Pygmy Chameleons are tiny ground-dwelling lizards that are less than 4 inches in length. Babies are barely the size of your fingertip! These aren’t the best choice for a first-time chameleon keeper, though their small size and limited space needs make them a popular pet. Since they don’t climb much, a low enclosure is adequate, and a single Pygmy needs an aquarium of just 5 gallons. Despite minimal space requirements, they’re not beginner-friendly due to very specific care requirements.
Quick Facts about Pygmy Chameleon
|Minimum Tank Size:||5 gallons|
|Tank Set-Up:||Low and long|
|Compatibility:||Intermediate and above|
Pygmy Chameleon Overview
There are multiple species of Pygmy Chameleons, several of which can be purchased on the pet market. Most of these lizards are wild-caught, not captive bred, which means they’re going to be more difficult to handle and will be naturally averse to human contact. But with some time and regular interaction, they generally display friendly demeanors, which is another reason for their popularity.
While the care needs of a Pygmy Chameleon aren’t particularly in-depth, you do have to ensure that their environment stays within specific temperature and humidity parameters. Unlike many lizard species, Pygmy Chameleons aren’t particularly hardy, mainly due to their tiny size. It’s easier to accidentally kill your Pygmy Chameleons by accident if things go awry.
Pygmy Chameleons are known to be quite friendly and docile. You should be able to handle your Pygmy without too much trouble. However, you’ll have to be careful not to overdo it, as handling can be stressful for your chameleons. It’s best to let them be in peace and only handle them when necessary. After all, it’s easy to accidentally damage or kill a creature that small. Depending on the type of Pygmy Chameleon you get, it could be just an inch or two long!
How Much Do Pygmy Chameleons Cost?
You might expect Pygmy Chameleons to be super cheap because of their small stature. In some cases, that holds true. Bearded Pygmy Chameleons, for example, can sell for as little as $25 apiece. Most varieties tend to cost somewhere between $50 and $150 on average, though some expensive specimens cost $200 or more, even though they’re just a few inches in length!
Typical Behavior & Temperament
In general, Pygmy Chameleons are considered to be friendly and docile lizards. That said, many of the specimens available on the pet market are wild-caught. These chameleons will be naturally more apprehensive of human contact and less friendly. You can still earn their trust with time and care, and since they’re so small, you’re unlikely to get bitten in the process.
Appearance & Varieties
There are many varieties of Pygmy Chameleon in the wild, but in captivity, there are three that are the most common and make up a majority of Pygmy Chameleon pet sales. These are the bearded, pitted, and spectral Pygmy Chameleons. While some species are just an inch or even shorter when fully mature, these three species are generally between 3-4 inches long on average.
Bearded Pygmy Chameleons look like a wilted leaf, displaying a light brown color with splotching or striping patterns. They can also display colors of yellow, red, and green. These chameleons are named after the small “beard” of scales that both males and females display around the base of the chin.
Spectrum Pygmy Chameleons exhibit brown, grey, and red coloration with mottled patterns and diagonal stripes along the flanks. On their head is a small protrusion that resembles a horn, though it’s actually a soft nasal process. These chameleons have considerably longer tails than the bearded variety.
Pitted Pygmy Chameleons have stripes running diagonally down their sides over a base color of grey or light brown. Their defining feature is their lips, which sort of resemble a duck’s beak since they’re flat and broad.
How to Take Care of a Pygmy Chameleon
Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup
Your Pygmy Chameleons will be spending their short lives in the habitat you create for them, so it must meet all of their needs. You’ll have to take care to ensure that temperature, humidity, and other factors are carefully managed. Failure to do so could result in unhealthy chameleons that can’t thrive in their current environment.
One great thing about keeping a Pygmy Chameleon as a pet is that they don’t take up much space. For a single Pygmy, you’ll need an aquarium that’s just 5 gallons. Each additional chameleon you plan on keeping in the same enclosure will need an additional 5 gallons of space. Glass enclosures are preferred since they can dissipate heat easily. Make sure the lid provides ample ventilation. Also, unlike many chameleon species, Pygmies don’t climb much, so you’re better off with a lower, longer aquarium since they’re a ground-dwelling species.
Your chameleons will never be able to thrive if their environment is the wrong temperature. You want to keep it between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Temperatures above 80 degrees can be fatal for chameleons. Temperatures below 60 aren’t nearly as dangerous, but they can still result in declining health.
Just as important as maintaining a proper temperature is ensuring adequate humidity. For Pygmy Chameleons, 60%-80% humidity is ideal. You can easily achieve this by simply misting the enclosure with a water bottle a few times each day. Just make sure to monitor the humidity inside the habitat with a hygrometer. For convenience, we recommend a digital hygrometer/thermometer that will display both the temperature and humidity level for easy monitoring.
