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Lizard Pets: Keeping a Jackson’s Chameleon

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A hand holding a lizard

The closest you can come to owning a dinosaur is the pre-historic looking Jackson’s Chameleon. There is no mistaking this lizard with any other. The male has 3 horns. They have an independent focus eyes which gives them a 360 degree vision. Also, Jackson Chameleons can change color depending on their mood or to confuse predators trying to make a meal of them. They are known as the masters of camouflage.

In the wild, Jackson Chameleons thrive in the high altitudes of East Africa. Most of their time is spent hiding in trees. Normally, they only come to the ground to lay eggs and mate. Jackson Chameleons that live in the same tree will often ignore each other. Their natural enemies are birds and snakes.

A pet store owner in Hawaii purchased 36 of these in the early 70s. He allowed them to live outside, so there is also a sizeable colony of Jackson Chameleons prospering in Hawaii.

Chameleons are not an easy lizard to keep as a pet. They don’t like to be handled and stress easily. Common cause of death for these majestic looking creatures is a hunger strike. Some times this can be avoided by offering them a variety of food. Some will ignore almost everything and gobble down in huge quantities things they like. The Jackson’s Chameleon was the first chameleons to be kept successfully in captivity.

Jackson Chameleons eat primarily insects but will occasionally eat greens and fruits. Lettuce, spinach and cabbage should be avoided. As with all reptiles, their insects should be dusted with calcium. They captured their prey with their long tongue that is often 1.5 times the length of their body. Since they grow to 9-13″ long, it means their tongue can be 1 ½ feet long.

Since Jackson Chameleons are skittish, they need plenty of branches and cover in their cage. It should be at least a tall 15 gallon aquarium. If you like to handle lizards, Jackson Chameleons are not right for you. They should be kept singly or in sexed pairs. The temperature should be 73-80 in the day and 60-65 at night. The humidity needs to be maintained at 60-80%. If they are kept properly, they are a long living chameleon that could be your pet for up to 10 years.

One last interesting fact about this unusual lizard especially if you are trying to breed them. Most lizards lay eggs, but of course the Jackson Chameleon has to be different. They are sexually mature at 9 months and can deliver about 20 young surrounded by gelatinous egg sac. They remain asleep until the eggs touch substrate.

Jackson Chameleons are definitely an interesting lizard to have as a pet. They are not for beginners, but with some lizard pet keeping experience can successfully live a long time.