CHAMELEONS AND STRESS
By Rob Lane

The effects of the adrenal gland
What happens when you keep two
chameleons together

Additional Causes of Stress
Signs of Stress

One of the most widely quoted words in chameleon keeping is probably the least understood.

Stress is defined by two factors.

Stressors - these are the external forces effecting the chameleon.
e.g. improper husbandry and shared enclosure

Stress Response - this is the chameleons response to the stressors resulting in increased activity of the adrenal gland.

The two obvious points to make from the above are firstly the stress response varies between individuals and secondly the increased activity of the adrenal gland can not always be observed easily.



Panther Chameleon in stressed colouration


Same Chameleon a few days later


THE EFFECTS OF THE ADRENAL GLAND



In times of stress the adrenal gland produces the stress hormones Adrenalin and Corticosterone to prepare for the "fight or flight" response.
Amongst other things increased respiration, heart rate and blood pressure all serve to increase the amount of oxygen rich blood to the brain and muscles. Adrenalin also enables a rapid release of energy.

Hi levels of Corticosterone reduce functions unnecessary during the time of danger. Growth, reproduction, and the immune system all go on hold and blood flow to the skin is reduced.

Stress hormones are very powerful and allow the body to achieve levels of performance it could not normally achieve. Unfortunately once these hormones are "turned on" they are very difficult to "turn off" again. Stress hormones can take up to 7 days to reduce to normal levels. Therefore exposing a chameleon to a stressful situation with any regularity is virtually guaranteed to stop them reproducing, will retard growth and can lead to unnecessary illness and eventually an early death.

Generally stress effects older chameleons more than young ones.
Hatchlings can stress most of all but if the stressor is changed they seem to recover more quickly.

A very common and totally avoidable cause of stress in captive chameleons is keeping in pairs/groups
As social animals we humans have trouble understanding that other species are solitary. In fact most chameleons will be happiest if they never see another chameleon.


So what actually happens when two chameleons are kept together?


You may never see any aggression towards each other. But one will be dominant and the other submissive. One will be eating less than the other.
Two chameleons together generate a constant low level of stress. As we now know Stress will negatively effect several areas. Firstly reproduction. If for example two females are kept together you will generally see a reduction in the volume of eggs laid and the frequency.
Secondly the constant low level stress will reduce each Chameleons immune system to the point where one or both will become ill. This can be a slow process and by the time you notice it may be too late.

Bring Chameleons together for mating then separate them (physically AND visually) for the rest of the time.


Additional Causes of Stress


Wrong lighting, heating
Too much human or animal traffic
Seeing its reflection or sight of another chameleon
Changing cage layout
Changing the position of the cage
Handling
Spraying with water that's too cold, too strong a spray
Not enough water or wrong presentation of water


Signs of stress


Colouration - darker or brighter than usual
Posture - hiding behind branches, holding its self close to branches,
Loss of appetite
Flattening of body along with extension of the gular pouch
Rocking back and forth
Watery or very smelly faeces
Different body temperature than normal
Frequently trying to escape from enclosure
Frequent scratching at bottom of cage (usually sign gravid female is due to lay)
Spending time on floor of enclosure
A usually tame or tolerant animal becoming aggressive

 

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