Do you want to learn a little more about the chameleon’s biology?
Are you wondering about the limits of the chameleon’s signature trait, its color-changing ability?
Learning more about your reptile pet is a lot of fun, and the chameleon’s ability to change color so vividly is fascinating.
But you may end up asking:
How many colors can a chameleon change?
The most common colors a chameleon changes to are shades of green and brown, but many species can change to any color depending on their mood by mixing other colors. The color change is a result of temperature, mood, and communication, and the color changes are caused by a manipulation of nanocrystals in layers of skin.
Check out the rest of the article for more details.
Table of Contents
Does A Chameleon Really Change Color?
In short, yes, chameleons do change color.
But, as with many things, the deeper answer is a little more complicated.
A chameleon’s color is changed less by a pigmentation manipulation than a structural change in the nanocrystals in their skin.
Where other animals are known for changing the actual color of their skin, such as octopus, the chameleon alters its skin, so light is reflected at different wavelengths and, therefore, different colors to our eyes.
In a chameleon’s skin, there are two superimposed layers responsible for changing the color and helping control the temperature of the reptile’s body.
The top layer contains a pattern of nanocrystals which are moved according to the body’s temperature and stress levels.
As the chameleon gets stressed, warm, or overexcited, the distance between the crystals grows to allow for longer wavelengths to go through.
This results in longer-wavelength colors such as red, orange, brown, and yellow to show.
When the chameleon is relaxed, the distance between the crystals is shortened, which results in more colors such as blue and green.
These colors change in quick time too.
Some can even change their colors completely in 20 seconds!
This is part of why many assume the chameleon uses its color as a camouflage and defense mechanism.
When the chameleon is stressed, it’s more likely to show the colors mentioned above.
These colors are more in line with the colors of leaves, foliage, and trees where the chameleon will try to hide in.
It’s most likely just a happy accident, or at the most, an evolutionary need.
If you place a scared chameleon in a blue environment, it won’t turn blue to match the color.
It’s most likely going to stay a similar shade of the yellow, orange, brown, or red.
How Does A Chameleon Know What Color To Change To?
The answer depends on what you’re asking.
If you’re asking what tells the skin to change, the chameleon’s brain receives information telling it the body is too hot or stressed.
When this information is received, the brain automatically tells the body to release melanin in the skin, which alters the nanocrystal structure in the outer layer of the skin.
This alteration changes in which wavelengths are visible and, thus, change the color.
The same is true in the opposite way.
If the chameleon needs to relax or cool down, the nanocrystals change again to allow different colors.
This may also be used to communicate with other chameleons certain information such as when the female is willing or unwilling to mate.
A chameleon “knows” which color to change to based on this information from the brain and the body’s regulatory systems.
It doesn’t choose the colors, but the colors are an intentional result of the body’s reaction to stimuli.
If you’re asking why the chameleons can match their surroundings, this is a common myth.
As discussed above, most scientists believe the camouflaging effect is coincidental to the color-changing purpose of regulating the body and expressing a mood.
For more on how chameleons react to stress, read about why chameleons hiss.
Which Chameleons Change Color The Most?
Every chameleon species can change its colors, but some are more vibrant than others.
While some chameleons will stick almost entirely to green and brown, there are some with a wide variety of hues which show in mesmerizing ways.
Madagascar chameleons are known for their colors.
This is thought to be due to their isolated and colorful environments, which, over time, have developed variety through evolutionary pressures.
The Panther Chameleon is the most iconic of the colorful chameleons and one of the most photographed ones as well.
This chameleon is known for showing off different shades of the standard colors such as pink and turquoise.
How Do I Get A Chameleon To Change Its Color?
This question is not answered lightly.
Since color changes are most often a result of temperature change or stress, it’s not a safe idea to intentionally try to change your chameleon’s color in most cases.
You would be able to get a chameleon to change its color by scaring it or changing the temperature of its cage.
Again, this isn’t something we recommend at all.
Too much stress will result in potential health problems for your pet.
If you do want to see your reptile change colors, just be patient and watch it.
At different times throughout the day, your chameleons will want to warm up or cool down, and when it does, it will often change colors to help the process along.
A chameleon which doesn’t change often is happy.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about these interesting pets and how many colors a chameleon can change to.
Green and brown are their standards, but many can mix the colors blue, yellow, orange, and red to form different hues.
Despite what many think, scientists believe the colors changed to are a result of environment and behavior factors rather than an active camouflage.
Any hiding mechanism is a happy accident, according to current biologist thought.
Whatever the reason, these many colors are one of the reasons why chameleons make such great pets.
Just sit back and enjoy the color show!