Chameleon Medical: Discolored Skin

Discolored Skin


A chameleon’s skin is a reflection of how they are feeling and can give us insight into what is going on inside their bodies. A black or yellow discolored area is a very good indication that there is damage under the surface. It is almost the equivalent of a bruise on a human (though the mechanisms are different).

As this is just an indication of something wrong it will be up to you to gather other clues as to what the nature of the injury is. This will not always be an easy task, but this is the nature of our chameleon husbandry mission.


The skin is discolored. Injury usually produces a black or yellow discoloration. puss filled areas will have a light colored appearance, though this is often accompanied by a raised area as it fills with puss.

Bradypodion fighting

This Bradypodion thamnobates got into a fight with a sibling. Although his body showed these ugly black and sickly pale patches over the bottom half of his body there was no obvious injury. Over the course of the week, the colors faded to normal baby coloration with the mystery of what happened unsolved. This happened with a different brood of B. thamnobates two years earlier giving me the clear message that babies of this species are not good cage mates.

chameleon tail damaged

It was unclear what happened to the tail of this female Jackson’s Chameleon. But, the black discoloration was a clear indication that there was some fall or event that hurt the chameleon. This gave me the chance to check her entire tail and body for damage that needed medical attention. With nothing found, I determined that medical attention was not necessary and checked on her multiple times a day to ensure that the black area slowly shrunk. If it grew in size I knew there was something bad going on under the surface and a vet visit would be necessary. Blunt trauma could damage the tissue underneath even without breaking the skin and there is the danger of necrotic tissue eventually poisoning the entire body.

discoloration in chameleon knee

This discoloration on the knee is brought about by an obvious growth. In this case there was a bacterial infection on the knee and this swelling was full of puss.

Tsil damage in jackson's chameleon

This tail was black showing me that there was some trauma. The tail was functional down to the tip so no bones were broken. If the tail showed it was broken this would be an immediate trip to the vet. Amputation of the tail tip would have been a possibility. That is preferable to necrotic tissue festering under the surface. In this case, the black color receded a bit every day and she showed that the tail was functional. She made a full recovery.

bacterial infection puss ball

This white spot was a raised surface which became a warning that there was a raging infection in the oral/throat area. It was located in a way that it was not obvious by looking into the mouth. If it didn’t poke itself out like this the infection would have probably been fatal. As it was, this bump was lanced and the infection was caught. It was much deeper than expected and I was grateful for this warning sign. The vet was able to clean the area out and antibiotic therapy was successful in saving this chameleon’s life.

knee rub on a chameleon

Discoloration can also be from physical trauma to the surface of the skin. Wild caught chameleons show this often in the form of rubbed areas on knees, elbows, noses, and the back. This surface injury takes time to heal, but, if it does not get infected, the chameleon recovers nicely.

Bradypodion injured

This is yet another Bradypodion baby that got into a fight with a sibling and showed signs of trauma. This baby made a complete recovery and it is still unknown what exactly happened.

Bradypodion injured 2

Another image of the Bradypodion thamnobates that got into a conflict with a sibling. Baby B. thamnobates are great candidates for individual keeping.


Since the discoloration of skin can be an indication of a wide variety of conditions the treatment will, obviously, need to be appropriate for what caused the discoloration. In the case studies above I explain what the condition was and the treatment. See if any of those match what you are seeing. In any case, if you are unsure, the safest course of action is to take your chameleon into a chameleon experienced veterinarian.