It is not necessarily obvious to many people when they are first getting a pet chameleon if they have teeth or not. Chameleons, unlike some other lizards, actually do chew their food, but are they using teeth or jaws? In short, do chameleons have teeth?
Chameleons have teeth that are small, triangular and spiky. Their teeth are acrodont which means they have no roots and are fused at their base to the jaw. Chameleons use their teeth to hunt, rip and chew their food, and occasionally to fight.
There are quite a few things that it is worth knowing about chameleons teeth. Some basic facts, some care instructions, signs of dental issues, and the big question for many of do they bite.
Chameleons Have Teeth
Chameleons have small teeth that are quite hard to see with the naked eye. This is probably the reason that some people mistakenly think they just have a jaw.
Their teeth are extremely small, much smaller than most other lizards of a similar size. They are sharp and spiky.
Chameleons are born with the teeth they are going to have. They have no baby teeth, or teeth that will fall out. They have no replacement teeth if others fall out, like some lizards do.
They use their teeth for the following things:
- Ripping food – particularly live insects such as crickets and roaches
- Chewing – Chameleons are a lizard that likes to chew their food, rather than swallow it whole as other reptiles such as bearded dragons prefer.
- Fighting – Particularly male chameleons will often fight other males. This is usually a contest for territory, or a conflict over a female. When this happens, their main choices are to use head-butts, pushing, or biting.
Their Teeth Do Not Regrow
A chameleon’s teeth do not regrow, as they are all fused to its jawbone. Therefore, if you notice that your chameleon is losing teeth, then this is a problem. There will be some kind of underlying issue that it is best to identify.
Reasons Their Teeth Might Fall Out
Tooth loss is not common amongst chameleons, but it is worth knowing about in case it starts happening. There are several common causes of dental issues in chameleons:
- Fighting – A chameleon may damage their gum or some teeth whilst fighting with another chameleon.
- Gum Recession – This is common in many reptiles. Once the gum has receded it does not grow back. It makes the teeth much more vulnerable to damage and falling out
- They have bitten something hard, e.g. metal – This happens sometimes. To avoid this, make sure their terrarium is
- A Sign of other illness – When there immune system is weakened because of another issue, this can have an impact on their dental state and tooth loss may be observed.
Do They Bite?
This is one of the number one concerns that many people have when investigating which pets to get.
Of course, the adage is that any animal with a mouth can bite.
However, chameleons are generally quite relaxed animals. They are not normally aggressive, and take other measures in the face of adversity or threat, such as changing color and hiding.
If you are unlucky enough to get a bite from a chameleon it is usually for one of the following reasons:
- It is hungry – Your chameleon may be experiencing hunger at a time when your fingers suddenly get close to its face.
- It is scared or nervous – This is the usual reason. Chameleons can sometimes feel threatened that you are predator that wants to eat them, or they may feel territorial and that you are invading their space. Either way, the best thing to do is back off.
- Poor handling – The handling of chameleons is more complex than many other lizards. Many just don’t want to be handled at all, and handling them can lead to stress and bites.
I will go into handling in a bit more depth…
Handling V Not Handling
Chameleons are one of the more solitary types of lizards. Generally speaking they are much less interested and enthusiastic about being handled than most other lizards.
However, there seems to be quite a difference between the personalities of individual chameleons. Some do not want to be handled at all. Some are more ‘friendly’ and do not seem to find it a stressful or negative experience.
In general it is usually best not to handle a chameleon much, if at all. Lots of handling can cause them to be in a permanently stressed state, and this can cause all sorts of further health issues.
There are some owners that disagree, and say that it is wise to handle a chameleons early on when first getting them, so as to slowly tame them. More owners seem to suggest, however, that handling is generally not a good idea.
Some people feel that they need to show love to their pet through handling, but owning chameleons requires just a different type of love shown in a different way.
Signs They May Bite
There are some quite obvious signs to look out for that might suggest that a chameleon may bite you. These are all quite straightforward and not hard to decipher. The main three are:
- Glaring – Your chameleon will simply be staring at you in an aggressive way, as if sizing up the fight before taking it on
- Hissing – This is the most common sign that you may see. Hissing can be caused by other issues such as temperature problems. But it could well be a sign that the chameleon is threatened or nervous, and may bite. Just leave them alone if hissing starts.
- Changing color – When you observe either of the above two signs, you may also observe your chameleon changing color at the same time. This is a regular occurrence before fights with other chameleons, and is a definite warning sign of aggression.
What To Do If You Are Bitten
If you are misfortunate enough to be bitten, the worst thing you can do is to pull your finger away from the chameleon. Although this is a natural reaction, this is likely to exacerbate the injury, and could turn a surface nip into something that breaks the skin.
However, of course in reality it is not always easy to think clearly when you are in the process of being bitten. This is especially true if it is a child that is being bitten.
The best way to deal with it, if you are able to stay composed, is just to wait for the chameleon to let go of your finger, which they normally will do reasonably quickly.
Are Their Bites Poisonous?
Their bites are not poisonous and they are not toxic to humans. Chameleons bred in captivity are unlikely to carry any harmful diseases.
Chameleon Tooth Care
It makes sense to check your chameleon’s teeth occasionally, just to check that everything is OK. If you can get into a ritual of doing perhaps about once a month, then that will be fine. It only takes a few seconds to check, and is definitely worth it.
Some owners of chameleons get their teeth cleaned at the vet once a year, and this may be something you want to consider.
Chameleons have teeth that are so small it is often hard to spot them with the naked eye. They use them for ripping and chewing their food, as well as fighting others. Chameleons are quite solitary animals and may occasionally bite. However, there are many warning signs that you can learn to spot to make sure that you avoid this. Bites are also quite rare, and chameleons are generally a relaxed and placid pet.