Chameleons can sometimes get a white substance on their nose because they can’t sweat like we do, they have a gland around their nose which they use to excrete excess salt. This excess salt is what forms the white substance.
What the white substance is
Humans get rid of excess salt through our urine and our sweat. Chameleons don’t have the ability to sweat, so they have to get rid of it another way.
They do this by expelling this excess salt through a gland that they have around their nose. The gland is also used to get rid of excess chloride and bicarbonate.
In captive chameleons, excess salt is caused by either watering the chameleon with tap water in a hard water area, or it comes from the salt which is added to many brands of reptile supplement powders.
When the salt is excreted through the gland, a white crust remains, and this is what you see around your chameleon’s nose.
However, it is possible you have mistaken the crust for something else and that is simply the chameleon’s skin.
When I first saw this on my chameleon, he was approaching four months old. Everything is still growing and developing in a chameleon at this age, and everything is still so cute and small.
Because everything is so small at this age your chameleon’s nostrils are still quite shallow so it’s easy to see inside them and the skin inside a chameleon’s nostrils is white.
This fact is made even more obvious because it shows up really well when contrasted with your chameleon’s colorful skin tones, so it’s easy to mistake it for something more serious.
Shedding can also be a reason for seeing white around your chameleon’s nose. If you haven’t seen your chameleon shed before, the substance could be the beginning of a new shed or the remains of a previous one you didn’t notice before.
The least likely cause of this would be that your chameleon has somehow sustained an injury, most likely a thermal burn as a result of being too close to its heat lamp.
In this case, the white crust is a result of your chameleon’s skin healing in the same way we heal any burns and cuts by scabs. Such an injury is very unlikely to show in this area, though, as they mainly appear on a chameleon’s back.
What it isn’t
So now I’ve told you what it is, it’s important to tell you what it isn’t because believe me, some information you might read will have you thinking all kinds of worrying thoughts and making adjustments you don’t need to make.
It is not excess calcium: Chameleons need a variety of vitamins and minerals to survive and thrive. In the wild, they will get these needs met by eating a variety of insects. In captivity, the availability of insects is limited, so a supplementation regime needs to be in place to ensure these needs are met.
A common misconception is that the white crust is an excess of calcium caused as a result of over supplementation of this mineral at feeding times. It is understandable why this mistake is made.
The substance is white, calcium is white, the supplement powder is white – arrgh! I’ve used too much calcium! No! Some minor adjustments to supplementing may be required, but the crust won’t be caused by too much calcium because chameleons don’t deal with calcium in this way.
No need to worry
In any of the above-mentioned causes, there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
Your chameleon will have no trouble breathing through its nose while the white crust is present, and it is unlikely to be bothered much by it.
When I had my chameleon, I only saw this build up a few times when he was very young and once in his later years, so it’s not something that often reoccurs as your chameleon gets older and as you get better at taking care of them.
How to treat and prevent it
The crust will either fall off on its own or washes off through regular misting. It’s possible your chameleon will rub its face on a branch to get rid of it too, particularly if it’s skin at the beginning of a new shed, but I didn’t observe this in my chameleon when the white crust was present.
If you feel it is bothering your chameleon, you can gently remove it with a q-tip, but this isn’t something I recommend and would probably unnecessarily stress your chameleon out.
There is an easy way to tell if it’s salt crystals or skin. Try and look at the substance when your chameleon is basking under its heat lamp. That way, you should be able to get a better look at the color of the substance in the light.
If it’s pure white and not crusty looking, then it is most likely to be skin, either from a shed or inside its nostrils. If it has a slight yellow quality to it and looks like crust, then it is the salt excretion I’ve already talked about.
As already mentioned, the white crust round your chameleon’s nose is nothing to worry about and doesn’t require a trip to the vet, but there are some things you can do to prevent it happening in the future.
To prevent excess salt buildup in future, you should start by reducing the amount of supplement powder you sprinkle on your chameleons feeder insects.
It is usually not necessary to reduce the number of days you supplement your chameleon’s food, but just the amount sprinkled on the insects should be enough to prevent it returning. A light dusting rather than completely coating each insect is usually enough to give the chameleon the nutrition it needs
If you live in a hard water area, and you think this might be the cause of it, I recommend you use distilled water instead for just a few days and see if that clears things up.
Usually tap water is perfectly fine for chameleons to drink, I used it for all of my chameleon’s life and I live in a hard water area. I wouldn’t recommend using distilled water for longer than a few days as it is not really necessary to do so, but for a little while might help.
If you think it’s likely to just be skin, then don’t feel silly! I mistook loads of different behaviors and markings on my chameleon as things being more serious than they actually were. It is the nature of owning such exotic pets and is a sign that you really care for your chameleon.
If this is the case, then just simply let the skin shed in its own time. Your chameleon will know what to do. Even if it’s skin left over from a previous shed, it will disappear in its own time.