Exposed: What is Chameleon’s Secret Behind It’s Capability To Change Color?


We all know that chameleon’s original color is green, or brown or whenever it happens to be. It has even it’s own popular song titled Karma Chameleon by the Culture Club. Most people think its gross. Yeeks,  it’s cold, soft and fluffy and will cling to you like a what? Like a chameleon of course, what else?

Like Pascal in the movie, he is a chameleon that can change colors almost instantly. His color is much like the color of a real-life chameleon. In the movie “Tangled”, Pascal’s capability to change color is illustrated with a sprinkle of magic. It is like a mutant power allowing the character to hide from Rapunzel, or appear to blend in with the person’s clothing, or draw in the color of food that it eats.

Are you also wondering how can chameleons change color to match their surroundings?

According to the new study by scientists in the University of Geneva, in Switzerland, the lizard’s capability to switch color is not magic, but closer to mirroring. Unlike cephalopods such as octopus or squid, these animals can also switch skin tone but chameleons depend on the structure of their skin, and not on pigments.

They studied Chameleon’s color-changing capability by scrutinizing a specific species, the panther chameleons found in Madagascar. Professors Michel Milinkovitch and Dirk van der Marel led the team and found that a panther chameleon is covered by a thick skin with active nanocrystals in the dermal cells called iridophores which gives the lizard the capability to reflect the light, and appear like it is camouflaging.

The study revealed that male panther chameleons are capable of changing skin tone within one or two minutes, and they do it to charm a partner, or rival with another male panther chameleon.

The formation of the iridophore cells on chameleon’s skin allows selective reflection of light wavelengths, like blue, or brown, yellow, and red. So instead of taking in, or playing with pigments, the lizard relies on optical interference. Milinkovitch who is also one of the lead authors of the paper appearing in the journal Nature Communications says “a result from interactions between certain wavelengths and nanoscopic structures, such as tiny crystals present in the skin of the reptiles,”.

In addition to changing colors, the thick skin of chameleon also serves as shield against sun’s harmful rays. The barrier is located in the second layer of the iridophores which contains a larger, and less ordered crystals that can bounce back a portion of infrared wavelengths.

Hopefully, this study will not only improve the storytelling of superheroes in movies like Mystique that can change skin tone and appearance, but also allow the military to create better camouflaging gears in the years to come.


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