Shedding skin is part of many a reptile’s life and chameleons aren’t exempt from this.
When I first saw my chameleon do it 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 keep themselves clean and to accommodate growth. They on average do this once every four to eight weeks.
So if you’re worried about what to expect with chameleon skin shedding and are wondering how you can help, this guide has you covered.
Why do chameleons shed their skin?
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 adult hood 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.
How often do chameleons shed their skin?
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.
What happens when a chameleon sheds their skin?
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 up 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 your chameleon could injure themselves.
Scratching themselves – Think of it as having a really annoying itch and you’ll see why they do this. Shedding must be pretty 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.
How to ensure your chameleon sheds their skin effectively
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 cause the chameleon more discomfort in shedding or not have parts of the skin shed at all.
You certainly don’t need to increase humidity during a shed as this can in fact hinder it.
How can I help a chameleon shedding their skin?
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 skin off your chameleon, if this stresses them out move away, and try again later.
Most of the time this isn’t required and I certainly never needed to help my chameleon out 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 your chameleon’s skin in good condition.
I never had cause to use it but every chameleon is different and it may be worth the small investment to have it to hand if needed.
If you notice a build-up of unshed skin and your chameleon’s skin in that area looks darker then it’s best to take them to the vet for a check-up to rule out infection.
Chameleon constantly shedding its skin
Seeing your chameleon shed a lot could be quite alarming if you don’t know what to expect.
What seems like near constant shedding in baby chameleons is actually quite normal because they grow so quickly.
The frequency of shedding slows down as a chameleon ages but it can still seem like they’re constantly shedding if a bit of skin hasn’t been shed properly.
All chameleons are different and some will shed in stages over the course of days rather than the quick single shed babies do. This, of course, can seem like constant shedding when in fact it is still one shed.
An increase in weight may also give the impression they’re shedding all the time so be careful not to overfeed them.
Does skin shedding hurt a chameleon?
I wouldn’t say it hurts a chameleon but it does look pretty uncomfortable and frustrating for them. It must feel like having an itch on your back that you can’t reach.
It’s certainly stressful for them. Whenever my chameleon sheds he hisses and gapes his mouth wide in anger and to try and remove bits of skin around his mouth.
Do chameleons shed their skin when they’re stressed?
This is a misconception that needs clearing up. Chameleons don’t generally shed when they’re stressed. Sure the act of shedding itself is stressful for a chameleon but they don’t generally shed as a result of being stressed.
When a chameleon is stressed they usually change to dark colors, hide, sink their eyes a bit, appear listless and hiss at times.
I’m sure it’s possible some may shed due to stress but I haven’t seen it reported in any scientific papers.
Why is my chameleon eating their shed skin!?
This may seem kinda gross and a bit alarming at first but it’s actually normal behavior. My veiled did this when he was young but very rarely when he reached adulthood. The main reason is just to add a few extra nutrients after the shed.
Another theory I’ve heard is to keep predators away which makes sense because what clearer indication could there be to a predator that a lizard is nearby than a load of shed skin lying around? Eating it is a quick way to remove the evidence.
Shedding skin is a normal part of a chameleon’s life and one that needn’t cause any worry as a pet owner when you first see your scaly friend go through it.
I hope this guide has helped you understand more about the reasons why a chameleon sheds and what to expect when it happens.
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