Can Chameleons Swim? Chameleons and Water

There is a huge difference in the ability to swim and attempting to “swim” because one’s life is in danger. It’s kind of like saying that “fish can walk on land,” if you call flopping around and flipping about in order to try and get back into the water, “walking!”

In short, chameleons will attempt to swim in order to save their lives (if they fall into a stream, river, lake, etc) however their ability to do so is quite poor.

Again, a “swimming” chameleon is fighting for its life!

Can Chameleons Breathe Underwater?

Absolutely not! Chameleons cannot breathe underwater nor can they easily keep their heads above water that is deeper than they can stand in.

can chameleons breathe underwater

Do Chameleons Go In Water?

Most chameleons are arboreal, meaning that they live their lives in the trees, rarely leaving the canopy; even avoiding the ground. 

Except for a few species of chameleons, like the Namaqua chameleon which is a ground-dwelling lizard from Africa, chameleons are tree-dwellers. 

Chameleons are ‘built’ for life in the trees; their prehensile tails and mitten-like feet are perfectly suited for climbing and crawling along branches above the forest floor!

As such, chameleons are not ‘well built’ for water. Chameleons do tend to float but they struggle desperately, moving their tiny legs in an effort to navigate through the water. Chameleons are very (emphasis on the VERY) poor ‘swimmers!’

Since chameleons are not adept swimmers and the fact that they get all the water and moisture that they require from the leaves and growth in the tree canopy, chameleons tend to avoid volumes of water altogether.

chameleons drink water

Do Chameleons Like Baths? Do I Need to Bathe My Chameleon?

The short answer to both of those questions is, no. 

Chameleons do not need, nor do they like baths. As discussed previously, an animal that cannot swim and avoids water in the wild, has no need for baths or bathing in captivity.

“But I wash my dog?” Or you might say, “my birds LOVE when I let them take a shower!” Showering and bathing might be great (is great) for yourself or your other pets, but it’s just not appropriate for your chameleon!

How Do Chameleons Keep Clean Then?

Chameleons, like all reptiles, shed. Shedding is an amazing process through which reptiles remove and discard their old, dead skin by rubbing and peeling it off their entire bodies!

The only thing about chameleons that hobbyists should be diligently cleaning are their chameleons’ enclosures.

Do Chameleons Need / Like to Soak in Water?

Chameleons, like all reptiles, shed their old, dead, drying skin. A necessity for a reptile’s shed to be successful is proper humidity levels. Moisture in the air and the environment will help your chameleon shed its skin easily.

So chameleon keepers may notice stuck-shed or they see that their chameleon’s shedding process is not going smoothly and may think (or be advised to) soak their chameleon in an effort to help with shedding. This is not advised!

You may even see this “advice” being given by a veterinarian who might claim that showering, soaking or misting your chameleon will somehow help it shed properly or keep it from becoming dehydrated. With the very rare exception of a dire emergency dehydration case, this is not good practice!

bad advice from veterinarian

Getting your chameleon wet or soaking it does not help it shed, in fact it can do the opposite. Secondly, showering a chameleon with water, soaking it, or sometimes even misting a chameleon directly onto its body can cause stress.

Chameleons are easily stressed animals. Stress can (and does) harm or even can kill your chameleon. A chameleon that sits close to its misting system or allows water to drip on its body is completely different from you or I spraying it or soaking it in water. 

The vast majority of chameleons will not even drink from standing water. Instead they lick dew from leaves or drink drops of water that fall in and among the trees. 

Chameleons do what they can to avoid water.

Can Veiled Chameleons Go In Water?

Veiled chameleons, a medium-sized (18-24”) chameleon that is popular among reptile hobbyists, does not like to go into water. 

It is a shame but you’ll find videos and forum posts from “caring and loving” (notice the quotation marks) chameleon owners that will insist their chameleon loves water/takes baths/loves being sprayed/etc, etc. 

If these individuals were actually loving, caring and knowledgeable chameleon keepers they’d know that stress kills chameleons and that these activities are directly harmful, or at the very least, stress their chameleons.

Conclusion

As chameleon keepers we need to be caretakers; providing for our chameleon’s needs and maintaining an environment that is the least stressful for these incredible creatures!