When I was thinking about getting a chameleon I did have a few concerns about whether or not they posed a danger to me. I had read about and seen videos of them being aggressive and hissing a lot. I’d seen pictures of bites and even reports of them being poisonous.
So, are chameleons dangerous? Not really, yes they can be aggressive and hiss but this gives you plenty of warning to avoid being bitten by them and they are definitely not poisonous.
How dangerous are chameleons?
In general chameleons are quite placid but can get quite cranky at times. That’s just their way but as I said in the main introduction chameleons are really not dangerous at all.
Chameleons have a pretty poor defence mechanism against predators, their best option is to try and blend in with their surroundings, hence their colouration and jerky movements to mimic leaves.
The only real other option they have is to make themselves bigger, a defence mechanism applied by many animals in nature. When they feel threatened a chameleon will puff themselves up, gape open their mouths and hiss.
This can be kind of intimidating if you’re not used to it, more so when you’re near them because you instinctively feel the chameleon is going to strike you but this doesn’t mean they’re dangerous and always trying to attack you.
Why do chameleons hiss?
Chameleons hiss for various reasons but the most obvious one is to ward of predators. Chameleons are just very cautious by nature, you can see it in their slow movements and their ability to hide.
In captivity they will, at times, see you as a predator and will hiss at you to ward you off them. This hiss isn’t dangerous in itself, no liquid is spat at you and certainly no venom. The hissing is a quick release of air to try and intimidate you and make you think they can do serious damage to you.
Are chameleons aggressive?
The levels of chameleon aggression can vary from species to species and from individual chameleon to individual chameleon. Veiled chameleons are considered to be the most aggressive and boy I can vouch for that! It again depends on what you mean by aggression.
I’ll use my veiled as an example. Most of the time I went near him he would just eye ball me intensely. Every now and then though he would make himself big, like I mentioned above, and give a good hiss at me.
At first I was quite intimidated by him and would back away but I soon got used to it and found it quite funny.
As I spent more time around him I got to learn what would make him hiss and gape his mouth at me. I took them as what they were intended to be, warning signs rather than being frightened he was about to attack me.
They were signs that would say ‘look, I want you to leave me alone and not come too close because this is my house and I don’t want to be touched.’ So why would I want to pick him up or get too close to him when he so obviously doesn’t want me to?
If you get a chameleon you will learn these signs too and hopefully take note of them. I was never once attacked or injured by my chameleon in the ten years I had him. Hissed at loads, puffed up at, even lunged at a few times but never once scratched or bitten. Why? Because I learned what he was trying to tell me and I respected that.
If you accept the facts I’ve written in this article about chameleon friendliness, or lack thereof, you will virtually reduce to zero the risk of being harmed by your chameleon.
Do Chameleons Bite Though?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions about chameleons and I’ve written a more extensive article on this topic but in short, yes they certainly do bite but only in rare circumstances and usually only when all else has failed.
This is why I mentioned the importance of reading the signs of your chameleon before anything like this happens.
I’ve only been bitten once by a chameleon but it wasn’t intentional or a proper bite so I can’t really comment on their severity. I have heard they can hurt a bit but they rarely break the skin and it’s more the shock value of being bitten that causes the most distress rather than any pain.
However, I have seen a bite that did break the skin and it did look painful but as I said, take note of your chameleon’s behaviours and you’ll be fine.
How to minimise aggression in Chameleons
There’s no real way to prevent aggression completely in chameleons or in any animal really but there are ways you can minimise it:
- Move Slowly – When you approach the cage to feed, water or clean you need to be slow and not make sudden or quick movements. This gives a better indication to your chameleon that you’re not a threat. The more you do this the more comfortable they will be with your presence.
- Don’t handle too much – Personally I would treat your chameleon as if they were a fish and not handle them at all. I know the temptation to hold them can be great at times but they really would prefer to be left alone as much as possible. This is better for their stress levels and removes the risk of you being bitten.
- Get the habitat right – This goes a long way to making sure your chameleon is happy. Get the lighting correct and the temperatures in a good range and your chameleon will feel healthy and less angry that it’s too cold or, worse, unwell as a result of not getting enough UVB light.
Are Chameleons Poisonous?
In the wild there is the predator/prey relationship. Many species of prey have evolved to signal to their predators that they wouldn’t be a good idea to eat as they might be poisonous. This is done by various actions such as displaying weird colours, having patterns on their skin that look like eyes and having spikes.
Chameleons certainly have bright colours but these are more to blend in with their surroundings, not to camouflage as such but just to make it more difficult to spot. They also attempt to mimic leaves by making jerky movements when they walk and rocking back and forth when perched on a branch.
All this shows that chameleons rely largely on their ability to blend in as their primary mode of defence and don’t have any poison or venom to protect them.
In fact there are, at time of writing, no known species of chameleon that are poisonous to other animals when eaten by them and no chameleons that are able to administer venom to potential predators through any biting or spitting in the same way that, say, a snake can.
I hope this post helps you to feel more secure about any dangers chameleons pose. They’re really not dangerous at all and anything written in this article about their potential for aggression should not deter you from getting one.
Chameleons are more bluff than bite. Thousands of people own dogs and they are more dangerous than chameleons yet we love them in our culture. So don’t worry about chameleons being dangerous.
Any comments or questions please leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer them. Thanks for reading!
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