One of the most important questions that many pet owners have before getting a chameleon is can it be dangerous? This can often become even more important if there are children in the house, or you are getting a family pet. Chameleons vary in size, and some are clearly quite large. So many people wonder are chameleons dangerous in any way?
Chameleons present very little danger to humans, and are generally a low-risk pet. However, they are solitary animals and should be usually given only minimum handling. The worst thing that may happen is they bite, but this is non-toxic and usually avoidable.
Very few pets are completely safe, but chameleons are pretty much issue-free as long as you follow a few simple guidelines, and also a bit of common sense. Learning how to handle, care and stimulate your pet will all help in keeping your chameleon happy and healthy.
Are Chameleons Dangerous?
Chameleons are not dangerous to humans. In the wild chameleons are solitary slow-moving lizards that live alone in the trees.
When they are presented with a dangerous situation in the wild they normally respond in one of two ways:
- To change color, and to attempt to hide or blend into the background
- To flee from the situation
Only occasionally, and usually as a last resort, will they attack another creatures. This is often fellow chameleons, but could be predators or humans. Their main weapon is their bite.
However, follow some simple steps and this will almost certainly never happen.
Chameleons are more solitary than most other lizards, and this presents issues with handling.
There is no completely black and white rule, but in general it is recommended either not to handle your chameleon, or at least to keep handling to a bare minimum.
Handling can lead to your chameleon being in a permanent low-stress state. This will mean it has chemicals released in its body all the time that cause it to be anxious. This will lead to your chameleon being generally less happy and less well than if you leave it alone.
However, there are some chameleon owners that report they have been able to tame their pets. This is definitely possible, especially if you start more or less from their birth.
Some owners report that they are able to hand-feed and pick up their chameleons without any issues.
However, in general I would recommend not to go down this route. Chameleons are perfectly happy not being handled, and by leaving them alone you cut out any risks of stress or bites that could follow.
Do Chameleons Bite?
Chameleon bites are quite rare. They are slightly painful but unlikely to draw blood, though it is possible.
Chameleons are normally quite relaxed animals, that prefer hiding or changing color under stress.
Occasionally they may bite, but it is usually avoidable, and also normally down to one of the following reasons:
- Poor handling – This can include over-handling, or even just any kind of handling at all. This is nothing personal – it is just the way chameleons are. If you have children that will be interacting with the chameleon, this is probably the most important rule to understand. Most chameleons do not like handling.
- They are scared or anxious – This could be a build up of low-level stress, or something to do with their sudden awareness of a perceived threat. Often newly bought chameleons will take at least a week to feel calm in their environment.
- You are trying to check their mouth or jaw – Sometimes this has to be done. You may spot that your chameleon has discoloured teeth, or has some obvious injury to their teeth or jaw. You can normally be able to do this without getting bitten, but sometimes you may receive a bite that acts more as a warning nip. If you are very afraid of this happening, you could take your pet to the vet for this service.
- They are hungry – It is not a good idea to put your fingers in front of a chameleon if they have not eaten for a while. To avoid this make sure to feed them regularly.
What Is Their Bite Like?
Chameleons vary quite a lot in size, and their bite is proportional to this.
Some are very small, and so the bite will be nothing more than a pinch.
Some chameleons, are close to foot long, and so their bite will be much more powerful.
Generally speaking a chameleon bite is painful but not dangerous. It is non-toxic, and chameleons transmit no poison.
There are no diseases that you should be wary of, particularly if the chameleon has been raised in captivity.
Usually their bite will not draw blood. However, in rare situations a wound may bleed and then just take the normal first aid precautions, such as washing the injury and covering it in a plaster.
Chameleon’s teeth are extremely small, much smaller than the teeth of other lizards of its size. Some owners are not always certain whether chameleon’s have teeth at all.
Their teeth are used for eating insects and biting into leaves and other plant material. They do chew their food, unlike many other lizards, and their teeth are well-suited for this.
In the wild chameleons will sometimes use their teeth for fighting other chameleons, but you will hopefully never have to witness this.
For a full in-depth guide about chameleon’s teeth, you really should check out my article Do Chameleons Have Teeth?
Signs Of Aggression
The signs of aggression that you may see from a chameleon are normally quite easy to read.
They are similar to other signals that you get from a range of lizards and mammals.
If you see any of these, the course of action is simple. Give the chameleon plenty of space and time to calm down, and everything should be fine.
The most common signs of aggression that you will see are the following:
- Hissing – This is the most well-known sign. This is the same as a cat hissing when under threat. They do this to ward off threats, often other chameleons. Just back off and give them some space.
- Staring – This is another sign that is easy to spot, and will often go alongside the hissing. Chameleons have eyes that normally going all over the place, but if they suddenly start staring straight at you, then watch out.
- Changing color – This is not something to worry about if seen in isolation. However, if your chameleon is either hissing or staring and then they start to change color as well, this is a certain sign that they may bite. This is exactly what they do before having fights with other chameleons, so stay well clear and let them calm down.
What To Do If You Are Bitten
Although it is easier said than done, the best way to deal with a chameleon bite is just let the chameleon hold onto you as long as they want before they let go.
Sometimes this will be just a fraction of a second, and the bite will just be a nip, but they may occasionally hold on longer.
The worst thing to do is to pull away from the bite. This can lead to exaggerating the injury and breaking the skin. This is something to beware of if you have children interacting with the chameleon, as it can be hard to teach them that this is the way to go.
Chameleons are not a naturally aggressive pet, and their first instinct is usually to hide or to flee when in a stressful situation. They are solitary pets, and although many owners report taming their chameleon, some will never enjoy being handled.
If you give them the space that they desire and treat them with respect, then chameleons offer no issues for the majority of owners.