Why does the Chameleon change its color?

Did you ever wish if you could blend into the background? Wouldn’t it be great if you could make yourself look like a desk and not get noticed by the teacher when you have not completed your assignment.

By now, you must have developed an image of a type of Lizard called Chameleon that can change its color. But let’s see why and when does the transformation of the color take place.

Chameleons are usually famous for their quick color changing ability. It’s a common misconception that they undergo a color change to camouflage themselves against the background. In fact, chameleons mostly change color when they regulate their temperatures or, to signal their intentions to other chameleons. Since they can’t generate their body heat, changing the skin color is a way to maintain a favorable body temperature. A cold chameleon may turn dark to absorb more heat, whereas a hot chameleon may become pale to reflect the sun’s heat.

Chameleons also undergo bold color changes to communicate. Males turn bright to signal their dominance and become dark in violent encounters. Females let the male know if they want to mate by changing their skin color.

So how does the color change take place?

The outermost covering of the Chameleon’s skin is transparent. There are several more layers under, which contain specialized cells called chromatophores. The chromatophores are filled with sacs of different types of pigment. The deepest layer melanophores, filled with brown melanin which is the same pigment that gives human’s skin different shades. At the top layer are the cells called iridophores which consist of blue pigment that reflects blue and white light.

These pigments are sealed inside tiny sacs within the cells. When a chameleon experiences changes in body temperature, its nervous system signals specific chromatophores to expand or contract and this changes the color of the cell. By varying the activities of individual chromatophores in all layers of the skin, the chameleon produces a different variety of colors and patterns.

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