This is by far the most often subject that people ask. "Is it okay to handle my chameleon?"
I am somewhat hesitant to give the green light. Yet, at the same time, I do not share the extreme idea that handling chameleon is absolutely forbidden. I will leave that decision entirely up to you. However, I will share you some of the facts that I deem to be true.
First of all, I firmly believe that we should NOT try to characterize animals with human feelings, let alone a chameleon. I often hear people say “My chameleon is very tame. He/she crawls up my hand whenever I open the cage.” Another one is “My chameleon lets me rub his/her chin”, or “my chameleon often rubs his/her nose and love bite my hand.” The danger with that statement comes from attributing human affections into our pet. By humanizing our chameleon, we can falsely convince ourselves into thinking that chameleons enjoy such activities. Although I cannot be sure what is going on inside of their tiny head, since I am not a chameleon, I will have to force myself not to overly view things from my perspective.
Take a dog, as an example. When they see their owner, dogs usually lie down and display their tummy. We often associate that as an affection gesture and, immediately, think that our dog is asking for a tummy rub. In the wild, wolf packs have been known to also display this behavior toward their Alpha male. The idea of the packs asking for a tummy rub from the alpha male seems to sound ridiculous now, isn’t it? We have learned that such behavior is a sign of respect. By exposing their soft belly, the pack signals a white flag to the alpha male. Thus, it is safe to say that your domestic dog is displaying respect and acknowledging you as his/her Alpha leader.
Just like it is a ridiculous idea of assuming a pack of wolves wanting their tummies to be rub, it is also not wise to think that your chameleon is displaying affections toward you during those above cases. Therefore, we have to keep an open mind and allowing another possible and plausible ideas. Perhaps, your chameleon hates to be in the cage and saw an opportunity to escape when he quickly climb toward your hand.
With that in mind, I would urge you to question the statement “My chameleon enjoys my presence” and perhaps start substituting the word “enjoys” with “tolerates.”
I firmly believe that chameleons never enjoy being held. It is believed that excessive handling can shorten your chameleon's lifespan. They view everything that moves and bigger than them as predators. Therefore, knows the fear that you inflict when you handle your chameleon. They view you as a giant that is about to eat them. Their response is usually to run, and when they are cornered, there is no other way but fight. Understanding this rule has won you half of the battle to avoid getting bitten by your chameleon.
Training chameleon not to bite is the number one reason why people think it is necessary to handle their chameleon. Unfortunately, chameleons are not dogs. They are wild animals. Thus, handling them, in my opinion, is a bit futile. Constant exposure from feeding, outside basking, misting, and cage cleaning should be enough to make your chameleon tolerates you and associate you as positive events.
Although I do not recommend you handle your chameleon, if you keep insisting on it, I do have a suggestion on how to do it to reduce your chameleon stress during this regimen.
- Once your chameleon arrives, give him a chance to get used to his cage about a week or two. Usually, a baby chameleon will pace inside his cage. They become restless and often hang upside down trying to escape. This is a normal behavior. They are stressed out and a bit afraid of the new environment. They will pace and surveyed around while displaying stress mark to see if there is another chameleon or predators around.
- After they get used to the surroundings, you can begin the handling regimen. Please keep this as minimal as possible. I would limit the handling to 5 minutes once a week. Gently take them out and sit calmly to let them venture around your body and climb your head.
- If you are a bit afraid of the possibility of getting bitten, you can wear thick gloves (or oven mitten) for protection. Since many have reported that their chameleons reacted strongly to bright colors, I would advise you to get dark brown or black gloves. Avoid bright yellows and reds.
- Know that sometimes they will see you as threat and might start to fight back and try to bite you. Whatever you do, avoid sudden movement or jerking your hand and smacking your chameleon off the ground. They can get seriously injured. Also be aware that nervous chameleons do jump. Be prepared to quickly catch them with your open palm to avoid them smacked on to the floor.
With that note and the disadvantages of handling regimen, I will leave the decision entirely up to you.