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Home > Reptiles > How Often Do Chameleons Shed & Why Do They Do It?

How Often Do Chameleons Shed & Why Do They Do It?

A shedding female Giant Usambara three-horned chameleon

If you’ve seen a chameleon shed their skin, you may feel a bit sorry for them. When this happens, these cute, scaly creatures resemble horror-movie mummies crawling out of their graves. As an owner, your immediate thoughts are of concern. While you know this is a natural part of chameleon living, just what exactly should you expect? You’re likely left wondering how often do chameleons shed and why do they do it.

On average, an adult chameleon will shed once every 8 weeks. Younger chameleons shed more often, roughly every 3 to 4 weeks. The main reason this process takes place is to help your chameleon get rid of old skin cells and renew itself. This renew makes way for a healthy, growing chameleon. While the shed may take a little time and leave you a bit apprehensive, it’s completely natural for your pet to experience it.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the reasons behind a chameleon’s shed. This will help you understand the process and learn what to look for as your chameleon rejuvenates.

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A Growing Chameleon

Like other reptiles, chameleons grow. Unlike their relatives, however, chameleons have a thin, transparent top layer of skin that plays an important role in their ability to change colors. This top layer of skin does not stretch with the chameleon as it grows. As this reptile’s body grows larger, this layer of skin begins to shed away.

Baby chameleons grow quickly. Due to this rapid growth, younger chameleons shed their skin more often. Every 3 to 4 weeks, a growing chameleon’s skin will stretch then flake away. This shedding process allows the thin layer of skin that does not stretch to be replaced with a fresh layer more suited to the chameleon’s current size.

As an adult, chameleons are no longer growing in the same way. Instead of shedding their skin to allow for growth, adult chameleons shed to make room for added weight. If your pet chameleon puts on a bit of weight, you should expect to see shedding take place.

a shedding hatchling chameleon
Image By: Wildfaces, Pixabay

Shaking the Old Skin Cells

Another important reason chameleons shed their top layer of skin is to get rid of old skin cells and clean their bodies. Similar to a human taking a shower, a chameleon shedding removes dead skin cells and leaves the skin beneath fresh and clean looking. After a shed, most chameleon’s colors are brighter and their scaly skin looks renewed.

How Long Does Shedding Take?

The time needed for a chameleon to fully shed its skin is determined by the individual chameleon. Younger chameleons shed quicker. In some instances, they can be free of their unwanted skin in around 15 minutes. As they age, however, the time it takes to shed their skin lengthens. According to species and size, an adult chameleon may shed in a few hours, a couple of days, or possibly longer. The most important thing is to not push your chameleon. The act of shedding their skin is natural. Your chameleon knows how to do it without assistance.

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The 5 Signs of an Approaching Shed

Most chameleons give their owners a few signs before they actually begin shedding their skin. Behavioral changes can alert you to the shedding process about to take place. As a loving pet owner, you may be concerned when you notice these changes, but don’t worry. All this is natural and soon your chameleon will be back to its old self. Let’s take a look at a few of the changes you should expect to see during the shedding process and the time leading up to it.

1. Loss of Appetite

Your chameleon will most likely eat less during the days leading up to their shed. This is common for chameleons and shouldn’t concern you. If the loss of appetite persists after the shedding process, you should consider taking your chameleon to the vet for a checkup.


2. Restlessness

Restlessness can affect your chameleon at different times but during the time leading up to the shedding of their skin, you may notice it more. The shedding process is irritating for a chameleon. This is why they get restless and a bit irritable. When you notice this, give your pet a bit of space. You’ll most likely notice changes in their skin soon.

chameleon on a branch
Image By: annekroiss, Pixabay

3. White Spots

The main indication that your chameleon is ready to shed its skin is white spots. These spots can also be misinterpreted as something more serious but are nothing more than your chameleon’s skin preparing itself for what’s to come.

While these spots vary in size, it’s easy to see what they are if you look closely. White spots are the thin layer of skin lifting, ready to take its leave and let the fresher skin beneath take over.


4. Branch Rubbing

During the shedding process, you may notice your chameleon rubbing its body on perches and branches inside its enclosure. Don’t be concerned. This isn’t a sign of a bad shed, it’s simply your chameleon’s way of working the shedding skin loose.

chameleon branch rubbing
Image By: ekamelev, Pixabay

5. Scratching

Shedding is an irritating and itchy process. To help remedy what they’re going through, your chameleon will most likely use their feet to scrape and scratch at their skin. This scratching helps soothe them and like branch rubbing, helps move the process along for your chameleon.

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Is Shedding Dangerous?

For most chameleons, the shedding process is completely safe and takes place without any issues. Unfortunately, problems can occur that make the process dangerous for your pet. When your chameleon can’t completely shed its skin, pieces of old flesh may stay attached. If this takes place in certain parts of the body like the toes and tip of the tail, blood can be restricted. When this happens, getting your chameleon to a veterinarian is crucial. Without proper blood flow, toes or the tail can be lost.

Old skin hanging near the mouth or eyes can also cause serious illnesses with your chameleon. Blindness and mouth rot are common if persistent skin is left unattended. Large pieces of this skin can even hinder your chameleon’s movement.

Should You Help Your Chameleon with Shedding?

While you may want to peel away the dying skin and help your chameleon through the process, it’s best to leave them to their own devices. More often than not, trying to remove shedding skin can hurt your chameleon or even cause unnecessary stress.

When your chameleon is shedding, keep a close eye on things. Look for stuck skin between the toes, around the tail, nose, and especially the eyes. It also helps if your chameleon’s humidity levels are adequate. If they aren’t, your chameleon’s skin will dry out making it more difficult for the layer of dead skin to flake and fall away. Hydration also helps this process. Keeping your pet properly hydrated during the shedding process will help them shed the skin faster.

close up of a Panther Chameleon's pattern
Image Credit: Pixel-mixer, Pixabay

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In Conclusion

If you’re the proud pet parent of a chameleon, shedding is a part of life. Don’t be shocked when you see their skin turn white and begin to fall away. No, your scaly friend hasn’t decided to be a mummy, they are simply ridding themselves of skin cells they no longer need. Keep a watchful eye on them and let the process take place. Your chameleon will rise looking brighter and healthier than before.


Featured Image Credit: Ferdy Timmerman, Shutterstock

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