Jackson’s Chameleons

a green, 3 horned Jackson's Chameleon standing on a rock

Jackson’s Chameleons are reptiles native to East Africa. These lizards are commonly found in captivity as pets, and are one of the easiest reptiles to take care of. They are very docile and easy to handle, and will accept a number of different insects.

Jackson’s Chameleons are usually a bright green, with yellow or blue markings on their body. Jackson’s Chameleons can be very entertaining to watch, especially when they change colors. They are very easy to care for and will require little maintenance.

Jackson’s Chameleons are known for loving to climb walls and trees, and will spend most of their time off the floor of their enclosure. They are very capable of climbing almost anything. They are also very curious, and will enjoy investigating everything in their environment.

A Jackson’s Chameleon needs a large enclosure, because it needs a lot of room to climb and move vertically in their enclosure. You’ll also need to create a hiding place for your Chameleon, so it doesn’t feel threatened by other animals in the house.

They are very easy to take care of, and will only need basic things like food and water. They are very calm and laid back, and are content just hanging out in their enclosure. You can purchase a Jackson’s Chameleon from a reptile store, or a breeder. They are not cheap pets and will typically cost between $100 and $200.

Jackson’s Chameleon Information

  • Average Length: 8 to 10 inches 
  • Average Weight: 4.5 ounces
  • Skin Appearance: Rough
  • Skin Colors: Shades of green with colored patterns
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No
  • Good Pet: Not if you want to handle them 
  • Safe with Children: No
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: Yes
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Metabolic Bone Disease, Respiratory Diseases, Mouth Rot, Gastrointestinal Disease
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: Males – 9 years, Females – 6 years

Jackson’s Chameleons are native to Kenya and Tanzania.

Physical Appearance of Jackson’s Chameleons

a yellowish green Jackson's Chameleon resting on a branch

Young Jackon’s Chameleons are brown when they are born and become bright green after 4 to 5 months. Adult males have blue or yellow markings.

Jackson’s Chameleons are smaller than Veiled Chameleons and get up to 13 inches long. Their length includes their long tail. Their tails are usually half their body length. Male Jackson’s Chameleons are longer than females.

Male Jackon’s Chameleons have 3 small brown horns on their head, one above their nose and two above their eyes. The males use the horns to defend themselves in the wild. Females usually don’t have horns, when they do, the horns are very small. The horns make Jackson’s look like miniature dinosaurs or rhinos. Because of the horns they are sometimes called three-horned Chameleons.

Temperament of Jackson’s Chameleons

While all Chameleons are territorial and aggressive, Jackson’s Chameleons are one the calmest. They still don’t prefer to be handled because it can stress them. Jackson’s Chameleons usually don’t bite or attack their owners. They are more on the fearful side than aggressive when it comes to humans handling them.

Jackson’s Chameleons are most active during the day. They are solitary and should be kept in a cage alone.

Their Compatibility with Children

Because Jackson’s Chameleons don’t like being handled it would be best if they only observed them from outside of the enclosure. If you do let your children handle your Chameleon it’s best to have an adult supervise their interactions until you know how they will react around each other.

The children should always wash their hands after handling your Chameleons. This is because most reptiles are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should prevent your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from your Chameleons.

a Jackson's Chameleon resting on a branch

Living Space for Jackson’s Chameleons

Jackson’s Chameleons need a well-ventilated living enclosure. Glass or wooden enclosures are not recommended because they limit the airflow and can cause respiratory infections. Screen-sided or mesh enclosures are best for Jackson’s Chameleons.

Enclosure/Cage Size

A fully grown Jackson’s Chameleon should be kept in a cage at least 18”L x 18”W x 36T”. They like to climb and having a cage with a height of 48 inches will be better. If you get a younger Jackon’s Chameleon you can house them in a smaller cage. They will need a bigger cage once they become adults, usually at 12 months. Most Chameleons are kept in much more spacious enclosures. The more room you give them to move around the happier they’ll be.

Decorations

Several plants and branches should be placed inside their cage. This mimics their natural environment and lets them climb. Pothos, Hibiscus, Dracaena and Ficus Trees are good options. Remember to add only pesticide free plants. The branches should have a varying width and a few should be slightly larger than what your Jackson’s Chameleons can grip. 

