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Chameleon Turned Black – What’s Going On?

by Lucy

Keeping a chameleon isn’t an easy task, but a chameleon represents a marvel of creation for reptile lovers the world over. Unlike other lizard species, chameleons require more upkeep and the utmost care from their owners.

Because chameleons are demanding animals, if you own a chameleon and have ever witnessed it go completely black, it’s understandable that you might go into hysterics thinking that they are either severely ill or about to die.

So, why do chameleons turn black? Chameleons tend to go black when they are under stress, anxious, or threatened. It could also be due to cold temperatures in their enclosure. Luckily, there are ways to make your chameleon feel more comfortable.

So, without further ado, let’s delve deeper into the subject of why your chameleon might turn black and what steps you can take to make your reptilian friend more comfortable.

Why Do Chameleons Turn Black?

In actuality, there are usually four general reasons when chameleons turn black. They are either cold, stressed, scared, or a combination of these reasons. Now, different scenarios might make them feel scared, cold, or stressed. So, here are a few of the situations that might make your chameleon go black.

When Under Stress

Chameleons aren’t low-maintenance pets. It is commonplace to find a chameleon under stress when they’ve been selected as a starter pet for novice keepers. Moreover, stress isn’t good for your reptilian friend, as too much stress can have dire consequences.

Here are some things that might be contributing to your chameleon’s stress:

  • Lack Of Places To Hide – Chameleons are solitary animals that only get together to mate and then go on their merry way. In the wild, you will often find that chameleons like to blend into the environment rather than use their color-changing ability to stand out. So, in captivity, where a chameleon may be under constant display, they will certainly be distressed.
  • Enclosure Is Too Small – Chameleons in the wild tend to climb to higher ground where they can easily escape the clutches of many predators. If your pet’s enclosure is too small and there aren’t enough places provided for your chameleon to climb and vent out some of its excess energy, your pet will feel restricted, exposed, and frustrated.
    • Also, the inability to climb to higher ground might even make your chameleon feel threatened. It’s an innate sense of security that chameleons feel when they are in higher places, and an enclosure lacking in places to climb will not be the perfect home for your reptile.
  • Lack Of Greenery – The natural habitat of most chameleons is rain forests. And in general, chameleons hang in trees and sit around tree branches to avoid being detected by predators. And the surest way to make your pet feel more relaxed and at home is to replicate its natural environment inside its enclosure. 
    • Without plants in the enclosure, your pet will have no comfortable place to sleep, hang out, or hide. The lack of greenery will make your chameleon feel exposed and scared. The more your pet feels scared and under strain, the more likely it will start to darken.
  • Insects In The Enclosure – If your chameleon has any bugs inside its enclosure, particularly locusts and crickets, then your chameleon will undoubtedly be under a lot of tension. Crickets are known to bite chameleons, and locusts crawl on chameleons while they sleep, so it is little wonder that your pet can turn black from the stress this causes.

When Frightened

The feeling of fright or stress doesn’t necessarily have to be something that might be disturbing your chameleon inside the enclosure. Your chameleon can be scared of factors outside of its enclosure that create a sense of threat for your reptilian friend.

  • Too Many People In The Room – If you live in a house with many family members, you will have to allow your pet the time to get used to the presence of these people. On the other hand, if you have a multi-pet household, you will have to make sure that the other pets in your house do not hover too close to your chameleon’s enclosure. The closer your cat or dog looms over your chameleon’s tank, the more likely it is that your reptile will turn black from the stress.
  • Your Chameleon Feels Trapped – If your chameleon is new to your home and needs time to settle in, you will have to ensure that you take it easy whenever you try to clean up your chameleon’s enclosure or when you are trying to give your pet some outside-the-enclosure time. If your pet feels threatened, it will turn black and its eyes will bulge in order for them to survey their territory.
  • Other Tankmates Being Bothersome – It’s never recommended to have more than one chameleon inside one enclosure, but some breeders put chameleons together so that they can mate. 
    • You should know that chameleons get together to mate, but they do not live together. These are solitary creatures. So, having another chameleon in such proximity will inevitably scare your chameleon. Also, chameleons are opportunistic eaters, so a larger chameleon will try to eat a smaller-sized chameleon. And that represents a serious threat to survival, in which case your chameleon will go black to appear less visible.
  • Outdoor Scenery – If your chameleon’s enclosure happens to be close to the window, you will find that your chameleon will appear stressed and turn black after a while. If your window overlooks a garden or a busy road with too much traffic, then your reptilian friend is going to be undeniably scared. Birds are the main predators of chameleons and all these moving shapes and shadows can look similar.

Cold Temperatures

You should know that all chameleons need a temperature gradient in their enclosure. They need a basking area where they can heat their bodies when the enclosure is getting cooler, and they also need a specific site where they can cool down when the temperatures are too high.

Different species of chameleons require specific temperatures. But, on average, the temperature on the basking side of your chameleon’s enclosure should be between 85 – 90°F, and the cooler side should be roughly around 70 – 80°F.

Also, you need to know that chameleons prefer a drop in temperature at night, so a low wattage heat bulb should help you keep your pet snug as a bug. However, when your chameleon needs to heat up and isn’t able to do so due to a lack of basking area, you will find that it turns black. 

