From their love of climbing to their need for lots of fresh air, chameleons have a few reasons why they don't particularly enjoy aquariums. But even terrariums aren't always the ideal enclosure, unless they're well-ventilated. Pygmy chameleons throw a wrench into the matter because they don't mind aquariums one bit.
Chameleons need plenty of airflow. Without fresh air circulating, your pal would have respiratory problems and overheat, which could make him seriously sick and even cause him to die. The only airflow in aquariums comes from the top, and only if they have mesh screens. Glass terrariums don't provide a great deal of fresh air either unless you purchase a well-ventilated model that has vents to promote airflow. Mesh terrariums do exist; usually their sides have a mesh screen, while the front and back are glass. These typically are the best choice aside from an enclosure made entirely from mesh.
Chameleons love to climb and to perch atop plants and decorations high above the ground. Aquariums generally are long and somewhat tall, but not nearly tall enough to suit the tastes of a chameleon. Tall aquariums are more difficult to find and typically significantly more expensive than tall terrariums. Your pal simply wouldn't be happy in an enclosure that was long but short.
With their glass walls, aquariums do an excellent job of preventing evaporation. For chameleons, this can lead to major problems with stagnant water. A well-ventilated terrarium helps, but a mesh terrarium is even better because of the increased evaporation. Even with a terrarium, some owners find they need a drainage system for excess water that pools at the bottom of the enclosure.
Proper humidity depends on what type of chameleon you have. For example, veiled chameleons enjoy 50 percent humidity, but panther chameleons prefer humidity closer to 70 percent. Aquariums keep humidity fairly high, thanks to the poor airflow. This can make moderate humidity levels, such as 50 to 60 percent, difficult to maintain. On the flip side, well-ventilated and mesh terrariums can make it hard to maintain high humidity. Misters, foggers, drippers and live plants can help increase humidity.
Pygmy chameleons are the outliers in the discussion about aquariums versus terrariums. They live just fine in glass aquariums or terrariums. These tiny creatures mature to 3 or 4 inches long. To them, an aquarium is a huge enclosure that fulfills their needs for climbing and airflow.
Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.