What Do Chameleon Colors Mean?

In this article, we shall deal with the question, what do chameleon colors mean? What Do Chameleon Colors Mean? Most people believe that chameleon colors mean to blend and camouflage with their environment for protection against predators.

The chameleon colors reflect comforts, moods, social communication with other chameleon as well as the prevailing environmental/weather conditions. Chameleons will change to black or dark when stressed, green when happy and red/bright blue when excited or stimulated. 

Though the colors may also camouflage with the environment at times, that is not the main reason since there are other triggers that make chameleons change their colors. Interestingly, you will find a green colored chameleon in a brown environment without its color changing in your place or fields. 

Details: What Do Chameleon Colors Mean?

Chameleon, like human beings (change clothes), would change their skin color to portray various meanings as shown below:

1. Show Aggressiveness.

When the chameleons are aggressive, they change their color very fast to send an indicator to their opponent. Especially during the mating time, chameleons would react very fast to signal their mate (change to red or bright green/blue/yellow).

In addition, the chameleon flattens its body sideways and displaces the aggression colors. The aggression colors can be yellow with green stripes and a black lining or red and pale blue stripes with black outline or blotches.

2. Express the Moods.

Normally, lizards would express their moods by changing their colors regularly. When the Chameleon is stressed, it would change to black or dark color. When happy, chameleon will, then, change to green or bright blue.

The chameleon often change to dark red with black stripe/lining when angered. Bright green, pale red and light yellow show that the chameleon is emotionally active and would couple with any mates it finds a long.

Chameleon may change to brown when it get depressed (this usually occur during the reproduction period or hibernation time) – Do Cats Eat Lizards?

3. Sign of Relaxation.

When chameleons are resting and not under any stress, they express their relaxation by changing their color to either pale brown or light green. In addition, the chameleon will then move to a place where these colors camouflage best with the environment to keep off the predator from vision. Veiled chameleon best portrays these signs as it often change to mute brown when relaxing.

4. Sign of Fear

Veiled chameleons will change to dark coloring when it is under attack, shocked or in defense. The color gets darker when the fear level intensifies.

The veiled chameleon may even roll into small ball shaped body to offer further protection. The chameleon will not change back to its original color until it ensures that its life is fully secured/safe.

5. An Indicator of Mating Time.

When mating season arrives, chameleons will change their colors to attract/signal their mates. The color can either be red with light blue stripes or red and black with white stripes.

You will notice that the red color is more intense during the mating season than other times due to sexual arousal/aggressiveness (especially around the head and body sides).

The male (Jackson’s chameleon) appear more garish, bright and richly stripe to attract the female for mating (lure tactics). The female chameleon is usually pale and light colored ranging from light gold to pale red.

The intensity of the color may vary according to the species of chameleon. The male panther chameleon shows red and yellow color with light green stripes when mating season approaches. 

Related: How Do Lizards Mate and Reproduce?

6. Temperature Changes.

Chameleon, being ectothermic/cold blooded, are very sensitive to change in temperature. Any fall in temperature will force them to change their skin color into dark/black color which enables them to absorb more heat from the surface (this change assumes the camouflaging advantage – the background color may differ with the skin color).

Chameleons will change to brighter colors such as light blue, bright red, light green or white to help them reflect sunrays from their skin surface. Moreover, the skin becomes lighter on a hotter day.

7. Social Communication with other chameleons.

Just like human, Chameleons have ways of social communication. Scientist believe that mostly, chameleons change their color to communicate with other counterparts in the colony.

Research shows that a female chameleons will change to light or pale green when in courtship/mating season to signal (keep off signal) other male chameleons that may need to relate with them.

In addition, an expectant chameleon changes to black or dark to alert other chameleons to keep off. Jackson’s chameleon and Madagascar chameleon are able to send threat communication to other chameleons by changing sudden to black, dark or reddish brown color.

8. Sign of excitement and stimulation.

Chameleon, just like other animals and human beings get excited. They express such stimulation and excitement by changing their colors.

When the veiled chameleon is excited to hunt, it changes to dark green, yellow or brown color. The Stimulation due to attack makes the panther chameleon to change its skin to black, dull brown or dark red color.

