The Yemenite chameleon is an aggressive, brightly colored chameleon. Color is highly variable, even among hatchlings from the same clutch. Typically, they have a bold bands circling their body primarily of bright gold, green and blue mixed with yellow, orange or black. Very long cones on the gular crest. These reptiles live on Yemen’s high, dry plateau; Sana and grow to 15″.

Description

MALES have a larger body and casque (head crest or helmet) when mature. They are born with tarsal spur which, being visible at hatching, makes sexing quite simple. Males reach a total body length of 12″-19″ (30-47cm) within the first year (Tremper 1992) [or, males reach 12-17″ total length. DuBay1993]. Pastel green as hatchlings, mature male colors are bright blue, gold and green with orange and black. Some males may be bi- or tri-colored with any of these colors. Males are usually thin in appearance.

FEMALES, bearing a smaller head and casque, reach their full growth of 10″-14″ (25-35cm) within their first year. Their coloring is generally a light green with adults bearing some mottling of small spots which may be white, gold or light blue appearing on their dorsal crests. Unlike males, females are heavily bodied when mature.

HATCHLINGS are less than one inch at hatching, and are barely bigger at one month. Considered youngsters at 3-5″, they reach sexual maturity in four to five months (8-12″). Young veileds will grow faster if kept in a large enclosure out of doors.

Behavior and Physical Characteristics

STRESS

Veileds are shy in nature, and should be kept visually separate until breeding age (5 months). When startled or feeling threatened by another Veiled, they may drop to the floor of the enclosure, curl into a tight fetal position, darken and color, and “play possum.” Like opossums, it takes a considerable time until they feel secure enough to unfold and begin moving about again. Changing or rearranging the furnishings in the cage can cause stress; try to plan ahead and reduce the need for change.

SHEDDING

Shedding, which occurs over a period of several days, normally gives them a dry, uncomfortable look. Chameleons can be seen rubbing their rostrums against branches to loosen the skin on their faces. Shed skin is eaten by the chameleons. Salt frequently cakes around the nostrils.

HUNTING

Like all chameleons, Veileds have zygodactyl feet (toes grouped in opposition to each other), a perfect adaptation for life in the trees. Able to grasp branches and the edges of leaves, it can also wrap its prehensile tail around branches and twigs for added stability. Chameleons are not fast-moving animals. They combine their unique eyes and slow, stealthy movement to either sneak up on prey, or let unsuspecting prey come wandering into their path. The chameleon’s tongue is also specially adapted for this type of hunting.

Often as long, or longer, than the chameleon’s body, at rest the tongue sits at the bottom of the throat behind the head. When ready for action, the chameleon brings it forward. Two sets of muscles are used to eject and retract the tongue. The chameleon cannot change the direction of the tongue once it is in flight. Aim is taken just before the tongue is shot out, with both eyes focused on the prey. The tip is a sticky fleshy pad against which prey adheres; to help ensure success, a bit of the pad wraps around the prey, holding it until the retracted tongue – and food -reaches the chameleon’s open mouth. Like most lizards, chameleons to have small, almost transparent, teeth, visible as a serrated ridge when the mouth is open. Unlike most lizards, however, chameleons do chew their food, all the while searching for their next prey.

HEARING

Like snakes, chameleons have no external ears. Airborne sound vibrations are absorbed by a membrane of skin on the side of the head, directing them to a bony plate inside the skull. The bone (pterygoid plate) then funnels the vibrations down a tight, convoluted pathway to the inner ear. While the ear can sense sound ranging from 100 to 10,000 cycles, it best “hears” between 200-600 cycles, about what a snake “hears.” In other words, they hear sounds more like a tuba makes than a flute, not responding to sound frequencies above middle C on the piano.

SMELL

Chameleons have devolved their sense of smell, relying on vision for locating prey and predators rather than smell or hearing. While other reptiles that rely on smell to help them identify objects in their environment, chameleons have only the vestigial remains of this vomeronasal organ, called the Jacobson’s organ, which is inoperative.

VISION

Chameleons actually have, or had, two eyelids, an upper and a lower. As their eye structure evolved, however, their eyelids became fused together, all except one small place on both lids. Modern day chameleons now look at the world through the small opening left between the two lids, with only their pupil visible. When they sleep, they close this remaining space. Chameleons have the ability to look in two different directions at the same time, with their brain synthesizing sense out of the two separate images. With the reduced hearing and smelling capability, it appears that the chameleon brain is able to devote more cells to its visual sense. Occasionally, a chameleon will get a bit of dust or dirt or bit of plant matter in its eye. Instead of rubbing it with their toes, they puff their eyelids up with air, sometimes two or three times its usual size. If this doesn’t help clear it out, they may rub it against a branch. It may take several days for the debris to be dislodged, during which time the chameleon may keep the eye closed and puffed.

Color and Patterns

Most people think that chameleons change their colors and patterns to match the color and background they are on. In fact, they change their colors most often in response to emotional changes, or to communicate certain information to other chameleons. As you observe your chameleon, you will notice certain colors and patterns emerging: stress, new food, exploring new territory, nighttime/sleep, happy/content, alert and uncertain. Other patterns and colors will begin to show as the male chameleon reaches breeding age and works to attract a female and to keep other males away. A female signals her readiness for mating with one color combination, with another color or pattern when she has had enough. Threat responses include both color changes, flaring of the gular pouch, lateral compression of the body and coiling of the tail. Different species respond in different colors and patterns; study yours, note the conditions, and you will begin to “read” your chameleon.

