Do Chameleons Bite?
Chameleons can bite, however they are reluctant to do so.
Chameleons will display many warning signs like hissing, attempting to flee or hide and showing stress coloration before biting. A chameleon bite is usually a last resort.
Table of Contents
Do Chameleons Have Teeth?
Chameleons possess what are known as acrodont teeth, ones that are fused to their jawbones. (1)
Teeth that are superficially fused to the jawbone and not anchored in the bone itself are weaker and can be more easily broken. It is not uncommon to see chameleons with broken teeth in the wild.
Chameleon teeth are not as strong and certainly not as sharp as other lizards and reptiles so this makes them a little less imposing than a snake or an iguana.
Do Chameleons Bite or Scratch?
Chameleons can have sharp nails, and I mean sharp! Chameleons use their nails to help grip branches as they climb and search for food, their nails are vital to their grip.
However, these sharp nails can inadvertently scratch you if you are handling or holding your chameleon. Utilizing natural branches and wood in your chameleon’s enclosure will help to keep its nails filed down a bit so as not to be too sharp.
That said, chameleons don’t really use their nails or scratch in defense. As mentioned previously, you may be scratched because of their sharp nails inadvertently and not because your chameleon intended to do it.
As far as chameleon defense goes, they really only bite; and as a last resort!
Do Chameleons Bite Humans?
Chameleons can bite people if provoked, under a lot of stress and certainly if mishandled or mistreated.
Chameleons don’t have very many means of defending themselves other than a potential bite.
Chameleons certainly are not fast enough to rely on fleeing or escaping danger and they lack the power and swiftness to do any real damage with their limbs or tail.
A bite is the last line of defense that a chameleon has and they will use it even on much larger humans!
What Does a Chameleon Bite Feel Like?
Like with many reptiles, the fright or the surprise of getting bit can be more “traumatic” or scary than the actual bite.
Getting bit by your chameleon may come as a total surprise if you are not experienced in reading chameleon behavior. Chameleons can also be surprisingly quick!
That said, ‘what a chameleon bite feels like’ is dependent on the chameleon’s size and what message the chameleon intended to get across to you.
A baby or juvenile chameleon of any species will have a bite that is nearly insignificant compared to an adult of the same species. Also, the larger the species ( a big veiled chameleon compared to a pygmy or Senegal chameleon) the more painful and potentially damaging the bite can be.
A chameleon’s bite can also be different depending on their mood and what they intend to communicate. Sometimes, chameleons will bluff “bite,” striking you with a closed mouth; this can be interpreted as a warning kind of like they’re annoyed with you.
Secondly, and with a bit more intention, they bite with an open mouth, giving a firm pinch; this kind of bite is a serious, “Leave me alone!” kind of response.
Lastly, a chameleon that is really stressed or has lost all of its patience will bite, hold on and even shake it head back and forth a bit trying to cause damage and pain!
If your chameleon bites you like this it was definitely upset and wants to really get its point across. Being bitten by a chameleon like this definitely hurts and there is a good chance that it will draw blood!
Thankfully, when we begin to read the warning signs, bites like these can be all but avoided.
What to Do If a Chameleon Bites you?
If put in a situation where a chameleon does bite you there are a few things to keep in mind about the situation.
First and foremost is that no chameleon actually wants to bite you, they would much rather you avoid them when they don’t feel like interacting or leave them alone after giving you a few warning signs. Biting really is a last resort.
Secondly, the worst thing you can do is scream, flail wildly possibly injuring your chameleon, or get angry and retaliate against your chameleon. Again, chameleons have almost no defense against humans.
The best thing you can do is ‘grin and bear it.’ It’s best to wait for your chameleon to let go (if latched on) than to try forcefully open the chameleon’s mouth and remove it.
Even though your chameleon may bite you, and it hurts, that doesn’t mean that you can forget that your chameleon is fragile and needs to be handled with care.
Are Chameleons Venomous / Poisonous?
Okay, so your chameleon bites you and it hurts but is that all? Do you have to worry about infarction or even worse, are chameleons venomous?
A venomous animal is one that injects or transmits venom through a bite or sting, while poisonous animals are toxic if you ingest or eat them. (2)
The good news is, chameleons are neither venomous or poisonous.
Chameleon Bite Wound
There are numerous websites on the Internet that try to tell people that chameleon bites don’t hurt and that they do not cause injury. I can tell you from experience that they are 100% wrong!
Do all chameleon bites cause a lot of pain, break the skin and cause a wound? Or course not, but some do.
That’s the truth. Many sites and people, who are trying to convince you to get a chameleon, neglect to mention anything that may dissuade you from purchasing their product or animal.
This doesn’t mean that chameleons are likely to bite or should be avoided, I just like to provide all the pros and the cons (or at least give you all the information) when discussing a topic.
