Jackson's Chameleon

Three-horned Chameleon

Family: Chamaeleonidae Jackson's Chameleon, Chameleo jacksonii(male), Three-horned Chameleon, subspecies Dwarf Jackson's Chameleon, and Yellow-crested Jackson's ChameleonJackson's Chameleon (Male)Chamaeleo jacksoniiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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Does anyone know what the 'healthy weight' for breeding in a T. jacksonii xanthalopus female is?  Scarlett Lemure

Jackson's Chameleons are fascinating creatures with a twig-like motion to their movement!

The Jackson's Chameleon Chamaeleo jacksonii is best suited to being a visual pet and watching them is captivating. It is amazing to see them move with their rocking gait, as if to mimic the twigs of a tree or bush. Watching them eat and the speed at which their tongue darts from their mouths to catch prey, is astounding. And as with almost any chameleon, they can also change their colors.

The Jackson's Chameleon, also known as Jackson's Three-horned Chameleon, comes from Africa in the mountains of Kenya. There are three subspecies. The Jackson's Chameleon Chamaeleo jacksonii jacksonii is the nominate species. The other two are the Dwarf Jackson's Chameleon C. j. merumontanus and the Yellow-crested Jackson's Chameleon C. j. xantholophus.

The name Three-horned Chameleon is derived from the male having three brown horns. One of the horns extends from the nose and the other two extend from the superior orbital ridges above the eyes. The structure of its taxonomy, as with many lizards, is in a state of flux. Another scientific name for these chameleon species is Trioceros jacksonii. The word "trioceros" is a Greek derivative from the combined terms"tri" which means "three", and "keras" which means "horns".

The Jackson's Chameleons are reptile pets for the more advanced hobbyist. Jackson Chameleons are not the easiest nor the cheapest lizards to keep. They can be easily stressed and they don't particularly like to be handled. They need a more specialized environment with a good amount of space, and a degree of solitude. But in a proper habitat with good care, they can provide hours of fascination and joy for a dedicated keeper.

For more information on keeping Lizards see:
Reptile Care: Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians as Pets

Geographic Distribution
Chamaeleo jacksonii
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Data provided by GBIF.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Chamaeleonidae
  • Genus: Chamaeleo
  • Species: jacksonii

Scientific NameChamaeleo jacksonii (Trioceros jacksonii)

Habitat: Distribution/BackgroundThe Jackson's Chameleon Chamaeleo jacksonii was described by Boulenger in 1896. It is found in the mountains of Kenya, Africa. These lizards had a very long and confusing period of discovery in the taxonomical world, but were originally documented by G. A. Boulenger. The first specimen was donated for study by F. J. Jackson. There are a few variations of the Jackson's Chameleon, which is part of what caused the long taxonomic debate.

There are currently three recognized subspecies of Jackson's chameleon:

  • Jackson's Chameleon, Jackson's Three-horned Chameleon C. j. jacksonii
    This lizard species is an intermediate size and has a dark to dusty pigmentation of the crest at the top of the head.
  • Dwarf Jackson's Chameleon C. j. merumontanus
    This chameleon species is smaller than the nominate race and has a lighter-colored crest.
  • Yellow-crested Jackson's Chameleon C. j. xantholophus
    This is the largest of the three subspecies and has a yellow crest.

Status The Chamaeleo jacksonii is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

DescriptionC. j. jacksonii is the most popular of the three subspecies of Jackson's Chameleon. This chameleon is around five inches long from snout to hind legs. This measurement is excluding the tail. The crest is yellowish in color or at least much lighter than the color of the body. The body color of this chameleon is generally a light green, though they can change color at will.

The horns of this species are not as prominent as those of the other two species, and in the case of the females, can cease to be visible at all. Juveniles will not display the elegant horns of the males, but may have rostral horns or ‘nubs' at the tip of the nose. The females may never develop any further than those ‘nubs' as they mature into adulthood.

Picture of a male Jackson's Chameleon, Chameleo jacksonii
Jackson's Chameleon (female)

Photo @ Animal-World

Food and FeedingThe Jackson Chameleons are insectivorous, meaning that they eat insects and other invertebrates. Neonates, or newborns, can be fed wingless fruit flies and 1-week-old crickets. In the adult chameleon, fifty percent of the diet should be comprised of crickets. They will also eat meal worms, wax worms, and butter worms, spiders, roaches, and other invertebrate prey.

