When I had my pet chameleon he lived with me in his enclosure in the corner of my living room near my sofa.
On the odd occasion I would catch a whiff of something from his enclosure and think ‘Pew! That stinks! What the heck is that smell!?’ Thankfully this wouldn’t happen very often but enough to make me research possible causes.
So, do pet chameleons smell? Chameleons themselves are generally odorless but their enclosure can give off smells if things aren’t tended to regularly and feeder insects not regularly cleaned.
Here are 10 ways a pet chameleon smells and what you can do about it:
1. Chameleons smell because of organic Soil
By this, I mean specifically organic soil with manure mixed in with it.
Buying organic soil is a great idea for potting your live plants in because sometimes your chameleon may nibble on the plant leaves and even have a munch on the dirt itself.
So whatever is in the soil will transfer to your chameleon through the leaves and the dirt. Oranic soil is safer as it has no chemicals and some soils are specifically prepared to be chameleon safe.
Organic soil mixed with manure is a great idea at first but I’m sure it’s pretty obvious how this can cause smelly problems further down the line, particularly when the soil remains damp as a result of all the misting.
Prevention – Pot your plants in organic soil to begin with or if you suspect your plants are potted in manure mixed soil. I recommend repotting them in organic soil made from coconut husks.
Even if you suspect the soil isn’t organic I recommend repotting in organic soil anyway for the safety reasons I mentioned above.
2. Chameleons smell because of standing water
Chameleons require a lot of water. This means you need to mist your chameleon’s enclosure at least once a day to ensure humidity levels are kept up and that it’s adequately hydrated.
Due to the heat produced by the lighting setup this usually means the enclosure dries out completely but in some cases standing water can pool underneath pot plants causing bad smells.
This can also occur as a result of improper drainage and not allowing water to flow out the bottom of the pot plant when watering it.
Prevention – allow time for the enclosure to dry out between mistings. I also recommend placing any pot plants on a raised plant stand to allow water to drain out the bottom of the pot. This has the added benefit of making any small plants reach higher up the enclosure.
3. Chameleons smell because of root rot
Due to my poor plant keeping skills I had this happen to me on more than one occasion. This again is a result of poor drainage in pot plants and from using soil that is too compact.
Overwatering can also cause this and is something to be extra vigilant about due to the amount of water used in a chameleon’s enclosure. Of course anything rotting will eventually cause smells and root rot is no exception.
Prevention – as well as implementing proper drainage and using soil that allows for this you should also check for symptoms of root rot about once a week. This mainly takes the form of soft stems developing at the bottom of the plant and wilting leaves.
It is possible to save a plant from root rot but in the case of chameleon care I recommend throwing the plant out and buying a new one.
This is because root rot is mainly caused by the roots being attacked by a fungal infection and this is the last thing you want in a chameleon’s enclosure.
4. Chameleons smell because poop is being left too long
Chameleon poo, and it’s white urates along with it, don’t smell unless you put your nose right up to it… I haven’t tried this and I don’t recommend you do either! Many times I picked up chameleon poo that has completely dried out and I didn’t notice any smell.
However, if you leave it too long and, again, due to the amount of water used in the enclosure you can find the poo can get mixed up into a horrible, mushy and very stinky soup and you don’t want that… Sorry if you’re eating soup whilst reading this!
Prevention – if you’re hand misting simply check before misting if there’s any poo lying around and remove it before you mist. In addition to this just check every day when you check on your chameleon and feed it. Chances are it will be dry by the time you see it so not messy to remove.
Don’t forget to check leaves too as poo often lands on them, particularly if like most chameleons yours uses more or less the same place when it goes to the toilet.
5. Your chameleon smells like rotting meat
Now I accept it’s a bit weird to have a favorite reason why a chameleon smells but this one really stands out for me because it’s so damn interesting!
Scientists recently discovered that chameleons have a little pouch at the side of their mouths that they store little bits of dead insects and rotting skin in which they then smear onto branches to attract insects to the substance which the chameleon then eats.
