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.
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.
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.