Gut loading your crickets with fresh fruit, vegetables, fish flakes, and any of the commercially available gut load diets will increase their nutritional value. Prey items need to be dusted with a mixture of 2/3 of a vitamin supplement such as Herptivite and 2/3 calcium powder that also offers Vitamin D3.

Water sprayed on the leaves of interior decor may be eagerly lapped up by many chameleons. One way to do this is to place a dripper on top of the cage and let the water slowly drip down into the cage and onto the leaves of the plants. We have used a styrofoam cup with a pin hole poked in the bottom of it to accomplish this. There are also water drippers available from pet stores.

These chameleons are rumored to not drink out of a water bowl. Even if this is true a water bowl is still a good idea to have in the cage, especially a bubbling water bowl as it helps to keep the cage humid. Use dechlorinated water, a good dechlorinator is Repti-safe which also provides calcium and electrolytes. The water dish should be refreshed daily. The cage should be misted at least twice a day, and the chameleon itself can be sprayed as well.

HousingJackson's Chameleons require quite a bit of space for their size. The minimum caging requirement for these lizards is a 2' x 2' cage, with the height as high as is available. These are arboreal or tree-dwelling animals, and they need to have room to climb.


Cages can be made of screen, plexi-glass, or glass. Screen cages are commonly available in many pet stores. Besides size, two other enclosure requirements need to be considered for these chameleons: high humidity and good ventilation. Cages made totally out of glass or plexi-glass can cause mold and mildew problems, but there are a couple problems with all screen cages too. Maintaining high humidity, an important factor for these lizards, is essential. Secondly, bedding can spill out through the screen.

One good solution is to use plexi-glass panels, attaching them to an all screen cage as needed; i.e.. on the top and on two sides. This will help maintain a good ventilation flow, help keep the bedding inside and moist, and will also fostering a bit more humidity in the enclosure.

As the Jackson's is an arboreal chameleon, he naturally needs branches to climb on. Many types of branches or attachable "jungle vines" are available in pet stores. Live or artificial plants may be used in the terrarium to allow the chameleon many varied surfaces to climb on.

Popular substrates for the Jackson's Chameleon are peat moss, coconut fiber, and topsoil. Whatever the substrate, it should be kept moist, but not wet or soggy. If the bedding is too moist, and proper ventilation is not provided, the bedding will grow mold and mildew and these conditions are both extremely bad for your lizard's health.

Temperature, humidity, and Lighting requirements:

A heat lamp may be provided for a little bit of heat, especially if the house is kept cool. The ideal overall temperature for the Jackson's Chameleon is at 75{deg} F during the day with a temperature gradient of about 70{deg} -80{deg} F (21{deg} - 26.5{deg} C). A basking spot, provided by the heat lamp, but should not exceed 85{deg} F (29{deg} C). Nighttime temperatures are best at about 62{deg} F, dropping daytime temperatures by about 10{deg} - 15{deg} F (5{deg} -10{deg} C).

They do need both UV-A and UV-B exposure, which can be provided through fluorescent lighting. Keep in mind that UV rays do not travel through glass, so even keeping your chameleon in front of a window will not give them the necessary exposure. Even an open window will provide a challenge if the cage is made entirely of glass. If you are providing a basking area, be sure to mount incandescent basking lamps or heat emitters outside the cage to prevent burns.

The Jackson's Chameleons need a humidity level of 50 - 80%. Mist the enclosure, especially the leaves of the plants inside, twice daily.The water bowl can also be used to help humidify the cage. Flukers (and other companies) produce a bubbling bowl that will put more moisture into the cage. If the humidity is still too low, a humidifier might be necessary.

Cage CareCage maintenance is an important part of keeping reptiles healthy, and long-lived. Reptiles being kept in a confined area as pets need to be protected from harmful micro-organisms and parasites. The reptile cage needs daily and weekly maintenance. Provide fresh food and water in clean dishes everyday. Check on a daily basis to make sure that the tank is clean. As the lizard defecates, the feces should be cleaned out entirely.

