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Chameleon Behavior: Hissing

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If you have a pet chameleon, you may have noticed it puff up and hiss from time to time. This is quite a surprising display when you first see it, so you might wonder why your chameleon is hissing and if anything’s wrong.

Chameleons hiss because they are stressed, angry or frightened about something nearby. The hissing is often accompanied by puffing up and changing color. Hissing is a way for a chameleon to ward off the cause of their stress, fear or anger.

Causes

As you can see from the chameleon’s hiss in the video, it’s pretty clear he’s not happy.

This is because the chameleon is stressed and hissing is a chameleon’s way of displaying this, along with the puffing up and lunging.

In the video, it is likely the chameleon is angry because it perceives its territory is being violated by the person filming him.

Notice the chameleon in the video will also puff up as a way of making himself look bigger. This is a common tactic used by chameleons to ward off predators.

There are more specific reasons for hissing than just stress. I will go into these reasons further, but they all largely fall into the category of stress.

  • Stress – This is the main cause of hissing. Your chameleon can be stressed by something in its immediate environment or something that needs adjusting in its cage, like the temperature and humidity levels.
  • Fear – Chameleons will hiss if they are afraid and want to ward off whatever is causing them to be frightened, be that a predator, any potential threat or another chameleon nearby.
  • Pain – Hissing is usually a result of stressors in their immediate environment, but a chameleon will hiss if they are in pain or are suffering from illness.
  • Mating – This applies more to female chameleons, who will hiss at a male chameleon to ward off his unwanted advances. Male chameleons will sometimes hiss as part of the mating ritual, but it’s less common.
  • Pregnancy – Female chameleons don’t hiss as often, but they will hiss more when pregnant. This is to ward off males wanting to mate and other animals in general from getting too close to her.
  • Seeing another chameleon – Chameleons are fiercely territorial, especially veiled chameleons. If another male chameleon encroaches on its territory, a lot of hissing, puffing and color changing will occur before the inevitable fight between the two.

Species that hiss

All species of chameleon hiss in some way to ward off any cause of stress, fear or anger.

Some species do hiss more than others, and this is particularly true in the case of veiled chameleons.

Panther chameleons can hiss a lot too but veiled chameleons will hiss the most because they are extremely territorial.

So if you have or are planning on getting a veiled chameleon, you can expect it to hiss, particularly in the early stages as they get used to your presence.

Response

The best thing to do is not to be alarmed by this. Hissing is a perfectly normal thing for a chameleon to do and is, in fact, a good indication it’s healthy.

You do need to recognize that a hissing chameleon means it’s stressed out.

  • Move away – A pet chameleon will sometimes hiss as you approach their cage. This is especially true if someone they haven’t seen before goes near them. Just move away slowly from the cage and see if your chameleon calms down then.
  • Wear dull colors – Sounds crazy, but whenever I wore something bright my veiled chameleon would go nuts with hissing and puffing up. This is because they see you as a brightly colored threat. A similar thing happened if I wore black because chameleons turn black themselves in fear. So if you find your chameleon freaks out often when you go near them, try wearing neutral green and navy blue colors.
  • Check your glasses – Again, sounds weird, but I wear either glasses and contact lenses. My chameleon was used to me wearing no glasses and whenever I went near him with my glasses on he freaked out. So approach your chameleon wearing what they’re most familiar with.
  • Don’t pick them up – Trying to pick them up is a bad idea when they’re hissing at you, as you will only stress them further. You’ll be brave for trying anyway because there’s a high chance they will bite you.
  • Ignore them – After you’ve done all the above, and they’re still hissing, you should ignore them. Remember, hissing is their way of removing a threat. The sooner they perceive that threat is gone the sooner the hissing stops and their stress levels reduce.

Prevention

It’s difficult to prevent your chameleon hissing altogether because all of them will do it sooner or later.

The best way is to minimize it, and you do that by just respecting them and reading what their signals are telling you.

Doing these things will help also:

  • Keep below your chameleon – Chameleons spend nearly their entire lives in trees. The higher up they are, the better and safer they will feel. Minimize the times you approach your chameleon’s cage when they are lower than head height.
  • Minimize handling – Chameleons do prefer not being held at all, but if you must hold your chameleon. Keep the number of times you do this to a handful a week.
  • Zoom in – This is for those of you who like to take photos of your chameleon a lot. A camera or phone just looks like a big black threat right in your chameleon’s face, and it will terrify them. Take lots of pictures by all means because chameleons are beautiful! But make sure you use zoom photography from a distance, so your chameleon remains calm.
  • Move slowly – You, of course, can’t avoid going near your chameleon altogether because you still need to tend to their needs. Even if your chameleon is hissing you can still do this but just move slowly, don’t go too close to them, make sure they’re above you and avoid eye contact.

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