While keeping chameleons the lighting setup serves greater purposes than just providing light. You should keep in mind that the lighting setup is also there to provide warmth and essential UV-B rays as well.
Setting up the perfect chameleon lighting setup involves some preplanning and understanding of the chameleon biology. You also need to consider when to keep them on and when to keep them off to maintain a proper sleep cycle.
Now, this might seem a bit complicated at first but trust me, it is not. All you need is a bit of guidance. And that is exactly what I’m here to do. In this article, I will walk you through the steps of creating the perfect chameleon lighting setup and also provide some useful miscellaneous information related to lighting. So, let’s get to it.
Importance of Proper Lighting
Before you learn how to set up the lighting you must understand why it is necessary. Here, are some reasons why proper lighting is important in your chameleon enclosure –
Chameleons have highly developed visual senses. In fact, in many ways more developed than ours. Their visual spectrum is much wider than ours. This means that they can see colors that we can’t even perceive.
Being highly adapted to perceive color, you can imagine how frustrating it could be for them to be stuck in a dark enclosure. They will suffer from sensory deprivation if proper lighting is not provided. So, you must provide about 12 hours of lighting a day for proper sensory stimulation.
Being ectothermic chameleons do not produce their own heat. So, an external heat source allows them to stay warm and keep vital physiological and metabolic functions up and running.
In the wild, they would climb on a branch with some sunlight and receive heat from there. So, installing some heat lamps will allow them to act out this natural behavior and receive warmth.
Remember that heating pads are basically useless in the case of chameleons. It is because they don’t spend much time on the bottom of the cage. They usually stick to the artificial branches and high platforms inside the cage. So, heating or spotting lamps are the only option when it comes to providing them with heat.
In one of my previous articles, Veiled Chameleon Care Sheet I’ve mentioned how important providing UV light is. And this goes for every type of chameleon.
UV-B allows chameleons to absorb calcium which allows for proper bone growth. Without it, they may fall victim to various physical complications.
Lights Used in Chameleon Enclosures
You are going to need three types of lights for your chameleon light setup. Two of them are essential and the third one is only important if you live in a very cold area. These lights are –
- Heat lamps
- UV-B lights
- Ceramic bulbs
Your chameleons are going to need about 12 hours of continuous lighting and heat. Heat lamps are what you’re going to use to make that happen.
As mentioned before, UV-B helps with the absorption of calcium which helps in proper bone growth and various metabolic processes.
You should keep heating lamps off at night so that the chameleons can go to sleep. Unless you live somewhere super cold and for some reason, there is no room heating available, you don’t really need heating at night.
But if you must have heating at night then you can use ceramic bulbs. They do not produce light. Only heat. So, there’s no chance of messing up your chameleon’s sleep cycle.
Buying the Right Lights
Now that you have learned the importance of lights and the types of lights used in chameleon enclosures, let’s learn how to buy the proper ones.
For heating, you will need to buy a heat bulb between 75 watts to 100 watts. But based on the size of your enclosure you might need more powerful bulbs.
The chances of burning your chameleon with high powered bulbs is pretty minimal. As they will just climb down if it gets too hot.
What you should be concerned about is creating too much ambient heat inside the tank. In that case, they won’t be able to escape the heat and die from overheating. So, sticking to around 100 watts is a good idea.
What you’ll need –
- Bowl reflector
- Timer (Optional)
You can buy a Zoo Med Repti basking lamp with a Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp. Or you can just buy any ordinary 100-watt home bulb and a good quality reflector.
It’s your choice. Whatever bulb you buy make sure it fits properly in your reflector and does not cross the length of the reflector.
The timer is optional. But it does make taking care of your chameleons a lot easier and worry-free. You should only provide 12 – 14 hours of light inside your cage to maintain a proper sleep cycle.
Any more or less may cause health complications for your chameleons. A timer just makes regulating the light and heat inside your tank a lot easier. I recommend the Repticare Day Night Timer. It’s pretty cheap and gets the job done.
If you keep your chameleon enclosure indoors then setting up a good quality UV-B light is essential. Heat bulbs just produce heat. They don’t provide UV-B as sunlight does.
As we’ve mentioned before, UV-B is important for maintaining proper metabolic processes and growth. It promotes calcium absorption and helps in bone development.
You want to go with UV tubes and not bulbs. Bulbs don’t disperse light as well as tubes. So, using them may result in inadequate UV lighting. Long UV tube lights placed diagonally at the top of your enclosure will ensure a proper supply of UV-B and keep your chameleons healthy.
What You’ll Need –
- UVB tube light
- Light fixture
For the tube, you will find two variants in the market. T5 and T8. Get the T5 one as the T8 one is not powerful enough to provide enough UV-B for chameleons.
