Chameleons & Reptiles Don’t Make Good Pets, Expert Says

FORKED RIVER – This weekend’s release of the animated children’s movie Rango is expected to raise interest in keeping chameleons and other reptiles as pets. Officials from the Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park warn against bringing these animals into your home, however.

“Kids love reptiles, no doubt. But reptiles of any type are not meant to live in the confines of a household tank or cage. Each year thousands of these creatures are abandoned or surrendered by folks who don’t understand the responsibility of owning a reptile,” said Roseann Trezza, executive director of Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park. “What’s more, this wild animal will most definitely not thrive and will probably suffer and die an early death because its necessary living conditions are really difficult to create in a home environment.”


Before purchasing a reptile, Trezza urges parents to consider the following:

They need room to grow: A tiny chameleon purchased at the pet store has the potential to grow about two feet; an iguana can reach five or six feet. Putting reptiles in an average sized aquarium is not going to provide the habitat range that they need to grow. A large tank of at least 50 or 60 gallons would be the minimum.

They need consistent heat and humidity: Reptiles need pure UVB light; a very warm area where they can bask, and a relatively warm enclosure overall. They also need consistent high humidity. For a reptile to thrive, the owner must obtain special heating elements, lighting and equipment to adjust humidity.

They need a special diet: Every reptile has very specific feeding requirements. For example, an iguana could die an early death if fed protein rich foods that others may eat, like crickets, meat and pet food. Yet, chameleons’ primary diet is just that.

Their home cannot be easily re-created: Chameleons are tree dwellers. A couple branches in an aquarium for a chameleon is like putting a bed in the bathroom for a human. They are very easily stressed and definitely need areas for privacy.

They aren’t friendly: Iguanas, chameleons and other reptiles are not social creatures. These are not the pets to own if you or your child wants to interact with them. They don’t like being held or approached and can become very stressed. They will hiss and may bite, especially if they were not bred in captivity. But even those may nip as well. And if it is their breeding season (even if there are no potential mates nearby) they will become even more aggressive.

In addition, all reptiles can be carriers of salmonella and can pass the virus onto human handlers who do not use proper hand sanitizing after handling. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 70,000 Americans contract salmonella each year from handling reptiles.

“For kids who really take an interest in reptiles, we urge them to come by Popcorn Park, see them up close and learn more about them. All of our reptiles were either abandoned or surrendered to us by people who could not care for them as pets. They are beautiful creatures nonetheless,” Trezza said.

Popcorn Park also offers a wildlife club for those who really love reptiles and would like to care for them. For $4 a month, the supporter will receive a color photo of the “adopted” animal and a letter from the animal every four months via e-mail, plus a subscription delivered via e-mail to the Associated Humane Societies’ bi-monthly animal welfare magazine, the HUMANE NEWS. Sponsors can visit their adopted animals anytime, too, as they also receive a Popcorn Park Wildlife Membership card, which entitles them to free admission to Popcorn Park for the duration of that year. For more information, visit

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