Welcome to the Pygmy Chameleon keeping section, this area is divided in to several separate sub sections – the introduction (this page), the housing Pygmy Chameleons page, temperature and humidity, feeding Pygmy Chameleons and breeding Pygmy Chameleons sections.
The Pygmy Chameleon (Rhamopholen brevicaudatus) is native to Western Africa, and is one of the worlds smallest chamaeleons. Generally speaking it is a 3 inches in length half being the tail!
The picture opposite shows an adult female.
They are very similar to other dwarf chameleons in the region such as Bearded Leaf Chameleons.
Pygmy Chameleons are not a good starter chameleon (if there is such a thing) unless they are captive bred specimens and even then they are not suitable for handling.
Once settled though whether wild collected or captive bred they make interesting pets.
READ MORE: Senegal Chameleon Care Sheet
Welcome to the housing Pygmy Chameleons section, this area is divided in to several separate sub sections – the introduction, the housing Pygmy Chameleons page (this page), temperature and humidity, feeding Pygmy Chameleons and breeding Pygmy Chameleons sections..
Chameleons should not be kept in sealed glass tanks that were designed for fish or other animals.
There are a few reasons for not keeping chameleons in a glass tank but the main two are:
A. Chameleons can suffer from respiratory (breathing) infections if kept in stale air, a constant flow of fresh air is essential in keeping chameleons.
B. They can see their reflection in the glass and assume it’s another chameleon in their territory.
This will cause them to become aggressive to it and this will escalate as the reflection does the same – the result is a very stressed chameleon
The best enclosure I have seen for chameleons is the Reptarium from Apogee. These consist of a strong plastic frame with a strong and machine washable mesh cover which has zip off ends.
The size of the enclosure should be large enough to allow the chameleon to move freely around to thermo-regulate itself (keep the right temperature). A size of 25 x 14 x 14 (22G version) used flat is large enough for one adult or a pair at most whilst a 30 x 16 x 16 (38G version) used flat is suitable for one male and two females.
The Cage should have a substrate of orchid bark in the bottom so a Reptarium Softray will be needed. The orchid bark should be topped with a layer of dry leaves, oak are good ones but not pine or conifer.
In the UK you can safely put the entire cage outdoors in a sunny position. As the cage is mesh it will not overheat and the chameleons will benefit from the summer sun.
Make sure to spray at least twice a day if keeping outdoors during the summer and make sure that there is some shady places within the cage or put part of it in the shade and part in the sun, this will allow the lizard to bask safely.
Whatever kind of enclosure you choose you will need at least one other piece of equipment, a twiggy ‘bush’, this should have at least 6 sturdy side shoots each carrying twiggy branches.
The bush should be liberally wrapped with artificial vines for cover, they will sleep in the ‘leafy’ area at night.
A section of oak tree branch with side shoots makes a good ‘bush’, you can leave the leaves on the branch rather than wrapping it in vine, the leaves will dry on the plant.
They are best kept singly or as pairs as males will fight other males.
Pygmy Chameleons like to bask under a spot light during the day and need some form of ‘background’ heat 24 hours a day.
The easiest way to accomplish this it to use a 60w Ceramic heal element and a reflector above the enclosure more or less centred up.
In addition use a 100w spot light aimed at the centre of the bush. The chameleon will position its body at a right angle to the light and warm up its body, it will then take a walk around its tree or branch in search of food and water.
The temperature inside the cage where the chameleon is going to be basking should be no more than 35C to prevent it from burning itself.
READ MORE: Yemen Chameleon Care Guide
You will need to test the temperature at the fork in the branch and then again just inside the top of the cage, this is because when the chameleon is sunning itself it may get too hot.
Adjust the height of the light to get the temperature right.
One other important element for keeping chameleons is a source of UV light, chameleons need the UV light from the sun in order to metabolize the calcium in their diet.
If they can not take advantage of the calcium they will not be able to grow bones properly and will eventually die. A 24″ Reptisun 5 lamp and fitting will do the trick just nicely.
The strip tube should be replaced every 6 months as the UV element gradually stops providing the required levels of UVB light.
The lighting system should be set to come on for 12 hours a day, this can be done using a simple timer switch.
These animals require more humidity than others. You should mist the whole enclosure to form a film of water over everything, this needs doing each morning and early evening to simulate the early morning dew and the similarly cooler early evening conditions.
Pygmy Chameleons in common with other chameleons love yellow coloured food insects, particularly locusts!.
You can give an adult chameleon small locust and they would normally eat 2 or 4 per sitting.
Don’t feed adult locusts as they are way too large.
Other foods which can be given include crickets, waxworms, fruit flies, and occasionally soft fruit like a peach.
The food being fed should be lightly dusted with a food supplement powder on every occasion until they are 9 – 12 months old, you need then only do it once a week.
This will give the growing chameleon all the minerals needed for speedy growth.
Females will require more calcium in their diet to help with egg production so if the female is gravid (pregnant) give her food that is dusted at every feeding.
READ MORE: Keeping Chameleons
The dry eggs should now be placed in an incubation chamber of some kind. A simple solution is to use VENTILATED cricket tubs. A substrate or damp vermiculite should be put into 2/3’s the depth of the tub.The vermiculite should be measured by WEIGHT and not volume.
