How do chameleons change colour? © Getty Images

How do chameleons change colour?

Chameleons are able to manipulate their skin colour, which is typically assumed to be for camouflage.

Asked by: Abigail Jones, York


Chameleons may be the masters of disguise but their motivation for changing colour is often more to do with temperature regulation and communication than camouflage. They possess special cells in their skin called chromatophores that reflect light and contain sacs of different coloured pigments. A change in body temperature or mood will result in the nervous system triggering the expansion or contraction of particular chromatophores.

Incredibly, the chameleon can literally ‘pick ’n’ mix’ the colours that are created during this mind-boggling process – all within seconds of responding to an external environmental change or the presence of a potential mate or enemy.


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