If like us, you have a love for reptiles, you might be wondering if you can leave a tortoise and a chameleon in the same habitat and keep your costs down while you increase the variety of your pets. But, is it actually good idea?
Can a tortoise and a chameleon live together? No. Tortoises and chameleons should not live together and tend to be happy living by themselves. It is challenging to keep tortoises and chameleons together because they have different dietary and temperature requirements. Like all reptiles, they are also susceptible to sickness and they might make each other ill.
The real issue is that despite both being reptiles, neither chameleons nor tortoises have much in common with each other. So, let’s take a look at why that should be and why these two creatures make such poor companions for each other.
Four Reasons Tortoises & Chameleons Shouldn’t Live Together
As we’ve already noted there are four main issues that might cause problems when trying to keep chameleons and tortoises in the same place.
1. Tortoise Food vs Chameleon Food
Tortoises are full on vegetarians. They love to snack on all things green and, in fact, about 80% of what they eat on a day-to-day basis should be green leafy veg. Not only does it provide great nutrition but it gives them something to chew on too, and that takes care of their teeth.
The remainder of their diet should be other fruits and veg and nothing more than that. Tortoises, in particular, require a very low protein diet and too much protein can give them a condition known as pyramiding which causes deformities in the shell. Read our article about the tortoise diet over here: How to feed a tortoise: The guide to tortoise diet, food, and nutritional requirement. (Link opens a new tab so you can read it later.)
Chameleons, on the other hand, are insectivores/carnivores. They will happily eat anything with a pulse that they can fit in their (generally, quite small) mouths and they’re not too fussy about this – in the wild, they tend to eat mainly insects but bigger chameleons aren’t averse to scoffing down the occasional frog or other reptile.
A tortoise is probably too big for a chameleon to chew on but there is nothing really stopping him from trying a nibble.
Mammals are often very social creatures. Birds can really enjoy the company of other birds too. Lizards? Not so much. Reptiles, in general? Not so much, either.
Although tortoises are peaceful creatures, they are just fine by themselves. If you go and observe wild tortoises, you will see that they wander about on their own without too much interaction. The big exception, of course, is when they come together to mate. Then they’re quite pleased to see each other.
Even a momma tortoise won’t hang around that long. Once her offspring hatch, she’s back to being on her own.
Related article: Are tortoises better in pairs?
While the tortoise is mainly a passive-aggressive loner, chameleons are not. They positively detest each other and are very prone to attacking other members of their own species.
As we’ve already mentioned, they also eat living things and are not afraid of taking a bite out of just about anything.
So, put a tortoise and a chameleon in the same place and you’re likely to have a fight on your hands. Even if they don’t fight, they’re going to be stressed and unhappy.
Chameleons Are Very Susceptible To Infection
Then there’s the odd fact that a chameleon is something of a sickly creature. They can get sick from just about any kind of virus, bacteria and react badly to contaminants in their environment of any kind.
Unlike other animals, they aren’t bothered by the fact tortoises carry salmonella though because they carry it too – and it’s harmless to both species.
However, tortoises do carry plenty of bugs and other conditions that might set off a chameleon’s lackluster immune system.
Related article: Tortoises and Salmonella: What you need to know
In fact, housing a tortoise with a chameleon is something like carrying out biological warfare between the two. The tortoise is a hardier creature, but it too may catch something from a chameleon which makes it ill.
Once again, it becomes clear that these two animals are simply best kept apart.
Chameleons and Tortoises May Like Different Temperatures
It is very difficult to be completely precise in this area because there are many different species of tortoise including some tropical and desert breeds which may thrive at high temperatures, but the average tortoise prefers the temperature to be warm but not hot.
They enjoy basking in the sun at around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 32 degrees celsius) as it helps them produce the Vitamin D3 they need to promote healthy bone and shell growth (assuming they get enough dietary calcium).
Chameleons, on the other hand, tend to like it hot. Much hotter than your average tortoise and if they are kept in a place that’s too cold, they will get sick and die.
Unfortunately, if you overheat a tortoise it will rapidly become dehydrated and that can lead to death as well.
Once again, we find ourselves with a very strong reason not to keep tortoises and chameleons in the same place – they just can’t handle the same climate as each other and the other’s climate preferences are dangerous for them.
Are Chameleons Better With Tortoises Than Cats Or Dogs?
We’ve done several comparisons of tortoises with other pets including rabbits and hedgehogs and in almost all of the comparisons we concluded that you’d be better off mixing these animals with your tortoises than mixing them with cats and dogs.
That’s because cats and dogs are predatory animals. In the case of dogs, they are very likely to attack tortoises (even if they have got along for years prior to the attack) and the attacks can be fatal. In fact, one source we’ve seen estimates that dog attacks are the biggest cause of tortoise death in the United Kingdom.
Related article: Can a tortoise survive a dog bite?
Cats are somewhat easier to train to get along with tortoises and their smaller size means they’re less likely to cause a fatal injury to a tortoise but they can still end up scratching or biting your tortoise and that can do it real harm. Particularly, because tortoises can get badly infected from this.
Despite all this, we’d say that you’d be better off keeping a tortoise with a cat or a dog than with a chameleon. Their lifestyles are simply so different that they pose huge risks to the tortoise and the chameleon. We think the joy of owning pets is in the taking care of them and keeping these two apart is part of that deal.
Related article: Can tortoises live with other pets? A guide for tortoise safety
The Best Option For Chameleons And Tortoises
So, we come down to the way to bring chameleons and tortoises together and we conclude that while we think the best choice is just to keep these animals separate, if you do want to see how they interact, you should opt for a managed interaction.
Managed Interactions: In The Home
That means, in this case, that you’re going to need to use your home to introduce the two. Chameleons need a very warm temperature and you’re not likely to be able recreate this outside unless you live in the tropics.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that a chameleon may simply wander off if you allow them to go outside and that would likely result in a dead pet.
You should not force any interaction between the two reptiles. Instead find a space, secure it, and then let them wander around for a bit. If they want to get acquainted, they will, but they probably won’t.
If either pet appears distressed by the interaction or they start to become hostile, break them up and try another day.
However, the most likely outcome is that they will just ignore each other.
So as we’ve seen, it isn’t a very good idea to have tortoises and chameleons living together. While at first glance you might think that two reptiles would make the perfect partners in crime, this isn’t the case and there are real risks to both animals for trying.
It’s best to keep both tortoises and chameleons on their own, they’re quite solitary reptiles and they won’t be wishing for company. This way you can keep them both healthy and happy.