Chameleons are solitary, territorial animals. Even in the wild, they are unaccustomed to spending time with those of their kind, so imagine their surprise at suddenly spending time with human pet owners who try to touch them!
Generally, chameleons do not like to be handled. However, they can tolerate it in small amounts if you do it properly. When handling your chameleon, it’s best to move slowly, approach it from the front, and wait for it to come to you when it’s ready. Meanwhile, you should never startle it with quick movements or attempt to chase it around its tank!
Luckily, it is possible to train pet chameleons to tolerate more and more handling over time. Read on to learn some do’s, some don’ts, which species you’ll have better chances with and much more!
Chameleon Handling Do’s
Generally, chameleons don’t like being handled, but they can tolerate the occasional human touch. Here are ways to make the experience a little better for them.
Give it time to warm up to your presence
Before handling your chameleon, stand near your chameleon’s enclosure for a few minutes to allow it to notice your presence and adjust accordingly.
If you try to handle your chameleon right upon entering the room, it may get startled and run away.
It’s recommended only to handle your chameleon when you are alone in the room. Other people or animals (pets) in the room can cause it to feel anxious.
Always move gently
Fast movements scare chameleons. Make sure you slowly stretch your hand toward it if you want to pick it up.
This also gives your chameleon enough time to move away if it isn’t in the mood.
Let your chameleon make the first move
As much as possible, never forcefully pick up your chameleon. Instead, always let your chameleon walk toward you and climb up your hand.
If needed, start with a stick
If your chameleon is new, holding it in your hand may not be advisable just yet. Instead, start handling it by letting it climb onto a sturdy stick and carrying that around instead.
After doing this a few times, it may feel comfortable enough to venture onto your hand.
Give it a good handling experience
If and when your chameleon finally consents to be held, ensure it has a good experience.
Chameleons like to cling onto things, so they will enjoy wrapping its tail around your hand or fingers.
Don’t let it dangle from your hand or quickly wave your arm around as if trying to shake it off. Instead, continue your slow and gentle movements.
Finally, don’t drop it in when returning it to its tank! Place your hand near a branch or the ground and let your chameleon safely walk off.
Here are some great tips for handling your pet chameleon!
Chameleon Handling Don’ts
Avoid undoing days and weeks of good handling experiences with your chameleon by making one of these wrong moves!
Pick it up from above or behind
Birds, a chameleon’s natural predator in the wild, often scoop it up from above. Meanwhile, any of us would get surprised if we were suddenly grabbed from the back!
Avoid scaring your chameleon by always picking it up from the front, where it can see you coming.
Chase it around its enclosure
As mentioned, it’s best to let your chameleon come to you. Never try to catch it in its tank, especially if it’s running away and showing obvious signs of wanting to be left alone.
This can significantly stress your pet and cause it to feel unsafe in its home.
Pet or stroke right away
It’s essential to take things slow with your chameleon. Once it has climbed onto your hand or arm, give it a few minutes before gently placing your finger on it.
It may allow you to stroke it a little if you’re lucky. If it shows discomfort, though, it’s best to remove your finger and try again next time.
Signs Your Chameleon Doesn’t Want To Be Held
If your chameleon has crawled onto your hand, all’s good, right? Not necessarily.
After a while, your chameleon may have changed its mind or maybe feels you’ve been holding it long enough.
You know your chameleon wants to be placed back in its enclosure when it begins doing the following.
Turn a dark color, such as dark brown or black
Chameleons use their colors as a form of communication. Typically, brighter colors mean they are in a good mood, while darker colors mean they are stressed, anxious, or ill.
They wear their mood on their skin!
Therefore, if your chameleon starts turning black or dark, it’s no longer in the mood to be handled and wants to go home.
Puff itself up
Many animals puff themselves up as a defense mechanism to appear larger and more threatening than they are. Chameleons are one of them, puffing up their throat and gular folds to intimidate other chameleons–or their owners.
A chameleon with its mouth left open may look like it is simply lost in thought, but it isn’t. It’s showing you its teeth because it’s irritated!
