Why Is My Chameleon Sleeping Upside Down?

Have you ever noticed your chameleon hanging from the plants in their enclosure, or even the screen lid of their tank, and even falling asleep there? Do you wonder whether this is typical chameleon behavior or a cause for concern?

Why is my chameleon sleeping upside down? Your chameleon might be sleeping upside down because they feel insecure or unsafe, cannot get warm enough, are too hot, or because it is time for them to mate or give birth. This behavior is especially common in tanks that do not provide enough cover.

Luckily, all the reasons that cause your chameleon to climb or sleep upside down can be remedied with some detective work and improved husbandry on your part. Read on to determine the exact cause of this behavior in your chameleon and find out how to take the proper steps to fix it.

Screen Walking

Sometimes your chameleon may hang or sleep upside down from one of the plants in their tank, but more often, they will climb the sides of their enclosure and hang from the top screen panel. As such, this behavior has been unofficially named “screen walking”.  There are a variety of reasons why chameleons exhibit this behavior, including:

  • Feelings of insecurity
  • Cannot get warm enough
  • Getting too much warmth
  • Feeling unsafe because of factors in the environment outside their enclosure
  • Female is getting ready to give birth or lay her eggs
  • Male chameleon attempting to find a mate

Many chameleons who have just been introduced to a new home, be it a new enclosure, or as a brand new pet in your home, will screen walk temporarily. New environments can cause these reptiles to feel restless, and they will pace during the first few days in their new habitat.

They should begin to settle down after this period of adjustment. If they don’t, you should look at tweaking their environment to make them feel more safe and secure.

Some chameleon parents mistake this upside down climbing behavior as a sign that their chameleon wants to get out of their enclosure and play with their human parent. This is very rarely the case. Chameleons do not like company, whether it be in the form of another chameleon, or a human. They do not enjoy being handled and are best kept as ornamental pets.

Stress and Insecurity in Chameleons

Let’s start by talking about a chameleon who feels insecure or unsafe. Many things can cause these feelings in your chameleon. First, perhaps there is not enough plant or leaf cover in your chameleon’s enclosure. 

Chameleons are arboreal lizards by nature, meaning that they prefer to spend much of their time hiding in trees, or among other lush vegetation. The natural habitats of Veiled, Jackson’s, and Panther chameleons are all covered in dense greenery. 

Putting live, reptile-safe plants in your chameleon’s enclosure will provide lots of cover for your pet, enabling them to hide and feel secure, and will make them less prone to screen walking. This will also reduce your chameleon’s stress levels, contributing to good health. 

Additionally, chameleons only drink water droplets from plants. Putting live plants in your chameleon’s enclosure and making sure to mist them regularly will ensure good hydration.

Live plants also produce extra oxygen for your reptile (which can be a great relief to a reptile kept in a stuffy room), and they give chameleons ample opportunity for climbing, which is a natural behavior for them. If your chameleon has plenty of plants to climb, they will be less apt to climb the walls of their terrarium.

A chameleon may also feel unsafe because of the presence of humans or other pets in the room. A nosy dog or cat can make a lizard feel quite unsafe and stressed. Your immediate presence can make them feel insecure.

The close proximity of another chameleon may also cause your lizard to feel stressed. Chameleons should never be housed together, as both males and females are highly territorial and will fight with each other when given the chance.

If you have another chameleon in an adjacent enclosure, consider moving the enclosures so the chameleons cannot see each other at all. Another chameleon in your reptile’s visual range can still be deemed a threat, even when they do not share the same tank.

Chameleons and Temperature

A chameleon who is having trouble getting warm enough may also hang or sleep upside down from the screened roof of their terrarium. In this case, your chameleon is attempting to get as close as possible to their heat source because they are not receiving adequate warmth anywhere else in their enclosure.

Many times a chameleon who is too cold will be darker in color for extended periods. Chameleons darken their skin in order to absorb more heat. If you observe this behavior, it’s definitely time to check your temperatures.

In this scenario, you will want to adjust your chameleon’s tank temperatures as carefully as possible. Chameleons cannot tell when they’re being burned, so you don’t want to place their basking lamp inside their enclosure, or even too close to the lid. 

