The veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus), the most popular and best-selling chameleon across the nation, is native to the Middle East, specifically modern-day Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Within their natural habitats, veiled chameleons tend to prefer coastal mountainous regions, particularly those with significant rainfall. However, they have spread across the globe, even establishing populations as far away as Maui and as close as Florida.
Veiled chameleons are notable for their color-changing capabilities, with a variety of striped or spotted patterns. They are particularly easy to differentiate by gender, as males have a protrusion known as a tarsal spur on their hind legs. A healthy male veiled chameleon will grow to nearly two feet in length and live for approximately six to eight years. Females are slightly less vibrant, are typically a few inches shorter and have a shorter lifespan, typically living only four to six years. However, both sexes of chameleons can live longer when given a safe, clean environment.
Veiled chameleons—and chameleons in general—often have a poor reputation of being finicky or requiring a more advanced level of care. In the past, this may have been the case, but thanks to advances in captive breeding, veiled chameleons are better acclimated to life as a pet than their previously wild-caught cousins.
However, chameleons typically do not enjoy being handled. Some pet owners may be used to bearded dragons or other lizards that prefer handling, but chameleons can grow stressed or even become unhealthy from excessive handling. When handling a chameleon, retailers should encourage their staff and customers to simply allow the chameleon freedom of movement, letting it proceed across an arm or across hands as it feels comfortable. Chameleons do prefer heights, so don’t be surprised if a chameleon finds its way to the top of your head.
Another contributing factor to veiled chameleons’ poor reputation may stem from their preferred housing. Veiled chameleons prefer screened tanks, which allow for free and easy airflow across the enclosure. However, with many other reptiles thriving in glass-walled enclosures, even experienced reptile keepers fall into error, keeping their chameleons in enclosures that are better suited to snakes or other lizards. This sort of environment fosters respiratory infections in chameleons and poor health overall in the long term.
If you plan to stock veiled chameleons in your store, be sure that you also carry the proper enclosures necessary to house those chameleons. These chameleons require a hot, humid environment with ultraviolet B (UVB) lighting as well. The floor of a chameleon enclosure should be kept bare, however, to prevent the spread of bacteria and fungi. House adult veiled chameleons separately; keeping multiple adult chameleons in the same enclosure can stress out the chameleons and lead to fighting.
Be sure that any enclosure, whether in the store or in the customers’ home, has a good variety of vines and foliage on which the veiled chameleons can climb and bask.
Good choices for plants include ficus and hibiscus, as well as schefflera. These plants not only provide shade and climbing area for chameleons, but also help to maintain humidity within the enclosure. Some chameleon keepers have gone so far as to create drip systems for their enclosures, providing a slow, steady source of both humidity and drinking water. However, avoid water features in a chameleon enclosure; veiled chameleons often use such water sources to defecate, which can turn an attractive waterfall into a potentially toxic mess.
While veiled chameleons do not require a water dish—it’s better to mist them twice a day with a spray bottle of clean water—they do require both a heat bulb to maintain homeostatic body temperature as well as a UVB bulb to generate necessary vitamins and minerals. UVB exposure should be made in conjunction with any vitamin or calcium supplement added to your chameleon’s diet.
A veiled chameleon’s diet provides an advantage for a canny store owner. Chameleons are voracious eaters, requiring daily or every-other-day feedings. With each of these feedings requiring vitamin and calcium supplementation, the profits for a store owner who carries these items should be obvious. A store can thrive upon these necessities, becoming a one-stop-shop for any chameleon owner. Given this, retailers should ensure their stores have a regular, consistent stock of crickets, including gut-loaded or other vitamin-providing insects, as well as necessary supplements. Keeping these items, as well as those that a reptile owner will seek to include in their enclosures, will keep chameleon-owning patrons coming back for more.
And for those who might need another incentive to carry these amazing animals: a single veiled chameleon can easily consume over $600 per year in crickets. Thus, the sale of the pet should not be a retailer’s focus as much as stocking the food and supplies that will result in maximum profits.