Chameleons are captivating creatures known for their mesmerizing ability to change colors right before our very eyes. A male panther chameleon, for instance, can practically display every single color imaginable, resembling a living rainbow.
Whether transforming themselves from blues and greens to yellows, oranges, or reds, chameleons exhibit a variety of vibrant colors. But one color we don’t often see chameleons display is white.
So, if you notice your chameleon start to turn pale or white in color, you might ask:
Why is my chameleon white?
Chameleons can turn white for a number of reasons, including stress, illness, incorrect husbandry, or simply during their shedding process. If your chameleon is looking pale or white in color and does not appear to be shedding, it might be a sign that something’s not quite right and you should take them to the vet.
The good news is that there are ways to address the situation and make sure your chameleon gets back on track to good health. So, continue reading on to learn 8 possible reasons why your chameleon is turning white and what you can do to restore its vibrant colors.
Reason 1. Shedding
The most common reason why a chameleon might turn white is because it’s preparing to go through a shedding cycle.
Like all other reptiles, chameleons shed their old skin and regenerate new skin as they grow. This allows them to remain healthy and free from any parasitic or bacterial infections that can develop on the skin.
Juvenile chameleons shed more frequently due to their rapid growth rate, whereas full-grown adults only shed a few times a year.
As shedding time approaches, you’ll notice your chameleon’s skin start to turn dull or pale in color. This is an indication that the skin is loosening and ready to come off.
Then, once the skin has separated, it will appear white and flaky, eventually falling off in small pieces. Your chameleon should be actively working to remove their skin during this time, rubbing on branches and opening their mouth wide.
After all of the shed skin has fallen off, your chameleon should look beautiful, bright, and colorful again!
Reason 2. Illness
Bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections can make your chameleon sick, causing them to appear pale and lose their coloration.
These types of illnesses often arise due to unsanitary conditions within the chameleon’s enclosure or contaminated feeders. But chams are also very susceptible to respiratory infections, especially if they are housed in improper enclosures like glass tanks.
To prevent your chameleon from falling ill or contracting an infection, it’s crucial to regularly clean and disinfect their enclosure.
Make it a habit to spot clean daily, removing any droppings from the leaves or at the bottom of the enclosure. Also, check to make sure there are no dead feeder insects decaying in there as well.
By following a hygienic routine and keeping your chameleon’s enclosure free from bacteria, you’ll significantly increase your chameleon’s chances of staying healthy and keeping its vibrant colors.
Reason 3. Stress
Stress is no joke, especially for chameleons! These little creatures are extremely delicate, and experiencing stress can be very harmful to their health.
Just like humans, when a chameleon is stressed, it can weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to illnesses like the ones mentioned above.
It can also cause them to lose their appetite, preventing them from being able to consume the nutrients they need to maintain good health.
After a while, their tiny bodies will start to shut down, leading to a loss in their coloration and eventually death.
But what causes a chameleon to experience stress?
Environmental changes, perceived threats, human interaction, and other chameleons being nearby are just a few things that can cause stress to a chameleon.
Remember, they’re tiny and vulnerable creatures in the wild, so they perceive anything bigger than them as a threat. Even you, as you work in or around their cage, are most likely seen as a threat to them.
So, by being mindful of these things, and by reducing any unnecessary interactions with your chameleon, you’ll be able to reduce the stress levels of your little friend and ensure they stay healthy and vibrant.
Reason 4. Poor Diet
Malnutrition is another common reason that can cause a chameleon to turn white. If a cham is malnourished, it can easily become sick and its organs will eventually begin shutting down. This will cause it to appear white or pale-ish in color.
Chameleons are primarily insectivores and need to eat a variety of different insects for a balanced diet. It’s also essential to supplement their diet with calcium and a multivitamin to keep them healthy and thriving.
Without the proper supplements, your chameleon could begin to show signs of vitamin deficiencies, which would eventually lead to death.
To make sure your chameleon’s health is at its best, you’ll want to gut-load your feeder insects by giving them a variety of fruits and vegetables that are healthy for your cham. It’s recommended to do this about 24 hours prior to feeding your cham, so the insects have time to eat and absorb the nutrients in the food.
Dandelion greens, mustard greens, carrots, mango, and sweet potato are just a few options you can gut load your feeders with that will supply your chameleon with healthy vitamins and minerals.
I often joke that my cham’s feeder bugs eat healthier than myself and most people I know!
Once gut-loaded and immediately before feeding, lightly dust the insects with a calcium powder (without vitamin D3). You’ll want to do this at every feeding, and then replace the calcium with a multivitamin (with vitamin D3) twice a month (or every two weeks).
This is extremely important, because insects alone won’t provide all of the vitamins and minerals chameleons need to survive, and you want your chammy to remain happy and colorful!
Reason 5. Sleeping
Chameleons are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and sleep at night.
In the chameleon world, we call the colors of a sleeping chameleon its “pajamas”. And generally, a chameleon’s pj’s are a much lighter color that is different from their usual daytime colors. Some chameleons change their colors entirely at night!
So, if you happen to notice the lighter coloring on your chameleon at night while they’re sleeping, there’s no reason to worry! These are simply their sleeping colors or their “nighttime” colors.
