Do Chameleons Bite – And Should You Worry If Bitten?

Chameleons are solitary animals that generally like to keep to themselves. When faced with a threat, they prefer running or hiding to fighting back. After all, that’s why they evolved to change colors and turn “invisible” via camouflage, right?

Chameleons will bite if they feel strongly threatened or anxious. If you get bitten, there’s no reason to worry. A chameleon’s short, sharp teeth are not enough to harm you but strong enough to convey their message. Chameleons also have no venom, so you are not at risk of getting poisoned.

Reasons why A Chameleon Bites

A chameleon will bite if it feels in danger or wants to express irritation. It will never bite to express joy or affection as dogs do. In captivity, several possible triggers fall into this category.

Environmental triggers

chameleon environmental triggers

Chameleons are anxious animals that react strongly to their surroundings. And when they are agitated, they are more likely to bite.

Frequent exposure to many other people or animals (such as your other pets) can cause them to become agitated. Anything new scares them for a while, even simple things like a new plant in the room or their enclosure.

Sharing their tank with another chameleon or reptile is another cause for their anxiety. In the wild, it is common for bigger chameleons to eat smaller ones. Therefore, cage sharing may cause them to feel chronic stress.

Editor’s Note
If any family or friends are coming to see your chameleon for the first time, do not let them stick their fingers in your chameleon’s tank! This will almost surely get them bitten.

Mating and reproduction

Male and female chameleons react differently to this phase of their lives.

During mating season (typically between July – September), males tend to become more aggressive toward other males to impress a potential female mate. Sometimes, they take out that aggression on you.

Females, meanwhile, become highly defensive and uncomfortable when carrying and laying eggs (typically between October – November). 

While females are generally more relaxed and bite less than their male counterparts, they have a higher chance of during so during this period.

Frequent handling

chameleon being held

Chameleons generally don’t like to be touched too often. They are solitary, territorial creatures that want to be left alone. 

Handling them a lot can cause them to feel uncomfortable and anxious, leading them to bite you.

However, note that how comfortable a chameleon is with handling is slightly related to its age. Younger chameleons are typically more tolerant of frequent touching, but older chameleons are more independent and prefer to be held less.

Also note that, ultimately, each chameleon has its distinct personality. Only you can gauge how much (or how little) your chameleon likes to be handled.

It is sick or injured

wounded chameleon with metabolic bone disease

No one feels comfortable when sick or injured–not you or your pet chameleon.

Your chameleon may be dealing with some pain and therefore is irritable, or even a severe illness such as Metabolic Bone Disease.

While it is normal for your chameleon to want alone time and shoo you away, extended periods of irritability may be a symptom of illness or injury. Consider taking it to the vet for a check-up.

How To Avoid A Chameleon Bite 

Since chameleons bite when they feel threatened, the fundamental way to avoid a bite is to ensure your chameleon feels safe and relaxed.

Give new chameleons time

chameleon on trunk

Chameleons need time and space to adjust to you and their new home. Wait 4-5 weeks before handling it to avoid getting bitten.

Check its environment regularly

Constantly observe your pet’s disposition to see if it feels anxious about anything in its environment, and address the issue as soon as possible before your pet’s stress can build up to a boiling (or biting) point.

Ensure it’s in a quiet room without too many human or animal visitors, its enclosure is large enough to roam, and it has adequate food, water, heat, and foliage.

Monitor its health

Additionally, regularly check for any signs of pain or discomfort, such as limping or frequently closed eyes. Your chameleon may also bite to express that it isn’t feeling well. 

Move slowly around it

How you act around it matters a lot, also. Never make any sudden, quick movements around it that may startle it. Instead, always move gently and slowly, letting your pet know you mean no harm. 

Additionally, always approach your chameleon from the front where it can see you coming. If you pick your chameleon up from above, it may feel like it is being attacked and biting you.

Leave it alone if grumpy

Leave your chameleon alone if it is already showing signs it is grumpy, hissing, spitting, or hiding. Touching or picking it up in this state is a sure way to get bitten.

Give your chameleon time and space alone, and return when it’s feeling better.

If this irritable behavior persists, consider taking your pet to the vet to check it isn’t struggling with any illness.

Signs A Chameleon Is About To Bite 

do chameleons bite

Chameleons will usually try to warn you off before going for your finger. After all, they don’t particularly enjoy biting and fighting.

Signs that your chameleon is about to bite you include: 

  • Changing colors to darker ones, usually dark brown or black.
  • Glaring at you. 
  • Opening its mouth or gaping at you.
  • Hissing.
  • Spitting.
  • Feinting or pretending to bite to warn you of its intentions.
  • Threatening by slowly approaching you with its teeth displayed as if about to bite.
  • Puffing up their bodies to appear larger and “scare” you away.

You are safe if you read these signals adequately and back off in time. If you still insist on approaching and handling it, though, your chameleon may finally take the bite.

An angry, hissing chameleon:

What To Do If A Chameleon Bites You 

If your chameleon has bitten you, the first thing to do is not panic! Do not attempt to shake your chameleon off or hit it since this may worsen the situation. 

Once everything is calm, check yourself and your chameleon for signs of injury.

Check yourself

Chameleons do not have any venom or toxins. Therefore, you are in absolutely no danger of any sort of poisoning.

However, you should treat the bite like any other wound, particularly if there is broken skin. Clean and disinfect the area thoroughly to prevent any infection.

