Are Chameleons Friendly?

So you’re probably thinking of getting a pet chameleon. You’ve seen them in memes or maybe at your local pet store. Their colors are beautiful and they look so peaceful and while not exactly a ball of fluff they surely are nice to cuddle, aren’t they?

So, are chameleons friendly? Chameleons aren’t exactly the most friendly of creatures and they’re certainly not one for cuddling like a dog might want to. They’re not outright mean but they prefer to be left alone and observed from afar.

How friendly are chameleons?

The short answer is not very but it all depends on how you define friendly. If by friendly you mean will they come to the cage door to greet you every time you’re near it? Then no, they’re not very friendly because very few chameleons do this.

Even if they do come across as friendly, what seems friendly to you is more likely them wanting to either escape their enclosure due to something wrong with the husbandry or they want to get to another point in the room and just see you as a way of getting there. Ultimately they prefer to be left alone.

If you define friendly as not being aggressive towards you then yes, chameleons are friendly as most chameleons, while aggressive at times, aren’t aggressive all the time and will eventually learn to be accepting, even if mildly, of your presence.

There are of course exceptions. Some chameleons are naturally friendly and will want to come out of their cage every time you are near them. Others are extremely unfriendly and will want to have very little to do with you, how friendly or not your chameleon is largely comes down to luck.

How to tell if a chameleon is friendly?

It’s difficult to tell how friendly a chameleon is when visiting a chameleon breeder and virtually impossible to tell when viewing one in a pet shop.

This is down to so many factors beyond your control like if there are lots of people around at the time you’re viewing it, what conditions the chameleon is kept in and whether it’s housed with other chameleons to name a few. There are some ways you can try to gauge how friendly the chameleon you’re interested in is though.

  • Observe – Just simply observe how it is in its enclosure. Does it have dark colors? Bright ones or neutral? This won’t tell you much but if it’s a neutral color, like mid green for a veiled, then chances are it’s relatively ok being in a busy environment.
  • Get it out of the enclosure – This will be easier when visiting a breeder but is also possible in a pet shop. Ask the breeder or assistant to take the chameleon you’re interested in out of its enclosure and again observe. Does the chameleon remain calm and neutral or does it freak out and hiss? Also observe how it’s taken out of the enclosure as picking it up from behind will always stress a chameleon out, whether it’s friendly or not.
  • Ask to hold it – This is the best way to gauge friendliness before taking a chameleon home with you. How does the chameleon react on your hand? Does it just sit there calmly? Does it change color to dark or bright? Does it frantically try to climb up your arm? If it just sits there calmly there’s a better chance it will be friendly in the future but this is not always an accurate measurement. As I mentioned, how friendly your chameleon is, is largely down to luck.

When I got my veiled chameleon I got him from a breeder and I did all these things. Isambard was a baby then and housed with lots of other babies. When I held him he sat calmly on my hand and that was one of the reasons I chose him.

Did this mean he was friendly in future? Not exactly, but he wasn’t overly mean either. He never actually wanted to leave his enclosure, which is a good sign generally as it usually means conditions inside it were comfortable for him.

Are veiled chameleons friendly?

Not really. They can either be calm and sweet or demonically possessed with very little in between these two extremes.

Veiled chameleons are the most aggressive of the commonly kept pet chameleons. They aren’t aggressive for the sake of it, they largely act aggressive due to territorial reasons. Veileds are the most fiercely territorial.

My veiled chameleon practically thought he owned my living room and that my presence was only tolerated because I gave him food!

Many times a new visitor would come over he would turn black and eyeball them very particularly. If they came too close to his enclosure he would open his mouth, puff up and hiss to let them know it was his place.

My veiled was either largely indifferent to my presence or he would warn me to back off. The last few years of his life though I was able to go into his enclosure and clean things without him displaying any warnings, he just eyeballed me constantly!

