Almost all the world's chameleons hail from the island of Madagascar. These interesting creatures are known for their ability to change colour. One of the most commonly-known pet chameleons is the panther chameleon, or Furcifer pardalis. Chameleons are solitary creatures and should not be housed together. The most important factor in setting up a panther chameleon cage is size. If you purchase a baby chameleon you will need a smaller cage to begin with and graduate up to a larger cage as the reptile grows. Placing a baby chameleon in too large a cage to begin with can make it difficult for the animal to find food. A chameleon enclosure should provide proper ventilation and needs to be equipped with a heat and basking lamp, a water dripper or misting system and live vegetation.
Choose a cage size appropriate for your pet. A baby chameleon should be housed in a screen cage approximately 20- by-18- by-12 inches in size. An adult female requires a 18-by-18-by-36-inch screen cage; and an adult male should be housed in a 24-by-24-by-48-inch cage. Chameleons need ventilation and should be kept in a screened cage rather than a aquarium-type environment.
Set up lighting for the cage. Chameleons need a 5.0 UVB fluorescent light to provide needed vitamin D3 to prevent bone deformities. They also need a 60- to 100-watt heat/basking light. The basking light should be set up at the top of the cage over a branch where the chameleon can easily perch for additional warmth. Use a 60-watt bulb in summer months and 100-watt bulb in the winter when it's colder.
Furnish the cage with live plants. Chameleons are naturally found in wooded areas so they need live plants in the environment to give them a sense of security and a natural living environment. Choose plants sized appropriately for the cage. Good choices are dwarf umbrella and ficus trees and pothos plants.
Place at least one artificial branch on the floor of the cage and another at the top of the cage 6 to 8 inches from the basking/heat light. Chameleons can't regulate their own body heat, so they need a place to lie near the heat lamp. Vines or branches should also be placed 12 inches or closer to the fluorescent light so the chameleon can rest there and absorb vitamin D3 provided by the light.
Equip the cage with a water dripper or misting system. Chameleons don't drink from saucers or bottle watering devices; they drink from moisture dripping off of the leaves in their environment. Water drippers and automatic mister systems are available to provide moisture to the leaves in the cage. You can also make your own dripper by poking a tiny hole in the bottom of a plastic cup filled with water and attaching it over an umbrella plant so water slowly and constantly drips onto a large leaf the chameleon can drink from. You can also use a spray bottle to manually mist leaves, but that is a labour-intensive method and may result in the chameleon not getting the appropriate amount of water.
Use a thermometer to check the temperature in various areas of the cage. The temperature in the basking area should be 29.4 to 32.2 degrees C at all times; the ambient temperature in the cage during the day should be between 23.8 and 29.4 degrees C and 18.3 to 23.8 degrees C at night.
Don't house a baby chameleon in an adult-sized cage; it will not be able to find food. Start with a small cage and buy a larger enclosure as the animal grows. Don't place any substance on the floor of the chameleon cage. Sawdust or other substrates can be ingested or inhaled by the animal. Don't use branches collected from outside without properly treating them by baking them in an oven for 30 minutes at 176 degrees C. Never spray water directly onto a chameleon.