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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Many, many people all around the world enjoy having pets. There are many different kinds of pets out there that you can take care of as well. Some people prefer to stick with the traditional cat or dog, while other people may want to own a pet that’s more unique than that.
For instance, millions of people around the world enjoy taking care of reptiles as their pets and there are countless reptiles to choose from.
Out of all the reptiles that are commonly available as pets, one of the most popular is the chameleon. While the chameleon obviously won’t go invisible as many cartoons portray it doing, they can be a fascinating and endearing pet to own in their own way.
One thing that you will want to consider before looking to adopt a chameleon is how friendly it will be. Some lizards are surprisingly friendly and enjoy being held and being able to climb all over their owners.
Other lizards still aren’t used to the idea of being taken care of by a person and prefer to be left alone. After all, to a lizard, you are a towering giant, and this can be quite stressful!
If you want to give your chameleon the best life that you can, you are going to want to make sure that you are not inadvertently stressing it out by trying to handle it. Similarly, if you are still debating getting a lizard and you want to own a lizard that is tolerable to being handled, you may want to do some research to make sure that the lizard you want is going to be comfortable with such a lifestyle.
This then begs the question of whether or not chameleons are one of those lizards that tolerate being held and handled or if they prefer to be left to their business. The answer to this question is not an easy or quick answer.
Different species of chameleons are going to tolerate being handled differently, and different chameleons are going to have different temperaments. The answer also depends on what your definition of a friendly chameleon is.
To some people, a friendly animal is one that will actively seek companionship with you, wanting to be held, interacted with, and spend time with. To other people, a friendly animal is one that is not actively aggressive toward you and will not try to bite you the moment you stick your hand in the enclosure.
With these different definitions, it can be hard to place a straight answer on how friendly chameleons are.
To break it down, you will want to look at a few separate factors. You will first want to look at the aggression of different chameleon species. Chances are that if a chameleon is particularly aggressive, so much so you can’t even try and touch it, that you won’t have any chances of holding it successfully.
From here, you can begin looking into which chameleons are more tolerant of being held, which are the calmest for beginner chameleon owners, and so on.
It will also do you well to learn the signs of contentment and annoyance in chameleons so that you can gauge whether or not you are disturbing the chameleon too much. This will give you a good sense of how tolerant a chameleon is on a particular day so that you don’t end up with a bitten finger.
Chameleons and Aggression
Naturally, different breeds of chameleon are going to have different temperaments. As a whole, chameleons are not an aggressive species. They only tend to act out when they feel threatened.
The problem with this is that you, as a human, are considerably imposing compared to the small stature of a chameleon, so it is easy to come across as inadvertently terrifying. The measure of aggression in chameleons tends to be less focused on what they will do (as they can really only bite you), but more on how quick your chameleon is to become angry.
It is widely accepted that the veiled chameleon is the most aggressive out of the three main chameleon pet species. Veiled chameleons will be quicker to bite you when you stick your hand in its enclosure and they tend to be more territorial than other chameleon species, putting on a display of aggression if you are too close to it.
They have been shown to calm down over time, likely as they come to realize that you are not a threat, but it is something to consider when looking for a friendly chameleon.
The panther chameleon is less aggressive, but will still have some territory issues if you have a multi-animal habitat set up. They generally prefer to be left alone and will hiss at you if they feel that you are threatening them.
Finally, the Jackson chameleon is the most docile out of common domestic chameleon species. They are slower to show off aggressive behavior. They still won’t put up with regular intrusions into their enclosure or frequent handling, but you will still be able to care for it more physically than you would with a veiled chameleon.
If you are looking at “friendliness” in terms of aggression or lack thereof, the Jackson chameleon is going to be the best in terms of being more tolerant of your presence.
Keep in mind that aggression in chameleons, at least toward humans, will come in the form of aggressive displays (that serve as a warning) and biting, and a chameleon’s bite doesn’t hurt too much but you should still take it as a sign that they want to be left alone.
Chameleons and Being Handled
Chameleons are not affectionate creatures. That isn’t to say that they do not want another chameleon in their enclosure, but they are not the type of animal that is going to cuddle up to you and enjoy walking along your body and your desk.
They prefer to simply coexist with you, living their own life while you admire them from outside of the enclosure.
In this sense, chameleons, all of them, are not friendly animals. All chameleons are shy and relatively cautious and solitary. They may do well with a single other chameleon, but that’s about it.