Everything you put into their home should be washed and disinfected weekly. This includes dishes and cage decor. The substrate should be changed out completely every three to four months, provided it hasn't gotten moldy. If there is any odor of mold or mildew to the substrate, change it out immediately. Never clean with a phenol such as Pine Sol. Chlorine and alcohol based cleaners are tolerated much better, but need to be thoroughly rinsed.

Behavior The Jackson's Chameleon should be kept singly, with males and females out of sight of each other. Even the sight of a male can be distressing to a female and can cause her to go off of her food. Introductions should only be made in the breeding season when the female is displaying signs of receptivity.

Chameleons in general are easily stressed by other pets and young children and it is highly recommended that they are kept in a quiet section of the house. Children should not be allowed to handle chameleons without careful parental supervision.

Handling Chameleons are not as affectionate a pet as say, a bearded dragon. However, they will permit gentle handling. In some chameleon species, the color of your shirt can have an effect upon the chameleon's mood. Whatever the case, avoid wearing black around your chameleon as this is a color of extreme stress.

Reproduction Jackson's Chameleons are sexually active at around five to six months of age. Care should be taken to let the females mature to a healthy weight before breeding, as premature breeding can cause unnecessary stress on the female and possibly lead to an early death.

These lizards are highly unusual in the fact that they have live births. Gestation is a quick 5 to 6 months long. They have two litters per year, with the heavier of the two being in June and the smaller of the two in December. The number of chameleons per litter ranges dramatically, from 8 to 35, depending on the size of the female.

Diseases: Ailments/TreatmentsChameleons can suffer from many problems, though the setup of their habitat is a common cause for most of them. Females in sight or being kept with males will often refuse to eat and will generally starve to death. Other problems with the Jackson's Chameleon are grout, Vitamin D3 and calcium deficiencies, electrolyte deficiency, metabolic bone disease (MBD), acidosis, and alkalosis.

Availability Jackson's Chameleons are readily available through pet stores or private breeders in the $150 to $400 price range depending on age, locality, and sex.


Author: Monica Rearick, Russ Gurley, Clarice Brough CRS
Lastest Animal Stories on Jackson's Chameleon

Scarlett Lemure - 2014-09-16
Does anyone know what the 'healthy weight' for breeding in a T. jacksonii xanthalopus female is?

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-09-19
    Not sure what the best weight is, but here's an overview to draw some insight which may be of help. This subspecies of Jackson Chameleon, known as the Yellow-crested Jackson's Chameleon, is fairly small, and males tend to be larger than females. Their adult size is in length is about 7 4/5' (20 cm), and they only weigh about 25-35 grams. They are generally ready to breed at about 9-12 months of age. Males can be bred earlier than females, but it's suggested for females to wait until 12 months and be sure she is in optimal condition due to the great physical demand that egg development puts on her.
  • Scarlett Lemure - 2014-09-23
    Thanks for the info, unfortunately i'm not sure how much that would help. :/ I have two girls who are the same age, but vary in size coz one is a really picky eater, i've never seen her eat more than two items per day regardless of food type or feeding method. Other than size she seems perfectly healthy and active. They'll both be a year old in november. Oh well, i guess i'll give her a few more months to catch up.. :) Thanks again for the reply! :)
Ayobami - 2011-09-22
Infact,this is a good stuff for people

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-09-23
    Yeah, I think so too. Thank you for Animal World.
Kelsey Harvey - 2007-02-27
I live in Hawaii where Jackson chameleons were accidently introduced in the 70s and they thrive here now. I have one 9 month old male chameleon and he lives in a 2 by 3 foot cage that I built for him out of mesh wire. In the morning, I spray him and his cage with a lot of hot water (which he loves), give him 3 crickets, and I hang his cage on a tree in an area that allows for areas of basking and shade in his cage. Then in the evening I hang him up higher so he can soak up the rest of the day's sun and I spray him once more. I leave him here overnight and he gets more water throughout the night as it usually rains every night here. I switch up his diet very often feeding him crickets for about 1 1/2 weeks then i will give him some silk worms or meal worms then go back to crickets. I gutload the insects with fresh fruits and vegetables and clean their enclosures and replace the food every other day to prevent molding. I do not use Repcal or any other powder to sprinkle on the insects because it is very easy for the chameleon to overdose on calcium or protein. I take him out very rarely, usually on weekends when I am home. I hang out outside and let him climb on a tree in my yard (keeping an eye on him of course). I have noticed that he is healthy and happy when his tail is tightly curled. When he is relaxing he is very green, he does not breath with his mouth open, and his skin is not loose. If I begin to notice that any of his normal behaviors are changing I will hike up a mountain where it is moist and perfectly suitable for a chameleon and let him go. Anyone who lives anywhere else should immediately take them to a vet (who actually knows something about chameleons) if your chameleon looks or acts ill. Hope this helps!

