Can Chameleons Play Dead? [Dying Signs]

Hold on a second! Who told you that only humans could play dead? Some animals can also amaze you with their skill of pretending to be dead. There’s a whole bunch of names on the list like snakes, ducks, rabbits, grasshoppers, and even sharks. But what about chameleons? Can they play dead too?

Chameleons can play dead. It’s known as Akinesis. But not every chameleon can play dead. This behavior was only noticed in a few species, including Stump-tail, Deremensis, and Merumontanus chameleons.

Chameleons usually play dead in frightening situations. But there’s a difference between dying and pretending to be dead. So, how would you find out in the first place if your lizard is dying or just pretending under some sort of stressful situation?

Well, this article is all about finding that out.

Can A Chameleon Play Dead?

Depending on the animal, the reasons for playing dead can vary to a certain extent. But one of the most common reasons for doing such an act is to save themselves from predators. Guess what? This isn’t always the same reason why chameleons play dead.

These lizards usually do that when they’re getting frightened. If you’re asking for the name of the act, it’s known as akinesis. But it’s not that every chameleon can or will do it. This behavior was only noticed in a few species, including Stump-tail, Deremensis, and Merumontanus chameleons.

Akinesis suppose to be a short time condition for chameleons and usually doesn’t last for more than a few minutes. But surprisingly, some of the reptiles can even stick to it for 15+ minutes.

Signs of A Dying Chameleon

We will all surely agree that some of the animals simply deceive with their ‘play dead’ act. But what if they’re not acting and actually dying? How are you going to find that out? Well, if you’re asking for a chameleon here, then we’d say look out for the following signs that’ll say if you’re cham is dying or not.

Sunken Eyes

The eyes of the chams speak of their liveliness more than anything, right after their colors, of course. So, if you’re seeing those eyes sunken, then there’s a chance that you’re lizard is probably dying.

There are a bunch of reasons for such occurrences. And the worst part? None of those are good. It can be caused by anything, including pain and sickness. So, if you’re seeing something like this, then be aware of the situation.

Change in Color

Unlike cats and dogs, chameleons are not good with facial expressions. So, what they do is communicate through their colors. Even while pretending to be ‘dead’, they display colors with extra darkness.

So, if you’re lizard is sticking to that color for too long, then you should be concerned as long as it’s coming back to its natural color. It’s not that darker colors will always be the ‘near death’ sign, but you better stay cautious, especially when it’s backed by other signs.

Refusing to Eat

Once a chameleon gets closer to death, refusing to eat gets quite normal. It’s not that they don’t do that at all in regular times. But normally, a cham eats even if it’s sitting idle and doing nothing. But to be sure, you can try hand feeding it to just know how the reptile is responding to it.

If it’s showing no interest, then probably there’s something wrong. They’re made for survival. So, if it’s refusing to eat, then there’s a chance that it’s in pain or sick. After all, these two are what can drop a negative impact over their apatite.

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What to Do If Your Chameleon Is Dying?

There are certain situations when you can understand that your favorite reptile is on the verge of death. Once you’re sure about that, there’s a bunch of things you should do for the cham like –

Removing the Possible Threats

One of the major issues that can kill a cham is stress. So, if you feel like your cham is dying from stressing out, then make sure you’re getting rid of everything that is probably triggering the stress.

If the location is what causes the stress, try shifting it to a newer location, as that might get them back to their regular behavior. And if you’ve got a larger pet in the house, try keeping it away from your lizard as they feel intimidated that way.

Stress can also be a result of something else present within the enclosure. If so, get rid of it as soon as you can. Also, make sure that it’s getting an ample place for hiding itself, as that’ll help in coping with the stress in the first place.

Meeting the Vet

For obvious reasons, you just can’t sit there and watch your cham die. So, you better start consulting the vet ASAP. Make sure that it’s someone who specializes in reptiles immediately.

If there’s any chance of recovery, the vet will let you know about it as they’ve got all tools and expertise to detect that. So, even if you feel like you know everything about chams, don’t act like a doctor at home and leave it to the professionals. As they’re delicate creatures, it’s tough to make them recover without the intervention of an expert.

Waiting It Out

You can do nothing much if the reptile got older and it’s the pet’s time to leave. But if there are other causes like stress, you should give the reptile some time to cope with the situation. It’s not that you can always take down the stress by yourself.

How Do You Know When A Chameleon Is Actually Dying?

There’s no way to deny that chameleons are among the most fascinating reptiles walking on earth. Their ability to pretend to die is a small proof of so. But like any other animals, apart from pretending, they can die for real due to tons of reasons.

So, before you decide that they’re just ‘acting’, you can better know what can actually kill them in the first place, especially when they’re kept in captivity.


If you already own a chameleon, we bet you know that they don’t drink water in the typical like your dog or cat. Rather than drinking from a bowl, chams take their sip from water droplets on plants.

This is where it gets difficult to understand if the cham is thirsty or what. After all, unlike the cats and dogs, they won’t just rush to the bowl and drink the water. Clearly, this is also a reason that can lead them towards dehydration, especially when there’s not enough arrangement for their drinkable water.

Dehydration can reach a level where it can gradually cause a chameleon’s death. The easiest way to detect dehydration in a cham is to check out its urates. In case you don’t know what it is – it’s the white part you see in the lizard’s poop.

When the reptile is properly hydrated, you’d see the white-colored urates. But when it’s suffering from dehydration, the color will turn yellow. And when the color turns orange, then the level of dehydration is clearly at a severe stage where you might need to make a call to your vet.

Along with that, some other signs might start to pop up, including sagging skin, sunken eyes, loss of appetite, and lethargy.


If you’re looking for another reason that can kill your lizard, then we’d say it’s nothing but that stress holding the second position on our list. Guess what? It’s also among the most common reasons that can kill the chams.

