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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On a recent trip to the local park, I spotted a chameleon perching on a tree. Instead of the expected vibrant colors, this little guy was almost as brown as the tree it was perched on. The lifeless shade of the creature had me worried it might be sick. So, I just had to find out why chameleons turn brown.
Chameleons change color for two primary functions (and it has little to do with camouflage). The first is a method of communication, and the second relates to temperature. Usually, chameleons turn a darker shade to control their body temperature – the darker hues aid in heat absorption.
I was relieved that the fella wasn’t sick, but it still got me thinking, are there any other reasons for the brown coloring apart from sunbathing or communication? It turns out there is more to it than soaking up vitamin D.
Why Is My Chameleon Brown?
You can rest assured that a brown chameleon is no real cause for concern. However, there are some aspects to their coloring that, when explained, should give you a better understanding of why your pet chooses the shades they do.
Some Chameleon Species Are “Color-Limited.”
Before we dive into the reasons, it should be mentioned that not all chameleon species can produce the vivid colors we routinely see on wildlife television or photography. Some lizards only have a range of three or four colors.
Some lizards (like the Namaqua Chameleon and Brygoo’s Chameleon) can only shift from green to either brown or grey; they do not possess the coloration range of a panther or veiled chameleon, for example.
There seems to be a misrepresentation that chameleons can somehow replicate the color of their surroundings; this isn’t true. Each species has a range of hues they are limited to.
The Primary Reasons Your Chameleon Is Brown
Even though their color-changing ability helps them blend into their environment, science reckons that chameleons do not use this primarily for concealment.
According to various studies on these fascinating lizards, they use their shade-shifting aptitude for two crucial reasons: temperature and communication.
Temperature (Hot or Cold)
If you ever got stuck wearing a black shirt when it is sweltering outside, you’ll no doubt understand this concept. Dark colors absorb all of the light without reflecting any light back.
When your chameleon turns dark brown, the little creature is using the absorption to his advantage to retain as much heat as it can. You’ll perhaps notice that they tend to be dark brown in the morning after a nippy night.
As soon as the perfect body temperature is regulated or it becomes too hot, the chameleon will opt for a lighter shade, like green, to reflect some light away from itself.
Communication (And Moods)
As with most animals in nature, males tend to have striking features. Think of the vibrant feathers of a male peacock or the magnificent mane of a lion.
Chameleon colors can, in a way, be seen as a reflection of their mood. Male chameleons will use stimulating hues (like blue, green, and yellow) when they want to attract a female. Or take on intimidating shades like vivid red to warn off other chameleons.
Some female chameleons (like the panther) take on a deeper brown or black color when pregnant. The dark shade sends the message that they are officially off the market, so to speak.
In the case of a veiled chameleon, dark brown or black coloring can signify stress or anger. A lighter shade of brown, like tan, may indicate that the lizard is relaxed and just going about its business.
Clearly, there are several reasons your chameleon has taken on the brown tint. Since some species seem to have different reasons for different colors, assigning colors to the lizard’s moods can provide you with a better understanding of your pet’s needs.
What Does It Mean When Your Chameleon Stays Brown All Day?
If your chameleon stays brown all day, it could mean that your pet is cold, and the
habitat’s temperature is not ideal for them. You will need to invest in UVA/UVB fluorescent bulbs to help your pet regulate its body heat.
A Guide To The Perfect Temperature For Your Chameleon
During the day, there should be warm and cool areas in the terrarium. Usually, the bottom of the enclosure is best suited as the cool area (around 70 and 80 degrees F) and the top as the warm section (between 80 and 100 degrees F).
The nighttime temperature should be between 65 and 70 degrees F. It would be a good idea to invest in two thermometers to check that their habitat’s cool and warm sections are suited for their needs.
Can A Brown Chameleon Be Sick?
Apart from the two main functions of the brown hue, there is a possibility that the dull brown or ashy skin shade of your chameleon might indicate that the little guy is under the weather.
Keep in mind that when a lizard sheds its skin, this will also reduce its vibrant hues for a little while. Don’t be alarmed if they’re a little dull at shedding time; this is no cause for concern – unless it persists accompanied by other symptoms.
6 Signs That Your Pet Chameleon Might Not Be Feeling Too Well
If you are concerned that your chameleon might be sick, rather be safe and take a trip to the vet. And if all possible, an exotic animal veterinarian will be your best chance to find out what is wrong with your pet.
Please take a closer look at your pet when they show symptoms like not eating, sluggishness, lack of feces or urine, strange behavior, sunken eyes, and dull skin.
Lack Of Appetite
Full-grown chameleons eat every other day – let’s say three times a week. Their feeding lasts for ten to fifteen minutes, where they consume insects until they are full.
Due to the intermitted fasting days, it would be easy to establish a lack of appetite because your lizard should be hungry by the next feeding; if they refuse to eat, something might be wrong.
While chameleons aren’t known for getting the zoomies, being near motionless for hours on end is not a good sign and can mean that they might be constipated or ill.
Try a little outside exercise in the sun, see if that doesn’t liven your pet up some; if that doesn’t work, you’ll know to keep a close eye on their behavior for the next couple of days.
To follow on with the previous point, lack of feces for longer than two weeks is an indication that your lizard is not well.
Remember that chameleons do not defecate every day, so don’t be worried when a couple of days have passed, but keep an eye out for the two-week mark.
If you had your chameleon for a while now, you should be able to discern their habits from unusual behavior. For example, if your pet doesn’t usually hang out in the bottom of the enclosure, you should take notice.
When chameleons are sick or dehydrated, their protruding eyes may appear flat or hollow. Make sure that your lizard has enough clean water every day.
Chameleons lick water droplets from leaves; you should mimic this by adding water drippers near leaves. If your pet is not drinking water, there is something wrong.
Another sign that your little guy needs some help is when their skin appears dull brown or ashen.
If they are not shedding and are experiencing some of the symptoms in the previous points, the skin color can signify something is wrong.
Typically, is no need to be alarmed at the brown hue of your pet chameleon’s skin. It is just a way to regulate their temperature or to express a certain mood or feeling.
Ensure that you are keeping your pet lizard at the correct temperature; look for community forum pages on chameleons and ask for advice from other owners.
However, if your chameleon stays brown and seems lifeless and dull, you should take a trip to the vet to make sure your pet might not be suffering from an illness.