How to care for a Jackson’s chameleon

The Jackson’s Chameleon is an arboreal reptile originating from East Africa, where it inhabits rain forest and mountainous regions. It is usually identifiable by the horns on the nose, though these are only seen in the males and depend on the subspecies. They are typically shades of green with yellow around the face and often have mottled darker patterns on the body. Though they can be timid, this species can usually be tamed and handled, although chameleons, in general, can have mood swings on occasion.

Housing

The Jackson’s Chameleon would naturally roam dense vegetation and challenging environments, and it is important that we provide them with space and enrichment to do so in captivity. A minimum of 60 x 45 x 90cm should be used to house your chameleon – though any more space is sure to be utilised and a huge benefit to the animal. For the base of the terrarium, it is a good idea to think about a drainage layer, consisting of a layer of hydro rocks, matting and then your substrate. 

This will stop the substrate becoming waterlogged and helps aid humidity in the tank by re-using the water that collects in the bottom layers. For the substrate, a soil mix tends to be best, as it holds moisture, and similar properties should be considered in any alternatives. Soil will also provide the option of a live planted terrarium, which is much more natural and aesthetically pleasing.

Decor

To be sure that your Jackson Chameleon can make use of the entire enclosure, good use of decor is essential. Any climbing structure created needs to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the animal but also creates access to the higher portions of the tank, and make heat and UV more accessible. For this, its best to use a variety of branches, logs, vines and foliage. 

To allow your chameleon to take cover from heat, UV and hide from view, use decor to create sufficient ‘off show’ areas – for example, dense foliage over a branch to create a hidden area underneath. Being diurnally active, this won’t affect you viewing your chameleon as they will still venture out to bask and feed, and they are usually active animals. Why not also change decor around every now and then, to create new environments that your chameleon can explore?

Heating and lighting

Heat and UVB are vital elements of any reptile enclosure. For the Jackson Chameleon, you will first require a good heat source – either a basking bulb or ceramic heat emitter are best. Any heat source should be attached to a thermostat for regulation and safety of the animal. You should also use an accurate digital thermometer for monitoring. This should be placed at the top of the enclosure, facing down as the chameleon would also bask at height.

A temperature of between 30 – 32C should be maintained in this basking area, with the cooler areas of the tank remaining around 22-25C, allowing your chameleon to move away from the heat as well as towards it for basking. During the night, you may not need to heat the enclosure, as temperatures can drop to around 15C – this mimicking a natural temperature drop experienced by the animals in a wild setting. 

Another essential aspect of the enclosure is a good quality UVB light. This will come in the form of a strip bulb such as Arcadia’s T5 6% (the strength will depend on the height of the enclosure). This bulb will enable your animal to metabolise key nutrients and use them effectively in the body, as a result, not having this UV can make them extremely ill and even prove fatal. You will use UVB in a 12-hour cycle, going off as the temperature drops. It is also important to note that all UV has a lifespan to be considered, between 6-12 months (this again will depend on the bulb and brand). After the lifespan of the bulb is up, the UV will no longer be being emitted, even if the tube is still glowing.

Humidity

Another consideration of this animals environment is the humidity. For a Jackson Chameleon, this should remain between 60 – 80%, measured with an accurate digital hygrometer. To achieve this humidity, the enclosure will require frequent spraying, a good quality, moisture-holding substrate and possibly the addition of a fogger and/or live plants. Another thing to note is that the chameleon won’t drink from still water such as a water dish and it is therefore highly recommended that a fountain or dripper is included to ensure that your chameleon is constantly hydrated. Another good idea is the use of broadleaf plants on which water can collect for the chameleon to drink off.

Diet

The Jackson Chameleon is an insectivore and will only feed on a variety of live food such as crickets, locust, cockroaches, worms and snails. All food provided will need supplementing with calcium, multivitamins and D3 powders in the relevant feeding cycle. It is beneficial to feed live food before it goes to your chameleon to make them even more nutritious. Chameleons are arboreal so it is important that they are lightweight and agile. Introduce a few starve days to keep them in a healthy body condition.

Species profile

  • Scientific name – Trioceros jacksonii
  • Adult Expected Size – Females: 7 – 9 inches / Males: up to 12 inches
  • Habitat – Rainforest and mountainous regions of East Africa. Arboreal living.
  • Required Enclosure Size – Minimum of 60 x 45 x 90cm
  • UV Lighting – 2 – 3 UVI (6% T5 – depending on the height of the enclosure)
  • Expected Lifespan – 5 – 10 Years
  • Temperature Gradient – 22 – 30C
  • Humidity Levels – 60 – 80%
  • Feeding – Insectivore – live food such as crickets, locust, cockroaches and worms
  • Handling – Can be timid but usually tame to be handled.


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