Substrate

For substrate there are a few good choices. 2 to 3 inches of coconut fiber or reptile bark works really well. Reptile carpet is also a good choice if you want something longer lasting. Paper towels, butcher paper and newspapers can be good substrate options if nothing else is available. Paper may not be the best choice, but they are easy to replace and can be used in a pinch.

Avoid using substrates like gravel, sand, moss or others that are made of small particles. Small particles can get attached to your Chameleon’s tongue while catching prey. By not having any small particles, you keep them from accidentally eating indigestible substrate. 

Avoid using wood chips for substrate because these can cause health issues in your Jackson’s Chameleons if they are ingested.

a green with yellow spots Jackson's Chameleon catching prey with their tongue

Best Climate for Jackson’s Chameleons

Jackson’s Chameleons prefer lower temperatures and higher humidity than most other Chameleons.

Temperature

Jackson’s Chameleons need a daytime temperature of 70°F to 80°F with a basking spot of 85°F. If you have housed them outdoors make sure the temperature doesn’t go above 90°F because anything higher can cause them to overheat. The temperature at night should be kept between 65°F and 70°F. 

Basking lights, ceramic heat elements or incandescent lights are good heating sources. Keep the heating equipment outside/above the cage to make sure your pet cannot reach them and burn themselves. 

Lighting

A UVB light should be used so your Chameleon gets enough UV lighting to properly absorb calcium. The UV light should be kept on for 10 to 12 hours a day. The UV bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months because they lose their efficiency over time.

Humidity

They prefer a humidity range of 50 to 80 percent. Misting the plants inside their enclosure twice a day should keep the humidity high, but it might not be enough. Misting is important because it helps them stay hydrated. Jackson’s Chameleons don’t drink water from a bowl but lick drops of water from the leaves.

If the humidity level isn’t high enough there are other things you can do to keep it higher. The substrate used can have a major impact on the humidity in the enclosure. Using one that retains moisture is a good way to keep it higher. Using a drip system is another good way to keep adding water slowly and keep the humidity higher.

The Attention a Jackson’s Chameleon Needs

They don’t like being handled and can do without human attention. If tamed from a young age some Jackson’s Chameleons may grow to become receptive to handling. They should still be handled infrequently because handling is usually stressful for all Chameleons.

Most of their attention needs have to do with keeping the temperature in the recommended range and the cage clean. Several thermometers and a hygrometer should be used inside their cage. Check the climate conditions regularly to make sure they are within the range. Make changes if needed.

Health Issues

Common Health issues in Chameleons include:

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Respiratory Issues

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Mouth Rot

Mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis, is an infection in a reptile’s mouth. Mouth rot is very serious and can cause your reptile a great deal of pain, and could eventually lead to their death. Mouth rot is typically caused by an injury to your reptile’s mouth, or their enclosure not being kept at the correct conditions.

Symptoms of mouth rot in your reptile are:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Blood in your pets mouth or their water bowl
  • Swollen areas in their mouth
  • Weight loss

The first step to fixing the problem is finding out if they injured their mouth on something, or if their enclosure’s conditions are not right. If their mouth is injured you should get them to a vet to have them look at your reptile. If the problem is environmental then fix the problems in their enclosure.

No matter what the cause of your reptile’s mouth rot, you’ll still need to take your reptile to your vet because the treatment requires prescription antibiotics. Surgery may be required depending on the severity of the mouth rot. Because this infection kills tissues in your reptile’s mouth, areas may need to be removed, including teeth. It’s better to prevent this problem before it happens by keeping your reptile’s enclosure at the conditions they need to be happy.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people shouldn’t handle reptiles. These people are at an increased risk of getting infected because they have a weaker immune system.

Gastrointestinal Disease

Gastrointestinal (GI) disease is a common parasitic infection found in reptiles, including tortoises. The disease can also be caused by improper feeding habits.

Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Weight loss 
  • Runny or smeared stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea 

A major cause of concern is that this disease can be transmitted to humans while handling the sick animal. This is why its important to wash up after handling each reptile you have.

