Do Chameleons Need Substrate?

Do Chameleons Need Substrate

Chameleons are beautiful creatures with their color-changing body. To complement their beauty, some people want to decorate the cage and make it more natural. One of those things is adding substrate to the cage.

Do Chameleons Need Substrate?

When it comes to chameleons, a substrate is optional. These are arboreal creatures, which means they spend most of their life up in the tree. They will rarely come down to the forest floor.

Therefore, chameleons don’t need a substrate to survive.

However, chameleons kept in captivity could benefit from having a substrate. Since they don’t have the wide open space like their counterparts that live in the wild, a substrate can help with maintaining humidity and prevent the cage from getting too dirty.

Why Chameleons Don’t Need Substrate

Again, chameleons are arboreal creatures, which means they spend most of their life up in the trees.

Arboreal Creature – Chameleons are arboreal, which means they spend most of their life in trees and plants. They don’t require any substrate since they will rarely come down to the substrate.

It can cause impaction – Chameleon has a very sensitive digestive system that is prone to impaction. Substrates such as dirt, barks, and sand could cause impaction. A small amount will not cause any issue. When they start to ingest a lot of it, the substrate could build up in their system and cause serious illness for the chameleon.

A chameleon could flick out their tongue to catch prey and can accidentally ingest a piece of debris.

Harboring bacteria – In the chameleon’s environment, it will need to be kept moist. This means the substrate, such as barks and soil and will remain damp for a long time. The substrate will not be able to dry out completely due to the constant need for misting.

Over time, bacteria will start to grow inside the substrate.  As the bacteria expands, it will start to infect the chameleons. This will cause them to get sick and will need a visit to the veterinary.

Why You Might Want Substrate For Your Chameleon

Looks – An enclosure without any substrate may look very appealing. To complement the beauty of the chameleon, you may want to add a substrate.

It’s important to mimic their environment as much as possible. Not only will it make your chameleon more appealing, but it will also make them feel more at home.

Humidity – Most species of chameleon live in a humid environment. This means the humidity level should be around 50% throughout the day. By adding a substrate, it could maintain the humidity level in the cage. It’s a good idea to put natural materials such as soil and live plants, as these are what is found in their natural environment as well.

Egg Laying – For female chameleons, the only time they will come down to the forest floor is when they have to lay eggs. They will find soft soil to lay their eggs.

Therefore, you should provide them with soil so that they are able to dig in and lay their eggs.

Absorption – Chameleons require misting to keep the humidity level up. A good substrate will help absorb the extra moisture without the need for a drainage system.

If there is too much water at the bottom of the cage, this could provide a breeding ground for bacteria to grow.


Types Of Substrate For Chameleons

Below are several substrates that you can put in the chameleon’s cage. Depending on your preference, some will work great while others won’t.



Barks is another item you can use as a substrate. It’s easy to install since all you need to do is spread them evenly at the bottom of the cage. Barks also help make the environment more realistic.

The downside to using barks is that they can easily cause impaction. Also, feeder insects can hide in the barks.

You’ll need to clean the barks a couple of times per week to keep them clean.


  • Easy to install
  • Make their environment more natural


  • Choking hazard
  • Easy for feeder insects to hide
  • Need to be clean frequently


Dried Moss

Dried moss can be used as a substrate in the chameleon’s cage. It’s able to maintain moisture very well. To keep the humidity at the proper level, dried moss makes a good substrate.

On the downside, dried moss can harbor bacteria. You’ll need to clean it frequently to prevent bacteria from growing.


  • Maintain humidity level
  • Natural-looking


  • Can harbor bacteria
  • Needs to be clean frequently


Coconut Husk Brick

This material is made out of coconut shell fiber. It’s then compressed into a brick. When it’s exposed to water, it will expand.

Coconut husk brick can hold moisture well and maintain the proper level of humidity. Also, it’s cheap to buy and the material is biodegradable.


  • Biodegradable material
  • Good water absorption
  • Maintain a proper humidity level
  • Inexpensive to buy


  • Needs to be clean often
  • Easy for insects to hide in


Smooth Stones

Smooth stones are great for the chameleons’ enclosure. It’s less likely for parasites and bacteria to live in.

Smooth stones come in all colors and sizes. Make sure to buy stones that are large, so the chameleons won’t be able to eat them. Also, larger stones will be easy for you to clean.

You can find smooth stones at your local craft stores or online stores.


  • Many colors available
  • Easy to clean
  • Doesn’t absorb moisture


  • Small stones can be a choking hazard


Paper Towels

Paper towels are the best type of substrate for a chameleon cage. It’s easy to dispose of and very good at absorbing moisture. Also, it’s the cheapest substrate to buy.

The only bad thing about paper towels is their appearance. If you’re looking to make the environment more natural, paper towels are not going to work.


  • Easy to clean
  • Great water absorption
  • Inexpensive


  • Not appealing
  • Have to be cleaned frequently

The Best Substrate For Your Chameleon

When it comes to the best substrate, it will depend on you as the owner. The most important factor to consider is how much time do you have to clean the cage.

If you don’t have a lot of time, it’s best to choose a substrate that’s easy to clean. The material I would recommend is a plain paper towel. You can simply remove them, clean the cage, and put a new paper towel in a matter of minutes.

For those who have a lot of time, I would recommend using coconut husk. These are materials that are naturally found in the chameleon’s habitat. Also, it’s easy to clean and great at absorbing moisture.

Bottom line, most of the above substrate I’ve listed is fine to use. It all depends on how much time you have to spend cleaning their cage. The cage will need to be cleaned often to prevent bacterial growth. This means spot cleaning every day and does a thorough cleaning once a week.