Meller's Chameleon

  • Common Group: CHAMELEONS
  • Common Name: Meller's Chameleon
  • Scientific Name: Trioceros melleri
  • Distribution: East Africa
  • Size: 18" - 24"

Species Description Hatchlings Healthy hatchlings (4" total length) and juveniles (under 12" total length): crisp black and white stripes Juvenile weight: 20 to 100 grams, depending on age and length

Adolescents Adolescent color: deep forest green with white stripes Adolescent weight: 100 grams and up

Adults Adult size: 18-24" long, with about 15-20" tongue reach Adult weight: 300 to 500 grams Unusually old and large specimens may reach lengths of 30" or more and weigh about 600 grams.

Healthy adult color is typically alternating stripes over a background color that covers the head and limbs. Background color may be leaf green or blue-green, with yellow stripes. Adults that are being fed or handled may also show white and black fine spotting all over. See below for stress colors.

When basking, the side facing the sun will turn dark green to almost solid black. The shaded side will stay the individual's normal resting color.

Stress Coloration: Excitement or mild stress begins to show with dark green spotting overlaying the chameleon's normal coloration, as above. Dark green spots turn to black. As stress builds, the spotting expands to black mottling in all stripes. Low-level stress, such as a mild parasitic infection, left unalleviated over long periods, will turn the chameleon brown, pink, gray, and white mottled. As stress becomes severe, the chameleon starts to turn charcoal gray, eventually turning pure white with yellow stripes. At this point, the animal is near death from extreme stress. Never buy a melleri that is gray or white. A gravid melleri is cream, gray, and black colored, with a bloated torso, and should be considered "at risk", not a good candidate for purchase.

Condition and Longevity

A well-cared-for Meller's chameleon may live 12 years in captivity. Healthy animals have a clean, mite-free skin that shows no black scratches or necrosis (dead tissue). Chameleons can bruise easily. Bruises show as dark gray or black areas, but will not have the hard crusty texture of necrotic areas. Well-fed and watered adults have muscular limbs without sharp bone structure definition. Hips, shoulder blades, and spine should not be starkly visible. Eyes should be bright, clear, and quick to focus on objects around them. The skin-covered turrets that house each eye should be full and dome-shaped with no crust, dead skin, or black-colored injuries.

Compromised adults may show any combination of the following poor health signs: muted gray color, white and yellow background color, heavy black spotting, scabs or open sores, missing toes and claws, skeleton-thin body, edema (swellings), sunken or closed eyes, bloated with eggs, and deformed or broken limbs.

Dietary Needs

Subadults eat live insect prey of suitable size (equal to length of mouth, viewed from the side), such as small crickets, young roaches, and moth larvae. Subadults will consume approximately 6 to 20 individual bugs per day, fluctuating with growth spurts.

Adults require large live prey including crickets, moths, butterflies, silkworms, butterworms, waxworms, giant and standard mealworms, locusts (grasshoppers), mantids, hissing cockroaches, dubia roaches, earthworms, walking sticks, and other non-toxic prey. It is recommended to remove the barbed hind legs of grasshoppers before offering them to chameleons as these can cause tears in the chameleon's throat. Adult melleri may also eat hatchling birds, small lizards, and non-toxic, parasite-free tree frogs. If a balanced gutload (a nutritious feed for prey insects) is being used, over supplementation of mineral dust and vitamin liquids can cause deadly edema (swelling on throat or chest). It is better to properly feed all prey, then supplement only as the lizard's growth or reproductive condition require.

Acclimated adults maintain healthy weights when fed 1-2 large prey items once or twice daily or every other day (for a daily total of 2 to 4 large bugs). New imports should be offered as much as they will eat. Gravid females and growing youngsters should be fed liberally.

WARNING: Young melleri can and will try to eat artificial plants, leading to intestinal blockages and death.

Territorial Behavior

Melleri are extremely territorial- they consider everything in view to be theirs to defend. No other pets should enter or share this area. The sight of other animals (even the same species) and frequent human traffic can cause extreme stress for a newly purchased melleri resulting in immune system breakdown, illness and death. Look at the environment you provide through the eyes of a chameleon and remove/cover any mirrors or highly reflective surfaces. Place the cage high in the room so the melleri can look down from a perch at least 12" above your head.

Caging Requirements

The overall cage size should be as large as you can make it, such as 4' x 6' x 6' screen terrarium for a single animal and a robust collection of live plants. Some melleri do not tolerate caging but may thrive in a free-range indoor set-up. Outdoor enclosures are preferred for physical and mental health. Large and medium horizontal perches should run diagonally and along the cage walls to give the animal places to rest off the screen. Allow 10" of headroom above the highest perch for an adult to fully bask. Live potted trees such as Ficus benjamina or Ficus alli tolerate the climbing and perching of this giant species.