Housing

A 10-gallon enclosure is the smallest that should be used for a single hatchling. A larger enclosure will be required once the chameleon reaches 7″ SVL. Unless you have a variety of enclosures laying around, it makes better sense to start off with a larger enclosure. As with all chameleons, C. calyptratus require well-ventilated enclosures, with screen (preferably 1/8″) on top and sides. As the chameleons become established and grow, they can be kept in a large wire cage furnished with plants, or just allowed to live and roam in a large indoor tree, with suitable lights spotted around to provide heat and UV light. Outdoor enclosures, with mesh small enough to keep out birds, cats and other wandering predators, furnished with plants and a drip area to provide daily water, are ideal for chameleons (so long as their temperature requirements are being met). House from April through October (temperature permitting in 1/8″ screen caging with bare soil and live plants. While they need access to direct sunlight, they also need shade they can go to thermoregulate themselves.

Substrate

No substrate is required; keep glass or plastic bottom of tank clean. Live plants can be placed in tank for roosting and hiding. Branches can be used to provide roosting and basking sites. Chameleons should not hang upside down from the top of their cage – this causes stress and possible burns from being too close to the heat light. If your chameleon persists in hanging out in this position, back the lights away so that no injury results.

Light

Veileds require exposure to UV light. This can be provided by the use of a Vita-lite, either the regular fluorescent tube or the new screw-in fluorescent which can be put in a regular incandescent bulb socket. Also on the market is the Chromalux bulb, which provides both full-spectrum and UV, but also generates considerable heat. These are incandescent bulbs which come in three wattages, and can be bought as regular bulbs and as silvered reflector lights.

Heat

These desert lizards require a hot, dry environment. The temperature gradient should be kept at 95-102F (Tremper 1992) or 92-100F basking zone (up to 105F for adults) during the day, with the daytime gradient dropping to 72. Lower nighttime temperatures, down to 65, can be sustained by adults.

Water / Humidity

Provide drinking water by placing a couple of ice cubes on the top screen, letting them melt, dripping into a shallow lid placed on the floor of the tank below. While a few drops splashed from the melting ice cubes is all right, the cage bottom should otherwise be kept dry. The one area of a plant can also be sprayed a couple of times a day with vitamin-laced water (such as Reptisolþ). Chameleons can also be hand-fed water by offering the tip of an eyedropper or syringe hub. As Veileds are desert chameleons, they have little need for humidity other than that already provided by the plant.

Food

Young Calyptratus feed on small two-week-old crickets, about 5-10 crickets once or twice a day, or small, freshly molted mealworms. Other prey items are regurgitated until the young reach 7″ STL. Supplement prey with a multivitamin with an appropriate level of calcium and Vitamin D3. It is absolutely essential that you feed your prey animals properly. For crickets, use poultry feed or tropical fish flakes mixed with reptile vitamins, with fruit offered for necessary moisture. Other commercial beetle larva (Zoophorba, waxworms, butterworms) and the occasional pink mouse can be offered to adult Calyptratus. Adults will also feed on live ficus and pothos leaves.

Reproduction

Keep males and females separate until mating. A receptive female won’t gape her mouth when approached by a courting male. Females turn from their usual light green to a blackish-green with blue and yellow spots on their bodies within 18 hours of a successful mating. Egg laying will occur between 20-30 days after mating. The typical clutch size is 35-85 eggs; breeding may occur three times a year, with clutches laid after each successful mating. Make an egg-laying site by filling a bucket with 4″-5″ of moist sand. Keep bucket (at least a 5 gallon) warm, between 82-86F. To incubate the eggs, fill one pint deli cups with 1.5 parts vermiculite/1.0 water by weight. Place the eggs in the cup (no more than 20 eggs per deli cup); leave half of the egg showing above the level of the incubating medium. Punch two pin-size holes in the clear top for ventilation. Maintain a daytime gradient of 80-84F during the days, with a nighttime drop to 70-75F. Hatching should occur between 144-220 days from laying.

Health

Captive born chameleons are much healthier, and less prone to stress, than are wild caught chameleons. Wild caught imported chameleons carry enormous parasite loads and are already highly stressed from the capture, holding and importation/distribution process, all of which combines to an early death in captivity. Captive born chameleons are generally free of parasite and bacterial infections, are used to being enclosed (or, at least, housed in an large enclosure or free-roaming in a tree or a room) and to seeing humans, and are used to feeding on the prey items offered in captivity.

Chameleon Information Network for Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana, and the Inland Empire

Join the Chameleon Information Network (CIN). You will receive a quarterly newsletter and the names of members why will be happy to answer questions you may have about the captive care and breeding of your chameleons. To subscribe, send a check or money order for $10 (for 1 year, $16 for two years) to: C.I.N., 271 Bennett Ave, #B, Long Beach CA 90803.

MAIL ORDER PREY SOURCES

Call and check for the latest prices and shipping charges. Depending upon where you are, it may vary considerably.

Armstrong Cricket Ranch – 1-800-345-8778

Triple-R Cricket Ranch – 1-800-526-4410

Top Hat Cricket Farm – 1-800-638-2555

Hurst Cricket Farm – 1-800-669-7304

ARBICO – 1-800-SOS-BUGS

Ghann’s Cricket Farm – 1-800-GRO-BAIT

Fluker Farms – 1-800-735-8537

Triple R may be the least expensive. They also sell mealworms (Tenebrio, Zoophorba). ARBICO sells a variety of fresh and dried flies and larvae. Check out this site for more info on fruit fly culturing and sources.