Thursday, March 28, 2013

Raising Social Chameleons

One of the questions we get asked most often is "How do they all get along and live together?" People are amazed by the calm temperament of our chameleons that allows them to not only see each other and live in the same area but also willingly go to anyone as this is largely unknown among chameleon keepers.

Our chameleons willingly come to us.

Back in the early days of chameleon keeping all the chameleons that were available were WC and had a nasty habit of dying within a short time, much to the dismay of their keepers. Breeding was unheard of and even hatching and raising any eggs from females that came in gravid was a challenge. Much of the problems were attributed to "stress" and so to try to minimize problems, the early keepers put the chameleons in a cage (often an aquarium in those days) and left the chameleon pretty much alone except for feeding and watering.

While stress in WC chameleons is likely, so is dehydration and parasites. Combined with a lack of knowledge and how to best care for them and a lot trial and error many chameleons often died for unexplained reasons. This became attributed to "stress."

This belief that chameleons will become stressed and die if they see people, other chameleons, animals, their reflection, or pretty much anything, still exists today and many people firmly believe that chameleons should be left alone with minimal interaction. This belief has resulted in people not having as much interaction with their chameleon as they could or would like. And when people see ours being easy to handle or even getting along with other chameleons in the same area they are amazed and astounded.  However many people handle their chameleons regularly and quite a few even free range groups together with no issue.

Disclaimer: Chameleons, like all animals and humans, have distinct individual personalities. Not all of them are going to  climb willingly onto people or get along with other chameleons. With proper conditions many will, and even the less social will tolerate handling without undue stress, running away or trying to attack. And that is to their benefit as we all do have to interact with them for feeding, cage cleaning and check ups at minimum.

Another disclaimer: There is a difference in WC chameleons and a healthy well-started baby or juvenile from a reputable breeder. While we do pretty much the same with either type we bring home, it is important to be mindful of the needs of a WC chameleon (water, food health, etc) and make sure those are met first and foremost.

One of the first things we do is ignore the conventional wisdom of "when you bring your chameleon home put it in its cage in a quiet area and leave it alone to settle in."  In fact we tell people who take home our babies to handle, hand feed, and interact with them from the start. It is what they are used to and if they are just left alone they will become accustomed to being left alone and may not be as comfortable with people later.
It's never to early to get up close and personal.

We have a small free range set up in our living room for new arrivals. This gives them a place to watch us and get used to the routine. They also don't feel territorial as they would in a cage because they have nothing to defend. We offer food right away by hand, if they don't want to hand feed we will cup feed. Usually they will eat right away, or after a walk around the free range to make sure no monsters are lurking.

WC melleri eating the first day home

Regarding free ranging: it really is the best thing. Yes, there are risks and yes, we realize not everyone has the space, or may have furry pets, small children, or cranky roommates that make free ranging difficult if not impossible. If it can be done, even on a part time basis it is worth it. We have had ignored, abused, and very angry chameleons become social butterflies within a few weeks when they were free ranged.

We don't free range most of our females for a couple reasons. First, they tend to be more territorial than the males and more importantly we would not be able to control or monitor any breeding. Frankie is the exception to this rule ... we ran out of cage space so she got a free range but she rarely stays in it and goes to visit everyone else in their free ranges. She is accepted by the others, even if she steals the best bugs!
oh, Frankie! Of course she gets the biggest bug!
Once the chameleons ar comfortable with our presence and hand feeding, they accept handling. Some of them come willingly to us - to the point of reaching out from the free range when we walk by. Others are less fond of handling but will tolerate it. We have recliners right in front of the melleri free range and a few of them will come down  and climb over us to get to another section of their free range. We are apparently great bridges!

Chameleons are not born fearful or "stressed" by people

Many of our chameleons are so easy going that we frequently take them out, sometimes for educational events, other times just for trips to the pet store.

Logan meets some youngsters at the pet store. So much for the supposed veiled "attitude."

So how do we get our chameleons, especially the males, okay with seeing each other and free ranging together? It is definitely a combination of nature and nurture.  As mentioned above, we mostly select our chameleons in person so we can see their temperament first hand. We also raise them in a very open environment: free ranging, seeing us and other chameleons, handling and interacting with them daily. We also provide an abundance of food and water - they are well aware of where the cricket bin is and all come around for that with no thought or worry about the other chameleons!

Its rare that the females are out together but food brings everyone together.

When we do put anyone together we make sure there is plenty of room and hiding places. If anyone seems to be defensive or nervous we will feed them side by side to distract them and get them comfortable with each others presence. Usually that is all it takes. Remember that we are starting with chameleons that are used to handling and interaction.

If for some reason it does not work out it is important to have a cage or other free range area to separate them. Otherwise there is a risk of injury or bullying.

I would like to make clear we do NOT ever cage chameleons together. (except hatchlings under 2-3 months) As mentioned above, caged chameleons are more territorial and defensive and it is very difficult to get a cage that would be large enough (room sized) to allow them the space they need. We also do not recommend mixing males and females in most cases.

It's important to remember that patience and observation are very important.  You can't rush it or force a chameleon to enjoy handling or seeing other chameleons. Making sure all their needs are met and they are healthy is the most important thing and the key to gaining trust.

For more info on our chameleons and how we socialize and free range visit:


  1. Much of the problems were attributed to "stress" and so to try to minimize problems, the early keepers put the chameleons in a cage (often an ...

  2. Much of the problems were attributed to "stress" and so to try to minimize problems, the early keepers put the chameleons in a cage (often an ...