Close its eyes
Chameleons are diurnal animals that stay awake during the day and sleep at night.
If your chameleon is closing its eyes while on your hand while the sun is out, it’s likely because it is stressed.
Hissing is Chameleon for a getaway! If your chameleon begins hissing at you, it’s letting you know it’s done socializing and wants to be alone in its tank now.
With their tiny teeth and weak jaws, chameleons aren’t big biters. Still, they will bite to get their point across if driven to it.
Luckily, this is often their last resort. If you paid close attention, they would likely have displayed one of the other listed behaviors first as warning signs.
If you get bitten by a chameleon, don’t worry! They don’t carry toxins and rarely bite hard enough to break the skin. Still, to be safe, clean, and disinfect the area to avoid infections.
Watch an angry, hissing, gaping chameleon:
Top 3 Chameleon Species That Like Being Held
Truthfully, no chameleon likes to be held, but some species tolerate it more than most.
Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)
Jackson’s chameleons may look intimidating with their three horns but don’t worry. The species has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most laid-back members of the family.
Rudis Chameleon (Trioceros rudis)
Rudis chameleons typically tolerate human owners and their handling quite well and are known to show they are beginning to get uncomfortable before lashing out.
And just in case you react too slowly and get bitten, don’t worry–Rudis chameleons are tiny chameleons between 5 to 7 inches long, which means their bites will hardly hurt.
Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer outlet)
Oustalet’s chameleons are rarely aggressive toward people. Still, they are relatively large, typically one to two feet long. This means their bites can be slightly more painful (but just as harmless) than the little Rudis’!
Do Veiled Chameleons Like To Be Held?
Despite being popular pets, veiled chameleons are extremely grumpy, solitary reptiles that want to be left alone. They don’t enjoy being touched by a stranger or a long-time owner.
Do Panther Chameleons Like To Be Held?
Panther chameleons are a little more tolerant than veiled chameleons of humans’ touch, mainly if it is an owner they have grown familiar with.
Still, while they may willingly climb onto your hand for food or be taken out of their cage for some tank cleaning, panther chameleons will not willingly cuddle with their owner.
How To Get A Chameleon Used to Handling
As with many relationships, time is a significant factor. The longer your chameleon has known you, the more certain it is that you are safe and can be trusted.
It’s important not to rush your chameleon, especially in the beginning. Avoid handling it any earlier than 4-5 weeks after bringing it into your home.
It’s also easier to train a younger chameleon. The younger you begin training your chameleon to be handled, the more comfortable it will be with it as an adult.
Lastly, train your chameleon with rewards! Try hand-feeding it now and then to associate your hand with food, treats, and a good time.
Only hand-feed your chameleon occasionally. Your pet will appreciate being left alone for some of its meals to “hunt” and eat in isolation.
Can Chameleons Bond With Their Owners?
Unfortunately, no. Being lizards, chameleons have a lizard or reptilian brain.
Reptilian brains are only concerned with physical needs and survival, including feeding, reproduction, and staying alive through the fight or flight response. This means that chameleons won’t develop any emotional bond with you.
If you see chameleons “hanging out” with their owners, they are more likely simply using their owner as a mode of transportation to get around out of their cage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Can I Handle My Chameleon?
Each chameleon has its limit, but try to handle your chameleon at most 20 minutes a week, or ideally only about 10 minutes.
Can I Let My Friend Try To Hold Or Pet My Chameleon?
It’s best to only show your friend your chameleon from a distance. Your pet may get highly stressed if a stranger tries to hold it and attempt to bite your friend’s finger!
You may not be able to cuddle with your chameleon as often as you’d like, but there is one great way to show affection.
You can “bond” with your chameleon by leaving it alone and only dropping by occasionally. Your pet will appreciate you for its alone time and probably be grateful toward you in its way!
Ultimately, chameleons are pets better observed than played with, and if that’s okay with you, you’ll get along incredibly with your pet chameleon.