• A.C.

Why And How Chameleons Change Color

Out of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, I think that chameleons would be the most fun to have at a party. Before you rant about how it's probably dogs or kangaroos or whatnot, think about what a chameleon does. They change color! They're practically disco balls without the shininess! These cold-blooded animals may not be so cold-blooded at parties. But how do they change color anyways? And how?


The Why:


According to scienceabc.net, "As much as Pascal from Disney’s Tangled might change his colors on whim, alas, that is fiction for real chameleons, although their skin color does serve some camouflaging purposes." Chameleons inhabit the high treetops, with brown branches and green leaves. Their green and brown skin color can help them camouflage in that surrounding, but their changing color isn't actually meant for camouflage. It's really just a bonus! Contrary to popular thought, chameleons change colors for communication and temperature control.



Humans use words to communicate. Instead of communicating with words, chameleons communicate with color. If they turn a darker color, they are most likely angry. Lighter color indicates that they are relaxed or placid. Under the category of communication, chameleons even use color to intimidate their competitors. But competitors in what? Well, in the fighting. A study taken in 2013 reported that in male versus male competitions, a chameleon with a darker head is more likely to win a fight while one with stripes will attack first.


I feel like the phrase, "All's fair in love and war" was probably written by a chameleon or someone who really likes them! When a female chameleon approaches a male chameleon, the male doesn't say hello, wave, or wink. Do you know what they do?! THEY CHANGE COLOR. In our society, if a male did this when a female came close, they would probably be thrown into a hospital. But in the chameleon world, changing to a light color shows the female how cool you are. But when a male comes near another male, it's usually for a fight. In response to this, the chameleons turn a dark color to show each other that they are not messing around!




Scienceabc.com also notes that females have the color-changing ability, but it's more limited. They don't quite have the need to impress a partner nor do they get into fights, so of course, the ability will be less dominant in them.


The second reason why chameleons change color is due to temperature change. For humans, if you're too hot, you would turn on the AC or ceiling fan and if you're too cold, you would turn on the heater or fireplace. But a chameleon's easy fix to the challenges of temperature they face lies in their ability to change color. It is scientifically proven that darker colors absorb heat while lighter colors reflect it. So when a chameleon is too cold, it will turn a darker color. If they're too hot, they will turn a lighter color.


Now, how do they change color? Chameleons have two layers of shiny cells called iridophores. Pigments (Type of material that contributes to color) and nanocrystals (Type of particle) reside in these iridophores. "They help reflect the light of different wavelengths," says scienceabc.com.






There are two more layers of skin above the two layers of iridophores. One layer contains cells with red pigment and yellow pigment. The other contains melanophores (Pigment cells containing melanin). When relaxed, the nanocrystals are closer together, reflecting shorter wavelengths and creating a lighter color. With the nanocrystals farther apart and the chameleon feeling a bit grouchy, longer wavelengths are reflected, creating a darker color. Their normal color, green, comes from the yellow pigment and blue light that the iridophores reflect.


I hope you liked this article and learned something new! Until next time!


-A.C.


Sources: Why And How Chameleons Change Their Color (scienceabc.com)


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