The basic idea is that black or darker shades absorb heat more easily; instincts kick in, and it turns black to heat up faster.

How Can You Prevent Your Chameleon From Turning Black?

Caring for your chameleon’s needs is the top priority of every chameleon owner. There are times when chameleons go black when they are unwell, but such cases are rare. So, when you find your color-changing lizard turning black, you must attempt to discover what is causing such behavior.

On the flip side, if you have managed to find out why your chameleon is going black, you can do something to make your beloved pet feel better.

Here are some ways you can make your pet feel safe and secure:

  • Get A Bigger Enclosure – If your chameleon doesn’t have a basking area, plenty of places to hide, and a climbing area, then there is a strong probability that it will not be eat ease in its enclosure. As mentioned earlier, chameleons love their privacy and love to climb. So, even with one chameleon, you need an enclosure that is wide as well as tall. If you brought an enclosure for a young chameleon and now your chameleon has grown, it’s time to invest in a new enclosure.
  • Keep The Enclosure High – It is vital that you keep your pet’s enclosure on a table and at least six feet off the floor. Your chameleon should be higher or eye level with you. Moreover, it is necessary for your pet’s comfort to have plenty of greenery and climbing room.
  • Keep The Enclosure Clean – You should always ensure that you clean up the mess after your pet has eaten. Spot cleaning your chameleon’s tank is imperative, including the removal of feces, dead insects, leftover food, and other debris. And, it would be best if you never left any live insects inside your chameleon’s enclosure. A more thorough cleaning of the substrate and decorations must be done weekly, and the entire enclosure must be emptied and disinfected at least every six months.
  • Lower The Room Traffic – It isn’t sensible to place your chameleon’s enclosure in a room where there are too many people present at all times, particularly the living room, hall, or dining area. Keeping your pet’s cage where there are fewer people as well as pets sitting or lounging about is going to make them feel safer.
  • House Away From The Window – As mentioned earlier, placing your chameleon’s enclosure close to the window isn’t going to let your reptile enjoy the scenery. Instead, your pet will constantly feel threatened. Make it a point to place your chameleon’s tank in a spot with little noise pollution and no view of the garden or sky.
  • Plenty Of Hiding Spots – The more hiding spots there are in your chameleon’s enclosure, the happier your pet will be. Chameleons don’t like to be on display, and even when they are well-acclimatized with their environment, they enjoy hiding areas where they can snuggle into nooks and crannies and rest or nap. Furthermore, having ample hiding areas in your pet’s enclosure will ensure that if your pet is feeling threatened or unsafe, it will have avenues where it can go to be at peace.
  • Clean Up At The Right Time – If you want to clean up your pet’s enclosure, then you need to tidy up when your pet is napping away in its hiding holes or basking in the sun or up a tree branch blending in with the leaves. Or, if your chameleon loves to have outside-cage time, then you can allow your pet to be out of its enclosure and use that time to spruce up your beloved pet’s tank.

What Can You Do If Your Chameleon Turns Black And Appears Dead?

Chameleons are unique creatures that Nature has bestowed the gift of camouflage upon in order to help them evade predators. But, you’ll be surprised to know that chameleons have another skill that often works to escape their predators too. 

Chameleons possess excellent acting skills. And, they play dead because many predators don’t consume dead prey. But, if you give your pet chameleon about fifteen to twenty seconds, you will find them changing color again, fit as a fiddle.

Chameleons aren’t sturdy animals that make fast and quick recoveries. However, chameleons do tend to go black even when they are ill, so it does pay to keep a close eye on your pet if it is off its food, seems to hide more, appears more aggressive, and is losing weight.

So, if you feel that your pet might be unwell, don’t waste too much time and consult exotics vet promptly.

What Does Black Or Dark Spots Indicate On A Chameleon?

Black is not a chameleon’s natural color, so if your chameleon turns black suddenly, then something is certainly bothering your beloved pet. If your chameleon is getting black spots, or its color is slowly turning ashen, then you investigate if all is well with your pet. 

The first place to look is inside the enclosure – clean up the enclosure, place more hiding holes, and more greenery. And once you are 100% sure that all is right inside the enclosure, you can start to examine the environment outside the enclosure.

You need to ensure that your pet is not feeling too threatened by other pets in the house and that there isn’t too much noise pollution where your chameleon’s enclosure might be.

Also, it helps to assess whether your pet’s diet is appropriate. If your chameleon isn’t getting enough nutrition or not eating right, then your pet will show signs of weakness or sickness. Black spots often signify disease or illness, so it’s best to head straight to the vet.


These are genuinely spectacular creatures with a fascinating set of capabilities. Having and observing a chameleon from proximity can be super cool. But, unlike other reptiles, chameleons aren’t easy to care for, and if you happen to be a novice reptile owner, then you should reconsider adopting a chameleon. 

If you have a chameleon and it is often turning black, you need to look into the matter, as black is not a chameleon’s natural color. Chameleons turn black when they are unhappy in one way or another.

And, it doesn’t bode well for your chameleon to turn black too often, as that may result in your pet falling ill in the long run. Hopefully, this article will help you make your pet feel better.

Up Next: Can Chameleons Hear?

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