Digestion and temperature


We often hear from chameleon keepers, that basking is a must because otherwise the chameleon can not digest. 

Let us decipher the situation and get to the right understanding of what in fact happens and why this blank statement is actually false.

Chameleons namely often feed at very low temperatures and can properly digest even without any exposure to IR, without basking… This is the evidence collected both from the wild as well as from an extensive experience of many breeders in captivity…

The metabolism of cold blooded animals is dependent on temperature. Each chameleon species has its own bell-curve of the distribution of temps in relation to speed of metabolism and efficiency of digestion. This means: Every species has preferred temps for digestion. And, there are extremes at low and high end of the temperature scale, when these processes loose their efficiency or even stop. 

If the ambient temperature is within the optimal range, the chameleon adjusts its body temperature through convection to be equal as it and digests. 

If the ambient temp is lower than the desired range, the chameleon seeks a source of energy to increase it. The only way they do is by irradiation, so it seeks a source of IR beams. It basks. It increases the body temperature to reach the desired range and digests. 

If the body temperature is above the optimum, it seeks un-irradiated place with lower ambient temperature to cool down.If there is no source of IR and the body temperature is lower than the desired range, it does nothing and NOTHING HAPPENS. 

The common misbelief is: "they can not digest then and it is harmful". Actually not. 

The only danger is that digestion is preceeded by a faster process of decaying. Decaying produces toxins which can be harmful or even lethal. But, as those two processes (digestion and decaying) are both equally dependent from temperature, the bad case does not happen. 

Low speed of digestion means also very low speed of decaying.

Under normal circumstances, this works. In extreme cases, like in brummation, the chameleons tend not to eat in order not to risk keeping the food undigested and potentially decaying in their intestines.


Chameleons do not need to bask to digest. They digest even at lower temps. Just slower.


Overheated animals (on the example of the best known Chamaeleo calyptratus) need to eat 4-6 crickets a day and normally kept (accorodng to Life-with-chameleleons FB Group guidelines) are ok with one only.

Overheating means speeding up metabolism, it means faster digestion and metabolism and all physiological processes - even moving - including ageing, it means SHORTER LIVES!

Overheated animals without night drop live shorter and faster lives. 

Keeping the natural nighttime low temperatures and simulating even colder seasons prolongs the life of chameleons.

Author: Petr Nečas