9. Prevailing environmental condition/weather

During rainy seasons, chameleons change their skin into dull or dark colors. You will find a Bright colored chameleon on a fair weather (not rainy or sunny).

During sunny weather, chameleon such as panther and Jackson’s change their color to bright yellow, bright green or white. Cold weather make the chameleon skin change to dull, dark or black color.

This enables chameleon to absorb more heat from the surrounding which help in maintaining their internal temperature at optimum. This change of colors in various environmental condition is a special form of adaptation for chameleons (temperature regulation).

Chameleon colors and camouflage concept

Camouflage concept of chameleon (changing color according to the background to protect it from the predator) has been associated with chameleon color change for so long. However, the research carried out has disapprove this allegation.

Though predators are some of the triggers of color change in chameleon, the scientific fact shows that the change on chameleon’s skin color is beyond camouflaging concept. Triggers such as moods, temperature change, weather conditions and stress has made chameleon’s skin change to color/s that may not resemble the background.

The panther chameleon rarely camouflage with the background even when in danger. The Jackson’s Chameleon’s skin color is highly controlled by change in temperature and moods than fear of predation.

Since most of chameleons have dominant green color in their skin melanin, the color tend to darken when they are in a green background due the cell color reflection (a concept that is highly confused with camouflaging). The Madagascar lizards are well known to match the green background, which makes it difficult for the predator to sport them.

Though camouflaging play a role in protection of chameleon against its predator, it accounts for less than 5 percent as to why chameleon’s skin change color. 

Related: Can Lizards Swim?

How does the Chameleon Change colors

The concept of color change in the skin of a chameleon can be traced in its adjustable microscopic skin cells called iridophole. These cells contains nanocrystals (tiny crystals) of different size and shape.

The iridopholes are arranged in various groups and planes making them reflect light in different directions on trigger and thus resulting to varying skin colors of the chameleon.

The chameleon’s skin has blue, yellow, green and black melanin pigmentation which cause various colors when light pass through them. The Iridophores acts as a prism through which, when light pass, they create a spectrum (seven colors like a rainbow).

The chameleon’s skin swells/shrinks causing multiple reflection (this is found in those chameleons that have several colored stripes). When chameleon’s skin is in a relaxed position, it is able to reflect light of short wavelength such as blue and green – does this tell you why green and blue are colors that show happy moments in chameleons?

The light of longer wavelength such as yellow and red is reflected when the skin cells are slightly apart (this occurs when the chameleon is exited or stimulated). Such colors are seen when chameleon is in its mating season. The internal sexual heat also affects the iridophores resulting to red or yellow – which show signs of mating time in chameleons. 

Do all chameleons change colors?

Chameleons change colors though not all species have the same speed and ability to change colors that we have discussed above. Chameleon such as veiled, panther and Madagascar are able to change into multiple colors such as green, yellow, light blue and red in less than 20seconds. However, many chameleon species are only able to change from light to dark colors and vice-versa.

The tree-dwelling chameleons are more vulnerable to predators due to their less capability in changing their colors (they also have minimum color changing options – they can change to green, blue or dark/black). These chameleons, then, tend to stay in canopy as their hideouts.

Chameleons found in arid and semi-arid areas have weak ability to change to various colors due to temperature variations (high temperature affects the color variations in chameleons).

Conclusion

Chameleon’s skin colors reflects its moods, comfort/relaxation, environment or weather conditions as well as stress. Though the camouflage concept of the chameleon plays a role in its predator protection, the effect is less significant.

The ability of chameleons to change their colors vary according to the particular species. The color change in chameleon’s skin is coordinated by shift in iridophores orientations. 

Sources: 

  1. Selection for social signalling drives the evolution of chameleon colour change 
  2. Change of color and components in sepals of chameleon hydrangea during maturation and senescence 
  3. Camouflage and colour change: antipredator responses to bird and snake predators across multiple populations in a dwarf chameleon

Jason

Hi, I am a reptiles enthusiats. I'll espaicilly cover guides and DIYs on different Lizard species, Chameleon, Gecko. So, hang in there as we express our reptile pets' love.

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