Average Cost of Owning a Chameleon

Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), especially males, are usually more
expensive to purchase. 
All these figures are based on online prices for these items. In nearly every instance buying from an online source will be cheaper than buying from a pet store chain, sometimes even after shipping. I recommend buying everything you need reptile-related online or at reptile shows and looking at home improvement/hardware stores for things like light fixtures or heat bulbs.

INITIAL PURCHASE INVESTMENT

1. The Chameleon:
  • Veiled: $20-100 (depending on age)
  • Panther: $140-600+ (depending on locale and age)
  • Jackson’s: $50-100 (depending on CB/WC and age)
2. The Enclosure
  • Baby screen cage: $30-60 (depending on size)
  • *Baby glass terrarium: $40-80 (depending on size)
  • Adult screen cage: $80-110 (for a 2’x2’x4’ cage)
  • *Adult glass terrarium: $200-300 (depending on size)
*Many will not recommend glass enclosures for chameleons but they can often times be the best choice for people in extremely dry or very cold locations as they can keep humidity and temperatures stable more easily. Terrariums, but not aquariums, still provide ample air circulation but will require more cleaning. 

3. Lighting:
  • UVB bulb: ~$20 for a Reptisun 5.0/10.0 linear fluorescent (cheaper on Amazon.com) or up to $70 for an Arcadia 6%/12% or Megaray bulb (no cheap alternative source, sorry!)
  • Heat bulb: $2-6 for a regular household bulb/pack (about 40-60w will usually suffice)
  • Light fixtures: Linear fluorescent fixture ~$10 (from home improvement store) and ~$5 spotlight fixture for heat bulb (also at home improvement stores)
4. Supplements:
  • Phosphorous-free calcium without Vit D3: $6-12
  • Phosphorous-free calcium with Vit D3: $6-12
  • Multivitamin: $6-12
  • *OR Rapashy Calcium Plus low D (all in one): $8.99

5. Watering:
  • Spray bottle: $1-20 (I recommend a pump sprayer from a hardware store)
  • Dripper: Free-$15 (DIY ones will be much cheaper than store bought ones)
  • OR automatic misting system: ~$100-200 (Mitsking or Aquazamp)
6. Cage D├ęcor:
  • Plants: $30-100+ (depends on size of cage and how much you get, but the cage should be well filled with pathways and plant cover for your chameleon. Live plants are strongly recommended.)
  • Branches: Free! You can use branches from any non-toxic tree outside, it's not necessary to buy artificial vines and branches. They are sturdier, too.  


MAINTENANCE COSTS

1. Food:
Live insects (Crickets, hornworms, butter worms, super worms, silk worms, roaches, etc.): $20-60+ depending heavily on what you get, how much, and how often. However, it is often MUCH cheaper to buy online in bulk and then house your insects at home, even breeding them.
Containers to house insects in: $5-12 (depending on how many and what size)
2. Lights:
The UVB bulb must be replaced every 6-8 months so $20 bi-yearly.
The heat bulb will also burn out and need replacing
3. Supplements:
Will run out, so they will also need replacing.
4. Gut loading food
Food for the feeders. A variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and a high-quality dry gut load. Price will vary significantly with how well you gut load and what ingredients you use. Dry gut loads can be purchased on line that offer excellent nutrition or can be made at home from appropriate and healthy ingredients ground together.
5. Vet bills
Like all animals, chameleons can get sick. It is prudent to have at least $100-200 saved away in case of an emergency. Chameleons will often times not show signs of sickness until the issue is very advanced, and by then it probably is an emergency.
Fecal tests should be done a minimum of twice a year to check for parasites. Most vets will do this for $15-20 (in my experience, at least)

All in all, when you buy a pet chameleon you can expect to spend at least $200-300 on the initial set-up alone, without the price of the chameleon, and it can go up significantly depending on the extras or upgrades you do (like the automatic misting system or the upgraded UVB lights and reflector fixtures). 

With some online savvy many of these things might be found for even cheaper on places like Amazon.com or Ebay.com. Additionally, places like Craigslist.com could be a great resource for gently used cages, light fixtures, and other things that can save you a lot of money. It's a good idea to disinfect anything previously used heavily, to make sure nothing (like parasites) are transfered to your pets. For more classifieds, look at the classifieds section on Chameleonforums.com and on Faunaclassifieds.com


Good luck!

24 comments:

  1. Hi,
    I am looking into chameleons, but I am not particularly fond of having live crickets in the house. I saw that at my local pet supply store, they have freeze dried crickets. Do they have to have live crickets and such in order to live? Or is freeze dried with the occasional live insect ok? Thank you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey,

      Unfortunately chameleons will not shoot their tongues at bugs that are not moving (they almost don't even notice something as food unless it's wiggling) and those freeze dried crickets are usually void of any good food in their bellies (what we call gut-loading) so your chameleon misses out on necessary vitamins, minerals, and moisture. That's why everyone recommends keeping bugs, feeding them good food for a couple days, and then feeding them off to a reptile.

