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What Do Chameleons Eat?

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Chameleons come in about 100 different types, differentiated mostly by size, habitat and, of course, color – which they can change quickly in response to their environment. Chameleons are lizards, so insects play a large part in their diet, with a little bit of greenery for variety.

The Panther Chameleon and the Veiled ChameleonCommon pets. The panther chameleon and the veiled chameleon.

They are kept as pets

Chameleons are often kept as pets and care must be taken with their diet. They can become bored and stop eating if they are given the same food constantly. So a range of different foods is necessary to keep a chameleon in top health and condition and eating well. Adult chameleons shouldn’t be fed too often, either: they seem to need the challenge of being a bit hungry to keep them interested in eating. Once every three days should be sufficient. Juveniles or hatchlings however need a constant supply of fresh food available. Chameleons should not be fed insects you have found around the house, which may have been exposed to insecticides. Care should also be taken not to feed them insects such as ladybugs, which are toxic.

Insecticide free insects

Chameleons should be fed insects which have been bred specially, as they are guaranteed to be “clean”. They must not be offered insects that are already dead or which may have escaped the cage, which may have eaten something poisonous. Any food not eaten must be removed even if the chameleons themselves won’t eat it, their prey insects may, which can affect the chameleon if it eats that bug. Piling good food on top of old is not good; poor hygiene in the lizard’s enclosure is not good for its health. Insects and invertebrates you can feed your chameleon include:

  1. Praying mantises
  2. Cockroaches, which are usually quite large
  3. Wasps
  4. Worms, various species are suitable such as earthworms
  5. Flies, even house flies
  6. Slugs
  7. Crickets

Various types of chameleons

Different chameleon species have basically the same dietary requirements, with some differences depending on their natural range. In its natural environment, a large species of chameleon such as the common chameleon, which are found in Europe, Asia and northern Africa, is capable of catching other lizards and young birds. In captivity, it will eat items from the list above, with the addition of fruit, leaves and oats. The Jackson’s chameleon, commonly found in Kenya and Tanzania, eats just about anything it can catch, including ants, butterflies and other lizards, fresh leaves, plant shoots and fruit. The veiled chameleon, native to the Middle East, has a fairly restricted diet of insects, mainly crickets, and the occasional leaf for water.

A Chameleon catching an insect with it's tongueA chameleon’s tongue can extend up to twice it’s body length.

What’s special about chameleons?

The chameleon is remarkable for two things: its ability to change color and its tongue. Not all chameleons are able to change color, but those which can, display a wide range of coloration, from dull shades to brilliant pink, blue, purple, yellow and several others. In some species, the color change is in response to the color of their surroundings; being able to camouflage is a valuable survival tool. The Smith’s Dwaft chameleon is even able to regulate its color according to the sight abilities of predator snakes or birds. Color can also be used to regulate body temperature, dark when it is cold to absorb heat, light in hot weather to reflect heat, giving chameleons an advantage over most other reptiles as reptiles are unable to thermo-regulate. Color of a chameleon can show it’s health, mood and in most cases, is also used as a communicating tool as well.

Their tongue

A chameleon’s tongue is a highly specialized structure. It is about one and a half to two times the length of the lizard’s body, not counting the tail, with smaller species having longer tongues. Chameleons are able to shoot their tongues out over that distance in less than .010 seconds, with a fast retracting ability ensuring the prey can’t escape.