Are Chameleons Nocturnal?

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Unlike some other reptiles, Chameleons Are Not Nocturnal. They will not sleep during the day. Chameleons, like all reptiles, are cold-blooded and derive much of their body heat from basking in the sun. This means that chameleons need a heat lamp or direct sunlight to be healthiest.


Chameleons are a fascinating reptile. Their ability to change color for camouflage makes them well known around the world. Chameleons come in many different varieties, differing in size, coloring, and temperament. Some may be the size of a finger, while others are up to 2ft long.


Are Chameleons Nocturnal?


In the wild, chameleons will chill out on branches of trees. They will bask in the sun until they are hot enough then move to a shadier spot. It is important to recreate this variance in areas if you are building an enclosure for your chameleon. Give them the option to heat up or cool down.


Why Aren’t Chameleons Nocturnal?


Diurnal, the opposite of nocturnal, is the term given to animals that are awake during the daytime. Humans are naturally diurnal, although we can manipulate our sleeping patterns for night shifts or activities such as late-night gaming sessions. Chameleons can’t adopt this way.


Chameleons will naturally sleep at night and wake up at sunrise. Their enviable ability to fall asleep when the sun goes down is an adaptation that favors their behavior in the wild. Let’s look at some of the reasons why a chameleon is better off being awake during daylight hours …




Chameleons have great eyesight. In fact, their eyes are like two individual cameras, featuring lenses that are specialized to enhance their focus on faraway objects. Like the focus function on digital cameras and smartphones, a chameleon can rapidly focus in on what they see. 


They can look in two different directions at once without even turning their heads. This is because their eyes each work independently on a kind of antenna mechanism that can rotate to give them a panoramic view as the chameleon stays still. Their eyes can also focus separately.


Chameleons are thought to have evolved their amazing eyesight to watch out for both prey and predators. Because they are slow-moving reptiles, they need to be able to scout out potential dangers and food sources. Being out at night would not work, as their eyes wouldn’t be as useful.


Nocturnal animal’s eyes are different. Much larger pupils absorb more light so that even slight variations in light can be seen. At night, a nocturnal animal is able to see things clearly, while a chameleon couldn’t. Chameleons have evolved hyper-focused eyes rather than ones adapted to nighttime.




Chameleons are animals that rely on other animals to eat. Because most insects are out at the daytime, chameleons need to be awake to eat them. Insects such as grasshoppers and dragonflies are eaten by chameleons. If the chameleon was nocturnal it would miss this opportunity.


Some larger Chameleons such as the Jackson’s Chameleon—or Trioceros jacksonii—have been known to eat other smaller reptiles such as geckos, as well amphibians such as small frogs or toads. Chameleons kept in captivity are usually fed live crickets.


Chameleons have long sticky tongues that are fired out of their mouth to catch prey. First, a chameleon will sight a potential prey with its amazing eyesight, then sneak up on it using its camouflage, then finally fire its sticky tongue to catch and pull the prey into its mouth.




Of course, chameleons are known for their camouflage abilities. This adaptation evolved so that chameleons can blend into their background and avoid predators. Whether the adaptation came first, or the diurnal came first, chameleons have developed it to work during day time.


Their camouflage, unlike some other animals such as octopuses, is not entirely caused by pigmentation being released into the skin. Chameleon’s skin actually contains nanocrystals that can move to change the wavelength of light that is reflected off the chameleon.


Subconsciously, a chameleon will work out what color the background is, then shift its outermost layer of skin in order to change how the light is reflected by the microscopic crystals. If you have ever played with a glass prism, you will know that all the colors of the rainbow can be created at certain angles.




Chameleons are cold-blooded, like all reptiles. They lounge about in the sun for long periods in order to get warm enough. This would be impossible during night time for obvious reasons. The average chameleon needs a day time temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a cooler night time temperature of around 70.


You can achieve this variance in temperature in an enclosure by buying a basking lamp with an inbuilt timer. Set the timer to turn the lamp on in the morning and off late in the evening. Chameleons are from hot sunny countries so need longer daylight hours than some northern hemisphere countries naturally have.


Why Is My Chameleon Sleeping In The Day Time?


If your chameleon has started occasionally sleeping in the daytime then something might not be quite right. Either their enclosure is not mimicking their natural habitat, or something is wrong with the chameleon itself. Here are some tips to make sure the chameleon is sleeping correctly.


12 Hours A Day


Chameleons like to sleep up to 12 hours a day. Like most teenagers, they benefit from a nice long sleep, despite how little they seem to move during the day time. Often they will literally just close their eyes without moving from the same spot. Their hands still grip even when asleep.


Try timing your chameleon’s sleeping patterns. They may wake up later than you do and seem as if they are sleeping through the day, when in fact they are just having a long lie-in. If your chameleon sleeps longer than 12 hours then this might also be because of old age.




If you want to check if your chameleon is awake or not, simply look at their eyes. If the normally bulging eyes are slightly sunken in, it means that the chameleon has ‘closed’ its eyes for the night. Unlike our eyes, chameleons can choose to protrude or retract their eyes when closed.


When To Worry


Of course, worrying about your pet is not good. If your chameleon is sleeping for long periods of time and not responding to food or interaction, then it might be time to ask an expert. 


Chameleons can become dehydrated and it won’t be immediately obvious. A basking lamp that is too hot will also cause them to close their eyes, making them look like they are asleep. Either way, it is best to check with an expert if you are concerned.


Final Thoughts


Whether you want to keep a chameleon or you’re just fascinated by them, they are a fascinating example of adaptational evolution. Their camouflage, eyesight, elasticated tongue, and their sleeping habits are all suited exactly to their needs in the wild.


Having a pet that wakes up around the same time you do is great for giving you time to watch them move about, or just bask in the heat. Just make sure they’re happy in their enclosure.


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