  • Rich - 2014-01-17
    I moved to Hawaii 10/2014 and found out the Jacksons live here. Since then I have been hiking and looking for the little guys. I have a gopro on a long tripod and have several nikon lenses. I want to observe these wonderful creature in there enviorment. Can you email me if you know of where I can look for them. I also have read in the last two years there population has dwindled from the demands on them. Thanks so much in advance.
  • Noah - 2014-02-06
    U can find them around mililani mauka
Angela Landis - 2007-01-26
PLEASE READ THIS IF YOU ARE NEW TO OWNING A JACKSON CHAMELEON and have not put in hours of research on how to care for these awesome creatures. We bought Kammey, our Jackson Chameleon, for Chritmas for our 12 yr old son, 2006. We did not do a lot of research on their care and what we needed. We bought the glass aquarium, crickets, some vines and such to climb on as well as a misting bottle. We went home,set it up and watched. It was so cool and we immediately fell in love with her. Things went great for the first 3 weeks and we reminded our son 2x everyday to feed and mist her. He said she was doing fine and still eating, etc.

I walked in there a couple of days ago to check her out and she was cowering in a corner unable walk. She was so weak and her eyes were sunken down in her head and closed. She looked like she could die any second. It was a horrible sight. I went to the computer and started researching her symptoms-dehydration is what it was. (Common problem for those not experienced in their care) I began to mist her a lot. She refused to drink. I called an exotic pet doctor and she told me to pick her up and and try to mist water on the side of her mouth. She said even if she doesn't open her mouth she will get some hydration through capillary action.

I placed Kammey in my hand and began to mist. The water became pooled in my hand and she began to drink and drink. When she closed her mouth and appeared to be done I placed her on a high branch and began to spray her. She stuck her head up and opened her mouth. I preceded to mist and drop water into her mouth from the top of the cage. When my son came home from school he took over the task of waiting for her to open her mouth and then watering her. This went on for a period of 3-4 hours if not longer.

Within a few hours of her starting to drink I began to notice her eyes beginning to open and were also looking protuding again-still not healthy but somewhat better. I made an appointment with the exotic pet doctor for the following day. (We ended up not needing to take Kammey to the doctor after changing the things that were wrong with her environment) Read on...

That night I did hours of research to find out what was going wrong. I found out that glass aquariums are not very suitable for these creatures and that they need a fresh air flow. They also get tired of the same food source(crickets)and may also eat certain kinds of fruits and vegetables. They need a continuous dripping but not saturating water source. Humidity levels need to remain at a certain percentage and the cage needs to have a temp in the 80's on one side and in the 70's on the other. The night time temp needs to drop about 10 degrees from the daytime AND they hate other animals, children and anything else that looks like a predator around their cage.

The next day Kammey was in a 30"x30"x18" fresh air habitat that cost $79.00 compared to the $250 glass aquarium and stand. we began misting her 3x/day instead of 2. We purchased a special bulb for a heating source at night but would not heat up as much as her daytime bulbs.

Needless to say, please do some research into owning this type of pet. They are a lot of work to maintain and they stress out very very easily-which can cause hunger strikes and death. I found many many informative articles on Jackson Chameleons on the internet and they have helped out tremendously. The pay off is rewarding.

Kammey is doing great now. She loves her new environment, drinks, eats and climbs around. What a horrible site it was that day I found her in such poor health. I am very glad I had the tools to find the knowledge to help save her life.