Related article: Veiled Chameleon Cage Setup

Are panther chameleons friendly?

Sort of but it can take a bit of work to get them more used to you. Panthers aren’t quite as aggressive and territorial as veileds can be but they are not too far behind.

As babies, they are more prone to hiding and initiating the flight response rather than trying to stand and fight but they settle down into more even temperament as they get older.

Overall you have a better chance of getting a friendly panther chameleon than you do a veiled.

Related article: Panther Chameleon Cage Setup

Are Jackson chameleons friendly?

Jacksons are the most even tempered of the commonly kept chameleons. Whilst territorial like most chameleons they are more shy and timid of humans than panthers and veileds.

Jacksons are more likely to be fearful of you than aggressive and they’re very unlikely to show signs of aggression towards you.

Related article: Jackson Chameleon Cage Setup

Are there any friendly chameleons?

Whether a chameleon is friendly or not is not species specific. There is no friendly species of chameleon, it is instead down to the individual chameleon, the conditions it was raised in before you got it, the age you got it and whether you have taken steps to try and make them a bit tamer.

That being said though I recommend getting a panther as the best chance for getting a friendlier one. I say this because they are still relatively as easy to keep as a veiled but don’t show quite the same level of aggression and they’re less shy than panthers.

How to make a chameleon more friendly

From my own experience, I would say it is best not to try to tame a chameleon. It’s a good idea to try and get them used to your presence and to being more tolerating of you holding them but trying to push it too much will only stress your chameleon cause all the problems associated with it.

Time and time again I have seen people say how much they hold their chameleon, how much their chameleon wants cuddles and so on but they die at three or four years old.

I did not try and get my chameleon used to me other than through hand feeding, I held him probably about twelve times his entire life and he lived to the age of ten. Ultimately what you do is up to you though. That being said here’s some ways you can make them more tolerating of you.

  • Let your chameleon associate you with food – This will happen naturally over time anyway but you can speed this process up by hand feeding your chameleon. Just hold an insect far enough away for it to shoot with its tongue. Once your chameleon is used to this try holding your other arm out and lower than your chameleon’s eye line, hold the insect out but just a bit too far away for your chameleon to shoot his tongue at. As it moves closer move the insect further away again, this way your chameleon will calmly walk onto your hand without knowing. Once there just leave it be and let your chameleon do its own thing.
  • Move slowly when near the enclosure – This reduces your chameleon’s nerves and will help them to see you as not as a threat to it. This won’t necessarily prevent this completely but will help your chameleon feel more comfortable over time.
  • Keep below your chameleon – Try and make sure your chameleon is higher than your head as much as possible. You can do this by making sure chameleon’s enclosure is at least six feet tall and by keeping it elevated on a table. Don’t clean your chameleon’s enclosure or try to feed when it is lower than you.
  • Never pick it up – By this I mean never reach put your hand over a chameleon’s back and try to pick it up. The chameleon may not show it but its stress levels will be sky high if you do this because this is how a predator would catch them in the wild. Also, you can hurt their feet if they’re firmly gripped on a vine or damage their claws if you try to pick them up like this directly from the screen mesh.

Summary

You can’t really make a chameleon completely tame and friendly as they are not this way by nature. Furthermore, it’s undesirable to try and make them this way as it can cause them lots of stress.

Your best chance of getting a friendlier chameleon is by buying from a small breeder who knows more about chameleons than a big pet store and who has bred them in more calmer conditions.

Don’t let this put you off getting one though. Instead, see them for what they are, pets to be viewed rather than handled and petted and try and take steps outlined above to make them feel more comfortable with you. This will be better for you and your chameleon in the long run.

That’s it for another post. Any comments and questions please leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

    1. An hour a day is too long. Chameleons aren’t really suited to regular holding, they really would prefer to be left alone. I really wouldn’t recommend daily holding, or any holidng at all actually, but if you want to hold your chameleon just do it for short amounts of time.

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