your pygmy chameleon. It is quite cheap and is also the ideal plant for your chameleons to climb on. With all live plants please ensure you wash all the soil off the roots and also wash the leaves so there is no pesticides or fertilizer on them. I tend to plant mine directly into the soil at an almost horizontal angle, so the main stem is only a few inches off the floor.

You can cover the coco coir substrate with almond leaves, oak leaves, sphagnum moss etc. You will also need small diameter twigs to cover the floor with, I use hazel twigs with the bark scraped off. A good idea is to add tropical springtails to the substrate as they will eat any mould or fecal matter in the vivarium. You do not need live plants, artificial foliage is just as good if you are too fussed about creating a really natural looking environment.

In my experience I have found that backgrounds are more trouble than they are worth, I had a foam background in my first vivarium, I had to put more crickets in than was necessary as they hid all over the background, at the top etc. No water dish is needed as they drink from water droplets on leaves etc. You will need to mist twice daily minimum, once mid morning and once a few hours before night time. You can mist more in hot weather. It is essential that you have good ventilation so the moisture can clear quickly, stagnant air in a chameleon set up is the last thing you need.

These chameleons are shy and are easily stressed so it is a good idea to stick a background on the back and maybe even the sides of the vivarium, I use the picture ones of plants etc. They like it dark, these are different from normal chameleons, they live on the forest floor, well below the tree canopy, they live among the leaf litter with all the detritus, mould etc. For this reason it is a good idea to cover the tanks with some kind of sheet during the night so the environment is completely dark. Pygmy chameleons can live at altitudes of 5,000 feet, the air is thin, hardly any U.V. gets through to them and yet they thrive in this environment.


Heating and lighting

I would not use any light at all, I have tried it and if you think you want it I would use a low energy bulb, it is of my opinion that U.V. is not needed. Heating is not needed if you can keep the temps to 75f in the day and 65f at night, it is however a good idea to have a spare heat mat or other heat source just in case the temperature drops over a few days, a particular issue during cold winters. Overheating represents a real threat to your pygmy chameleon so you need to be careful to avoid this, taking time to monitor temperatures particularly during heat waves.

70% humidity is needed, in the base of the vivarium you should see about half an inch of water in the hydroton layer, also the substrate should be damp all the time. Do not use tap water, unless it is treated to remove the chlorine etc. I use the cheapest supermarket bottled water and have had no problems. You can use R.O. water or rainwater.


Pygmy Chameleon Food

Size 2 banded crickets are an ideal staple food as they do not bite and contain less chitin than other crickets, I look after my crickets by feeding them with carrot, readybrek and bug gel. I feed about 2 a day each, sometimes missing a day. I dust with calcium every other day, a tiny, tiny pinch is all that is needed. I also use nutrobal once fortnight, again only a tiny, tiny pinch. You can feed with other livefoods although crickets should be the main diet. I sometimes put drosophila in, this keeps them occupied, and they have no great nutritional value compared to a cricket so they will not overfeed.

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