How Do Chameleons Change Color?

Chameleons change color to attract mates, regulate body temperature, and warn intruders.

Chameleons’ ability to change color helps them blend in with their surroundings. It enables them to avoid predators and stalk their prey. 

  • Chameleons have specialized cells called iridophores underneath their see-through outer layer of skin. 
  • These cells contain pigments that reflect light. 
  • Chameleons produce a wide range of colors by manipulating these cells.
    • The brain sends signals to expand or contract these cells.
    • Pigments from different cells are released and mixed to create new colors.
    • Stress, environmental factors, and emotional state can trigger hormone changes that affect skin color.
    • Darker colors absorb more heat and help them stay warm in colder temperatures.
    • Lighter colors reflect more sunlight and help them stay cool in summer.

Chameleon Adaptations

Chameleons have evolved adaptations apart from color changing to thrive in their habitats in the rainforests, deserts, mountains, and grasslands.

  • Specialized Feet – Chameleons are tree-dwellers with zygodactylous feet, with two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing back. It helps them get a firm grip on tree branches.
  • 342 Degrees Vision – Chameleons have two eyes that can move independently, giving them panoramic vision. 
  • Jet Speed Tongue – Chameleons can propel their tongue faster than a fighter jet. Their tongue is twice their body length.
  • Nocturnal & Diurnal Species – Based on their habitat, they can be active at night or day to optimize hunting.

Fun Facts

Here are some fun facts about chameleons!

  • There are over 200 species of chameleons, and 59 of them live in Madagascar.
  • The longest chameleon is the Malagasy Giant Chameleon, which is over 27 inches long.
  • The smallest chameleon is the Brookesia Micra, which is about 1.1 inches.
  • Jackson’s Chameleon has three horns, making it look like a mini triceratops dinosaur.
  • The Panther Chameleon is the most colorful one and can nearly show off all colors of the rainbow simultaneously.


Let’s quickly recap what we learned about chameleons.

  • What is the name of the chameleons’ specialized cells under their outer skin that help them change colors? Iridophores
  • What are the three main reasons for chameleons to change color? Attract Mates, Regulate Body Temperature, and Warn Intruders
  • Chameleons turn to a darker shade when it is cold outside. True or False? True, as darker colors absorb more sunlight to keep them warm
  • What type of vision do chameleons have? Panoramic Vision
  •  How long is a chameleon’s tongue? Twice as long as their body
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