If you find any of the above symptoms in your reptile, take them to a vet immediately. Your vet will take a sample of your reptile’s stool to identify the parasite. In most cases medication will help treat the disease.

Grooming and Care

Chameleons shed their skin regularly and younger Chameleons shed even more often. When your Chameleon is preparing to shed, their skin color will become dull and they may start eating less. They might start rubbing their skin against the tank wall or branches to loosen their skin or puff out their eyes.

Chameleons don’t need a bath because it can be stressful for them. Chameleons keep themselves clean by shedding their dead skin. They shed often enough that they don’t need to do anything else to keep clean.

To help them shed, make sure the humidity is at the levels your Chameleon needs or maybe a little higher. If it is below the range you can mist the tank as needed to keep it up. You can manually mist the tank or add an automatic drip system. Higher humidity will help your Chameleons shed easier and with less stress.

Remove the old skin after it has been shed while you spot clean the enclosure. Avoid peeling any skin off of them yourself because it can cause bleeding or infections.

Remove extra food and any fecal matter from their tank daily. Replace the substrate completely once a month.

Their nails do not require trimming because they need the nails to climb and grip the branches. Their nails should wear down naturally because of all the climbing they do.

The top of the tank should be cleaned every other week. A deep cleaning should be done once a month. While doing the deep cleaning, remove your Chameleon as well as all decorations and sticks from the tank. Use a 5 percent bleach solution to clean the entire tank. Disinfect artificial decorations before placing them back inside. Rinse the enclosure carefully and let it dry completely before placing your Chameleon back inside.

Once the enclosure is dry, add the decorations and place your Chameleon inside. Always wash your hands after cleaning their tank or handling them.

Feeding A Jackson’s Chameleons

Jackson’s Chameleons are insect eating reptiles and crickets should be their primary diet. If you want to give your Chameleon some variety they can also be fed locusts, butter worms, roaches, silkworms, grasshoppers, superworms, mealworms and waxworms. Avoid feeding them wasps, fireflies or other insects that can sting.

crickets are great food for Jackson's Chameleons

Young Chameleons under 6 months should be fed 2 – 3 times a day. From 6 months until 12 they only need to be fed once a day. Once they reach a year they only need to be fed about 3 times a week. The reason younger Chameleons need to be fed more often is because they are growing. After they hit 12 months most of their growing has stopped so they don’t need as much food.

Young Jackson’s Chameleons should be fed as many crickets as they want to eat everyday. This might mean you are feeding them 12 to 15 smaller crickets per day. Avoid feeding them wild-caught insects because these could have been exposed to pesticides. Make sure you remove any uneaten insects after about 5 to 10 minutes.

Gut loaded insects are best and don’t take that much more time than regular feeder insects. We have a great article on how to Gut Load your feeder insects. Dusting feeder insects with calcium and vitamin supplements every other week is another great way to get your Chameleon extra calcium. Dusting your Chameleon’s food is very important if your pet is housed indoors because they might not be getting enough UV rays. The extra calcium will help protect them from MBD.

A small portion of their diet should consist of plant material. Give them small amounts of fruits and vegetables like collard greens, dandelion leaves, kale, butternut squash, blueberries and thin slices of pear or apple. The fruits and vegetables will help round out their diet and make sure they’re not nutritionally deficient.

Because Chameleons do not drink from a water bowl, it’s not necessary to add a bowl inside their tank. Make sure that there is condensation or water drops available for them to drink so they don’t dehydrate.

Related Questions:

Why are They Called Jackson’s Chameleons?

They are named Jackson’s Chameleon not because they were discovered by a scientist or biologist. These Chameleons are native to East Africa and named after Kenya’s former governor Frederick Jackson.

Do Female Jackson’s Chameleons Lay Eggs?

While most Chameleons give birth by laying eggs, Jackson’s Chameleons give birth to live babies. Female Jackson’s Chameleons can give birth to 8 to 30 babies at a time!

Which is Better Male or Female Jackson’s Chameleons?

Male Jackson’s Chameleon tend to live longer than females. If you want a reptile that lives longer, get a male Jackson’s Chameleon. Males also have three-horns that make them look more extotic than females.