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Can you hold a chameleon? The Answer Might Disappoint You


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Chameleons are such beautiful looking and fascinating creatures and owning one as a pet would be so cool! I should know I had one myself and I learned a lot about what they do and don’t like.

Can you hold a chameleon? 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!

What Chameleon Species Tolerates Being Held The Most?

As I said in my introduction, chameleons are absolutely beautiful and fascinating to look at. They’ve recently seen a surge in popularity by appearing in movies like Rango, TV shows like The Lion Guard and on commercials. This surge in popularity means more people are interested in owning them as pets.

Naturally, you want a pet that likes being held but which chameleon species likes this the most? The truth is none really like being held that much but a Jackson’s chameleon is the most docile of the popular species of chameleons kept as pets.

The Jackson’s, or three horned chameleon got its name from the English explorer Frederick John Jackson who collected specimens from Africa in the 1800s.

They look kinda like miniature dinosaurs with three horns protruding from their heads and is one of the reasons they make a popular choice of chameleon pet.

Can I Make A Chameleon More Comfortable With Being Held?

Chameleons are naturally shy, cautious creatures. You can see this in their mannerisms, the fact they like to hide and that their colors often match the shades of their natural environments.

I personally don’t recommend pushing chameleons too much into being comfortable with holding. 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.

  • 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 and the 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 of their perch to greet you at the door.
  • Make sure your chameleon is high: No I don’t mean that type of high! But on a perch that is 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.
  • Never pick them up from above: With the above in mind never pick them up by grabbing them 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.

Can chameleons bond with their owners?

Dogs bond with their owners very quickly and are extremely loyal, hamsters seem to love a little soft cuddle and cats… Well, cats do what they like.

But do chameleons bond with their owners? My answer would be no but then 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 playing a video game 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.

How Will I Know If My Chameleon Is 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.

Do Chameleons Like Humans?

Chameleons are cautious, solitary creatures in the wild. Millions of years of hardwired evolutionary behavior can’t be undone by keeping them as pets.

On balance I would say they don’t like humans or any other creatures really, they don’t even like members of their fellow species either.

Instead, they tolerate us and if you research further (by reading more of chameleonschool.com of course!) you can learn how to make them more comfortable and more tolerant of you.

Related Questions

Why do chameleons turn black? Mainly because they’re cold or frightened. Read my article about this here.

Do chameleons bite? They certainly do but rarely and only often as a last resort. Read my about this here.

Why do chameleons hiss? Mainly to ward of predators and enemy chameleons. Read more about this in my article about whether or not chameleons are dangerous, here.

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2 responses to “Can you hold a chameleon? The Answer Might Disappoint You”

  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.

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