Chameleons have the ability to blend in—a skill they’re well-known for—but just how do chameleons change color?
As a result, how they do it is a mystery and poorly understood by most.
By studying X-Rays of the creatures, scientists have found that chameleon skin contains nanocrystals.
Different compounds make up the crystals in the chameleon’s skin.
These compounds depend on whether or not the chameleon wants to change color to better match its surroundings.
These creatures can produce many more of the crystal types needed to change color very quickly, allowing chameleons to blend into their environment.
Not all chameleon species are capable of this amazing trick.
How Chameleons Change Color
Only 40% possess the pigment-containing organelle (called an erythrophore) which is necessary for changing color.
And of the almost 200 species, only about 10 are able to rapidly change color in response to stimuli.
Chameleons can also change their skin texture and puff up their bodies when threatened.
After that, they use this display of aggression or fear as a warning to other chameleons nearby.
The chameleon species live in Africa, and many of those animals are extremely poisonous.
In fact, some have venom strong enough to kill a human being.
In response to these deadly creatures, chameleons needed a way to blend into their environment as quickly as possible.
Scientists believe that the first species of this amphibian developed this ability over 60 million years ago.
Changing Color as a Defense
Chameleons developed this color-changing ability as an evolutionary response to living among other, very poisonous creatures.
In other words, by being able to quickly change color, chameleons could better avoid predators.
However, chameleons do not have very good vision.
They rely on their color-changing abilities to help them blend in, and they use their tongues to capture prey.
Some species even have a second, smaller tongue which is attached near the tip of the main tongue and helps it catch its food more efficiently.
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