The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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When it comes to owning reptiles, there’s quite a bit that you will need to think about and prepare for to make sure that you are able to give your little friends the home that they can thrive in.
If you are trying to decide which lizard you want to own, you might feel overwhelmed with all the different options that there are to choose from.
It is important to compare what kinds of needs the different lizards that you want have. Some lizards are more than happy to interact with you and spend time with you, while other lizards prefer to simply be watched from a distance and refuse to interact with people, especially if they aren’t trained well enough.
Two of the most popular lizards that people want to adopt are the chameleon and the bearded dragon. Chameleons are unique creatures, not only for their color-changing abilities, but simply as a fascinating pet to watch, while bearded dragons are an iconic lizard to own.
Because these are two of the most popular lizards to own, you might be torn between which one would make the best pet for you. For many people, there is a clear answer between the chameleon and the bearded dragon, as they have very different temperaments.
The first thing you should begin looking at is how these animals differ in different aspects of ownership, ranging from their diets, their habitats, their temperament, and general maintenance.
Looking at all the basic areas of care will give you a good idea of which animal is going to be the most compatible with your life.
From here, you will be able to get a good sense of which pet would be the best for your situation.
Something that you should always keep in mind is that with any pet, you need to be ready and willing to provide the home, space, resources, and environment for the lizard if you are planning on taking one in, as caring for a pet is a commitment that can last for years, even decades at a time.
The Differences in Setting up a Habitat
Both chameleons and bearded dragons require lizard-friendly environments if you want them to be able to thrive.
This generally includes purchasing heating equipment, lighting, setting up a temperature gradient, and making sure that your lizards have adequate access to water and the right humidity.
Chameleons prefer their enclosures to be taller than they are wide, as they enjoy climbing and moving around leaves set up in the habitat, with a minimum size requirement (for an adult chameleon) of four feet long, four feet tall, and three feet wide.
Bearded dragons, on the other hand, do not require that same vertical dimension, so they can generally be housed in a 20- to 40-gallon glass tank with a screen top, with the rule of thumb being that the enclosure should be at least four times the length and width of your lizard.
Chameleons and bearded dragons have slightly different temperature ranges that they prefer. Chameleons tend to prefer their daytime temperatures ranging between 77 and 87 degrees Fahrenheit in the day and between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Bearded dragons have a similar daytime temperature range of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and about 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night, with a basking spot ranging between 88 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on age.
Because bearded dragons require a basking spot to speed up their metabolism, this means that you will have to invest in a heating lamp that allows for a higher temperature spot at one end of the enclosure. This is something to factor in when you are considering the overall price of a habitat for either a chameleon or a bearded dragon.
Both chameleons and bearded dragons are going to require UVB lighting setups. Chameleons require 12 hours of exposure to UVB lighting from a bulb that provides at least 5% of that spectrum of lighting, while bearded dragons need slightly more time under UVB bulbs, requiring between 12 and 14 hours.
Because you are working with lizards, you are going to need to keep the humidity levels in the environment to your lizard’s liking so that they can feel comfortable and breathe easily.
Chameleons, being tropical lizards, require an average humidity level between 50% and 70%, depending on the exact species you purchase, while bearded dragons, being desert lizards, require an average humidity between 20% and 40%.
Bearded dragons do not need anything special when it comes to water and lizards, as they can drink from a bowl, will soak in water weekly, and enjoy their misting sessions.
Chameleons, on the other hand, will only drink water sitting on objects in their environment (generally leaves), meaning that you will need to incorporate a dripping system that provides this kind of water droplet source, as most chameleons will not drink from a water bowl.
As for what you need to decorate the environment of both lizards with, you will want to make their homes as close to their original habitats as possible.
For the desert bearded dragon, you will want to have some rocks and low branches for them to climb as well as areas of shade to relax in (preferably in the cooler portion of their habitat), and you can purchase some aloe or palms to add some beauty into their environment.
Chameleons, being tropical climbers, need a lot more than this, requiring ficus and pathos plants all around the environment for the chameleon to both climb and eat, as well as branches and rocks to walk around and hide underneath.
Finally, there is the matter of maintaining their habitats. When interacting with your chameleon’s habitat, be mindful that you entering the habitat may stress it out for the rest of the day, though this can happen to an unsocialized bearded dragon as well.
Chameleon enclosures need to be cleaned on a daily and weekly basis. Daily, you need to remove uneaten food, food remains, shed skin, and excrements as well as any other trash in the enclosure, while you should wipe and sanitize the substrate, decorations, and walls of the enclosure weekly.
Bearded dragons are similar in this, requiring the daily check and removal for uneaten food, excrements, and wet portions of substrate. They require a monthly “full cleaning” where you wash out everything in the enclosure to ensure that your bearded dragon has a clean enclosure and bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grow.
