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Home > Reptiles > Can You Hold a Chameleon? Facts, & FAQ

Can You Hold a Chameleon? Facts, & FAQ

chameleon on human's finger

The chameleon is a fascinating animal. With its mesmerizing eyes, long tail curled in on itself, stretchy tongue, and color-changing skin, this is a reptile that sparks the craze among exotic pet owners. However, it is a fairly complex animal, which requires some prior knowledge to be properly cared for.

Moreover, one of the questions that often comes up is if it is possible to hold a chameleon, and above all, does he like it? The answer, however, may be disappointing: the chameleon should be handled as little as possible, as stress is a major cause of its health problems. Therefore, it is not recommended to entrust it to inexperienced hands, unlike the gecko or the bearded dragon, which are docile and easier to handle.

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Why Doesn’t the Chameleon Like To Be Handled?

In the wild, chameleons lead a solitary and territorial life. In general, each chameleon adopts a shrub or bush on which to rest and sleep at night. Sometimes, it leaves it in the morning, following the same routine routes every day, to go and warm up in the sun before taking up a position to hunt.

In captivity, the chameleon’s taciturn behavior will not change; it prefers to be left alone and should not be handled on a daily basis. Thus, this captivating reptile should be observed rather than touched, regardless of its seemingly tranquil demeanor.

chameleon trying to hide behind the leaves
Image Credit: Harald Matern, Pixabay

How To Hold Your Chameleon Correctly

You may have to handle your chameleon on certain occasions, for example, if you need to clean his vivarium or take him to the vet.

  • To do this, first, make sure you are alone in the room. The presence of other humans or animals will only increase his stress.
  • Put some food in the palm of your hand and place your hand in the vivarium, palm facing up.
  • Let your chameleon climb onto your fingers. Don’t rush him, and do not grab your chameleon by the neck, back, feet or tail unless absolutely necessary.
  • Do not attempt to manipulate your chameleon if he adopts a defensive stance (open mouth, hissing, rocking, etc.) or if he closes his eyes and remains still. Forcing him can generate stress which, when chronic, often leads to health problems.

The 4 Ways To Reduce Stress on Your Chameleon

In addition to having access to a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles, there are a few things you can do at home to reduce stress on your chameleon:

1. Place his vivarium in a low-traffic area in your home.

If necessary, put visual barriers between your chameleon and areas where there is a lot of human activity. Your chameleon scans any object that moves within his broad field of vision to see if it is a potential predator. Over time, this constant analytical process creates significant stress for your pet reptile.

2. Move slowly around your chameleon.

Avoid sudden movements above or near his head at all costs.

3. Keep only one chameleon per vivarium.

Avoid eye contact with another chameleon, bird, snake, or other reptiles, as well as any other pets. Indeed, birds, snakes, and large reptiles are natural predators of chameleons. So, even though they are in captivity, chameleons are frightened and stressed by the presence of these animals.

4. Remove or block access to any surface where your chameleon can see its own reflection.

This includes glass or plastic panes, which is an argument against using an aquarium as a vivarium. Indeed, chameleons are not social reptiles. Thus, the sight of another chameleon stresses them out, and they can assume a defensive stance.

chameleon in an enclosure with heat lamp
Image Credit: Vaillery, Shutterstock

Bonus: Why Does the Chameleon Change Color?

The chameleon has neither a powerful jaw nor venom to defend itself against aggression. Instead, its more subtle weapons are stillness and camouflage. The bands, marbling, thorns, horns, and other various protuberances that adorn its body, as well as the shape of it, flattened in the vertical direction, help melt the chameleon in the foliage. Moreover, the chameleon oscillates perpetually; these incessant swings, peculiar to the species, undoubtedly help hide the animal in vegetation stirred by the wind.

However, scientists no longer consider its ability to change color as an art of camouflage adapted to the environment, but as the expression of the emotions or temperature variations of the chameleon. Thus, although it is almost impossible to spot a green chameleon in the foliage with the same shades of green, this same chameleon, if it senses a threat, can turn pale with worry or blacken with anger: this is, therefore, a terrible way to hide!

Likewise, if the chameleon is frightened, brown and yellow bands will appear on its skin. This characteristic is, therefore, very useful to know by any budding herpetologist!

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Final Thoughts

Chameleons are sensitive animals that must be treated with care. They are difficult to keep in captivity and do not appreciate being handled. If you absolutely have to hold your chameleon in your hands, don’t force him out of his cage or do anything that makes him angry or stressed. Instead of grabbing your reptile directly, let him gently climb onto your hand.

In a nutshell, as long as you understand these facts and respect the temperament and needs of the chameleon before purchasing one, you will have a better chance of having a successful pet-owner relationship with this fragile but splendid reptile.

Featured Image Credit: carstengoerke, Pixabay

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