The Meller’s Chameleon is large and uniquely colored. They are from the mountainous regions in eastern Africa, such as Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi. As an adult, they can reach over 2-feet long. They are immediately identifiable by they enormous size and bright yellow and green color.
They have a single horn that sometimes causes them to be called “giant one-horned chameleons.” However, this horn is often missing in captivity due to injuries, especially during importation and shipping.
When they feel threatened, these chameleons will develop black spots. Like all chameleons, their eyes rotate independently, and they have a long tongue that helps them catch prey. Their fused toes and tail allow them to climb in many different environments safely. However, they don’t camouflage to their environment. Instead, their change of colors is mainly dependent on stress levels, mating rituals, and temperature.
Their occipital lobes can be brought forward if the lizard feels threatened. However, this is rare in captivity. Usually, they’re pretty laidback and gentle creatures.
Quick Facts about Meller’s Chameleon
|Species Name||Triceros melleri|
|Temperature||75 to 82 degrees|
|Size||2 – 2/12 feet|
|Minimum Tank Size||6’ x 6’ x 3’|
|Tank Set-Up||Lots of climbing structures and hiding places|
Meller’s Chameleon Overview
This chameleon is one of the largest in the world. They are the largest if you don’t count those native to Madagascar. They are native to mainland Africa, where they are considered Least Concerned. In captivity, these chameleons are usually pretty timid towards humans. In many cases, they are even reported as being friendly. However, this depends mainly on the level of interaction between them and humans.
Wild-caught chameleons often do pretty poorly in captivity. They usually come with large amounts of parasites and usually have a pretty high mortality rate. Instead, captive-bred options are recommended. They can be bred in captivity with a bit of effort. As long as their habitat is constructed correctly, they are usually pretty easy to breed.
Because these lizards are giant, they take up quite a bit of room. A large enclosure is recommended, which often takes up a bit more room than most owners are expecting. They also need various supplements to stay healthy and substantial hydration. For this reason, we only recommend them to advanced hobbyists.
How Much Do Meller’s Chameleons Cost?
Compared to other reptiles, these chameleons can be pretty expensive. They usually cost anywhere from $150 to $500. It is often not recommended to purchase wild-caught lizards. These often are far less likely to thrive than captive-bred lizards. Usually, those caught in the wild undergo a complex shipping process, carry diseases, and have a heavy parasitic load. For this reason, they often have difficulty in captivity.
We recommend finding a local breeder if possible. These chameleons do not do well when shipped, so it is best to purchase them locally. We recommend a breeder instead of a pet store, as this may lower your cost. Plus, you’ll be sure that the chameleon was bred in captivity instead of being caught in the wild.
The breeder should be able to let you see the enclosures the adults are kept in, as well as where the babies are kept. This will give you a good idea of where the chameleon has been staying and the level of care they have been receiving.
Typical Behavior & Temperament
These chameleons range from docile to moderately aggressive towards humans. Often, they require a significant amount of taming before they are accepting of people. Those caught in the wild may be more aggressive than those in captivity since they are not used to people.
Usually, they are large enough to be confident and not scared of much. They aren’t used to many lizards being larger than them. However, they can become aggressive when they feel threatened. They may hiss and attempt to make themselves look large in an attempt to scare off predators. They rarely do this with people unless mishandled.
Despite the common misconception, these lizards do not blend into their environment. Instead, their color-changing pattern is much more likely to be communication. These lizards will darken when upset and brighten their colors when attempting to woo a mate. You can often determine what your lizard is thinking based on their color. It will likely take a bit, but with time, you’ll learn to speak their language. This can help you determine when something is wrong.
Appearance & Varieties
These are the largest chameleons on the African mainland. They can reach up to 24”. However, they have been known to grow over 30”. In some cases, they have weighed over 21 ounces. It is essential to keep this in mind when adopting them. They can get enormous, which means that they will take up quite a bit of room.
Females are typically a bit smaller than males. However, they can be pretty large too.
They have a relatively stout body with a stubby tail and a smaller-than-you’d-expect head. They are also more elongated than most chameleons.
The spots and bands on the chameleon range from brown to green to yellow. Black is even a possibility. The base coloration is a deep green with white stripes, but these lizards can change their coloration depending on their circumstances. If they are tired or upset, black and white dots may form. Stress is often associated chiefly with black spotting, though.
When under severe stress, the whole chameleon will turn charcoal gray with yellow stripes. A sick chameleon will often turn gray, pink, white, or brown. Their color will be unusual.
Their tongue can reach up to 20” long.
How to Take Care of Meller’s Chameleons
Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup
The Meller’s Chameleon is quite large. For this reason, they should not be kept in a normal-sized chameleon cage. They should be kept in a cage that is a minimum of 6’ x 6’ x 3’. They do not prefer to move up and down like other chameleons. Instead, they stay at the same general level. Therefore, wider cages that allow them to move horizontally are better.
Cheap plastic mesh is not suitable for these chameleons. They cannot support the weight of an adult and will lead to torn fingernails and food abrasions. Most have a custom-built cage that is made with a safe type of mesh. It should allow them to grip safely since they will climb on just about everything.
For pairs, you will need to double the enclosure size and include a basking light for each chameleon. They will compete for basking locations if there is only one, even if they are otherwise compatible. You should give them areas to meet their needs separately so that there will be less fighting.