In short, chameleons and bearded dragons have a lot they require from their tanks, as they are both lizards, but chameleons require a fair bit more work and their enclosures can quickly become expensive for a chameleon when you factor in the vertical space needed.
The Differences in Diet and Feeding
Naturally, you are going to want to make sure that your lizards are fed, so you will want to read up on what chameleons and bearded dragons require. Both chameleons and bearded dragons require a varied diet, meaning that you will need to rotate out their food every so often so they don’t get bored.
The exact food you feed your chameleon will depend on the species of chameleon that you own, although most chameleons that you can adopt will either be carnivores or insectivores.
Chameleons enjoy loaded insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and worms as well as the occasional mouse as about 50% of their diet, and they need to have leafy greens to get nutrients from plant matter as well, and you should always dust your chameleon’s food with calcium powder so that they can stay healthy.
While bearded dragons are considered omnivores, they don’t enjoy meats as much as chameleons do. They prefer to stick with their vegetables with some insects mixed in at a 70% to 25% mix, although young bearded dragons will need about 50% of their diet to be insects for the sake of protein, and both adults and young bearded dragons need leafy greens for their vegetables.
Adult chameleons should be offered food once a day, with younger chameleons eating several times a day, and you should feed both adults and younger chameleons as much as they can eat in a single sitting as their meal.
Bearded dragons eat a little bit less, with adults eating once every other day and younger bearded dragons eating every day, and like with chameleons, you should offer as much as the bearded dragon is willing to eat at a time.
In short, chameleons will prefer a more insect or meat-heavy diet while bearded dragons prefer more leafy greens compared to insects, and bearded dragons will eat a fair bit slower than chameleons will.
Something to keep in mind is that chameleons do have a reputation for being picky with their insects, so be mindful of this if you are planning to adopt one.
The Differences in Temperament and Behavior
This is the area where most people will make their decision on whether a bearded dragon or a chameleon is best for their homes.
In general, chameleons are a pet to be watched and not to be interacted with as much, while a well-socialized bearded dragon will enjoy going on walks with you every few days.
Bearded dragons are considered docile and easy-to-care-for, especially when it comes to lizards. They are about as kid-friendly as a lizard can get in terms of aggression and potential to bite (especially female bearded dragons), although a parent should evaluate their children’s ability to provide maintenance for the lizard before adopting one for the child.
They are somewhat slow at adjusting to a change in surroundings, so be mindful of this if you are expecting it to be friendly from the start. Additionally, depending on where you are adopting your bearded dragon from, you may need to socialize it.
Socializing a bearded dragon is necessary when you purchase one from a pet store (most reliable breeders will only offer their bearded dragons up for adoption once they are already socialized).
It can be summarized as the process of getting the bearded dragon used to your presence and accepting you, and it is done through gradually exposing yourself to the bearded dragon until it feels comfortable enough with you interacting with it.
A lizard is never going to be as affectionate as a cat or dog, and this is something important to teach any kids who may want to spend time with the bearded dragon.
At most, a bearded dragon will be fine with being held and climbing on you, but they will not appreciate frequent handling, pets, and too many transfers out of their enclosure.
A well-trained bearded dragon can even go on walks with you in your backyard if you purchase a leash and harness, and going on a walk can be an enjoyable bonding experience for you both.
On the other hand, chameleons are territorial, aggressive, and solitary creatures. They do not enjoy being handled, touched, or picked up, meaning that they will not want to be held at all, no matter how well-bonded it is with you.
Bonding with a chameleon, at its best, will result in the chameleon feeling comfortable climbing onto your hand and often won’t progress further than this. Bonding with a chameleon is a long process, and some younger children might become impatient with it.
Chameleons should not be a pet for younger children, as the chameleons have a tendency to hiss, bite, and display aggressive behaviors when you put your hand into its enclosure. For some young children, this can be scary, leading to the child panicking and causing more distress to both parties.
A chameleon’s temperament can be summarized as being a pet that is there to be watched and marveled at, rather than a pet you interact with beyond standard enclosure maintenance.
Both chameleons and bearded dragons can make for wonderful pets under the right circumstances and with the right family. One of the keys to getting the most out of your time with your lizard is knowing what to expect from it.
For the most part, the diet and temperature requirements of chameleons and bearded dragons is similar, with a few key differences coming from how chameleons are tropical and bearded dragons are from the desert.
Chameleons are solitary creatures that do not enjoy being touched or pet, and they require some specific enclosure setups that can take up a lot of room and can become expensive quickly.
Bearded dragons are docile and have the potential to bond with you, and their enclosures are smaller and often less expensive.