Check your chameleon

Depending on how hard it bit you, there is a chance your chameleon may have hurt itself in its display of aggression!

If your chameleon has any wound on its jaw, clean and disinfect it (while wearing thick rubber gloves) to ensure it doesn’t get infected.

You should also check that your chameleon has not dislocated its jaw. If it appears to have difficulty closing or moving its mouth or its jaw appears swollen, take it to your vet as soon as possible.

Do Chameleons Have Teeth? 

Chameleon Teeth

Chameleons have between 15-22 small and sharp teeth, but their exact size is unmeasured because they are that tiny.

Chameleon teeth are acrodont, meaning they are fused to their jaw and are part of their bone structure. This differs from most mammals whose teeth grow within sockets in the jawbone. 

Because of this structure, your chameleon will not be able to grow back teeth if any break or fall off. This also means they do not have baby teeth–whatever they have as juveniles, they will keep until adulthood.

Chameleon teeth are designed primarily for chomping down on leaves and crushing insects, not for attack. While they are strong enough for defense, a chameleon prefers to run and hide instead of getting into a fight. 

Editor’s Note
Having teeth is something that differentiates chameleons from other reptiles. While other reptiles, such as snakes and bearded dragons, consume their food whole, chameleons are one of the few in the family who have evolved to chew and shred their food.

Do Chameleon Bites Hurt? 

chameleon about to bite

Because chameleons have such small teeth and generally weak jaws, their bites don’t often hurt too much. You will likely feel more surprised than in pain.

However, this largely depends on the exact species you have.

Bites from small chameleon species like Jackson’s chameleon don’t hurt very much. But bites from bigger species, such as the Panther chameleon and Malagasy giant chameleon, can hurt a bit more and may even break your skin.

Ten Chameleon Species and Their Likelihood to Bite

Some species are more grumpy or aggressive than others. Here are common pet chameleon species and how likely they are to bite you, but remember that each chameleon has its personality and handling tolerance.

For reference, we included their size to gauge how much or little these bites might hurt, too. Males are almost always larger than females.

Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)9 – 21”Panther chameleons are more aggressive and are better to be left alone more often than not.
Carpet Chameleon (Furcifer lateralis)6.5 – 10”Carpet chameleons can be territorial and aggressive, so handle them carefully.
Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)17 – 24”Veiled chameleons are aggressive toward other chameleons but rather friendly towards people. There is a reason they are a popular pet species!
Frequent, regular handling may cause them to bite you, though.
Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)9 – 13”Jackson’s chameleons are one of the more relaxed species of this family. Still, that doesn’t mean you should bother it too often!
Senegal Chameleon (Trioceros quadricornis)8 – 12”Senegal chameleons are typically only aggressive toward other chameleons, not humans.
However, this species does not like to be handled much and may eventually bite its owner if irritated enough.
Meller’s Chameleon (Trioceros melleri)24 – 30”Meller’s chameleons can be pretty intimidating because of their size and horn. 
They are commonly known as the giant one-horned chameleon but also as “gentle giants” because they rarely threaten to bite their owners.
Still, they stress easily and may eventually be provoked to bite if the handler isn’t careful.
Fischer’s Chameleon (Kinyongia fischeri)7.5 – 9.5”Owners of Fischer’s chameleons have a low likelihood of getting bitten by their pets but do not like being handled often, particularly in the beginning. 
They can be trained to tolerate more handling, though.
Rudis Chameleon (Trioceros rudis)5 – 7”Rudis chameleons are friendly and calm and will give plenty of warning before eventually biting.
Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)12 – 24”Oustalet’s chameleons are rarely aggressive towards people, which is very good considering their size!
Four-Horned Chameleon (Trioceros quadricornis)10 – 14”Four-horned chameleons are reportedly relatively calm species that are unlikely to bite owners.

Top 3 Chameleons That Are Least Likely To Bite 

Oustalet’s Chameleon

If you are looking specifically for chameleons species least likely to bite for your pet, here are your top three options:

  1. Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) – though large, there are very, very few reports of them being aggressive to their owners.
  2. Four-Horned Chameleon (Trioceros quadricornis) – Four-horned chameleons are calm and inactive. They are more likely to ignore you than bite you.
  3. Rudis Chameleon (Trioceros rudis) – Though the Rudis chameleon is categorized as “potentially aggressive” in the table above, they always give plenty of warning before biting and are very small. This means that if they bite you, they are the least likely to cause any injury or harm.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Handle An Agitated Chameleon?

It’s best to leave your nervous chameleon alone, but if you must handle it (for example, when taking it to the vet), give it a few minutes to calm down.

You can slowly pick it up with a stick when it is more settled. 

Ultimately, you want to avoid adding to its stress but picking it up from above or behind. Make sure it always sees you and that you move slowly to show you mean no harm.

Moving slowly makes your chameleon feel safer approaching you.

Do Chameleons Hold Grudges?

If your chameleon has bitten you a few times, you may worry that it will begin holding a grudge against you. Don’t worry, though–whatever you’ve been through, it’s always possible to rebuild your relationship and trust with your pet.

Simply give it space, time, and plenty of its favorite things, and you’ll be friends again before you know it.


Chameleons are generally docile pets that keep to themselves. They will not bite you unless they are genuinely irritated or threatened by something.

So don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Instead, dedicate that time and energy to ensuring its enclosure is in the best possible condition, and your pet chameleon is happy and comfortable.v

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