Added to this the substance also mimics pheromones that insects use to communicate with each other and attract a mate, this of course further entices them to the substance.
All this may sound pretty gross but I also find it a fascinating way that chameleons use to hunt their prey.
Prevention – In retrospect, I did smell a similar smell from my chameleon’s enclosure a few times a year. In fact it was one of the only few smells I noticed. I mistook it for root rot but I never noticed any symptoms so I thought it was just a dead feeder insect somewhere under a pot.
I don’t think it can be prevented fully but if you stick to a regular feeding schedule and hand/cup feed your chameleon there’s a good chance your chameleon won’t feel the need to do this very often.
6. Chameleons smell because you feed it crickets
Crickets stink, they really, really stink and this is the main reason I stopped using them as a feeder, that and they’re masters of escape and don’t shut up chirping!
Prevention – The easiest way to prevent this smell is to just pick a different feeder insect, like roaches for example or locusts.
If you want to use them though you need to house them in a well ventilated container and check for dead ones frequently as many crickets kill each other before they become prey for your chameleon.
Seriously though I’d just use locusts as their much easier to keep and don’t make any noise.
7. Chameleons smell because feed it roaches
Roaches, on the whole, don’t really smell and they’re an excellent choice of feeder insect, especially when feeding baby chameleons because they breed so easily giving you a free source of food.
They do have a sort of earthy smell if you smell inside the tub you house them in but this isn’t usually noticeable otherwise. As long as you keep them well ventilated you won’t have any issues, certainly, nothing like you’d get from stinky crickets.
The only time you might smell something unpleasant from your roaches is when you actually feed them to your chameleon. This is because they sometimes emit a bad smell as a form of defense from predators and as your chameleon is the roach’s predator it’s understandable they might do this.
Prevention – Apart from keeping them well ventilated like I mention there’s not much you can do if it decides to emit its defensive smell. This smell doesn’t last very long anyway and isn’t that bad so I wouldn’t let that put you off using these as a feeder of choice for your chameleon.
8. Your chameleon smells because it has parasites
This goes back to the issue of poo. If your chameleon’s poo really smells and you can smell it from a distance are then there’s a chance it has picked up a parasitic infection. This will likely be combined with other symptoms like some weight loss and runny poo.
If you suspect this is the case then take it along to a reptile vet and they carry out what’s called a fecal float exam and they can advise you on a course of action.
Prevention – Just keeping your enclosure clean and well maintained whilst ensuring adequate heat and light levels are the best way to prevent this and many other illnesses. As an extra precaution, I recommend not using insects caught in the wild and only those bought from a reputable insect breeder.
9. Chameleons smell because of your choice of substrate
A substrate such as bark or sand can be difficult to maintain and not to mention risky to your chameleon’s health. Water from regular mistings can become stagnant and leave the bark damp causing mold growth which leads to unpleasant and musty smells coming from your chameleon’s enclosure.
Prevention – Use a substrate that’s much easier to maintain or, better still, either none at all or just use simple paper towels. Provided you change these regularly there will be no problems with any smells caused by substrate.
10. Chameleons smell because of dead or alive insects
Sometimes your chameleon misses food or doesn’t eat it in time before the insect dies or, in the case of morio worms, they pupate into beetles which really can smell!
This particularly can be the case if you ‘free range’ the food where your chameleon hunts it down instead of eating out of a cup.
Obviously anything that’s dead and decomposing in the enclosure is going to give off a bad smell. Something as small as a decomposing insect is unlikely to cause much of a smell but leave a few lying around and it can get pretty stinky.
Prevention – It’s easy to miss insects that have been left or have a stray worm turn into a beetle as they are good at hiding under pots!
Again, just check regularly for any dead insects and if you see a black beetle that your chameleon has absolutely no interest in eating like mine did, remove them as soon as you see them.
That’s it for this post. I hope you found it useful and won’t let a few easily fixed smells put you off owning a chameleon. Any questions or comments you have please leave below and I’ll try my best to answer them for you.