Also, get a decent 10.0 or 12% UVB light. Any lower than that may not be adequate for your chameleon. Sure, you can get away with a 5.0 or 6% UV light with panther chameleons. But for some species like the veiled chameleon, a 10.0 or 12% UVB light is a must. So, just stay on the safe side and get the more powerful one no matter what species of chameleon you have.
In my case, I use the Zoo Med Reptisun T5 fixture and pair it with a 10.0 T5 HO Reptisun tube light. Sure, they are a bit expensive. But they are worth it as Zoo Med manufactures one of the more quality UVB lights and fixtures.
For UVB lights the duration is the same as heat lights. Keep them on for around 12 hours every day. Remember that too much UV-B can also be a problem. So, having a timer can be useful.
If you keep your chameleons outside where they get adequate sunlight then don’t bother getting UVB lights. They’ll get enough UV-B naturally.
Setting Up the Lights
Now that you have collected all the right equipment let’s talk about how you can actually set up the lights up. Thankfully it’s not really that hard. You don’t have to be an electrician to do this stuff. Just follow this simple guide and you’ll have a perfectly lighted chameleon enclosure.
Setting up the Heat lamps
- Take the bulb and put it inside the reflector.
- Now take the lamp and put it at the top screen of your enclosure.
- Place it on one side of the enclosure which will be the basking area. Do not place it in the middle or not your chameleon won’t have a cool side in the cage for proper thermoregulation.
- You might have to install more than one based on the size of your cage.
- Plug the lights to your timer and the timer to an outlet in your house (If you have a timer)
- Turn on the light and wait for 15-30 minutes.
- Check the temperature on the basking spot with a thermometer.
- If it is 85°F – 95°F then you’re done.
- If it is above or below that then you might have to change the power or number of lights.
You’ll notice that I didn’t specify how to actually attach the light to the enclosure. That’s because different reflectors come with different attachment mechanisms.
Like the Zoo Med lamp stand needs no attachment. And the Zilla reflector dome comes with anchors to secure it to the top of your enclosure. Also, there is the Simple Delux Ceramic clamp light that comes with a clamp. So, this is something you have to figure out yourself or by reading the manual that comes with these reflectors.
If you are using halogen lights then make sure you drop down on the wattage by half. Halogen lights produce twice as much heat as normal bulbs. So, in case of a chameleon lighting setup you should be looking for a 50-watt halogen bulb. I recommend going with Zilla mini bulbs if you are interested in halogen bulbs.
Setting Up the UV lights
There isn’t much science that goes behind installing UV lights on chameleon cages. You probably have a screen cage which is the best for chameleons.
So, just installing the UV tube light inside the fixture and plopping the whole thing on top of the cage is all you need to do. Remember to install the tube light diagonally on top of the cage for better exposure to the UV light.
You can also plug this into a timer for a worry-free day-night cycle.
Do You Need Heating at Night for Chameleon Enclosures?
Under normal circumstances no. Most of you will be keeping them inside your home. At night what is comfortable for us is also comfortable for chameleons.
The drop in temperature is actually good for them as it encourages them to move around and look for heat in the morning. Allowing them to stretch out their muscles a bit. Also, it allows some rest to their metabolic processes.
If you keep reptiles somewhere where it gets below 10 degrees centigrade at night then ceramic bulbs may be necessary. Ceramic bulbs produce heat but do not produce light. Ensuring they stay warm without affecting their sleep cycle.
Just change the heat bulbs for the ceramic bulbs and you are good to go. Make sure at night the temperature of the inside of your chameleon tank is around 16 to 18 degrees centigrade.
Thankfully, ceramic bulbs are relatively cheap. So, if you really need them then there are plenty of relatively cheap options out there. Such as BOEESPAT, Simple Deluxe, etc.
Things to Consider While Lighting Chameleon Enclosures
Chameleons are very sensitive animals. So, you need to stay alert of how your light setup is affecting your chameleons. Here are some things that you must remember while lighting your chameleon enclosure-
- Ensure 12 to 14 hours of lighting
Chameleons need about 12 to 14 hours of light and heat every day. Any less and it will cause metabolic and psychological illnesses which can lead to the death of your chameleons.
Any more than that and you will ruin their sleep cycle which can also cause physical and psychological issues.
- Maintain Day-Night Cycle
Chameleons go to sleep at night. And they can’t do that if you keep their enclosure’s lights on 24/7. You need to remember to turn them off every night and then turn them back on every morning.
If you find it hard to do that then I recommend you invest in a timer. They are pretty cheap and totally justify their cost by relieving you from this scheduled routine every day.
- Buy Good quality reflectors
Whether you go with a branded Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp or any ordinary off-brand reflector, just make sure it has a good reflective surface.
