Why Is My Chameleon Turning Black? What Do I Do?

We recognize chameleons as brightly-colored reptiles, so it can be shocking to see them turning black!

Chameleons change colors for various reasons, including camouflage, temperature regulation, and communication. Black is just one of their signals and is nothing to worry about.

So why is my chameleon turning black? Chameleons turn black when they are highly agitated or scared. They also turn black when they are cold. On very rare occasions, chameleons may turn black when they are sick. Luckily, little adjustments to their enclosure and environment are usually all you need to do to make them comfortable again.

What Does Black On A Chameleon Mean?

chameleon turning black

Aside from camouflage, other reasons chameleons change color include

  • Mood – Happy chameleons tend to be bright, while anxious ones are darker.
  • Communication with other chameleons – specific colors display welcome, while others are a warning and threat.
  • Mating rituals – as part of their communication with other chameleons, colors are used to attract potential mates. Generally, the brighter-colored chameleons emerge as winners!
  • Temperature – when cold, chameleons turn darker colors to absorb more heat. Conversely, they turn into lighter shades to reflect heat when they are hot.

In particular, chameleons use black to express negative emotions of stress and fear. Sometimes, the distress is physical–they are too cold and are trying to warm up.

Reasons Your Chameleon Is Turning Black

What circumstances could cause a chameleon to feel stressed and scared, and how can we protect our pets from them? Three main things to check are their enclosures, environment, and health.

Check your chameleon’s enclosure

chameleon in small enclosure

Your chameleon may be turning black due to something in its enclosure. Here are six things to check.

Is it too small?

While smaller enclosures are okay for baby or juvenile chameleons, adult chameleons require a cage, tank, or enclosure at least 2’ x 2’ x 4’ taller than wider.

Beyond needing space to move around, chameleons are arboreal or tree-dwellers. This means they feel happier and safer when higher up and can look down on other animals and people in their environments.

If your chameleon doesn’t feel it can get high enough or has enough space for comfort, it can turn black to express its distress.

Does it have enough places to hide and sleep?

Everyone needs a safe space–you, me, and our pet chameleons.

First, chameleons are solitary creatures. They like being alone and having the opportunity to seclude themselves in dark corners.

More than privacy, though, chameleons need places to hide because it is their preferred defense strategy. When confronted with a predator, chameleons will always choose to hide and blend in with their surroundings rather than attack head-on.

If they are constantly out in the open, they may develop a build-up of anxiety from continually being exposed and vulnerable.

Lastly, chameleons prefer to sleep under cover of leaves. Their not having enough hiding spots is equivalent to them not having an area to get proper shut-eye and, eventually, sleep deprivation.

Are there enough plants?

Wild chameleons are most often found in the rainforests of Africa. Therefore, your enclosure should mimic its natural habitat as closely as possible.

Make sure to have lots of big, green leafy plants in its enclosure to make it feel at home. In particular, they love the leaves of hibiscus, croton, ficus, and jade plants.

Are there insects crawling around?

Chameleons like eating insects but don’t like hanging out with them. 

After your chameleon has eaten for the day, remove uneaten insects from its tank.

If left inside, the live crickets and locusts may crawl all over the chameleons and even bite them in their sleep. This would make any of us irritable.

Is there enough humidity?

Low humidity can cause a chameleon to become dehydrated and have black skin. This is because its body is attempting to absorb more heat.

Consider installing a hygrometer in your chameleon’s tank and ensuring it always stays between 50 to 60 percent.

If it is too low, you can increase humidity levels by misting the enclosure with distilled or filtered water twice or thrice daily. This has the added benefit of providing your chameleon with more water to drink (that is, to lick off the leaves).

Alternatively, you can regularly run a humidifier in the room your chameleon’s enclosure is located in.

Does it have tankmates?

As mentioned, chameleons are solitary creatures. They do not like sharing their tank with others—not other chameleons and not other reptiles.

As much as possible, if you have the space and resources for it, give each of your reptilian pets their enclosure. 

If you cannot do so, you can compromise by ensuring your single enclosure gives each pet enough personal space.

Editor’s Note
It’s normal in the wild for bigger chameleons to eat smaller chameleons, which explains their fear of their kind. Chameleons never live with each other, even after mating. Check for mirrors, too–chameleons are scared of their reflection!

Check your chameleon’s environment.

chameleon's enclosure

If none of the above reasons apply to your chameleon and its tank, it may turn black due to something else in its environment. Here are seven more factors to examine.

Is it too cold?

If your chameleon is black, it may be cold and trying to warm itself up. Dark colors absorb heat, as opposed to lighter colors which reflect heat.

As cold-blooded reptiles, chameleons need a little extra help staying warm. This is why giving them an area to bask in natural sunlight or a heating bulb is very important.

If you already have all these in place and your chameleon is still cold, you may need to check your bulb’s wattage.

Generally, for a 20-gallon enclosure, your chameleon’s basking light should be between 60-100 watts. 

If you are using an incandescent bulb, it should be stronger, between 100-150 watts. But if you are using a ceramic heat emitter, aim for 50-75 watts.