Lighting Requirements

Indoors, provide the low-heat fluorescent Reptisun 5.0 bulb and a hot basking spotlight. Reptisun lights should to be placed within 6 to 8" of basking perches for maximum effectiveness and they need to be changed every six months. To imitate the natural daylight cycle, buy lamp timers and set them on 12-hour cycles. Melleri do best with a combination of outdoor natural sunlight basking and indoor care when weather is extreme. Never allow the chameleon to bask outdoors without being securely (resistant to animal penetration and wind) housed or under constant supervision. They will wander off into traffic or be prey to other animals including predatory birds. House melleri individually, even if purchased in pairs.

Temperature and Humidity

Comfort Day range: ambient 65°F to 80°F Night range: 70°F down to 50°F Heat spotlight only: 80-90°F Heat stress is observed when the ambient temperature reaches 83-90°F Keep all heat sources at least 10" from the skin surface of the perching chameleon. Melleri are adept at burning themselves in captivity. Heat lights resting on metal cage screens may be too close to perches. Don't guess: always measure the distance from heat source to lizard to be certain.

Humidity: alternating from 20 to 80% throughout day and night

Melleri thrive in alternating humid-dry conditions. Too much constant humidity reduces activity and invites bacterial and fungal infections. Zero humidity irritates eyes and hardens the skin, making shedding difficult. Morning watering should last at least 20 minutes (Hudson pump sprayers work well) while the animal is visibly drinking, then mist the foliage a couple of times during the day. A stabilized, long-term captive melleri can stay hydrated on one long drink each morning.

Warning: It is not recommended that a first-time keeper rely on only one watering session per day. Your new pet melleri has a variety of stresses and will need considerably more water until it settles.

If you suspect your melleri is dehydrated, ask us how to administer electrolytes such as Pedialyte. Signs of dehydration include wrinkled skin or skin that tents when pinched. To check for tenting, gently hold belly skin between thumb and fingers, making a fold. Release the skin. If the skin stays folded for a few seconds, the chameleon is dehydrated. Dehydrated chameleons also show: a concave casque (skull above and behind the eyes, the parietal area); sunken, wrinkled eye turrets; unshed, thickened skin; closed eyes, watery eyes, or rubbing eyes repeatedly on perches; and excessive salivating while drinking. Saliva can hang in strings from a dehydrated melleri's mouth. For additional hydration, some keepers use bathroom shower stalls as "rain chambers".

On extremely humid days, do not provide additional misting. A cool-moisture evaporative humidifier is low-impact and beneficial (like the Zoo Med Repti Fogger). If molds or fungi appear in the cage, the environment is too wet and there are insufficient dry-outs between waterings. If ambient humidity where the enclosure is located (outdoors or indoors) is going to be maintained in excess of 70% for extended periods:

Turn on AC to help dehumidify indoor enclosure. Check humidity gauge (hygrometer) frequently to determine percentage and time the wet period duration. If animal is kept outdoors, add an indoor enclosure to provide a safe place for dry out periods. Dry out enclosures should be between 20-40% ambient humidity, with clean, dry perches. Examine entire skin surface (including bottoms of feet) for moisture-related infections. Indoors, it's safe to mist and use rain chambers daily when the humidity is 20-40%, as it is in an air-conditioned/heated home. Keep an evaporative humidifier blowing on the melleri enclosure, but angle it to allow the animal to perch out of the breeze.

Cage Cleaning

Bacteria and fungi are common and serious problems that cause severe infections and death. Regularly check the cage for mold and fungus growth, and remove feces (droppings) or dead prey insects whenever you find them. Inspect the plants and pots to be sure the chameleon is not eating the potting soil. Soil eating is a sign of insufficient nutrition, so make adjustments in gutload or supplementation. Clean cage furnishings seasonally or more often if needed, only using residue-free chemicals that are safe for pets or infants. Palmolive antibacterial dish soap is safe, or you can use enclosure sanitation products from our medications & cleaners sections on our site. Chameleons tend to rub their vent (cloaca or anus) on perches after defecating, so scrub perches well with a hard brush. You may not see it, but perches can be quite dirty. Bleach should not be used on plastic, as it will be absorbed by the material and can poison animals over the long term. Follow directions on product labels, rinse all surfaces thoroughly with clean water, and allow all to dry before returning your melleri to its territory.

Additional Care Products for Melleri

Add bee pollen and spirolina (dried blue green algae) to your prey gutload, or dust on prey for added health benefits for your melleri. Both are available on our website.