How do Chameleons Change Color? Their Secrets Revealed

It is a common misconception that chameleons change their color to match their environment.  Rather, chameleons change their color when they are frightened, angry, stressed — or in response to temperature or other environmental changes, as well as being responsive to light.  Hormones that affect special pigment-bearing cells in the skin cause the color change.  But the question still remains, “How do chameleons change color?”

Check out this very short video.  It’s only 40 seconds long but shows a chameleon changing its color in 10X speed.

Video by: ChamalotChameleons

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?  Now we know WHY chameleons change color but, again, HOW do chameleons change color?

The changing colors of a chameleon’s skin are due mostly to varying layers of special pigment-containing cells like tiny crystals called iridophores, found just under the surface of their skin. These tiny particles change shape to reflect different wavelengths of light.

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The crystals contract and expand.  Light, having a mixture of colors, strikes these cells, and the resulting color depends upon which crystals reflect different wavelengths of light.

The different colors are created by the sizes of the crystals, and their spacing in the skin and is happening due to the modification of these crystals.

How do chameleons change color? (Their Secrets Revealed)

Finally, under the layer of light-scattering cells is a layer of cells containing granules of a dark pigment called melanin. These cells are unusual because the granules of melanin can be moved around within the cell. The chameleon’s hormones cause the granules of melanin to be either distributed widely throughout the cell or to be gathered together into one small clump near the center of the cell.

Is your head spinning yet?

This video will make it much clearer for you to understand.

How do Chameleons Change Color?

Generally, a calm male chameleon is usually green.  If alarmed or intimidated by another male, or if he becomes angry or stressed, he might change into bright yellow and red.  He might also change color to impress the male. This can happen in under two minutes for some species.

If you’re interested in a more scientific read on How do Chameleons Change Color?, check out the research published in the journal Nature Communications.

SOURCES:,, and www.National

PHOTO CREDITS:  [1], [2]


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Jeanne Melanson
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8 thoughts on “How do Chameleons Change Color? Their Secrets Revealed”

  1. I thought this was so cool to watch! I’ve always loved Chameleons, but never knew how they changed colors. This was an awesome post, thanks! 🙂

    • You are welcome, Shelby! I was always curious about the chameleon, so this was a fun post to research and write. I’d love to have one. For now I’ll just stick with my Bearded Dragon, Shirley. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to visit my site! I do hope you’ll come back soon.

  2. That video was really cool to watch! I’ve always loved chameleons, but never knew how they changed their color. Awesome post, thanks!

  3. Hi Jeanne, nice videos. I just thought of the blue sky colour when it said there’s no green on chameleon n yet we see green in them. Interesting new learning here. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    PS. Not sure If I have the courage to visit some of the recommended posts above. Ewwwyyy…. ;p But they are part of this place call Earth, aren’t they!

    To your Abundance, Sandy 🙂


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