When you think of chameleons, you probably think of their fascinating ability to change colors in the blink of an eye. Most people believe these color changes are to blend in with their surroundings, but that’s not entirely the case.
Chameleons communicate with each other and express how they are feeling through their coloration. Whether relaxed, angry, cold, or territorial, a chameleon’s colors will change based on their mood.
But should chameleons ever turn black?
If you notice your chameleon’s colors getting darker, you might ask yourself:
Why is my chameleon black?
If your chameleon is showing dark or black colors, this could mean that it is simply cold and trying to absorb more heat, feeling stressed or angry, or it is a gravid female that is ready to lay eggs. However, it can also mean that your chameleon has a serious illness or is nearing death.
In this article, we’ll go over all of the reasons why your chameleon could be turning black, from the least serious to the most concerning. We’ll also discuss whether or not it’s normal for chameleons to turn black, and if you should worry.
So, keep reading for all you need to know, and without further ado, let’s get into it!
Reason 1. Cold
Chameleons are ectothermic, which means they regulate their body temperature based on the environment around them.
In the wild, chameleons will typically sleep under the leaves of a tree or bush and then make their way up to the canopy to bask in the sun in the mornings.
In captivity, they will instinctively do this using a basking spot as a heat source.
When they need to warm up, they often darken their skin color, which helps them absorb more heat from the source. They might also change their body posture, flattening themselves laterally to maximize exposure.
This behavior helps them reach their ideal temperature, which is crucial for maintaining their metabolic processes and overall health.
Reason 2. Stress Or Fear
When stressed or fearful, a chameleon might turn black or dark in color as a way to communicate its discomfort.
Stress can come from various factors, such as not getting the right care, being in a new or unfamiliar environment, or sensing the presence of a potential threat nearby.
For instance, if their habitat doesn’t meet their needs or if they feel exposed without a hiding spot, they might turn dark in color.
Chameleons have excellent eyesight, so the sight of something they perceive as a threat in the room or outside of a window can also trigger this response.
Oftentimes, it is accompanied by a defensive posture as well.
Understanding this behavior and knowing what color hues to look out for can help us gauge our chameleon’s well-being and make adjustments to keep them comfortable and happy.
Reason 3. Anger
Chameleons express their emotions through their vibrant color changes, and when it comes to anger, a dark color shift is a warning sign that a nasty bite might be on the way.
If a chameleon feels you are intruding in its space, even if you’re just cleaning something in its cage or offering food, it might darken its colors to indicate its irritation.
The same goes for attempting to handle your chameleon when it’s not in the mood. This coloration is a chameleon’s way of communicating “Back off!” or “Get out of my space!”
So, if you see your chameleon turning dark when you’re in or near its cage, it’s a clear sign for you to respect its boundaries and give it some space.
Reason 4. Gravid
When a female chameleon is pregnant, or “gravid”, her coloring will slowly change to dark or black, and her belly will become noticeably larger.
This is especially common in female veiled chameleons who turn black with vibrant yellow and blueish markings when gravid. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll know that they look entirely different from their normal light greenish hue when not gravid.
The process of producing, carrying, and laying eggs is extremely demanding on a female chameleon. They go through the cycle every two to three months of their adult lives and produce eggs whether they’ve been fertilized or not.
During this time, their bodies go through a lot of changes and use a significant amount of energy and calcium to grow the eggs and prepare for laying them.
For this reason, it’s extremely important to make sure your female chameleon has everything she needs to keep her body healthy, including the proper amounts of supplemented calcium in her diet.
When it comes to coloring, gravid chameleons use darker colors as a way to communicate that they’re currently carrying eggs and “off the market”. It also indicates to caregivers that they need some space and time to be left alone.
So, if you notice that your female chameleon is looking plump and turning black, consider that her body is working hard on producing her eggs, and she’ll need a whole lot of privacy until she lays.
Reason 5. Injury
When a chameleon experiences an injury to its body, such as a cut, scrape, fall, or bite from another animal, its skin in that area will turn black. This is a visual stress response that indicates damage under the skin, similar to bruising in humans.
It’s important to pay attention to this to try to find out what may have happened to your chameleon and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.
Generally, the black spot will slowly heal over the next few days and eventually go away. But if it’s something more serious, or you can clearly see that your chameleon has experienced severe trauma to its body, it’s best to schedule an appointment with an exotics vet as soon as possible to have your little friend checked out.
Reason 6. Illness
Another reason your chameleon’s skin could be turning black is because of an underlying illness.
Health concerns, such as bacterial or parasitic infections or renal failure in chameleons can become common in captive care. This is usually due to improper husbandry, UVB lighting, or vitamin supplementation.
If you notice that your chameleon has been acting sluggish, spending more time at the bottom of its enclosure, or displaying a lack of appetite paired with a darker skin color, this could be an indicator of a serious health issue.
Something else to look out for would be closed or sunken eyes, which can be a sign of dehydration or a vitamin deficiency in your chameleon.
Recognizing these signs and connecting them with a change in skin color can be vital in identifying potential health issues promptly.
If you suspect that your chameleon could be sick, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian who specializes in reptile care. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment to help your chameleon regain its health and vibrancy.
Reason 7. Death
Chameleons have specialized skin cells called chromatophores, which are responsible for their color changes. These tiny pigmented cells expand or contract, altering the coloration of a chameleon’s skin.
When a chameleon is nearing the end of its life, its body starts to shut down and these chromatophores diminish, causing the skin to darken and turn black.
As this happens, you might also notice your chameleon’s eyes sinking in, which is often indicative of its overall decline. Altogether, this is a natural process that occurs as your chameleon transitions from life to death.
These physical changes can be distressing to witness, but they are part of the natural process that many creatures go through as they approach the end of their lifespan.
If you have concerns about the passing of your chameleon, consulting a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles can offer you guidance on how to give your chameleon the best care possible in its final moments.
For more information on these listed reasons and a few other possibilities why your chameleon might be turning black in color, check out this video below:
Is It Normal For Chameleons To Turn Black?
There are instances when it’s perfectly normal for a chameleon to take on a darker color. However, this change in color should be temporary and not last for a prolonged period of time.
Of the above reasons for turning black, the first four are normal and common behaviors that your chameleon may display periodically.
Chameleons are temperamental creatures that like their solitude, so it’s very possible that you just have a moody little guy or gal who wants to be left alone.
However, if your chameleon is turning black due to a possible illness, injury, or death, this would not be considered normal as far as health standards go and is more of a cause for concern.
Should You Worry If Your Chameleon Is Black?
Chameleons adjust their skin color based on their mood, environment, and physical conditions. So, if you see your chameleon turning dark, there’s not necessarily a need to worry right away.
It might just be reacting to something around it or feeling cold and needing to warm up.
But, if you notice that your chameleon is staying dark for longer than normal without any apparent reason, it could signal that there’s something worth looking into.
It might be an underlying health issue that needs your attention, like an illness or injury.
In any case, it’s good to keep a watchful eye on your chameleon’s coloring, and if you have any doubts, consult with a reptile expert or veterinarian who can help you figure out what’s wrong.
A chameleon’s ability to change its coloring isn’t just about aesthetics or camouflage. It’s a sophisticated language that helps them communicate with their environment and express their emotions.
Whether it’s a result of temperature changes, stress, fear, or illness, these shifts in color are a way for the chameleon to communicate for its well-being.
So, the next time you notice your chameleon turning black, it’s important to monitor their activity and pay attention to their behavior.
By better understanding their color changes, you can provide the care and support they need, maintaining a strong bond and healthy lifestyle for your unique reptilian friend.