      If you don't like crickets I'd recommend something like roaches. Bear with me, I know it sounds really gross but you can order something like dubia roaches, which don't fly, don't climb smooth surfaces, don't chirp, and don't stink. So you can keep a few in a plastic storage container, feed them fresh fruits and veggies, and they will breed on their own. So they end up being super cost effective and super easy to have on hand all the time. And then you can just supplement with superworms or other bugs occasionally for variety.

      Look into it, there are several options that don't include crickets. But if bugs end up being a possible deal-breaker there are other reptiles that don't need bugs at all to thrive, like crested geckos.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

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    2. Thank you for your advice. One more question, as I was reading your amazing blog I came across a part where it talked about going to the vet for it....... Is that only if the chameleon seems sick or like a yearly check up? I really appreciate the fact that you are so detailed in your answers to my questions. Thank you so much!!

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    3. Some people do yearly wellness checks with their vet but I usually only go when I think something is wrong. I do take in poop to do fecal tests and check for parasites but if the fecal is clean then they don't need to be seen by a vet. And thank you for the kind comments about the blog!

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  2. Just a quick comment regarding non-moving feeders. I have a female Jacksons who used to (has mouth problems similar to your Mellerii now) be willing to shoot dead bugs. I've fed her cut up superworms before, but you're right. In most cases a Cham won't shoot non-moving food.

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  3. Hi Olimpia,

    I love your blog! thank you for all the info :)

    I am a new mommy to a 3 month old Veiled Chameleon. I was told she was a female so I am pretty excited about that. She seems to be happy in her new home, I have had her almost 2 weeks now. I was just wondering when and what she can eat something other than crickets?

    Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words! Congrats on the new cham. Really she can eat whatever she wants as long as the size is appropriate for her - so hornworms, roaches, mealworms, superworms, etc., as long as they are small (depending on her size now)

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  4. Love Love Love! Your Blog! Thanks for all the great information!

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  5. What type of tree branches do you use? I can't figure out if the trees around where I live are toxic...

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  6. is there anything you can put in the bottoms to keep a clean viv and some thing that eats the crap

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What do you mean? Like a substrate? It depends, you could keep it bare like I do, or use paper towels/shelf liners and then switch those out, or use a layer of something like organic (pesticide/fungicide free) soil.

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  7. Hi! I am looking into getting a chameleon and i have just a few questions...
    How often should their terrarium be cleaned and what chemicals should i use on it (or should I not use chemicals at all?)
    Also, how often and how much food should I feed my Chameleon?
    And Should the heat light be on at all times including throughout the night, or is there any situations where it should be turned off?
    One more question, If i decide to take my chameleon outside, or if he/she needs to be taken to the vet, should i get a portable cage for him/her, or is it okay for chameleons to be out of their cages for certain situations like vet visits?

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    Replies
    1. I usually do a spot clean whenever I see a big poop on the cage floor (once they are adults and go to the bathroom less often) and a deeper clean once a week or so. Generally, I will remove the cage bottom and wash it well with water and Dawn soap first just to get any grime off and then spray with a bleach solution, rinse well with water, and let air dry. Bleach is safe on plastics and glass as long as it is rinsed and dried completely.

      It depends on the age and sex of the chameleon, if you let me know what you’re getting I can give you more accurate info.

      No, it’s only necessary to run the lights 10-12 hours a day and then leave them in darkness to sleep at night. They need a day/night cycle just like we do. And as long as your house isn’t getting below 60°F with a baby chameleon you wouldn’t need any supplemental heat. If you do, opt for a low wattage ceramic heat “bulb” that doesn’t produce light.

      It’s ok to take them out, you may want to have a container to travel with in the car at least though if you have to go to the vet. Just a cardboard box will do, with a dowel or something going across horizontally. If you need to travel with a chameleon a nice dark box will keep them calm and happier. You don’t need an entire second cage to travel with.

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  8. Hello Hello! I have been looking at adding a chameleon to my family, but sadly, I don't have any idea on where to begin.... I know little if anything about chameleon care, but they are my favorite animal, and I would love to learn more. Would you be willing to tell me what i need to get started?

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    Replies
    1. Hi! Congrats on taking the first step, which is to do your homework! This blog post here is actually a pretty good list of the actual stuff you need (cage, what lights, what supplements, etc.) and if you need to look over their care you can find all the blog post titled organized under the Blog Archive tab, the first section is for new keepers so it will go trhough stuff like how to set up a cage, what types of things the cage needs, how to manage their diet, etc.