To show you an example, these are photos of my panther chameleon, Merlin. During the day, his colors are vivid reds, blues, and greens as you can see in the first image below.
But at night, when he’s sleeping, he turns into a much paler version of these colors, as you can clearly see in the second image.
Pretty cool, huh?
Reason 6. Incorrect Temperatures
Temperature also plays a vital role in a chameleon’s coloration. As cold-blooded animals, chameleons rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature.
If the temperature in their habitat is too low, you may notice your chameleon turning white or pale-ish in color. This occurs because their color-changing cells, called chromatophores, become less active, resulting in a fading of their natural pigments.
When a chameleon becomes white or pale in response to low temperatures, it’s a signal that its body is not receiving the warmth it needs to function properly.
Cold temperatures can negatively affect a chameleon’s metabolism, digestion, immune system, and overall activity level, so it’s important to have the correct temps in their enclosure.
Depending on the species, their temps should be in the recommended ranges:
Panther – ambient 70-80 F / basking spot 85 F
Veiled – ambient 70-85 F / basking spot 90-95 F
Jackson – ambient 70 F / basking spot 80-85 F
Maintaining these temperatures in your chameleon’s enclosure will ensure they stay healthy, happy, and radiant.
Reason 7. Dehydration
Another possible reason why your chameleon could be pale or white in color is dehydration.
Dehydration occurs when a chameleon doesn’t drink enough water for its body to properly function. As a result, their coloration may fade or appear dull.
The best way to check your chameleon’s hydration levels is to check their urates. Healthy, hydrated chameleons should have white urates, while dehydrated chameleons typically have orange or yellow urates.
To avoid dehydration and keep your chameleon’s colors vibrant, you should spray your chameleon’s enclosure 2-3 times daily with water. This emulates their natural environment and encourages them to drink water droplets on the leaves and branches.
Keep an eye on them to make sure they’re drinking and actually getting some of the water off of the leaves. Chameleons don’t usually drink standing water in a bowl.
It’s also important to make sure the humidity levels in your chameleon’s enclosure are within the recommended range for their species. Generally, this is anywhere from 40-60% during the day, and 80-90% at night.
If you live in a dry climate where it’s difficult to keep your humidity levels higher, try covering one or two sides of the enclosure with a shower curtain or some kind of plastic covering to keep the humidity in for longer.
Reason 8. Renal Failure
Renal failure occurs when the kidneys stop working, leading to an inability to filter waste or toxins from the body. It’s a serious condition that can affect any living creature, including chameleons, and can be fatal if left untreated.
The two most common causes of kidney failure are dehydration and a lack of vitamin A in the diet, but poor living conditions and improper temperatures can lead to this as well.
Because chameleons are so good at hiding any signs of illness, it may not become noticeable until it’s too late.
Early signs to look out for include dehydration (orange or yellow urates), weight loss, lethargy, fluid build-up underneath your chameleon’s jaw or around its neck, and a change in color.
If you notice your chameleon showing any of these signs and suspect that they might be suffering from renal failure, it’s important to call your vet and bring them in for treatment as soon as possible.
If caught early on and treated properly, most chameleons can recover from renal failure.
It Could Be A Combination Of These Things
Chameleons require advanced care and keeping them healthy can be challenging for first-time owners. Even if the slightest thing is off within their habitat, they can become ill and start to lose their coloring.
Many of the reasons listed in this article actually intertwine with one another, so it’s entirely possible for a combination of these factors to be at play.
Stress and poor diet can lead to illness, incorrect temperatures can lead to stress, and dehydration can lead to renal failure.
So, it’s crucial to be informed of your chameleon’s specific needs and to be extra attentive to them when keeping one. That way you’ll be able to better identify what might be the cause for any changes in their coloration.
It’s Not Because They’re Happy
Wondering if your chameleon’s white color means they’re happy? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It actually means they’re either extremely angry, stressed, or there’s some other underlying issue like an illness.
A chameleon that is content should display its usual bright, daytime colors and not show any signs of defensiveness.
Changing to lighter colors, puffing up, or pushing out its chin (also known as its “gular”) is an indication that your chameleon is not happy and something might be wrong.
Should You Worry If Your Chameleon Is White?
Overall, a healthy chameleon should never be too pale or too dark in color. It should exhibit an array of bright and vibrant colors while actively moving around in its enclosure.
So, if your chameleon is looking pale or appears to be turning white, this could definitely be a cause for concern.
I would first take note of the possible reasons listed above to see which steps you can take to make adjustments for your chameleon.
Then, if you correct one or more of the issues and still aren’t noticing any improvements in your chameleon’s coloring, I would suggest contacting your nearest veterinarian so they can further assist.
Due to their delicate nature, it’s important to pay attention to your chameleon’s coloring, especially if it starts to turn white.
These changes could be an indication that something isn’t right with your scaly little buddy and their health could go downhill fast.
To avoid this, make sure that you have the proper husbandry in place and that your chameleon is being fed a balanced diet with the necessary supplements.
By taking care of these essential aspects, you can help maintain your chameleon’s vibrant colors and ensure their overall well-being.