Sturdy, horizontal branches are required. They are required to support these giant lizards. Plants alone are not suitable for structural support. Umbrella plants can be used for free ranges. However, branches are required for structural support. Be sure to include plenty of branches, as these chameleons do like to climb quite a bit.
These chameleons are pretty shy, so they need lots of hiding places. They must have enough space and privacy to hide from view. Setting up a single plant at one end is not enough. They need lots of hiding places. There should only be a few open places, while much of the space should be pretty hidden.
You should provide a laying bin for females, as well as chameleons that have yet to be sexed. An oversized plastic storage coat is suitable. Fill it 12” deep with topsoil and sand.
Lighting & Temperature
These chameleons need a UVB and basking bulb. We recommend a lamp designed to hold both, which allows the chameleon to receive UVB light while basking. A halogen bulb is recommended. 60W is usually enough. The basking spot should not get higher than 85 F. The temperature should drop significantly at night, at least by 10 degrees. These enclosures should stay about 75 degrees at least during the day. Temperatures should not sore, as they don’t like heating quite as much as others.
Basking lights should be aimed down and at an angle. This allows them to warm up their sides and makes them less likely to burn their crests. Having their light directly above them is possible, but you may run into burns and uneven heating issues.
You can use daylight fluorescent bulbs to add extra light to enclosures. This can make it easier for you to observe the animals, but is mostly unnecessary.
Do Meller’s Chameleons Get Along with Other Pets?
You should keep these chameleons alone or with others of their exact size. They cannot get along with other species in most cases. You should not house males together, as they can get territorial. However, male-female pairs and females can often get along together if given enough room.
What to Feed Your Meller’s Chameleons
Meller’s Chameleons have particular hydration needs. They’re famous for being long and slow drinkers. Generally, you should provide them with long showers of about 20 minutes in length, several times a day. These chameleons will sit and drink water for nearly the entire time that you mist. Extended sessions are a good idea if they seem to drink the entire time during the misting.
A dripper may also be used, but many chameleons will not use these often. Some are significant users of the dripper, but most will only use it occasionally. It does allow you to offer water at nearly all hours of the day, however.
This amount of water means that you’ll need to invest in a sound drainage system as well. You’ll likely need to account for over a gallon of water a day. That has to go somewhere.
Because of their large size, these chameleons eat substantial prey items. They may even eat small birds in the wild, so consider this when offering the appropriate feeder insects. Giant roaches are often a good option, as they get more extensive than most commonly available bugs. You can also use hornworms and moths, as these are pretty large as well.
Grasshoppers and anything else about that size is a good option. They will eat smaller items as well, such as superworms. However, these will not sustain them, so it is best to use larger prey items for the most part.
Feed them a few different prey items daily. Fewer items are better for most chameleons. They are prone to becoming overweight. You should feed them just enough to help them maintain a healthy weight. Keep an eye on their body condition and adjust their food intake as necessary. Therefore, feed a small handful of items every day or every two days.
You should supplement your chameleons. However, they are sensitive to over-supplementation, so it is essential to be careful regarding dosage. They require phosphorus-free calcium a couple of times a week at least. A D3 vitamin may also be recommended, though you should only use it once a month. Gut-loading the insects is critical to ensure that they consume plenty of vitamins and minerals, which are essential for their overall health.
Keeping Your Meller’s Chameleon Healthy
These chameleons are a bit sensitive regarding their overall health. Often, wild-caught chameleons come how with injures or other issues that weren’t originally expected. They often have parasites and are dehydrated. It may take them quite a while for them to regain their full strength. In many cases, these chameleons are known as “90-day lizards”, as many of them do not recover from their shipping ordeal.
You should carefully inspect your lizard for any injuries upon arrival. Lost and infected toenails are the most common problems. Bites and scratches can occur as well, but these are rarer. These can be treated with an all-purpose ointment, which should be enough for most wounds. In some cases, a vet visit may be called for to treat the wound.
Parasites are a significant problem with this disease. A regular fecal test may also be required. A heavy parasite load can be hazardous for these lizards. However, you may want to wait until the chameleon is stabilized before using a severe medication for parasites. Sometimes, these chameleons will not survive the treatment. You don’t want to add extra stress to the animal’s system.
Stress is the primary concern with these animals. They can get stressed quite quickly, mainly after they are imported. Stress can make them open to diseases, which can lead to illness and death. They need to be adequately housed with the correct temperature and lighting. You shouldn’t handle them too frequently, as this can also cause stress.
When the right conditions are met, these animals will breed naturally. The female will lay eggs in the appropriate nesting box when provided with one. There typically isn’t much that you need to do for your chameleons to breed. Instead, they breed pretty naturally without much help.
Are Meller’s Chameleons Suitable for You?
These chameleons aren’t for everyone. They are large and require quite a bit of care. To keep them hydrated, you’ll need to mist them multiple times a day. They are often stressed after importation, and many do not survive past a month or so. It is best to purchase them captive-bred, as they are typically better adapted and don’t have to be shipped such a long distance.
For this reason, we do not recommend them for new owners. You don’t just have to keep these animals alive, but you often have to rehabilitate them. In many cases, they are not well-taken care of before adoption. Many have injuries and may need specific care to keep them alive in the days after being adopted.
They also need quite a bit of room and bigger-than-usual food. Their hydration needs are specific, as are their climbing needs. It can be difficult to find big enough sticks to support these lizards – never mind setting up a whole enclosure.
Featured Image Credit: Alex Tihonovs, Shutterstock