A chameleon’s skin has a superficial layer which contains certain pigments. Under that layer are cells having guanine crystals. Chameleons change colour by changing the space between the guanine crystals, which changes the wavelength of light reflected off the crystals which changes the colour of the skin. Finally, the last layer is composed of melanophores. These melanophores have extensions that reach the uppermost layer of the skin.
Normally, the pigments are locked away inside tiny sacs within the cells. But when a chameleon experiences changes in body temperature or mood, its nervous system tells specific chromatophores to expand or contract. This changes the color of the cell. By varying the activity of the different chromatophores in all the layers of the skin, the chameleon can produce a whole variety of colors and patterns.
It is known that chameleons change colours to camouflage themselves. It is an attempt to save themselves from their predators. When males are challenged by others of their sex, they’ll start flashing their brightest colours at each other to try to assert their dominance.Females can let males know if they’re willing to mate by changing the color of their skin. Chameleons spend most of their time in trees, high up amidst the brown branches and green leaves. Their own green and brown hues do allow them to blend into the leafy background.
A very interesting fact is that chameleon’s change colour depending upon the weather! When it is cold and need to absorb some heat, they may turn black or in darker colour shade. In this situation, turning black is a safe choice. This is because darker colors absorb heat more quickly than lighter shades. Since chameleons can’t generate their own body heat, changing the color of their skin is a way to maintain a favourable body temperature.
Chameleons also change colours depending on their mood. When it is in a relaxed state, the Nano crystals reflect shorter wavelength and the colour changed to blue. When it is excited, the distance between the nano crystals increase and it turns into red, orange or yellow. A chameleon’s green color is the result of yellow and blue wavelengths. The yellow from the xanthophores, plus the blue light reflected from the iridophores, results in the color green. In the relaxed, neutral state, the green is light and vibrant.
How do they know which colour to change to?
Unlike other animals that change color, such as the squid and octopus, chameleons do not modify their hues by accumulating or dispersing pigments within their skin cells, the researchers found. Instead, the lizards rely on structural changes that affect how light reflects off their skin, the researchers said.
Can they change to any colour they like?
The top layers of chromatophores have red or yellow pigment. For example, when a Panther Chameleon which is normally blue or green with a white horizontal stripe becomes angry or feels threatened, its red chromatophores fully expand, blocking out the green and blue colors in the skin layers underneath.
How fast do they change colour?
It usually takes them only a few seconds- maybe 5 to 10 seconds. It just depends upon the situation. Many males brighten up really fast when they see other males or if they are trying to attract a female.
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