These small chameleons are found in Tanzania’s evergreen forests. Although, most chameleons can be seen in surrounding trees, these little guys are more likely to be found in the leaf litter they call home. In the wild they eat locusts, mantids, roaches, and sometimes caterpillars. These guys reach a length of around 3 inches, males being thinner while females are heavier set. They can easily be confused with R. temporalis, but are the only chameleons to have dermal lobes on their chins. They are generally very calm and don’t tend to mind other chameleons around them, although males may become territorial and fight each other. With a life span of around five years, they make rewarding pets, and are extremely fun to watch as they hunt around their cage.
Juvenile pygmies will eat wingless fruit flies and pinhead crickets. As adults, they will eat 1/4″ crickets (staple diet), small mantids (as treats), very small locusts (staple diet), wax worms (as treats), and sometimes silk worms (as treats). They are extremely fun to watch hunting around their cage, and can be surprising on how long their tongues really are.
A gradient of around 75F to 85F is suitable. At night these temperatures can be allowed to drop to 65F. An under tank heater or basking lamp is not necessary, although a basking lamp won’t hurt. The humidity should be kept around 70%–two heavy mists a day should suffice. A UVB bulb is not necessary, although one definitely won’t hurt.
A pair consisting of one male and one female can be kept in a 15 gallon long or tall terrarium. One male and two females can be kept in a 20 gallon terrarium (again, long or tall). Five gallons should be added for each chameleon in question. Like I said earlier, males may become territorial and spats, although not common, can happen. Three things can be done to avoid this. The first is to use a larger terrarium. The second is to add more plants to decorate the cage. The third is to separate the males from one-another, eliminating the problem completely. Live plants that work well are miniature palms and small ficus trees. Silk or plastic plants can also be used. Unfertilized topsoil is the most recommended substrate, although I have had no problems with untreated peat moss, paper towels, Reptibark, or moss. If Reptibark is used it should be rinsed to clean it of any dyes or waste/dust that tends to be found on it. A water bowl is not a necessity as they will get their hydration from the water that collects on their bodies and the surrounding leaves during misting.
Differentiating the sexes can be a challenge; however, with plenty of practice, it can be mastered. One way is by their colors. Females tend to be more uni-colored–usually brown. Males tend to show their colors around females, and have many different patterns. Males also have longer tails to coup with their hemipenes**. Pygmies reach breeding age at around two months. Breeding can occur year round and females have been known to retain sperm. A colony of one male and two females can breed without any special attention. When females are gravid they will pace around the cage looking for a suitable place to lay their eggs. Females also may become territorial and harass the male if he gets too close to her. Handling gravid females or shipping them is not recommended as they will become extremely stressed. Which CAN lead to the death of the female and her eggs. An average clutch size is anywhere from three to five eggs. The eggs can be left in the cage or incubated artificially. If incubated artificially they should be kept around 75F and 85% humidity. When eggs are collected for artificial incubation; they should be halfway buried into moist vermiculate, perlite, or some alternative incubation medium. Both methods have produced great results. I only recommend artificial incubation for more control over the eggs’ conditions themselves, and also to keep eye on the babies as they hatch. After around 75 days of incubation the little pygmies should hatch. At around one inch long, they are incredibly delicate and should be handled at bare minimums.
These little guys make great and rewarding pets, however, like most chameleons, they should not be handled very often. Although overlooked for their lack of color, I have found that males can and will become very colorful when stressed or in a mating state of mind. Even though they don’t come in the color morphs like panthers, they do have great and individual personalities. I often compare them to dumpy clowns. I recommend them to anybody thinking of getting into chameleons, or those with limited space who are really wanting a smaller reptile. Although there is no real “starter” chameleon, pygmies would be a great chameleon for the beginning chameleon keeper due to their hardy nature and ease of care.
**Hemipenes – male sexual organs