The temperatures in a chameleon’s habitat should always be monitored using reliable, digital thermometers. You’ll also want to invest in an infrared thermometer to measure the surface temperature of your chameleon’s basking spot.

Basking temperature requirements vary a bit by chameleon species. The basking temperature for a Jackson’s chameleon should be between 80-85°F. The basking temperature for a veiled chameleon should be warmer, between 90-100°F. Adult panther chameleons need a basking spot that is about 95-100°F.

Your chameleon may also be getting too hot, and is seeking cooler temperatures by screen walking. This is most likely the case if the sun is shining into your chameleon’s tank and you find your chameleon hanging from a plant or screen that is in the shade.

Chameleons who are too hot will gape, or sit with their mouths open, or will constantly display lighter coloration. You should adjust the position of your chameleon’s tank as necessary so they do not become overheated. 

Mating and Egg-Laying

Your chameleon may also be sleeping or hanging upside down because she is ready to lay eggs (or in the case of a Jackson’s chameleon, give birth). Females who are ready to have babies will often become restless and will scour their enclosure for the most suitable place to lay their eggs or give birth. 

Please note that female chameleons do not need a mate to develop eggs. If your female chameleon has not been exposed to a male, the eggs she lays simply will not hatch. Veiled chameleons, as one example, can develop eggs as early as 4-6 months of age. 

You can help your female chameleon to feel more secure in her egg laying by providing what is called a laying bin. This bin should be at least 16 inches in length, width, and height and should contain at least 12 inches of appropriate substrate.

This can be washed sand or organic soil that has been moistened so any tunnel that your chameleon digs will retain its shape. There should also be at least one branch leading into the bin so that your female chameleon can easily crawl in and out of it. 

It can take several days for your female chameleon to lay her eggs. If you notice that she seems to be having trouble, or looks weak, uncomfortable, or distressed, call your veterinarian immediately.

Female chameleons who do not lay their eggs may be suffering from egg-binding, a serious medical condition in which the eggs cannot be pushed out of the oviduct when it is time for them to be laid.

Male chameleons who are searching for a mate will also become restless and may attempt to escape their enclosure (by climbing the sides and ceiling) in search of a mate. When males are ready to mate, their colors will often become brighter and more brilliant in the hopes of attracting a female.

Some male chameleons will rub themselves on the screens of their enclosure in an attempt to escape, and can injure themselves in the process. You can help by moving them to an enclosure with larger mesh that will stop them from rubbing their skin raw. Moving a chameleon to a larger enclosure may also help them to settle in and be happier without a mate.

Conclusion

There are several reasons why your pet chameleon might be sleeping or hanging from either the plants in their tank, or the screens. Be sure that your chameleon’s habitat is always kept at the proper temperature, so that your pet doesn’t become too cold or too hot.

Additionally, you can ensure that your chameleon feels safe and secure in their enclosure by providing a variety of chameleon-safe, live plants for climbing and hiding. Females who are about to lay eggs, and males who are ready to mate may also climb and hang more than usual, but this behavior will resolve once a female’s eggs are laid or the time to mate has passed. 

Sources:

  1. https://chameleonacademy.com/chameleon-behavior-screen-walking-or-glass-pawing/
  2. http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2012/12/26/chameleons-as-pets-5-things-you-should-know-before-getting-a-chameleon/#.X2oFS2hKjmE
  3. https://chameleonacademy.com/cage-feedback-from-chameleon/#:~:text=Too%20Hot%20or%20Too%20Cold&text=If%20the%20bulb%20is%20not,himself%20under%20the%20basking%20light.&text=The%20chameleon%20is%20forced%20to,and%20getting%20burned%20by%20heat.
  4. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5706bdd507eaa0b8239942b7/t/58b9b807cd0f686b4f60bf18/1488566280984/Veiled_Chameleon_Care-Aurora_Animal_Hospital.pdf 
  5. https://animals.jrank.org/pages/3665/Chameleons-Chamaeleonidae-BEHAVIOR-REPRODUCTION.html