Most chameleons are carnivores: They subsist on a variety of insects and small vertebrates. However, a few species eat small amounts of plant matter along with their proteins. Chameleon keepers should provide their omnivorous captives with regular offerings of dark, leafy greens and small pieces of fruit. Always consult your veterinarian before making changes to your pet's diet.
Despite the longstanding belief among herpetologists and herpetoculturists that chameleons are exclusively carnivorous, keepers have documented many species voluntarily consuming vegetables, fruit or leaves. Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are among the species most eager to consume plant material, but panther (Furcifer pardalis), Oustalet's (Furcifer oustaleti), Jackson's (Trioceros jacksonii) and Meller's chameleons (Trioceros melleri) also consume vegetation. Other omnivorous species undoubtedly exist.
Many kinds of berries, including blueberries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, are suitable fruits for chameleons. Cut fruits into cubes shorter than the width of your lizard's head to ensure he can safely swallow them. Your lizard may relish thin slices of apple, pear or peach. Avoid offering your pet acidic fruits, such as oranges, limes or grapefruit.
Most dark green, leafy vegetables are suitable dietary items for chameleon species that eat plants. Try collard, mustard and turnip greens, parsley and dandelion greens. However, avoid feeding chameleons spinach, kale or lettuces, as they can cause nutritional deficiencies. Shredded carrots, sweet potato and watercress are suitable vegetables for chameleons.
Wash your pet's vegetables with cold water to remove potential pesticide residues. Place vegetables on a small dish at the bottom of the cage, or tie them to structures within the cage so they hang like leaves. Offer your lizard vegetables several times per week. Remove leftovers within 24 hours to prevent spoilage.
Most chameleon species require significant amounts of vegetation in their cages to provide visual barriers and hiding places. However, your chameleon may munch on the plants that decorate his habitat, so use live nontoxic plants -- or use regularly replaced cuttings of these plants -- rather than silk or plastic plants, which can lead to intestinal obstructions if your chameleon tries to munch on them.
Researchers, veterinarians and herpetoculturists rarely agree about the safety of various plant species, and published lists often contradict one another. For example, chameleon keepers often keep weeping figs (Ficus benjamina) in their cages with no problems, but the sap from this plant is considered toxic by some authorities. Likewise, some authorities consider golden pothos plants (Epipremnum aureum) and common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) to be toxic, while others regard them as edible. Stick to species widely regarded as safe:
- Plants of the genus Hibiscus
- Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus)
- Roses (Rosa spp.)
- Mulberry (Morus alba)
- Grape vines (Vitis spp.)