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Care Guide: Jackson’s Chameleon

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Jackson’s chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii) is a strikingly beautiful reptile with gorgeous colors and horns. Named after 19th century ornithologist, Frederick John Jackson, the Jackson’s chameleon lives in higher altitude mountains and rainforests in Kenya and Tanzania, they have become the most popular chameleon pet species behind veiled and panther chameleons.

While still requiring specialized care, Jackson’s chameleons tend to be longer lived and a little less aggressive than the two more popular pet species, with average captive lifespans of 5–10 years.

This guide covers all the basics you need to keep a Jackson’s chameleon healthy and thriving in captivity.

Housing

In the mountains and rainforests of Africa, Jackson’s chameleons spend most of their time off the ground in trees and shrubs. Recreating this arboreal environment is essential for your pet’s health and activity levels.

For an adult Jackson’s chameleon, an absolute minimum sized cage is 24 x 24 x 48 tall, however bigger is always preferable. Excellent ventilation via screen mesh walls is best, since chameleons are prone to fatal respiratory infections in stagnant conditions. The front can be glass or acrylic for better viewing, though.

The substrate on the bottom can be paper towels. Avoid any loose particulate substrates. Spot clean daily and full clean the enclosure at minimum every 2–3 months.

Provide ample climbing branches, vines, and live plants to encourage natural behaviors. Position foliage to create shaded pockets and a basking spot up high under heat lamps. A proper temperature gradient is key.

Nutrition

In their native mountain forests, Jackson’s chameleons are primarily insectivores that also occasionally consume small vertebrates and vegetation.

A staple prey diet of crickets, roaches, silkworms, Morio worms and other appropriate feeders should be provided. Use small, size appropriate feeders no bigger than the space between your chameleon’s eyes. Uneaten live insects must be removed within 24 hours.

Gut load insects 24 hours before feeding with collared greens, carrots and sweet potato so the nutrients can be passed on to your chameleon.

Lightly dust insects with plain calcium carbonate powder at every feeding for both adults and juveniles. Multivitamins containing once per month as does calcium with D3. Proper supplementation prevents metabolic bone disease and other nutrition related disorders.

While Jackson’s chameleons prefer live prey, they may accept small amounts of chopped greens, edible flowers, melon and berries in a shallow dish. Remove uneaten fresh foods within a few hours.

However, vegetation should never comprise more than the occasional supplement to their primary insect diet in captivity.

Hydration & Humidity

In the wild, Jackson’s chameleons hydrate temselves by licking water droplets and mist from leaves. This needs to be replicated in captivity.

Never provide water in a standing dish – chameleons do not recognize still water as drinkable. Instead, use a hand mister or automatic mister to mist the enclosure at minimum 1-2 times per day.

The habitat foliage and decor should be lightly misted until droplets form that your chameleon can lick up and consume, in addition to maintaining needed humidity levels.

Another excellent hydration method is using a drip system inside the habitat, which slowly releases water to form hanging droplets on well-positioned leaves and vines.

Locate adjustable drip heads directly over perches your chameleon frequents. Automatically misted and dripped water sources combined are ideal.

Signs that your Jackson’s chameleon is well hydrated include firm eyeballs, smooth skin, and normal activity. Symptoms of dehydration include lethargy, wrinkled/sunken eyes, tenting skin, and yellow urates.

Jackson’s chameleons need low humidity between 30%-50% during the day and 75%-100% at night. Provide this high humidity at night by running an automatic fogger on low setting.

Lighting and Heating

Full spectrum T5 or T8 UVB bulbs spanning the length of the enclosure should be provided for 10–12 hours daily. Allowing some direct outdoor sunlight also provides beneficial rays when possible. Linear UVB covers more area than compact bulbs.

Establish a thermal temperature gradient using an overhead incandescent or halogen heat bulb to create a basking spot temperature of 80-85°F. The ambient cooler end can remain around 70-75°F.

Use thermometers at each end and adjust wattage or lamp height accordingly, the lamp should be around 6 to 12 inches above the highest branch in the cage.

Use an automatic timer to turn off all artificial lighting/heating at night.

Handling

While Jackson’s chameleons can tolerate gentle handling better than other species, excessive interaction is still stressful, so I recommend just observing rather than handling your pet.

If you really want to hold your chameleon, give your new pet several days to fully acclimate to their new habitat before doing so.

Always move slowly and gently when handling. Never grab or restrain them forcefully. Allow your chameleon to walk from hand to hand rather than restricting movement.

Limit handling to 10-15 minutes max, just once or twice a week. Look for signs of stress like hissing, inflated throat, biting, and dark colors.

Common Health Issues

Jackson’s chameleons tend to be fairly hardy pets, which is another reason for their popularity. That said, they can still develop certain disorders if care guidelines aren’t followed:

  • Dehydration – Very common. Ensure proper humidity and hydration per this guide.
  • Respiratory Infections – Due to poor ventilation or hydration.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease – From improper supplements, lighting, diet.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies – Provide varied, gut loaded feeders.
  • Parasitism – Have fecals tested regularly for parasites.
  • Dystocia – Difficulty giving birth, may require vet assistance.

Establish a relationship with a herpatological vet and have check-ups every 6–12 months to keep track of their health and diagnose and treat any issues early.

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