Chameleons are exotic pets that many people would love to own but are not well suited for inexperienced keepers. If you're going to take on the challenge of keeping chameleons, you have to feed them a specific chameleon diet to keep them healthy. Find out what chameleons can eat from the juvenile stage to adulthood.
Captive Chameleon Diet
According to Avian and Exotic Animal Care + Hospital, chameleons are mainly insect eaters, but many, especially veiled chameleons, will eat some leafy greens like collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and dandelion greens. Some adult chameleons will even accept the occasional pinkie mouse. You can feed your chameleon a varied diet of the following:
- King mealworms
- House flies
- Grain beetles
Some of these insects are readily available in pet stores, and you'll need to order others from companies that specialize in raising feeder insects for the pet industry. While you can collect insects yourself, you must be very careful where you collect them from because you don't want to expose your chameleon to pesticides and other chemicals.
The Importance of Calcium and Phosphorus in Chameleon Food
Chameleons require a calcium and phosphorus ratio of 2:1, according to Matthew Wheelock, DVM at Chameleons Online E-Zine. Unfortunately, most of the insects you can purchase at pet stores won't meet this requirement. This makes it necessary to supplement this lizard's diet with extra calcium.
If you have already equipped your pet's habitat with UVB lighting, which provides vitamin D-3 and is necessary for the absorption of calcium, you can just supplement once or twice a week. This should be sufficient to provide your pet with adequate calcium without running the risk of over-supplementation.
Dusting Chameleon Food
One way to do this is to dust the insects with a commercial vitamin and mineral supplement before you offer them to your pet, and it's easy to do:
- Carefully load several insects into a plastic bag.
- Add a couple of pinches of the calcium supplement to the bag.
- Gently shake the bag to coat the insects with the dust.
- Feed them to your pet.
Gut Loading Insects
Gut loading is another way to make insects more nutritious for your pet. After all, he's going to be eating whatever they have eaten before he consumes them. Feed your insects collard and mustard greens as well as other healthy foods like melon, rolled oats, sweet potatoes, spinach, and crushed beans. You can also offer your feeder insects a commercial cricket food designed especially for gut-loading feeder insects.
Feeding schedules and amounts vary slightly between growing juveniles and adult chameleons.
Feeding Juvenile Chameleons
According to PetMD, juvenile chameleons should have a constant supply of food, and you must be careful to feed them insects that are small enough for them to consume. Most enthusiasts find the pin-sized crickets are just the right size, and baby chameleons readily accept them. PetMD suggests feeding a juvenile anywhere from 12 to 20 of these small crickets each day.
Feeding Adult Chameleons
Adult chameleons should be fed insects every other day, and PetMD recommends feeding about 12 large crickets or five super worms on these days. You can also clip some leafy greens to a branch in their enclosures.
How Much Food to Offer
There's no standard number of insects you should feed at a single feeding. Offer your pet a few bugs at a time and then offer him one more to see if he'll take it. The size of the insects is naturally going to vary, so you can figure your pet will tend to eat more when you serve small insects. It will take a few insects to fill him up when you serve larger bugs.
Temperature and UV Lighting Aids in Digestion
Chameleons need a lot of warmth to help them digest their food. The temperature in your chameleon's basking area should remain between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ambient temperature in the rest of its habitat should be about 75 degrees F. While the heat helps your reptile digest food, a UV light will help your chameleon produce vital vitamin D which in turns helps him metabolize and process calcium. Without sufficient warmth and lighting, your chameleon will not likely thrive.
Feeding Chameleons Can Be a Challenge
Providing a varied, nutritious diet for a chameleon isn't easy. You need a constant supply of fresh insects to keep your pet satisfied and healthy. It takes a real commitment to keep that going year after year, so be prepared to meet that challenge and give your reptile the best diet you possibly can.