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Nature Notebook – Chameleon Camouflage

Recently a student asked us to move the chameleon so she could watch it change colors. Unfortunately, we had to disappoint her. Chameleons don’t change color to match their backgrounds. Look for videos of octopuses to see the masters of this type of camouflage.

Chameleons do change colors to regulate their temperatures. Most lizards do this. A chilly lizard absorbs more heat into a dark skin and a hot lizard uses a lighter skin color to reflect unneeded heat from the sun.

Chameleons also change colors to communicate with other members of their species, especially during the breeding season. A male signals its dominance with bright colors. If that doesn’t work, he will become very dark to signal aggression. A female signals her readiness to mate by changing her colors slightly.

The chameleons produce color changes by relaxing or tightening their skin which affects the structural arrangement of the upper cell layer. This alters the way light reflects off the skin and…voila, different colors!