Closeup of a green chameleon

Do Chameleons Bite?

Yes. Chameleons can and do bite when provoked. Fortunately chameleon bites are not very common, and your chameleon will give plenty of warning signs that it’s about to bite.

Chameleons see fighting and biting as risky business, and typically prefer to avoid it whenever possible. It’s understood that even should the chameleon emerge victorious from its fight, the likelihood of being injured or weakened is high. For this reason, chameleons will usually only resort to biting as a last-ditch effort to scare off a predator or perceived threat.

This article will explore why chameleons bite, what signs they’ll give when about to bite, which chameleon species are most likely to bite, how you can prevent a chameleon bite, and more.

Do Chameleons Bite?

When most people buy a pet, they want one that they can form an emotional bond with. This means handling and petting whatever pet they’ve adopted. We love cats and dogs because it’s so easy to form an emotional bond with them.

But what about chameleons? Can you handle and pet your chameleon? Or do chameleons bite when handled?

As solitary creatures, chameleons generally prefer to be left to themselves, and don’t enjoy handling and petting the way cats and dogs do. If you’re handling your chameleon improperly or too often, it may resort to biting.

However, most chameleons are highly unlikely to bite, and they’ll give you plenty of warning that they are about to do so. As long as you are aware of your chameleon’s warning signals, your chances of suffering a chameleon bite are pretty slim.

Why Do Chameleons Bite?

There are really only a handful of reasons that chameleons bite. These include:

  • Self-defense – chameleons will get aggressive against a perceived threat.
  • Territorial defense – most common in males, who tend to be very territorial
  • Reproductive aggression – most common in gravid females
  • Communication – most common among males in the wild establishing a hierarchy and reinforcing territorial boundaries
  • Environmental stress – illness or sub-optimal living conditions may trigger a chameleon’s defensive behaviors
  • Handling – whether being handled too frequently or improperly, chameleons just don’t enjoy it and may bite to express their discomfort

This is not to say that you should not handle your chameleon at all. However, if you’re going to handle your chameleon, you need to first establish a relationship of trust with your color-changing friend.

Pro Tip: Don’t grab your chameleon when initiating handling. Rather, extend your hand up to it, and let it climb onto your hand on its own.

Signs Your Chameleon Is About to Bite

Not only are chameleon bites pretty rare, but your chameleon will also give you plenty of warnings that it’s about to bite you. One such warning is changing color.

Despite the popular and persistent misperception that chameleons change color to camouflage themselves, chameleons actually change color as a form of communication. Your chameleon may change a dark color to indicate fear or stress. Depending on the species, it might turn red with a black strip to indicate anger. It may even turn bright shades of red, blue, yellow, and green to indicate that it’s ready to take you down!

Regardless of the shade, you need to be sensitive to the color changes of your chameleon. It’s not changing colors for your entertainment. Rather, it’s trying to tell you something.

Other indications that your chameleon is about to bite include:

  • Puffing itself up to make it look bigger and show off its colors
  • Opening its mouth wide
  • Hissing
  • Feinting or lunging at you
  • Slowly reaching out to bite

The good news is that your chameleon will give you plenty of opportunities to back off before it resorts to biting you.

Brown chameleon on a branch

Do Chameleons Have Teeth?

Yes. Chameleons have teeth. However, chameleon teeth aren’t likely to hurt you if your chameleon bites you. Chameleon teeth are tiny and sharp, but they’re specifically designed for munching on insects, just like the teeth of leopard geckos and bearded dragons

Since chameleon teeth are so small that they’re barely visible to the human eye, you’re unlikely to get badly hurt by a chameleon bite, and most chameleon bites don’t even break the skin. So when it comes to being bitten, a chameleon’s teeth aren’t something to worry about.

Chameleon Bites: Which Chameleon Species Are Most and Least Likely to Bite?

While chameleons typically only bite as a last-ditch effort to scare off a predator or perceived threat – like a human that’s too eager to handle or pet – there are some species that are more likely to resort to biting than others. 

As you can imagine, larger chameleon species, with their larger and stronger jaws, are usually more prone to biting. Smaller chameleon species, with their smaller and weaker jaws, are less prone to biting because they know that doing so is likely to cause them injury.

Chameleon Species Most Prone to Biting

Species

Why They Bite

Veiled Chameleon

Grumpy temperament. Aggressive and territorial nature. Has the strongest bite.

Panther Chameleon

Somewhat grumpy temperament. Less aggressive, but still highly territorial nature.

Meller’s Chameleon

Easily stressed. Likelihood to bite depends on the temperament of the individual chameleon. Those that are aggressive tend to be very aggressive.

Chameleon Species Less Prone to Biting

Species

Why They Don’t Bite

Jackson’s Chameleon

Nervous around humans and more likely to hide than bite.

Fischer’s Chameleon

Uninterested in human interaction and more likely to hide than bite.

Carpet Chameleon

Nervous around humans and will likely run and hide.

Oustalet’s Chameleon

Even tempered and less likely to bite.

Four-Horned Chameleon

Even tempered, even toward other chameleons. Unlikely to bite.

Senegal Chameleon

Very shy and easily stressed. Will likely hide.

Rudis Chameleon

Very docile and therefore highly unlikely to bite.

 

Pro Tip: Any chameleon species will bite if it perceives you to be a great enough threat and if you ignore its warning signs. If you would like more interaction with your chameleon, choose a species that’s known to be more docile and agreeable to handling.

How to Prevent a Chameleon Bite

Although chameleons are generally unlikely to bite, there are a few steps that you can take to prevent your chameleon from biting you:

  • Watch for the signs mentioned above.
  • When possible, back off and give your chameleon space.
  • Approach your chameleon slowly and from the front.
  • Avoid backing your chameleon into a corner.
  • Only approach when your chameleon has the high ground.
  • Handle only infrequently.
  • Try hand-feeding to build trust (Dubia roaches are great for this!).

Always keep in mind that chameleons are solitary creatures. Unlike dogs and cats, they don’t enjoy being handled or pet. So be sure to keep handling to a minimum, and only attempt to do so after you’ve established a trusting relationship with your chameleon.

What To Do If Your Chameleon Bites You

If your chameleon bites you, there’s no need to panic. Chameleon bites are not venomous, and chameleons don’t carry any known transmittable diseases. However, there are a few steps you should take to ensure both your own and your chameleon’s safety if your chameleon bites you.

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Don’t jerk your finger or hand away.
  3. Don’t fling your chameleon away from you.
  4. Gently disengage the chameleon’s bite.
  5. Inspect the bite for swelling.
  6. Clean, disinfect, and bandage the site of the chameleon bite.
  7. Check your chameleon to make sure it hasn’t broken its jaw.

Chameleons, especially smaller chameleons, sometimes clamp down so hard when they bite that they break their already weak jaws. If your chameleon has broken its jaw when biting you, be sure to get it to your reptile veterinarian as quickly as possible.

Takeaway: Yes, chameleons can and sometimes do bite. However, biting is a last resort for them, and your chameleon will give you plenty of warning signs before it attempts to bite you.

If you’d like to build trust with your chameleon by hand-feeding, Dragon’s Diet has the Dubia roaches your chameleon is guaranteed to love. Our Dubia roaches are humanely raised and gut-loaded on a steady diet of highly nutritious foods. And you can buy with confidence knowing that our Dubia are backed by our 100% Customer Satisfaction guarantee.

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