How Does a Chameleon Change Its Color?
Chameleons can change color because of special color cells called chromatophores in their skin that contain different colors of pigment. When these cells expand or shrink, we see a change in the lizard’s color. Temperature, light and the chameleon’s mood, not background, cause the color change.
Warm sunlight causes the darker color cells to expand, and the chameleon may look brown or green. Fright causes the cells to shrink back, allowing the paler colors to show. Chameleons turn many shades of green, yellow and brown. Some turn red or almost black, A color change can take place in twenty seconds.
So why do they change colors? Scientists believe that chameleons change color to reflect their moods. By doing so, they send social signals to other chameleons. For example, darker colors tend to mean a chameleon is angry. Lighter colors might be used to attract mates.
Some chameleons also change colors to help their bodies adjust to changes in temperature or light. For example, a chameleon that gets cold might change to a darker color to absorb more heat and warm its body.
In addition to the ability to change color, chameleons have many other characteristics that make them special, including parrot-like feet, eyes that can look in two different directions at once and long tongues and tails.