Why And How Chameleons Change Their Color

The color-changing ability of chameleons has always intrigued human beings. We often think how cool and easy life would be if we could change our colors, blend in with our surroundings, and camouflage ourselves just like a chameleon can do. It would definitely help us out of any awkward situations!


Credits:Fedor Selivanov/Shutterstock

Many of us believe that a chameleon changes its color to camouflage itself. However, as it turns out, this is one of the most common and false myths that people believe.

Why Does a Chameleon Change its Color?

A chameleon changes its color to adjust its body temperature to that of the outside temperature.  A cold chameleon will turn dark to absorb more heat, while a hot chameleon will turn lighter in shade in order to reflect the heat from its body. Also the change in color in a chameleon can indicate its mood. An angry chameleon will have a darker color, whereas a chameleon in a relaxed mood will have a lighter color.

A chameleon, upon seeing a rival, changes its color to darker shades in order to assert its dominance. On the other hand, a lighter color is used to attract potential mates.



How Does a Chameleon Change its Color?

Chameleons have a special type of cells called chromatophores. They are able to manipulate these cells in order to change their color. A chameleon has two superimposed layers within its skin, and the upper layer consists of nanocrystals of different sizes. A chameleon changes its color by changing the size and shape of these nanocrystals.

When a chameleon is in a relaxed state, the nanocrystals in the skin are closer to each other and they reflect shorter wavelengths, like blue and green. When a chameleon is excited, the distance between nanocrystals increases and it reflects longer wavelengths, such as red, orange and yellow.


Credits:Andrey Lavrov/Shutterstock

This color-changing ability is not the only unique thing about chameleons. They can also look in two different directions at the same time.

Wow! Isn’t that cool? Don’t you wish that you had these unique features that every chameleon enjoys?


  1. How Do Chameleons Change Color? – Optical Society of America
  2. Chameleons’ Color-Changing Secret Revealed – Live Science
  3. How Do Chameleons Change Colors? – Wired.com
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About the Author:

Ashwin Vinod has a B.Tech in Electronics and Communications from APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, Trivandrum (India). He likes to watch movies, reading fiction novels and surf the internet.

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