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Why Do Chameleons Puff Up

Are you interested in understanding the habits of your pet chameleon?

Have you noticed your chameleon puffing up, but aren’t sure exactly why?

If you have seen your chameleon displaying this action, you might ask yourself:

Why do chameleons puff up?

When a chameleon is afraid, angry, or wanting to protect his territory, the animal will puff up with air, hiss, and even change color to put out a signal, hoping to stop whatever is causing the issue.

This post will dive into more information on why chameleons will puff up when they are not happy.

why do chameleons puff up

Why Do Chameleons Puff Up?

Chameleons will puff up their bodies with air for a variety of reasons, but most of the time, this means the animal is not happy.

These reptiles are extremely territorial and shy creatures, choosing to live a solitary lifestyle, whether they are in the wild or captivity.

 When they are frightened or feeling like they are in danger, the chameleon will fill itself up with air to look larger and more fierce.

In addition to puffing up its body, the chameleon will open its mouth and hiss, even change color in an attempt to look more intimidating to whatever it deems a threat.

For chameleons in captivity, your hand reaching into their enclosure could trigger this reaction, especially if they are new to your home and still adjusting.

Again, a chameleon is an exceptionally territorial creature, even seeing its reflection in the mirror as a possible threat.

When a male chameleon in the wild comes upon another male chameleon, the two will have a match of sorts to determine which chameleon is the dominant one and which should move on to another area.

Both puff up their throat pouch and will also flash colors, uncurl and curl their tails and hiss.

If one male does not give up right away, the fight will intensify and can lead to head butting and biting.

Eventually, one male will concede the battle and give up the territory by darkening it’s color and puffing down.

If you have multiple chameleons in your home, be sure to keep an opaque partition in-between the enclosures, so they are unable to see each other.

Chameleons are only semi-domesticated, so a lot of their traits are still very similar to their wild counterparts.

Why Is It Important To Recognize This Signal?

When you receive signals from your friends or family members or even someone on the street, you are getting feedback on your behavior.

This feedback gives you the ability to modify your behavior and to understand what the other is feeling.

The same idea applies to your pet chameleon.

If you notice the animal is puffing up, you will be able to change your behavior or work to make the chameleon more comfortable in their environment.

Chameleons are easily stressed creatures and said stress leads to sickness.

With sickness comes the possibility of a shortened lifespan.

Puffing up signals your chameleon is feeling angry, threatened, or frightened. Once you realize and understand those feelings, you will be better able to modify the situation and reduce stress.

When you first bring your chameleon into your home, it might gape its mouth open and puff up every time you walk near the cage.

Work with the chameleon to gently and slowly show it you are not a threat.

The same goes for if you reach in to feed or spot clean the enclosure.

Give the animal some time and be patient, because again, these animals have only recently been kept as pets and those deeply ingrained fears don’t just go away.

These animals are never going to want your attention like a dog or even a cat might, but they can grow to tolerate you.

Other Reasons Your Chameleon Might Be Puffed Up

Besides being a defense mechanism, you might notice your chameleon puffing up for a few other reasons.

We outline those instances here in this section.


If you are trying to breed your chameleons, you might notice your male puffs up as part of his display as he tries to charm a female.

This is part of his ritual to see if the female is receptive to mating with him. 

In addition to puffing up his throat pouch, the male will likely sway from side to side, change color, and hiss.

If the female is receptive to his advances, they will begin the mating process.

Skin Shedding

Once chameleons reach adulthood, you might notice they are shedding their skin on a regular schedule.

They will go through this process in bits and pieces every four to five months.

When they are trying to shed their skin, the chameleon will puff up its body and crack the dry skin in an attempt to help the process along.

Possible Illness

If you notice your chameleon looks puffed up, but is not doing so as a display, out of fear, or remains puffed up continuously, this could be a sign of illness.

Look for a bulging, puffed up stomach as a sign of possible illness in some species of chameleons.

Should you chameleon display these characteristics, contact your vet to get your animal back to good health.

It is important to have a vet who specializes in exotic pets, to ask questions like these.

Never be afraid to contact your vet if you are unsure of your pet’s health.


Because chameleons are territorial and very shy, they are prone to being defensive if they are feeling attacked or afraid.

Puffing up their bodies makes them appear larger and more fierce to predators and other members of their species and is done when they are defensive or are feeling threatened.

Understanding the habits of wild and captive chameleons and, more specifically, why a chameleon is puffing up, will help you better care for your animal.

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