Is it too bright?

Chameleons need sunlight to stay warm–but too much can overwhelm them! Chameleons prefer to spend 12-14 hours in darkness to feel comfortable. Mainly, this is because they feel safe in the dark, where predators are less likely to find them.

Give it ample dark hiding spots to retreat if it feels like taking a break from the lights.

Alternatively, this might also signify that you must move its enclosure further from the window or occasionally close your curtains.

Is it too dark? 

Too much shade can be bad for your chameleon, too! If it needs 12-14 hours in darkness, it must spend the other 12 hours of its day in the light.

If your chameleon doesn’t have access to natural sunlight, provide it with another light and heat source, such as a UV light bulb.

Is it too near a window?

Light and dark issues aside, windows can be stressful for chameleons for several reasons. Seeing a busy street full of darting cars and people is sometimes enough to make a chameleon anxious.

Seeing birds is also a big fear factor for chameleons since birds are their natural predator in the wild. Few things can be scarier for a chameleon than seeing a bird perched on your windowsill, intently watching it.

Are there too many people around?

Having too many people around can stress a chameleon, especially if they are all crowded in front of its cage, fawning over it.

Leave your chameleon in a quieter room and, should you want to show it off to friends, only do so to one or two friends at a time. Never introduce an entire crowd to your chameleon in one go since this may cause extreme stress for your pet.

Do your other pets bother it?

People aren’t the only triggers for chameleons–other animals make them nervous too. Your pet cat or dog may be going to check out your pet chameleon behind your back and, even worse, barking or pawing at it or its cage. 

No matter how friendly your dog or cat’s intent is, their attention can trigger your reptile’s anxiety. It can feel like it’s under attack by predators.

Keep your chameleon high above the ground, ideally out of sight of your other pets. If necessary, keep it in a separate room your other pets cannot access.

Do you handle it at the right time?

Lest you forget, you are also part of your chameleon’s environment! As its owner, you must be careful not to be the cause of your pet’s stress.

Chameleons don’t like to be handled too often, so resist the urge to cuddle with it as much as you want to. The best time to handle your chameleon is when it’s lying out basking under its heating lamp because it’s in its most relaxed state. 

Never fish your chameleon out from its hiding spot in the dark because it will feel extremely threatened. It may develop trust issues with you and its enclosure, no longer trusting it is safe under the leaves.

Remember this idea when trying to clean your chameleon’s enclosure, too. Pick a good time to gently move your pet out instead of forcibly removing it when it is not in the mood.

Editor’s Note
A stressed chameleon typically exhibits other signs besides black skin, including a curled tail, closed eyes, and not eating.

Here’s a video to learn more:

Other Reasons for a Black Chameleon

chameleon in trunk turning black

There are many more reasons for a chameleon to turn black temporarily. 

Sometimes, it’s just your chameleon preparing to shed its skin. Chameleons’ skin typically turns back before it loosens and is eventually shrugged off.

Sometimes, though, it may mean your chameleon is sick. 

Possible sicknesses of a chameleon with black skin include melanism, metabolic bone disease, and respiratory infections. However, a sick or dying chameleon often shows other symptoms, such as lethargy and weight loss.

Why did my chameleon turn black and drop to the floor? 

black chameleon

If your chameleon turns black and drops to the floor, it is likely playing dead.

Playing dead is a common tactic animals use, including chameleons and opossums. It is a common defense mechanism in the wild since predators are less likely to attack and eat you if you are dead.

Your chameleon is likely reacting to a sudden, stressful situation, such as suddenly being swarmed by a crowd of people or being barked at by your dog.

When this happens, it’s best to leave your chameleon alone since fussing over it might cause it to become even more stressed. Remember, it’s playing dead because it’s trying to be ignored.

Check back in an hour or two, and it should be back on its feet as if nothing happened.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How Can I Tell How Serious My Chameleon’s Issue Is?

Typically, the darker the shade of black, the more serious the problem. If your chameleon only tries to cool down, it will be a lighter black than if stressed about its environment.

Why Does My Chameleon Have Black Spots?

If your chameleon only has black patches, it may be stress too, but it’s likelier that your chameleon has a fungal infection, an abrasion, a burn, parasites, or a cricket bite. 

If the black patches persist, consult with your vet.

How Can I Help My Chameleon Stop Turning Black?

Assuming there are no external factors (such as pet dogs bothering your chameleon), you can do two main things to prevent it from turning black.

First, ensure it has access to a basking spot kept between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Second, ensure it has a varied, healthy diet with many carotenoids. Foods with high levels of carotenoid are usually orange-colored food such as sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots. Dark, leafy greens such as kale and collard greens have significant carotenoid amounts too.


Why is my chameleon turning black? It’s just communicating that it’s uncomfortable about something.

However, note that even though your chameleon is not in immediate danger, a chameleon that turns black too often may develop other health problems, much like a person under chronic stress.

So if you see your chameleon turning black, don’t panic, but proactively take steps as soon as possible to address its issues before they grow too big.

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