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Holding Chameleons




It is possible to hold a chameleon, but chameleons do not like being held, and they don’t enjoy being petted either. Some can develop a tolerance for holding, but they are much better suited to being left alone and observed from afar.

Of course some owners have better luck holding their chameleons than others but some species (I’m looking at you, veiled chameleon) will probably despise the ground you walk on for even looking at them!

How To Hold A Chameleon

To reiterate, I don’t recommend holding a chameleon. They have evolved to view us as a predator and are therefore get stressed if we get too close. Having said that, I get it, they’re your pet, and you want to interact with them. So, if you must hold them, follow these steps to do it the right way.

Step 1

Move slowly towards the cage and make sure your chameleon is either equal to your head height or higher.

Step 2

Slowly move your hand towards them with your palm flat.

Step 3

If your chameleon is calm, slowly move your other hand underneath and behind them. Encourage them to walk onto your outstretched hand by making gentle contact with their back legs.

Step 4

If they walk onto your hand, allow them to grip your fingers and wherever else they need to, and just allow them to sit there. Don’t try to pet them as this will stress them out further.

Step 5

Keep handling to only a few minutes. Slowly move your hand back into the cage and allow your chameleon to walk off your hand on their own accord.

Never pick them up from above. Not only will you terrify and severely stress them out, you may also injure them if you grab them while they’re attached to their perch or screen cage.

How to know if they’re uncomfortable

Out of all the types of reptile you can keep for a pet, I would say the chameleon is the most obvious to let you know it’s uncomfortable with you being near them.

Chameleons will not hesitate to let you know that they want to be left alone. They will do this by puffing themselves up to look twice the size that they are naturally. They hiss at you to ward you away, lunge at you if you get too close, and will bite you as a last resort.

More passive means of showing their unease is by turning black because a dark color indicates they’re in a dark mood.

They will also hide in their enclosure, and you should give them plenty of plant cover in their enclosure to enable them to do so.

If you see any of these signs, just move away from them and do not attempt to handle them when they are like this. Doing so will stress them even further, making any future handling sessions more difficult.

‘Taming’ A Chameleon

I personally don’t recommend pushing chameleons too much into being comfortable with handling. Most of them will not like it, and stress is a leading cause of illness and death in captive chameleons.

There are, however, certain things you can do to help them feel more comfortable with you in general and maybe, just maybe, you might be able to tame them to an extent.

  • Move slowly round their enclosure: Chameleons can be quite jumpy in the presence of people and will stress easily. Try not to make sudden movements that will stress them out. Move slowly to help them feel a bit more at ease.
  • Get them to associate you with food: By hand feeding your chameleon, they will start to associate you with good things, like food! Do this often enough, and they can learn when it’s feeding time and will even move down off their perch to greet you at the door.
  • Make sure your chameleon is high up: Do this by giving them a perch or two that are higher than your head. Chameleons are preyed on by birds from above in the wild. If they’re higher than your head, they won’t worry you’ll grab them from above where they’re helpless to defend themselves.

Species best for handling

There are no species that are more or less comfortable being held, but a Jackson’s chameleon is the most docile of the popular choices of pet chameleons.

Bonding with a chameleon

Chameleons don’t really bond with their owner, but I have seen some chameleons come out to greet their owners and hang out on their shoulders as they play video games.

While this may look like bonding to the untrained eye, I would say it is anything but. Chameleons, in the vast majority of cases, want to be left alone, and they’re better off left alone. They’re so fascinating to observe and don’t really want to be held.

Most of the time, chameleons will just want to use you as a sort of mobile tree to get to the other side of the room.

If they’re falling asleep on you while you’re watching TV this may look cute, but it’s a bad sign. Chameleons don’t sleep during the day and are in fact closing their eyes because they’re stressed out.

Don’t take it personally that your chameleon doesn’t want to bond by being held or petted. They’re just not wired up for affection.

They have the reptilian brain of fight or flight. Once they’re born in the wild they are left to their own devices straight away, so little wonder they have no desire for affection.

You can bond with them in different ways though by leaving them alone, observing them from afar and by providing for their needs.

They’ll appreciate you for it in their own way, and if you can get satisfaction from that level of bonding, then a chameleon is a good choice of pet for you.

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2 responses to “Holding Chameleons”

  1. Judy avatar

    Can chameleons be let out of their cages to roam the house? If taken outdoors will they runaway? I do not have one, but am pretty sure my granddaughter, who is a veterinarian is giving me one for my upcoming 80th birthday. I told her how much I liked the animated one in Death in Paradise. Thanks.

    1. Dave avatar

      Hey Judy, a chameleon sounds like a great present for your 80th birthday! You can have a free range/caged hybrid set up for your chameleon where you leave the cage open and allow them to climb out and onto plants you have set up around the room. You can take them outdoors too, in fact it is good for them to get natural sunlight but you must keep them in a cage when doing this otherwise they will escape. They are excellent climbers and will blend into your garden’s greenery.