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Chameleon Behavior: Skin Shedding

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When I first saw my chameleon shed, I felt a mixture of amazement, anxiety and sympathy. Sure, it may look like it’s turning into a mummy with peeling skin, but a chameleon shedding is nothing to be alarmed about.

  • Chameleons shed their skin to renew old skin cells, to clean themselves and to accommodate growth
  • They shed every four weeks as babies and every eight weeks as adults
  • Dry skin, rubbing on branches, scratching themselves, restlessness, lower appetite an white spots are all signs they are starting to shed
  • Ensure an effective shed through proper hydration and nutrition

Why Chameleons Shed

For growth – The primary reason chameleons shed their skin, particularly when they’re young, is to deal with growth. Baby chameleons grow extremely quickly.

The top layer of chameleon skin is very thin and is in fact transparent and plays a key role in its color changing abilities.

This top layer of skin doesn’t stretch when they grow in the same way ours does, instead, it starts to shed off once the chameleon has become too big for the current layer.

Renewing old skin cells – Shedding for chameleons also has the purpose of renewing old skin cells and keeping themselves clean.

Think about your own skin and how it has dead skin that gets removed whenever you take a shower. Shedding in chameleons has the same purpose.

You look fresh and clean after a wash, and the same is true for chameleons. My chameleon’s colors are just that bit brighter whenever he finishes shedding.

When chameleons reach adulthood, they shed their skin to accommodate changes in weight as opposed to growth.

So any unusual changes in weight will see skin shed to accommodate an increase, or when a chameleon loses weight it will shed looser skin to ensure the new skin is tighter over its body.

Shedding Frequency

When chameleons are young, they will shed their skin very frequently to accommodate all that quick growth. Up until they’re around 18 months old, they will shed their skin once every 3 to 4 weeks.

It’s quite something to see. Young chameleons will shed all their skin in one go. The below video demonstrates how a baby’s entire skin layer will come off at once.

Adult chameleons shed their skin a little less frequently, around every 6 to 8 weeks.

Unlike babies, who can shed in about 15 minutes, adults will shed their skin in parts and over a period of a couple of hours or so, sometimes longer.

The frequency and length of time it takes to shed will vary from species to species. Each individual chameleon is different and will shed in their own way and in their own time.

Don’t be alarmed if yours sheds more or less frequently than the numbers I’ve given here, there really is no set time limit.

Shedding Behavior

The skin lifts off a chameleon’s body at the beginning of the shedding process

When a chameleon is ready to begin shedding, it will give off several signs and changes in behavior. You don’t really need to be concerned with these changes, but it will help you understand what to look out for when your chameleon is starting its shed.

Eating Less – I didn’t really notice this with my chameleon, but some may be a little off their food the few days before a shed. Chameleons can sometimes be off their food for a few days, and it’s usually nothing to worry about.

White Spots – These are one of the main signs a chameleon is starting to shed, and are also the main sign misunderstood as something more serious.

White spots will begin to appear on your chameleon’s body, and they will vary in size. If you look closely, it should be pretty obvious that this is skin that is beginning to lift off your chameleon’s body and will start to flake off.

Skin looks drier – This relates to the white spots. A chameleon’s skin can look drier when it’s about to shed, but this can also be related to poor humidity and hydration levels.

Acting Restless – Chameleons can act restless for a variety of reasons, but if they’re moving around a lot, it could be a sign they’re about to shed their skin.

Shedding is quite an irritating task for a chameleon, so they can also be more aggressive than usual when shedding. If you see them acting restless, just keep an eye on them from a distance, and you’ll probably see them shedding soon enough.

Rubs body on branches – Chameleons will do this to help start to get the skin off its body. This is why it’s important to have smooth branches and perches, otherwise they could injure themselves.

Scratching themselves – Think of it as having a really annoying itch, and you’ll see why they do this. Shedding is uncomfortable and itchy for a chameleon, so you will see them use their feet to itch and scrape the skin off the sides of their body and behind its head.

Sometimes they will eat the skin they have shed. This is normal behavior and is nothing to worry about.

Ensuring An Effective Shed

The key to a good shed is to make sure they have adequate supplementation levels, particularly calcium, and that they are well-fed in general.

Equally important is that they are well hydrated and their humidity levels are adequate.

Air that is too dry, or a less hydrated chameleon means the skin can stick to them, causes them more discomfort and sheds that are incomplete.

When a chameleon sheds it’s usually best to leave them to get on with it as they know what they’re doing and any interference from you, even with good intentions, is likely to stress them out and hinder them.

If after their shed some remains you can try and gently remove some unshed skin with a cotton swab dipped in warm water.

Just gently scrape the unshed skin off your chameleon, if this stresses them out move away, and try again later.

Most of the time this isn’t required, but sometimes unshed skin can cause problems, especially if it’s left around the toes.

Unshed skin can reduce the flow of blood to the area because as the chameleon grows, the unshed skin becomes tighter and can eventually cause constriction.

Bacteria can also get between the gap of the unshed skin and the chameleon’s body and breed there, causing infections.

I wouldn’t worry about this though as most sheds leave a little bit behind and as long as unshed skin doesn’t build up your chameleon will have no problems.

Do not attempt to pull skin off with your fingers though, as this can be painful for a chameleon and can wound them.

You can get products like Repti Shedding Aid which can help sheds along and keep their skin in good condition.

If you notice a build-up of unshed skin and the skin in that area looks darker, it’s best to take them to the vet for a check-up to rule out infection.

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