This instructible will show you how we designed and constructed a free-range habitat for our pet Meller's Chameleons. Meller's Chameleons are a particularly large species, growing almost two feet in length. To give them the space they need to thrive, we designed and built a large climate-controlled free range in one bedroom of our new house. We sought to mimic the African rainforest our pet chameleons come from.
This habitat is NOT suitable for all chameleons or captive reptiles. Please research the needs of your animals before jumping into a project like this one. My wife and I have been keeping chams for about 5 years and gradually developed the instructible you're reading right now.
A free range is a "cage without walls." The idea is to make the habitat so enjoyable to the resident, it just doesn't want to leave. Chameleons have many specific needs (temperature ranges, humidity ranges, UV light exposure and watering/drinking difficulties, so it was challenging to meet all these needs.
The range is planted with a variety of live tropical plants and artificial vines. The room is heated by an array of spotlight lamps on their own dedicated circuit and controlled by a thermostat. Ultraviolet light is furnished by shoplights with Reptisun 5.0 and 10.0 bulbs on a circuit separate from the heat lamps. The Ultraviolet lights are on a timer and provide the overall day and night rhythms.
Chameleons are fussy drinkers. They won't drink from a bowl, only from "rainwater." To simulate this, an automated misting system rains on our monsters 4 times a day and a drainage system carries the excess water and waste away outside the house where it waters and feeds our vegetable garden. The entire system is protected from leaks by a moisture-sensor product that shuts off the water at the source.
So, enough verbosity! Let me show you how we did it!
This is an advanced project. You will need the following skills to build your own Chameleon Free Range. (by the way, from now on I will usually refer to the Free Range as "FR")
- Basic Carpentry.
- Basic Electrical- (wiring your own receptacles and switches.)
- Intermediate Plumbing (I tapped off a nearby bathroom sink supply line for the misting system.)
- Intermediate "Handyman Skills,": You'll be modifying and installing a lot of wire shelving, routing plumbing through your attic, installing gutters inside a room and even drilling a hole through your house. At times, you'll have to modify off-the-shelf products and bend them to your will. Make sure you're up to the challenge before you get in over your head and have to hire a handyman and watch their eyes roll as you explain what you're trying to do!
Please note that I am writing this instructable long after we finished the Free Range, but I'll do my best to describe what we did and how we did it. My photography is extremely after-the-fact, but I'll do my best to show how everything came together.
Step 1: Do You Want to Keep a Chameleon? Can You Maintain the Commitment?
This is not a trivial project, just like keeping a pet is not a trivial decision.
I believe animals have rights and if you pledge to keep an animal as a pet, then that animal becomes completely dependent on you and the care you give it.
Chameleons are hard to keep. They are not for beginners. If you're new to keeping reptiles, start with a bearded dragon or a leopard gecko. PLEASE don't start with a chameleon or an iguana.
If you're a chameleon keeper or aspire to be one, you should think long and hard about if you know your lizard well enough to keep him in a free range. Every animal is different and every animal has a different personality. Small reptiles are difficult to manage in a large free range. Your Meller's chameleon might be the reincarnation of Ferdinand Magellan and constantly wanders out of your carefully constructed free range. Our four adults stay put for the most part, but we do have surprises from time to time. ("Hey guys! I found a way to get to the cricket bin! woo hoo!") Get to know your critters before you build.
You should also know as much as possible about the room you'll build the free range in. How is the airflow? What are the seasonal temperature differences? how about sun exposure? Can you adequately control the climate? Is it drafty? Where will you tap into a water supply. Where will you plumb the wastewater?
All that said, enjoy this little interactive photo of a couple of our chameleons and then.....we'll begin!