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Once the stress is triggered in the lizards, the stress hormones start to pop in to handle the situation. The bad news is, it can take around 7 days to go back to their regular level. So, when chronic stress hits, the lizard can get sick and eventually die.

Many reasons can trigger stress in a chameleon, including the smaller size of the cage, the presence of other pets, and loud sounds. To be sure if the cham is suffering from stress or not, look out for certain symptoms like loss of apatite, putting on darker colors, unusual aggression, etc.

Parasitic Infestations

One of the best things about chameleons is their body is quite good at dealing with mild parasites. So, even if they’re infested, their immune system somehow deals with the parasites. But that’s not always the scenario, especially when there are unhygienic conditions or continuous stress.

In such situations, the parasites can easily multiply at a faster pace and eventually kill the lizard. There are a bunch of sources from where the cham can get caught with the parasites. It can be something like the place you’ve bought them from, the food they’re eating, and of course, where you’re keeping them.

And yes, not only wild-caught ones, but the captive bred too can have parasites. But, to be honest, the wild ones can withstand parasites better as they live with them all the time in their natural habitat. So, it’s quite normal for them as their immune system knows how to prevent the parasites from multiplying and keep them under control.

But when it comes to the captive bred, there’s no guarantee that their immune system will work in the same way as the wild ones. So, if you see your captive bred is struggling with parasites and dying as a result of the infestation, then that will be nothing surprising.

Even their food can work as a perfect source of parasites as well. It usually happens if you feed them wild-caught insects. But do you know what can be the worst one? The environment. Yes, you heard it right. If the enclosure is filthy, it’ll be next to impossible to save the cham from parasites.

Once you see the symptoms like emaciation, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, swollen belly, and weakness, there’s a high chance that your lizard is fighting with parasites that are slowly leading it to death.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease or MBD – does this name sound familiar to you? Right after parasites, this is what we call the disease that causes the death of chams kept in captivity. If you somehow miss detecting this disease, there’s a high chance of your lizard ending up with nothing but painful death.

Basically, this disease is triggered when your cham is not getting enough calcium in their diet. Plus, the insufficiency in UVB light can cause the disease as well. FYI, a cham needs UVB light for 12 hours at least as they need it for processing all the calcium within the body.

If you’re seeing your lizard with broken bones, misplaced joints, incorrectly closed mouth,  swollen limbs loss, muscle spasms, and loss of apatite, then probably it’s got infected by MDB.

Old Age

Like any other animal out there, with older age, the body of a cham starts to break down and becomes more vulnerable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much here that you can do to save the lizard.

Usually, most of the chameleons live for 5-8 years. But once they’re provided with a better diet, there’s a chance of them living much longer compared to their regular lifespan. By the way, the male ones live longer than female chams. So, how long they’re going to live depends on their gender too.

How to Save Your Chameleon from Dying?

Death is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you can do nothing to keep your cham healthy to make it live longer. So, once the causes of the chameleon’s death start popping up, we say you better do something about that without wasting much of your time like –

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Preventing Dehydration

The best time to get a cham its first shower is when it hits the age of six months. But know this first that the chams are not a fan of water. So, spraying chameleons directly with water is nothing but a bad idea. It can be so bad that they can get stressed and eventually get sick.

So, it’s better to add plants in that shower which will imitate their natural habitat. This will not only get them hydrated but will also save them from getting stressed. To ensure proper hydration, talk to your reptile vet and have a check over the temperature, humidity, and misting to see if they’re on point or not. 

Preventing Stress

Usually, chameleons get stressed under certain circumstances triggered by specific reasons. So, if you see your lizard is roaming stressed, find out the reason for so in the first place. Then, just investigate the surrounding slowly and find the possible reason.

There are lots of reasons that can make your cham feel stressed. Even minor issues like burnt-out heating lights can do so. To avoid such issues, you better check out the bulb’s life expectancy.

Changing the location too can make them feel stressed. In such cases, you should put them back to their previous location as it might take down the stress level.

If you’ve checked out all the possible aspects and still failed to find the exact reason, meet a reptile veterinarian and let him find it out for you. So, it’s better to call him at your house as that’ll make the job easier.

Preventing Parasites

The first thing you need to do once you track the parasite’s presence is to find the source. After all, without that, you won’t be able to fix the issue for a longer period of time, and the parasites will hit back again.

To prevent parasite multiplication, you need to go for extra precaution, especially when you’ve got a wild-caught one. Otherwise, saving it from infestation will be next to impossible. So, after you buy one, inspect it carefully to find out the parasites, if there are any.

Also, make sure that the food you’re feeding the reptile is clean and hygienic. Otherwise, it can turn into a source of parasites too. And yes, keep the environment clean as well. Clean up the enclosure at least once a week. Make sure that you’re using a good veterinary disinfectant to eliminate the chance of parasite infestation.

In case the lizard already got infected with parasites, take it to your vet ASAP. Who knows? You might be able to cure it all before the attack reaches a serious level.

Preventing MBD

You already know how easily Metabolic Bone Disease can kill your reptile. So, once you start seeing the signs, rush to the vet immediately. But, first, you must ensure that it hasn’t led the cham to any bone or bodily damage. Otherwise, you might have to go for surgery.

But if you’re not seeing anything like that, focus on getting the lizard enough UVB lights and calcium. Once you get these two for your cham in the first place, the MBD has the least chance of killing the pet.

Final Words

There’s no way to deny that chameleons are among the most fascinating lizards and how they play ‘dead’ somehow makes them more of an interesting reptile. But it’s important to know when they’re pretending and when they’re actually close to death. As if you’ve come this far, we guess now you know how to figure that out on your own.

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Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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