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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There are many, many things that people find interesting or fascinating about the chameleon. After all, it is one of the more popular lizards that people choose to own as pets, after skinks and bearded dragons.
No matter if you are simply interested in lizards in general or you find the chameleon itself to be your favorite pet that you could own, it would be smart of you to do some research on what standard chameleon behaviors are.
Making sure that you know what behaviors are normal and which ones are problematic and indicative of a problem in your chameleon’s life is something that you should put in a fair amount of effort to do.
Your chameleon cannot talk to you the same way that people talk to each other, and because chameleons aren’t the most social animals, it can be hard to gauge its health and what condition it is in. Having a good understanding of a chameleon’s behaviors is the best way that you will be able to understand how your chameleon is doing.
When your chameleon is simply sitting in its enclosure and it begins to move back and forth while still remaining in the same place, you might wonder what your chameleon is doing and if it is okay.
The good news is that this is a completely normal behavior, and it is commonly referred to as “dancing” among chameleon enthusiasts. To some, it can certainly come across as if the chameleon is trying to dance by walking back and forth.
To understand what this movement is and why your chameleon feels the need to engage in it, you first have to understand its purpose. This will help you gain a better understanding of your chameleon’s thought process, allowing you to get a better sense of why your chameleon is doing what it is doing.
The Chameleon Dance
This dance, which can sometimes be called the “leaf dance” is essentially a way that chameleons will try and camouflage themselves if they feel threatened or nervous.
More often than not, your chameleon’s colors will be a green that matches the flora of its enclosure while it is doing this, and this is because the chameleon is trying to blend in with its surroundings the same way that people have heard about.
But why does this behavior seem so strange in the enclosed environment that a home chameleon would be found in? This is because chameleons haven’t evolved to exist in a surrounding that doesn’t have wind currents and similar.
In the wild, where there is wind and moving air all throughout the jungle where the chameleon resides, the leaf dance will come across much more convincingly (in the eyes of a predator) as the chameleon being a leaf that is dancing on the wind.
In addition to the movement that can look somewhat similar to a leaf in the wind, most chameleons have a torso that is somewhat similar in shape to the leaves from where the chameleon would have been found.
This, in combination with their ability to take on the various shades of green from the environment, all helps to add to the way that a chameleon tries to portray itself as a leaf. While this can be helpful out in the wild, this type of behavior can certainly come across as strange in the enclosed environment of the chameleon’s cage.
When the chameleon is in an enclosure without any wind, this sort of movement falls flat and only looks out of place because the chameleon doesn’t know any other way to behave. Its instincts are telling it to move back and forth as it would in the wild despite the fact that the air within the enclosure is still.
Although chameleons that live in enclosures suffer no evolutionary disadvantage from this, this type of behavior and instinct still remains in the chameleon’s thought process throughout generations.
For the Sake of Vision
Another belief that scientists have is that chameleons will perform this “dance” to try and gain better vision and perspective of their prey. Unlike many animals in the world, chameleons use their eyes independently of each other.
When they are hungry, they will scan their surroundings with both eyes looking toward the right or left, and while this can help them have a better view of the world, this will not offer any stereoscopic vision.
In short, stereoscopic vision can be considered “normal” vision that is the standard for all humans and most primates, among other animals. It refers to the brain’s ability to use the visual input from both eyes together to create a sense of depth and it is what gives people their good three-dimensional vision.
As you can imagine, when a chameleon is using both eyes independently of each other, it will be unable to use the visual input from both eyes to create depth, and this can mess with its ability to naturally hunt down its prey.
With that being said, when a chameleon wants to focus both of its eyes on one location (to accurately gauge depth perception), it can be hard for its brain to adjust to this as it is naturally wired to see from each eye independently.
Moving back and forth is the way that chameleons have evolved to naturally overcome this problem, as it helps them use motion parallax to better sense where their prey is.
Motion parallax is the fact objects that are closer to you will seem to move more when you move to the side than objects that are farther away. Using this phenomenon, chameleons will be able to get a better sense of where their prey is and how far away it might be so that it can get an accurate shot with its tongue.
To judge when a chameleon is performing its leaf dance for the sake of hunting or to try and protect itself, you need to consider the chameleon’s circumstances. Did you just add its favorite bugs to the enclosure, or could there be a new figure in the house that it has never seen before?
Chances are that if you have just fed your chameleon, it is likely trying to hunt down its prey. If there is reason for your chameleon to be scared, then it may be doing this dance out of a feeling that it must preserve itself.