Chamaeleo (Trioceros) cristatus in Captivity

By Niels Pedersen


Pedersen, N. (2007). Chamaeleo (Trioceros) cristatus in captivity. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, February 2007. (

General species information

The Crested Chameleon, Chamaeleo (t) cristatus STUTCHBURY, 1837 is a medium- sized chameleon with females growing to a total length of 28.5cm and males to 26cm (NECAS 2004). Males have a sail-fin (up to 3cm high) on the back which is formed from long vertebral processes of the spine covered with skin. This sail is smaller on the females. The casque, formed by the lateral crests, is high in the back and no gular crest exists. The tail is short when compared to the body length and overall scalation is homogeneous. The coloration in both sexes varies from light brown, olive green and grey to black. There is a net like pattern in both darker and lighter colors on both sides of the body and the interstitial skin on the throat is red. The casque is lined with blue scales.

In 1837 STUTCHBURY described Ch. (T.) cristatus as a species and in 1986 cristatus was assigned to the subgenus Trioceros. Ch. (T.) cristatus belongs to the Cristatus- complex together with Chamaeleo (Trioceros) camerunesis, eisentrauti, feae, montium, pfefferi, quadricornis and wiedersheimi. Chamaeleo (Trioceros) cristatus has no subspecies.

Ch.(T) cristatus male

Ch.(T) cristatus female

My first pair

Ever since I first started to work with chameleons, I had my eyes on Ch. cristatus, but I never managed to get my hands on a pair. In 2005 I bought my first WC pair and had big breeding plans, as they both looked to be in good health. I kept them as a pair, but the female was really aggressive toward the male, even though the terrarium was large and well planted. The female had a fat belly but there was no other signs indicating that she was gravid, no dark coloration like the one you see on F. pardalis. Never the less, after 2 weeks she laid 13 eggs. A small clutch, compared to the F. pardalis as I normally work with. Ch. cristatus can lay between 12-21 eggs, but I suspect the smaller sized clutch of my female was due to the fact that she was rather old and a result of the stress from being imported.

I half buried the eggs in moist vermiculite, 15mm between each other. The eggs measured 19-20mm in length and 9-10mm in width. I kept the day temperature was around 21-24C and a night temperature around 19-20C. After 9 months the clutch hatched over a two day period and by that time the eggs measured 27mm. The babies were between 55mm-65mm and they all looked healthy. It was easy to determine the sex, as the males have a small sail on the back which is absent on females in this age.

I kept all my babies in fauna boxes measuring 50cm x30cm x 30cm with a moist substrate and plants. They all grew at a fast rate and did great, until high temperatures resulted in the loss of six babies due to a particularly hot summer in Denmark. The remaining babies are still doing great, however. From my experience, I recommend that the temperatures be around 20-24C for offspring.

After 9 months they finally began to hatch.

This girl is only 10 minutes old.


Chamaeleo (Trioceros) cristatus live in Cameroon, Guinea, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Central Africa and Fernando Po Island. They tend to occur mostly in elevations up to 600m a.s.l. where the humidity is around 80-100% but can be as low as 60%. Here, the day time temperatures reach 28-30C and drops to 20C in the night with annual precipitation around 2,000mm.

Rainy seasons
August- November: - heavy rain
December- March: - dry period
April- beginning of june: - mild rain
Late june- july: - brief dry period

Ch. (t) cristatus can also be found in higher elevations, however. In 1992 the species was found in Nyase, near Mount Kupe, at 830m a.s.l. Here the temperature is around 19C with an annual precipitation about 6975mm.

Food and Water

Neonates were fed Musca domestica, Calliphora sp, and small Gryllidae while I fed the adults Gryllidae, Locusta migtatota, Schistocerca gregaria, Blatta lateralis, Blaptica dubia, Tenebrio monitor, Drosophila melanogasteer/ hydei. Both the babies and the adults seems to prefer flies, however.

At every feeding, I use korvimin, a type of supplement. Adults tend to get fat so I only feed them every other day or even less, but babies and gravid females are fed every day. I spray their enclosures with water 2-3 times a day, depending on the season and the substrate.


I keep my cristatus in a glass terrarium that measures 50cmx 65cmx90cm (LxWxH). It is important to keep the humidity high, so by misting several times a day and having a lot of living plants, a high level of humidity can be sustained. A moist substrate will also keep the humidity high, but if you use a substrate, then you have to remove feces everyday due to the high risk of germs. When I first bought my pair, I had no substrate in the terrarium and the animals did not move for hours. It was only after I got a substrate that they began to move more around. While I can’t say for sure if this was because of the substrate or due to the resulting higher humidity, I believe the higher humidity that resulted did the trick. For the substrate, I use a mixture of sand and soil. While I have often heard that this species will walk around on the ground and even dig burrows in the soil, I have never seen it my self. My experience is that as long as the humidity is high, the chameleons will keep away from the bottom of the terrarium and hide in the plants.

On three of the walls of my terrariums, I have slabs of cork bark and ventilation on the last side and on the top. The terrarium has to have good light, as it will activate the animals. I have 2 fluorescent tubes which should be on 11-13 hours a day. In the winter the animals have a 40 watt basking spot, but they don’t seem to utilize it for basking. The temperature should be around 24-26C and drop to 16-20C in the night, although they can handle much lower temperatures. Finally, the terrarium should contain dense vegetation, as they will hide in the plants. I personally use Scindaptus aureus, Ficus pumila, Ficus benjamina and Schefflera arboricola.


Ch.(t) cristatus is a shy but calm species, that will stay still and wait for danger to pass. If you try to handle them, they will gape or fall to the bottom of their enclosure. They’re a slow moving chameleon that often utilizes the classic “chameleon walk” to simulate leaves in the wind. They don’t often bask like other chameleons, but tend to stay in the vegetation or around the bottom of their enclosure.

I have been told that sometimes when they shoot their tongue to capture prey, they will shake their head before the shot, possibly to force the prey to move but I have never seen any of my animals perform this behavior.

This little male is 3 months old.


The crested chameleon is an interesting species to work with and I hope this article will bring more focus on them. While I lost a number of babies due to the hot summer, the remaining animals looks great and I hope to breed them on in the future.


Necas, P. (2004): Chamäleons - Bunte Juwelen der Natur.- Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt am Main: 382 S.

Neils Pedersen



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