They prefer to live their own lives without being disturbed by other animals. This is perfectly fine for people who are comfortable observing their chameleons from outside their enclosure, but for people who are looking for an openly affectionate lizard, chameleons are not the animal to turn to.
Handling a chameleon should be reserved to two options. You may want to occasionally pet a chameleon, and if it is a more docile species it may tolerate this.
The second time is for instances when you need to move the chameleon physically from its enclosure, whether because it is time to clean the enclosure or if the chameleon is sick and needs to go to the vet. You shouldn’t try to pick up a chameleon aside from that type of situation.
There are very rare exceptions to this rule, and some chameleons seem to bond well with their people, coming out of their enclosure every time you come over to see them. You should not expect this and this should be taken as being considerably lucky when owning a chameleon.
It is something that does have a chance of happening though, especially if your chameleon comes to see that you are not hostile (since you will likely come across as a strange predator to the chameleon at first).
Signs of Friendliness in Chameleons
With all of this being said, if chameleons are not openly friendly, how can you tell when they are in a mood to be handled? How can you tell if a chameleon is going to be a good fit for your home?
While you will never be able to tell how a chameleon will interact with your home environment, there are a few ways that you can gauge how friendly and docile your chameleon is going to be.
When you go to a breeder or a pet shop, there are three things you will want to do. You will want to simply observe the chameleon and how it reacts to your presence, since you will be a complete stranger to it.
You will want to see how it acts out of its enclosure to gauge how well it handles stress and new environments. You will also want to ask to hold the chameleon.
If a breeder does not allow either of the latter options without a justifiable reason, it may be worth going to a different breeder. These are natural steps to take in seeing if a chameleon is going to be a good fit for you as a pet.
When you are observing the chameleon, you will be looking at its colors and seeing if it appears outwardly nervous. Whether the color of the chameleon is bright or dark doesn’t matter as much, but you will want to look for a chameleon that keeps a neutral color.
You may have to do some research on what a neutral color is for a certain breed, but neutral colors tend to mean that the chameleon is comfortable even in the presence of a stranger.
When asking the breeder to take it out of the enclosure, you will want to see how the chameleon reacts without you interacting with it. Look to see if the chameleon remains calm or if it starts to panic and hiss at people. Consider how the chameleon is picked up as well, as being picked up from behind can be stressful for these little lizards.
Finally, if you get the chance to hold it, consider how it acts when it is being held. If it sits there calmly, this can generally mean that it will tolerate you in the future but this isn’t always the most accurate way to measure friendliness in chameleons.
If its color begins to change to one that indicates stress, or if the chameleon begins to panic, these may be signs that your chameleon is going to be a hands-off pet.
Again, all of these signs are good to look at to see if you will be compatible with your chameleon, but they do not guarantee the future or anything similar to that. A chameleon’s temperament may change as time passes, and there is no way to predict this.
All of these things to consider are simply rules of thumb and not cold facts, as chameleons are individuals that change over time as well.
Bonding with Your Chameleon
It’s highly likely that your chameleon, if it is not outright friendly from the start, will never be a cuddlebug. However, there are things that you can do to bond with your chameleon, showing it that you are not a hostile creature and showing that you are someone that it can trust.
There is no guarantee that all of this will work, but it will also not do any harm, so it is worth trying out when you want to bond with your pet.
First of all, all pets love food. A good way to bond positively with your chameleon is going to be through helping it associate you with food. This will happen naturally over your chameleon’s life as it realizes that you are the one who supplies food, but you can speed this process up through hand-feeding.
Hand-feeding a chameleon involves holding the insect or treat far enough away for it to be able to shoot it and grab it with its tongue. You can do this until the chameleon is used to your hand in its enclosure, and when this happens, you can begin holding the food farther away and placing your hand close to underneath it.
Eventually, your chameleon will begin walking onto your hand without realizing it, and through this you can teach it that letting it stand on your hand is not something it needs to be afraid of.
Another thing you can do is to make sure that you move slowly when walking past its enclosure. This won’t prevent it from being somewhat nervous when you walk by, but it will help its nerves, and this will be good for the chameleon.
You will also want to try to keep its enclosure above your head so that it does not feel as if you are lording over it. Never feed the chameleon when it is below you, as this may be very stressful to it.