Setting Up an Enclosure

My approach to setting up an enclosure is to start with a few facts about chameleons. Chameleons exist in the wild and have done so for millions of years: they are a successful family of animals! Regardless of species, wild chameleons know how to interact with their environments so as to be able to warm up and get sufficient sunlight while avoiding sunburns. They know when they are too hot, and know how to seek shade.  They are able to sense the presence of predators, and have particular strategies to avoid becoming prey.  Wild chameleons are adapted for sleeping in high humidity areas--mitigating water-loss through respiration--and know where to find water to top up their reserves, mainly in the form of dew on leaves.  These simple facts give us important clues about how to set up their enclosures. Since chameleons know how to self-regulate in these ways, our job as enclosure builders is to provide the conditions that make this self-regulating behaviour possible. 

This involves providing an area where our chameleons can warm up and be exposed to ultraviolet light, and an area of dense foliage, where they can not only find shade to cool down, but  where they can hide if they feel threatened. Similarly, if we setup our enclosures so that they can maintain high humidity at night, and "dew" on the leaves in the morning, we can take advantage of the chameleon's natural mechanisms for hydration.  This last aspect can be challenging for Canadians, as the air in our homes in the winter tends to be dry. So proper consideration needs to be given to cage-type, and placement.  

In short, my approach to setting up an enclosure is to provide my chameleon the conditions under which it can self-regulate.  While volumes more could be written here, I would like to look at the details of setting up an enclosure, as well as various setup types.

More detailed information on exact temperatures, RH values and UVIs can be found in other sections, but a few points about each are relevant here.  First, the basking temperature ranges for the commonly kept species (i.e. veileds and panthers) are similar; and, as we discuss in the section on temperature, this need not exceed exceed 28 degrees C (82.4f). This is important, because the heavily planted zone should be between 6 and 10 degrees c cooler than the basking area.

Humidity levels for these species is also similar with daytime values less than 50% (preferably less than 45%), and nighttime values approaching 100%. Some thought will have to go into how to achieve this, given a particular enclosure type, as well as a particular setup.  

Below are examples of enclosure setups that have been useful.

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2x2x4 foot tall

This is a very popular way to setup a standard 2x2x4 foot tall enclosure. The centre 2-2.5 feet (zone 2) is heavily planted with live plants, and contains a network of horizontal branches at different heights. Potted plants such as pothos can be suspended/affixed to the sides to supply foliage, and taller potted trees such as ficus and schefflera can be placed at ground level so their foliage spans zone 2. The top 9-12 inches of the enclosure (Zone 1) is more open, and consists of a number of horizontal branches placed according to optimal UVIs.  The bottom 9-12 inches (Zone 3) of the enclosure is relatively bare as well. Any potted trees that give foliage to zone 2 are found here, and most poop will be cleaned up from here.  

Since this enclosure type is most commonly all screen, some thought will have to be given to maintaining high nighttime humidity (approaching 100%).  Options include wrapping three sides of the enclosure with shower curtain or window wrap, and/or using cool mist humidifiers, and/or misting periodically throughout the night.  

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2x3x3 foot tall/2x4x4 foot tall/other wide format enclosures

A wider cage format lends itself more readily to this configuration.  The basking and UVB exposure zone is on one side of the enclosure, while the generous horizontal space allows for a ton of foliage and cover.  Notice too that even in the 3 foot tall version, there can still be over 2 feet of foliage on one side.  Zone 1 can measure 1-1.5 feet long by 1 foot tall for a 3 foot tall enclosure, and up to 2 feet wide and tall for 4 foot versions.  Zone 2 can measure 1.5-2 feet long by almost 3 feet high for 3 foot tall enclosures; and up to 2.5 feet wide by almost 4 feet tall for 4 foot models. Zone 3 can be as little as 6 inches.

If the enclosure type is all-screen, considerations must be given to nighttime humidity (see previous section).


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2x3x3 foot tall/2x4x4 foot tall/other wide format enclosures

Another example of what can be done with wide format cages.  Zone 1 is centred, and can measure 1-1.5 feet wide by 1-1.5 feet tall for 3 foot wide enclosures, and up to 2 feet wide and tall for 4 foot wide enclosures.  Zone 2 is floor to ceiling on either side of zone 1, with a shorter section below.

See previous sections regarding humidity, if the enclosure is all screen.

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Bioactivity and Substrates

Any one of the above enclosure setups can be converted into a bioactive enclosure by using an appropriate substrate in zone 3.  This is a rather large and complex topic, and we will discuss it in more detail in the future.

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Well set up Enclosure

While you can't see it, there are numerous horizontal branches throughout the enclosure.