Lighting for Pygmy Chameleons is simple. They have no special needs. You won’t need to provide any UVB lighting or a heat lamp for basking. Instead, a simple natural light fluorescent bulb will do. Just keep it set for 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day to keep your chameleons healthy.
Coconut fiber makes the ideal substrate for Pygmy Chameleons, and it should be layered 2-4 inches deep. If you want to use real plants in the enclosure, then place a layer of gravel beneath the coconut fiber for drainage.
Plants and Hiding Places
Fake and live plants should fill your chameleon’s enclosure. They love to hide amongst the leaves and climb on the plants. You can also add some smaller sticks for the chameleons to climb on, though they will spend most of their time down low. Be sure to disinfect anything before adding it to your chameleons’ habitat. If there’s pesticide on your plants, for instance, a small nibble could spell disaster.
Can Pygmy Chameleons Be Housed Together?
Pygmy Chameleons are considered to be one of the communal chameleon species that can be safely kept together. However, there are some guidelines that you’ll need to follow. Even Pygmy Chameleons can become aggressive and violent with each other in the right (or wrong) conditions. And as a general rule, never house your Pygmies with any other species. While they might do alright with other Pygmies, it’s too risky to house them with other reptiles or animals.
You’re best off keeping only one male in each enclosure, though you can house multiple males if you have enough space. Remember, these are tiny chameleons, so two males in a 40-gallon or larger aquarium are often alright, though you’ll need to keep a close watch out for aggressive behaviors between them.
Females tend to get along just fine and can be housed together without issue. Many keepers have even reported seeing multiple females roosting together. You can also keep multiple females together with a single male. Problems only seem to arise when there are two males present. Still, you should ensure that you’re providing ample space for each chameleon; no less than 5 gallons of tank space per lizard.
What to Feed Your Pygmy Chameleon
Juvenile Pygmy Chameleons should be fed daily, while adults only need to be fed every other day. They need to be eating appropriately sized insects. For juveniles, this means tiny pinhead crickets, fruit flies, and roach nymphs. Adults will eat nearly any insect that they can fit in their mouth, such as crickets, mantis nymphs, roach nymphs, house flies, butter worms, waxworms, mealworms, fruit flies, and more.
To ensure your chameleon is getting maximal nutrition from each feeding, you’ll want to gut load insects before giving them to your chameleon. To do this, simply feed the insects on fruits and vegetables for a few hours prior to feeding to fatten them up. You should also dust them with a multivitamin to ensure your chameleons are getting all the nutrients they require.
In the evenings, you’ll want to remove insects that have remained in the enclosure. Loose crickets can chew on sleeping adults and even kill babies in the enclosure. If an insect goes uneaten long enough, it might get too big to eat. Use a small flashlight at night to see what insects have left their hiding spots, then use some feeder tongs to remove them.
Keeping Your Pygmy Chameleon Healthy
If you keep their conditions within the proper parameters, then your Pygmy Chameleons should be relatively easy to keep in good health. Because of their small size, they’re not as resilient as other lizard species. They can also get injured or sick, and you’ll need to look out for this. Sometimes, Pygmy Chameleons develop painful sores around the outside of the mouth. If you see signs of this, you’ll need to take them to the vet for treatment. You also might notice scratch or bite marks from the prey your chameleon was hunting. These can become infected, so make sure to take your chameleon in for treatment if you see such injuries. If your Pygmy gets sick, things can progress very quickly.
Because Pygmy Chameleons are naturally secretive creatures, you’re not likely to observe any of their mating practices. Males are rarely seen courting the females and females don’t change colors when they’re getting close to having offspring. Still, you might notice the female getting larger when the time is getting close.
If your male and female chameleons are housed together, breeding will be very simple. They’ll essentially do it on their own. You’ll have to make sure that the substrate is adequately thick as the female will be laying her eggs in the substrate. Make sure that there are wetter and drier areas available so your Pygmy can have its pick. You probably won’t ever notice it nesting, but you’ll need to figure out where it did so you can remove the eggs for incubation.
Pygmy eggs are tiny. You’ll need to safely house them in an incubator for 45-90 days at 65-78 degrees Fahrenheit if you want them to hatch.
Are Pygmy Chameleons Suitable For You?
Pygmy Chameleons are some of the smallest vertebrates on the planet. Some species are incredibly small, but the most common varieties in the pet trade are usually 3-4 inches long when fully mature. They’re friendly and docile lizards that don’t require in-depth care, though you have to be careful to meet their specific needs regarding temperature, humidity, and more.
Since their small size means they’re not the most resilient lizards, Pygmy Chameleons are best reserved for intermediate and advanced herpetological hobbyists. A small mistake that a larger gecko might shrug off could spell disaster for your Pygmy Chameleons. Still, with proper care, they make great pets for any reptile enthusiast who’s looking to add something a little smaller to their collection.
Featured Image Credit: Nick Henn, Shutterstock
An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan. He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning. An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.