If you are bitten by a large enough chameleon and it intends to send a clear message with its bite, you may very well be facing a bite that breaks the skin, causes a significant amount of pain and will need at least some treatment.
Chameleon Bite Treatment
For the vast majority of chameleon bites, especially those that are more bluffs than bites, won’t need any special treatment other than caring for a bruised ego.
However, even bites that don’t draw blood should be washed with warm, soapy water to make sure it is clean.
Bites that cause injury, whether it be scratches, ones that draw a small amount of blood or those that lacerate the skin, all need to be cleaned as soon as possible by washing thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
It would be very rare although not unheard of, for a chameleon bite to be so severe that you would require stitches, it has and potentially can happen.
Are Chameleons Aggressive?
Chameleons can put on displays of aggression when threatened or if they are forced into being handled. This aggression can come in the form of hissing and threatening with an open mouth.
If these displays of aggression are continually ignored, a chameleon will bite as a last resort.
Very are what could be called ‘aggressive.’ Most ‘aggressive’ behavior stems from someone not understanding or ignoring the warning signs that chameleons are trying to communicate.
Some people do not handle being told “no” by their pet or animals very well and this stubborn attitude can result in displays of aggression and even bites. However, the fault lies not with the reptile but with the human.
Are Chameleons Friendly?
Everyone wants to compare their choice of pet with a cat or a dog. Dogs and cats are famous for showing affection and wanting to cuddle and please their humans.
Reptiles however, regardless of what people want to be true, just do not show affection like cats and dogs do. That doesn’t mean that they don’t recognize and respond to their keepers, far from it!
Chameleons are a solitary, cautious and shy creature. They have limited defenses and no real escape skills.
As such, they really do prefer to live without much interaction. I have many times compared chameleons to aquarium fish as they are both kinds of ‘pets’ that are best interacted with by observing rather than with handling and direct contact.
Yes, you will see videos and maybe even hear stories about how someone’s chameleon loves to be held or enjoys human companionship, however such things are much more likely to be misplaced emotions and longing from that of the human-side of the relationship than actual feelings and desires of the chameleon.
I know that makes some people angry, upset or disappointed to hear this, however I think that this doesn’t need to be the case.
Your love or affection for your chameleon or reptile pet doesn’t need to be conditional or dependent on receiving anything in return. (except for good health for the chameleon which should be every reptile keeper’s goal!)
You can care for and develop a bond and relationship with your chameleon just by knowing that you are providing the very best environment that you can for your reptile friend.
Do Chameleons Like to Be Handled?
You might be thinking, “first you tell me that my chameleon doesn’t share the same emotional bond with me and now you’re going to say that they don’t even like to be handled huh?”
Well, yes you’d be right; chameleons would prefer a life without being handled by humans. Again, this doesn’t have to be a negative thing, it doesn’t even mean that you can never handle your chameleon either.
It just means that even when a chameleon ‘is okay’ with handling, or doesn’t try to flee or bite, that doesn’t mean it’s enjoying the process, it just means that it is tolerating it.
There is no reason that a chameleon would ever enjoy being picked up, grabbed or handled by an enormous (potential) predator, it just doesn’t make sense. A chameleon receives no benefit from being held.
Just remember that any form of handling or holding reptiles is really in our interest and not theirs.
Why Does My Chameleon Try to Bite Me?
To reiterate some things from earlier in this article, a chameleon will only bite as a last resort, after it has shown signs of wanting to be left alone.
So, what are these things that may trigger warnings and eventually bites from a chameleon?
- Fear -fear will be the number one cause of a bite. If your chameleon fears for its life, it will do whatever it can to protect itself.
- Unwanted Advances -incessant handling, holding, poking, prodding, etc is sure to create tension for your chameleon. At some point that tension ends up being too much which can result in a bite.
- Stress -poor husbandry, incorrect temperature and humidity and improper care are major causes of stress for a chameleon. A stressed chameleon will always be ‘on edge’ and a chameleon on edge will never tolerate things that a well adjusted and healthy chameleon will tolerate.
If you are being bit by your chameleon you need to reassess your husbandry and the way you interact with your reptile.
You may just be handling your chameleon too much, too often or maybe your chameleon just refuses to tolerate all of the attention. It can be that simple.
Chameleon Can Bite. What Does This Mean for Pet Chameleons?
The truth is that chameleons, like most anything with a mouth, can bite you but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a pet chameleon.
Chameleon bites are not frequent and most are little more than a pinch! (and a surprise!)
The biggest thing to consider is whether or not YOU are comfortable and satisfied with a pet that you may not be able to handle all that often? One that may not enjoy your company or affection? An animal that is best observed rather than interacted with?
Are you okay with all of that? If so, a chameleon might be the perfect ‘reptile roommate’ for you!