I’ve seen and have personally used cheap reflectors in my early herping days only to find out they do not work as I intended. Saving a few bucks is not worth risking your pet’s health. So, please get some good reflectors.
Also, make sure the bulbs you buy actually fit inside the reflector leaving some space at the top of the reflector bowl. Or not the reflector will sit at an angle and spill out a good portion of the heat leading to improper heating.
- Buy the proper UV lights
Do not buy the first random cheap UV light you find on amazon. Take some time to find 10.0 or 12% T5 tube lights. Make sure you place the light diagonally on top of the cage.
- Use a screen top cage
Not only screen top cages are good for chameleons for providing proper airflow but also, they allow proper passage of UV light.
You should install the UV lights outside of the tank but fixing them outside a glass or plastic top won’t deliver proper UV light inside the cage. UV light doesn’t pass through these materials that well. So, instead, use a screen top cage for better passage of UV rays.
- Monitor temperature on the basking area
Buy a good thermometer and frequently check the temperature on the basking spot. It should be between 85°F to 90°F. No more and no less.
Burning chameleons with high temperatures is more common than you think. So, buy a good thermometer and check the temperature regularly.
- Night heating is not necessary
Many tend to overdo it and install ceramic bulbs for night heating. But as mentioned before you shouldn’t do that. It will make your chameleons lazy and they won’t get the exercise they so direly need.
Unless you live in places like Alaska and you keep your chameleons in a non-heated room during winter for some reason, night heating is not recommended.
Adverse Effects of Improper Lighting and Heating
If you aren’t still convinced about the importance of proper lighting and heating in a chameleon enclosure then learning about a few diseases caused by improper lighting should do the trick.
Also, this information can help you to determine whether your chameleon is already suffering from a lighting-related disease that would require you to replan your lighting setup. Here, are some common issues caused by improper lighting –
- Stress and Boredom
Not enough sunlight will stress out or at least bore your chameleon. You are keeping an animal that has gone through millions of years of evolution to climb, hunt, and hide. In a cage, they can do very little of that.
So, they’re already deprived of the physical stimulation they’d have in the wild. So, if you go even further to limit their visual stimulation as well then that will surely not be very good for them.
Just imagine yourself sitting inside a dimly lit grey box for the rest of your life. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it would suck. And it will be the same for your chameleon as well.
- Reduced Appetite
All reptiles need heat to move about and digest their food. Without proper heating, their muscles won’t work as well and their metabolism will slow down.
They’ll become sluggish and avoid eating. I mean, why would they? Without a heat source, they won’t have the energy to really digest their food as they can’t produce their own heat. Soon they’ll suffer from malnutrition and eventually die.
- Metabolic Bone Disease
UV light is equally important in keeping your chameleons healthy as heat lamps. Most importantly UV-B is required for chameleons to absorb calcium which is responsible for bone growth.
Without adequate UV-B they’ll suffer from inadequate growth and their bones will become fragile. This can cause severe health complications and even death.
- Compromised sleep cycle
I’m sure I don’t have to teach you about the importance of a proper sleep cycle. No matter what the animal is, sleep is an integral part of its survival.
With inadequate lighting or improper maintenance of a day-night cycle, their sleep cycle will surely be affected. This will lead to tiredness, insomnia, reduced appetite, and eventually death.
Many first-time chameleon owners don’t really understand how fragile chameleons really are. They often buy too powerful bulbs or attach the bulbs inside the cage which can burn the skin of chameleons. This will also cause them to overheat.
What About Grow Lights for Chameleon Enclosures?
There’s another type of light that you can use in a chameleon enclosure. And these are the grow lights.
Grow lights are lights that produce light waves of various frequencies that are considered to enhance the growth of plants.
Why didn’t I mention them before? Well, they aren’t really necessary for keeping chameleons. Sure, they make everything look a lot prettier. But they will not directly affect your chameleon’s health.
However, if you are planning to create a bioactive terrarium then these could come in handy. They provide all the right frequencies of light to boost the growth of plants which can indirectly have a positive impact on your chameleons. Surely, a more colorful and vibrant terrarium will make your chameleon a lot happier.
Can Red Lights Be Used as Night Lights for Chameleons?
The answer is a resounding, No.
Many believe that chameleons can’t see the color red. So, you can use red bulbs at night inside their cage without disturbing their sleep. Chameleons have much more advanced eyesight and color perception than we humans do.
So, the saying that chameleons can’t see the red light is just a rumor. They can see it and it will disturb their sleep cycle.
I hope now you have a good idea of the importance of a proper chameleon lighting setup and how to do it. Let me know in the comment section below if I missed anything. Wishing you and your chameleons good health. Thanks for stopping by.