      If you still have specific questions please feel free to email me at Olimpia515@gmail.com and I'll elaborate on anything you need to know. I would be happy to help!

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  9. I been wanting to get a chameleon for a long time but never had the money and now I can get it can you help me out please email at Larson tyrone79@gmail.com

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  10. Hello - I just purchased a 5 month old Panther Ambaja chameleon and the past 2 weeks have been looking rough for him. He seems to have small circular lumps under both armpits and his neck seems to be swollen - possible edema. His behavior has not changed - he eats crickets that we gut load daily and we sprinkle them with calcium and we also gut load our crickets with calcium. What could be causing this? I also have never been to a reptile vet - are they expensive?? How much does a visit typically charge? Any suggestions on what I should do? He's growing rapidly and I don't want him to die. Thank you

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sara,
      I'm sorry your guy is feeling off. Hopefully I can help you out, and if not I can tell you what a vet typically costs. In my experience an exotic vet will charge about $60 for the visit (about $10-15 more than for a cat or dog) but the cost of medicines isn't usually too high since chameleon require such small doses.

      Shoot me an email through the email widget on the side of the blog or directly at Olimpia515@gmail.com and I'd be happy to go over his care in a little more detail and see what could be causing the edema. Photos would be helpful, if you have any!

      Delete
  11. New Chameleon OwnerDecember 5, 2016 at 8:14 PM

    Hey Olimpia! I am getting a veiled chameleon for Christmas, and I was wondering where the best place to get one is. My parents want me to get it from Petco, but I don't think the chameleons there are top-notch. What do you think? Additionally, I was wondering what breed of chameleon is best for beginner chameleon owners. Thank you for all your help!

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    Replies
    1. Hey, Congrats on making the choice to get a chameleon! Veileds are definitely one of the better species to start off with, and are the most affordable to buy, so that leaves you with more money for a good set-up. Start off with a boy, if possible, too. It’s better to get a chameleon directly from a breeder (or even a local reptile show, depending on where you are! Look up shows like Repticon to see if maybe there will be any in your area this month) but if there is nothing else and you don’t want to ship a baby to you from a breeder in another place (it’s about $50 to ship overnight) then Petco could be a good option.

      Like you said, Petco doesn’t usually have the greatest chameleons but that doesn’t mean they are always sickly either. It’s a matter of knowing what a healthy baby veiled looks like so that when you go in there you can pick out one that looks strong, active, and alert. Check out the baby veiled photos on The Chameleon Farm’s Facebook page, Karen takes great photos of healthy baby veiled chams. Looking at photos can help you ID a boy too, which have little bumps on the back of their hind feet while females do not.

      I know it sounds harsh but don’t feel bad and buy the tiny runt in the cage. In puppies that usually has a happy ending but with chameleons not so much! Pick a nice-sized one, with big round eyes, that is walking around normally.

      If you need any help or if you’re at the store and need a quick second opinion feel free to email me some cell phone photos. You can shoot me a message through the blog’s contact form and then you can email me photos if you’re at the store and need help. I get them straight to my phone so I can help immediately if I’m not in the middle of work!

      Kind regards,
      Olimpia

      Delete
  12. Would you recommend buying a panther chameleon or a veild? I want to get a panther chameleon but I don't know where to find a cheap one. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. I would get whichever species you like best! A lot of people recommend getting a veiled first as a default because they are cheaper, but panther chameleons are just as hardy and I think that if you get the species you LOVE the most, you'll be more invested in making sure they do great. You can definitely find some panthers for closer to $150, the trick is just to keep an eye out on classifieds and at reptile shows. Chameleoncompany.com usually sells high-quality cheaper panthers but I don't know if they are still in business, they can usually be found advertising on Kingsnake.com. I would keep an eye out on faunaclassifieds.com, the classifieds on chameleonforums.com, and perhaps at some Facebook chameleon classified groups. Sometimes you can find really gorgeous animals that people just need to move quickly, so the price is really reasonable.

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    2. Thank you! My mom said that there is going to be a reptile show this year maybe around July and I will have all of the stuff that I need by then so I will keep my eye out for a panther chameleon!

      Delete
  13. Hey,
    What a wonderful blog, and the pictures are just awesome!
    I just got a male ambilobe a couple of weeks ago. He is doing very well in his flexarium, but he's now running away when I open the door to feed him. He doesn't accept hand feeding anymore. I try to do each movement as slow as I can, but the poor animal looks somehow totally scared. Do you have some tricks on how to get my furcifer used to me? (Please excuse my poor English, I am a French and I am very bad at learning other languages:)

    ReplyDelete

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