Each 1 ounce of vermiculite should have 1 ounce of water added. To create a damp crumbly texture.The eggs should be laid out at 3 inch intervals, in a cricket tub you can get 3 eggs.
The eggs should be 1/2 to 3/4 buried in the damp vermiculite making sure the vermiculite is in contact with the egg. Replace the lid on the container.
The eggs will need checking regularly to remove any that have gone off or are moldy. A top up with water may be required to keep the vermiculite moist.
If it’s dry then add 20ml of water to the vermiculite in one corner.If all goes well your eggs should begin hatching after around 4 months if kept at 56F – 70F. The first signs will be the egg changing colour as the embryo shows through.
The egg may form beads of moisture on the surface (sweating) and the egg may collapse as shown here.After all the wait and effort you will be thrilled to see the first little Pygmy Chameleons as they emerge over the following few days.
To start them off well you need to keep them in a well-ventilated container like an Aquazoo 5. The tank should have at least one plastic vine plant in there of some kind to act as a shelter for the hatchlings.After 3 – 4 weeks of the tank they can be moved in to their permanent enclosure.
Provide heat with a ceramic lamp (60w) placed 10 inches above the tank. The temperature should be 20C with no spot lights on, this remains on 24 hours a day (Sept – June in UK).To supplement the heat during the day a spot light is provided for basking purposes.
This light is again placed 10 inches above the enclosure at one end and the temperature under the spot light should be no more than 30C.There should always be cool retreat so the lizards can thermoregulate (keeping at the right temperature).
A new UV strip tube should be purchased to make sure the lizards receive the full benefits of the light, ZooMed™ ReptiSun 5 lamps work well.Spray the walls and plants with water every morning and every late afternoon.
Make sure that you don’t spray the babies directly, just the plants and walls of the tank.The idea is to get the plants to have droplets of water on them but no water is allowed to collect in the bottom of the tank, small chameleons can drown in a tiny pool of water!
Feeding should commence the day after hatching and should be fat flightless fruit flies dusted with supplement powder, do this after the plants have dried (2 hours) so that the flies don’t drown in water.
The chameleons instinctively know how to use their long sticky tipped tongue and it is a joy to watch the hatchlings taking aim and catching their first flies!
The size of the food given should be decided by the size of the lizard. Adult chameleons can manage medium live foods used like crickets and small locusts plus the occasional wax moth.
Juveniles up to 2 – 3 months can take curly wing flies, small sizes crickets, and fruit flies, anything larger may pose a threat to the chameleon.
The only food given to small hatchlings should be pinhead crickets or preferably fat flightless fruit flies. Whichever you choose they should be lightly dusted with food supplement to boost their nutritive value.
Feed youngsters several times a day but DO NOT leave uneaten food in with them overnight as the food can atack the lizards.
If feeding crickets to your Yemen make sure that there are none left in the cage overnight as they can attack the chameleon as it sleeps.
ALWAYS remove uneaten food items at night.
As these chameleons are particularly small is not a good idea to put in a water bowl as drowning can occur. To give water you should spray the ‘bush’ with clean warm water and the chameleons will drink the droplets.
Pygmy chameleons start life with a batch of eggs ready for their life of egg-laying. The female becomes sexually mature at around 4 months.
The male becomes sexually active at around the same period and will begin to show off to the females. He will advertise himself by walking parallel with the female in his finest colours and neck puffed out.
Mating can be a dangerous time for females as the courtship can be pretty rough even though these are small chameleons.
The male will often bite the female quite hard before mating. If she is not ready for mating or if already gravid she will turn a dark color and perhaps try to imitate another male or run away. If she is ready then mating is commenced several times in a 24 hour period.
Keep a close watch at this time to make sure the female isn’t being hurt in the process. Once you’re sure she has mated it is time to separate them.
The early spring is a good time to mate Pygmys in the UK. This allows the eggs to develop naturally during the summer when temperatures rarely drop to below around 14C at night.
If you want to use mechanical means they you can breed them all year round.
A thermostatically controlled incubation unit can either be bought or made and allows the temperature to be maintained accurately.
As the female is now going into egg production mode so she will need a good quality vitamin & mineral supplement dusted onto the crickets etc prior to feeding.
Make sure there’s plenty of calcium available for eggshell production.
This is also the ideal opportunity to change the UV light source. The strip tube will need changing every 6 months as they slowly stop producing UV (ultraviolet) in sufficient quantities.
Whilst the light, in general, may not seem to change over the six months, the invisible spectrum (what you can’t see) such as the UV wavelength begins to degenerate making it useless. This Chameleon has a ZooMed™ ReptiSun 5 strip tube.
The new light fitting will produce UV in the right proportions and strength for the lizard.
The female will deposit her eggs under some suitable pile of leaves, usually, she will lay 2 or 3 eggs. This is usually around 10 weeks after mating but it can be more or less. During the day the female will seem restless and very fat-looking.
There’s not much space inside the tiny lizard’s body so 3 eggs show up very easily. The eggs should be cleaned of any compost sticking to them, do this VERY carefully with a soft artist’s brush.
DO NOT wash the eggs under a tap, this will wash away a protective film on the eggs they will probably die and rot during incubation.