I have always had a fascination with Chameleons ever since I was little. I was really excited when we talked a little about ecototherms and how they can mimic their surroundings. I never knew how the ability to change color worked so I took this as my opportunity to research it a little. 

First thing I found was ecototherms , chameleons, cephalopods, octopus, squid, some frog and fish, are animals that can’t generate their own body heat in the same way as mammals and birds. They also have specialized cells that allow them to change colors. Those cells that contain the pigment are called chromatophores, which are a big part of skin color.

In vertebrate ectotherms like my little chameleons there are three main chromatophores; Xanthophores which contain red and yellow pigments, melanophores which contain the black melanin, and iridophores which contain stacks of crystals that reflect and scatter light to generate hues. The melanophores are a big part of the color changing process. The process occurs when a group of melanin pigment moves within the melanophores.

The skin looks pale when the pigments are still in the center of the cell, but when they begin to move within the cell the skin appears darker. The color can also change when the spacing changes in the stacks of crystals within the iridophores. This affects the way they reflect and scatter light which changes the color.

“Triggers” like light and temperature can cause quick color change. This is why chameleons look pale when they are sleeping but become dark when a light is shone on them. They are also very dark when cold because black absorbs light and lighten up when warm because light colors reflect light.

Check this site out for more info about chameleons and cephalopods.



  1. That’s really interesting! So it’s not as much changing color to match their surroundings, but more temperature driven. It kinda makes me think of mood rings and how they “predict” your mood based off your body heat.

  2. It’s really neat learning about this kind of stuff because I know that the military has been working on things like camouflage and cloaking technology, so it’s cool to see how they might get inspired by nature. I think if they took some tricks out of the Chameleon’s book then maybe they could come up with a camouflage technology that could be really useful. I wonder if the same kinds of cells in the Chameleon are responsible for some Octopi’s ability to change not only color, but texture as well.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I would imagine that temperature isn’t the sole driving force between color changes. For instance, when we were watching those squid battling it out, they were changing colors pretty rapidly and in a rhythmic pattern. Also, there was the squid that kept the white side of himself away from his potential mate. I’m sure temperature plays a big part but I also think the animal themselves have to be able to control that ability.

  4. I guess this disproves the concept that chameleons copy their surroundings for camouflage. That said, I was wondering what other survival advantages this ability brings them; where along the evolutionary line did this become a trait to stay? I wish i had a jacket that changed colors, but those wishes can wait.

  5. Interesting how the word trigger comes up again. I wonder of this camouflaging gene can be manipulated further. And if so, what could it be used for? I could see the army investing in it for security, or if we could some how implant the gene into ourselves and manipulate it at will. That’d be cool.

  6. Oh wow, I always wondered how a chameleon’s camouflaged worked. When I was a child I actually thought they became transparent whenever they wanted to camouflage, but then I found out they were able to change their skin color. Now I understand how they do it and its amazing!

  7. I never really knew how a chameleon changed their colors. It’s really interesting that even temperature can influence their camouflage; it makes sense once I think about it but I guess I just never really sat there and thought about the inner-workings of a chameleon. Whenever I think of chameleons changing color I always just picture Pascal from Tangled. 🙂

  8. I have always wanted to know how animals change color like that. Thank you for sharing because this is one of the coolest things to see. I love seeing chameleon cages at zoos and stuff cause I like trying to find them. And I also imagine Pascal from Tangled.

  9. Thanks for the information about how animals actually change their color. I know dogs are the only species that can see colors but I think they have their own ways to identify their surrounding colors.

  10. This is really cool to see how the chameleons change colors, and it reminds me of how cuddle fish change colors too. how they can see the surroundings and then alter their cells to inflate or deflate an change colors is really interesting.

  11. I’ve always found these color changing creatures amazing and always wanted to blend into my surroundings just like them. Don’t we all wish we could do that and find out what everyone is thinking about us. If there was a way for science to explore this for us that would be so cool and scary cause we don’t want to be like the lizard in Spiderman stories. It goes back to the habitat and instincts which is so amazing with DNA.

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