One of the toughest and most commonly available chameleons, the veiled gets its name from the large casque upon their heads. The male’s casque is larger and more pronounced than the female’s. Both sexes lack any sort of horns. Like most chameleons, they have a base color of green, but exhibit multifarious other colors and patterns based on environmental factors, mood and health conditions. They exhibit almost all of the colors of the rainbow, often in wide lateral stripes, but also occasionally in blotch like patterning (as when the female is gravid). They have prehensile tails and opposable toes on all four feet. They are a large species, growing up to 24 inches (60 centimeters) in total length, with females generally 6-10 inches shorter. Female veileds generally live 3-5 years, males sometimes live a few years longer.
Veiled chameleons as one of their common names implies, are native to Yemen and southwestern Saudi Arabia. The veiled’s region is characterized by coastal plains, wadis and inland central high plains. Within their range they do not prefer a specific habitat and are found in all types of vegetation in wild areas as well as along roads and in towns. Veileds, like almost all chameleons, are arboreal. Although they will walk along the ground when necessary, they are most comfortable in foliage and on branches many feet off the ground. The region from which they come has two distinct biotypes, one that is best described as moist-warm, semi-tropical, and the other which is arid and desert-like. Although it has been suggested that these two regions may have separate subspecies, so far this has proven inconclusive. What is clear is that these chameleons are highly adaptable, withstanding incredible temperature variances from freezing to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is worth noting however, that veiled chameleons in the wild will generally take refuge in crevices and holes to avoid temperature extremes (a luxury not usually afforded to captive individuals).
Veiled chameleons, like all chameleons, should be housed in screen or partial screen enclosures. Since they are a large chameleon these enclosures should be a minimum of 18” x 18” x 36” (40 cm x 40 cm x 92 cm) with larger being better. Since they are arboreal, enclosures should be vertically oriented and should be heavily vegetated. Branches and sturdy plants and trees such as Ficus benjamina can be used. Veileds are hard on plants (and will eat many) so only robust species should be used. Artificial foliage can also be used and has the added benefit of being able to be scrubbed. Plants and branches should run from the bottom to the top of the cage with some horizontal branches affixed sporadically for perching.
Veileds, like all chameleons, absolutely need UV light. While this can be provided by commercially available UV lights, chameleons just seem to do better when they are given access to natural sunlight. In all but the most inhospitable climates this should be possible for at least a few months out of the year. In Southern California we are able to house our chameleons outside nearly year round. When housed inside, veileds should be provided with 10-12 hours of artificial UV lighting, which is most optimally provided using a UV spotlight, which doubles as a basking light. The spotlight should be placed about 6 inches above the enclosure and slightly to one side. The basking location should provide a temperature of 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Veileds thermoregulate by moving up and down, so the cage should be tall enough that the temperature drops 15-20 degrees at the bottom of the enclosure.
Substrate can be sand, potting soil, loam or leaf litter, but most herpetoculturists leave the floor bare for ease of cleaning. A plastic bucket or shoe box with soil in it can be used to provide the chameleons with an area to escape temperature extremes in case of emergency (veileds will dig to avoid temperature extremes).
Veileds, like all chameleons, do not readily drink from water bowls. Chameleons get their water requirements from dew and rain that accumulates on plant leaves or other portions of their habitat. Subsequently, the best way to provide a chameleon with water is through the use of a drip cup (a cup with a small hole punched in the bottom so that when water is placed in it, it slowly drips into the enclosure). Water can also be provided when plants are watered by watering through the top of the screen so that the water drips onto the plant. Veileds are arid adapted and do not require large quantities of water. A brief watering once or twice a week is plenty.
Although naturally veileds endure areas of relatively high moisture, in captivity they do not do well in moist environments and should be kept dry. Water should be offered just before lights come on or in the morning so that the enclosure has plenty of time to dry out.
Primarily due to a shortage of food choices, veiled chameleons are omnivorous. Although they enjoy insects like all chameleons, they will often eat plant material when insects are not available. Plant material also helps them to remain hydrated under arid conditions. In addition to the usual insect fare (superworms, wax worms, horned worms, crickets, roaches, flies, etc.), veileds can also be offered flowers and leaves (dandelion, hibiscus, etc.), snails, slugs, and fruits such as bananas, apples, and berries. As with all lizards, a varied diet is crucial to maintaining health. Prey items should be dusted with a calcium and mineral supplement every other feeding.
Veiled chameleons are extraordinarily hearty and make a great first chameleon provided their basic requirements are met: screen enclosure, UV lighting, lots of foliage and/or climbing and perching places and varied diet.
Veiled chameleons, like all chameleons, do not like to be handled and are best enjoyed in an observational sense. Adult animals are extraordinarily powerful and their grip can be painful—which is another good reason not to handle them.
Male veiled chameleons are territorial and do not like one another. Although a lot of literature says they should not even be able to see one another, we have found that in larger enclosures with several females, male veileds will largely ignore one another. There also appears to be a hierarchy (both literally and physically) among male chameleons in that dominance is often demonstrated by perching locations. Subsequently, animals that are able to perch at the same level feel evenly matched and are less likely to challenge one another. Perches should be unique locations, but at the same general height.