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Chameleon Nutrition: The Food They Eat




Chameleons are insectivorous lizards that have a varied diet in the wild, largely consisting of two types of animals: insects and invertebrates. These include:

  • Locusts
  • Crickets
  • Worms
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Grasshoppers
  • Flies

Larger species, like the Parson’s chameleon, can eat small birds, rodents, and lizards. Some chameleons will also eat plants.

This is their main diet in the wild, but in captivity, their diet is more limited to the types of insects and worms that are easy to raise and breed.

What To Feed a Pet Chameleon

As pets, chameleons will need to be fed a varied diet to enable them to get a broad range of nutrients into their system. A varied diet also prevents them from stopping eating if they get bored.

Keeping and breeding insects for pet food is now a large commercial operation with plenty of suppliers to buy from, either online or in pet stores.

The most common foods available for pet chameleons are presented in the table below. The nutritional information assumes that the insects are properly gut loaded and kept in good condition.

You should rotate staple foods every few weeks or so to keep your chameleon interested and you should offer two or three treats no more than once a week.

Crickets77%23%7%2%1%1:9Staple Food
Locusts62%20%9%4%n/a1:6Staple Food
Morio Worms58%20%18%3%1%1:8High in fat so treats only
Horn Worms85%9%3%1%1%1:3Illegal to use in the UK
Silk Worms83%13%1%3%1%1:2.4Only for treats as can’t be gut loaded
Butter Worms60%16%29%1%1%1:18High in fat so treats only
Phoenix Worms61%18%11%3%4%1:5:1
Wax Worms59%14%25%3%<1%1:7High in fat so treats only
Dubia Roaches66%23%7%3%1%1:3Excellent Staple Food

Protein, fat, and fiber perform largely the same function in reptiles as they do in humans. Too much or too little can also cause similar problems in reptiles as they do in humans.

You may be wondering, though, what on earth is ash? And what does Ca:Pa mean?

Well, ash is all the leftover bits that aren’t the nutrients listed above. These are usually salts, minerals and vitamins.

Ca:Pa is the calcium to phosphorous ratio. Chameleons need a Ca:Pa ratio of around 2:1 in order to properly digest phosphorus.

As you can see, both the ash content and Ca:Pa ratio of all the insects listed are low. This explains why, when feeding a pet chameleon, we need to supplement their diet and gut load the insects before feeding.

Gut loading chameleon food

Gut loading simply means allowing the insects you intend to feed your chameleon to eat a variety of nutritious food for up to 24 hours before feeding time. I usually allow the insects to eat the night before.

You need to see the insects you feed your chameleon as empty containers into which you feed nutritious food. The nutrients resting in the insect’s gut will be passed on to your chameleon when they eat it.

The type of nutritious food really can be anything healthy. The foods I use are mainly romaine lettuce, sweet potato, broccoli, squash and fresh fruit. Think of all the goodness you eat (or should eat) to stay healthy. Those are the sorts of foods you gut load your chameleon’s food with.

Commercial gut loading formulas like Repashy Superload are available to sprinkle on the insect’s food to give an extra nutritional boost.

Supplementing a chameleon’s diet

Supplementing involves sprinkling multi vitamin and calcium powders on to the insects that get fed to your chameleon.

This is because of the low levels of vitamins and poor calcium:phosphorous ratios seen in all feeder insects for chameleons.

It’s very important to include this in your chameleon’s feeding schedule. Without supplements, your chameleon will begin to suffer various illnesses from poor nutrition.

Chameleons should be given calcium without vitamin D3 at every feed, calcium without vitamin D3 every other week and a multivitamin supplement every other week.

Please see my article on chameleon supplements for a more detailed explanation.

How much should a chameleon eat

How much a chameleon eats is dependent on what stage of life they’re at.

Baby chameleons are like food dustbins! They eat so much food for such a tiny little creature. Up until the age of 6 months they need to be fed as much as they can eat, which is usually up to 15 small insects, twice a day.

Between 6 and 12 months their appetite slows down just a little bit, and they get fed once a day up to around 10 medium-sized insects.

After this their eating patterns are quite sporadic but offering them up to 6 full sized insects every 2 or 3 days means they eat pretty consistently.

Try not to over feed your chameleon in adulthood, as they can become obese and/or go off their food entirely. I talk more about how much to feed a chameleon here.

Fruits & Vegetables

They can eat these, but a lot of the time they are not interested in them. If you want to try and offer your chameleon any, these are good:

  • Kale
  • Romaine
  • Lettuce
  • Dandelion
  • Collared Greens
  • Escarole
  • Rocket
  • Carrots
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potato
  • Red Pepper
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Pear
  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Berries

Don’t worry if your chameleon doesn’t want to eat them. Their taste for these varies from one chameleon to the next.

It’s more important to make sure these nutritious foods are included in gut loading rather than trying to get your chameleon to eat fruits and vegetables individually.

Why is my chameleon not eating?

The main reason a chameleon stops eating is it is being overfed the same insect too often.

This is why I highlight the importance of rotating both staple foods and treat food on a regular basis.

Other reasons your chameleon is not eating can be a result of a parasite infection, incorrect set up with regard to lighting and maintaining incorrect temperatures, or if your chameleon is female and is ready to lay eggs.

I talk more in detail about why your chameleon might not be eating here.

To Wrap Up

Feeding a chameleon needn’t be a difficult task. The key thing to remember is that insects need to be gut loaded and supplemented.

The best way to make sure your feeder insects are in great condition for your chameleon is to treat them as a separate pet.

This means you should feed them with healthy and nutritious food like vegetables, make sure you keep them in a separate well ventilated container to the one they arrive in so that it is large enough for them to have plenty of space, and that you keep it sufficiently clean by removing dead insects frequently.

Keep in mind that every chameleon is different and not all will like the same foods but if you offer them the ones listed here and broadly stick to the outlined feeding schedule, your chameleon should be able to live a long and healthy life on a healthy, nutritious and varied diet.

About the author

Beginner’s Course

Thinking about getting a chameleon? Or maybe you just want to brush up on the basics? Then click here to check out my free beginner’s course. It gives you a good overview of everything you need to get started.

4 responses to “Chameleon Nutrition: The Food They Eat”

  1. Beverly avatar

    I found the information you shared very helpful. You see when my grandson, and his little family, talked to me about moving in for a while they went out and purchased a chameleon and a gecko. The move has been slow in taking place. I have been providing their care and feeding as a result. Since I am a novice at providing for them I am worried I might do something to harm them, or God forbid, be the cause of their demise. The good news is, I am really enjoying them. I am going to by save your information so I can refer back to it as needed.

    1. Dave avatar

      Thanks for your comment, Beverly. I’m pleased to hear my website has been helpful to you . I’m also pleased to hear that you’re enjoying caring for them. Sounds like you’re doing great!

  2. Karrina avatar

    Hi! I just got a 2 year old male from a family friend and he hasn’t been handled much and has really only been eating crickets. What should I feed him to help gain some weight? He has no interest in the crickets anymore and so I was thinking of getting either hornworms or super worms. What do you suggest? I also have a red heat bulb snd and a UVB light strip and Im going to replace some of the fake plants inside and get a devils ivy and some new branches. Is there any thing I should do to help him feel better around me? He does not like tongs and them holding food so is there a cup I should get to help him eat or any little gadgets you know of? Please let me know! I have a snake and I wasn’t ever planning on buying a chameleon but I love him so much already.

    1. Dave Pyke avatar
      Dave Pyke

      Hi Karrina, thanks for reaching out. I would ditch the red heat lamp as they don’t need it. A normal heat bulb is fine. Try some other food, hornworms are good, dubia roaches are excellent too and add in the occasional morio worm.

      As for making him fell comfortable, there’s not much you can do. Just move slowly around him and don’t try to pick him up. Don’t worry if he hisses or puffs up when you’re near it’s just what veiled chameleons do. They’re more a pet for observing than holding.

      Yes, there is a feeder cup available on Amazon. It’s called a full throttle magnetic feeding cup. It might help things along.