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Chameleons and Camouflage – new findings concerning predator-specific color changes

Panther Chameleon

Years ago, we believed that chameleons changed their body color to “match” their background – green while on a leaf, brown while on a twig, etc. Those of us who kept these interesting lizards began to question this theory, and we soon learned that the other factors were at play. Color change turned out to be an important mode of communication – expressing dominance, fear, stress, breeding readiness and so forth. As in many other species, color in chameleons may also be linked to temperature (darkly colored individuals can absorb heat quickly) and health.

Recent studies at Australia’s Melbourne University have now brought us back to square one. Although the foregoing information holds true, it seems that at least 1 species, Smith’s dwarf chameleon, Bradypodium taeniabronchum, does indeed specifically change its color to match its background when threatened. Not only that, but it also tailors the degree of change to the specific predator. When faced with a sharp-eyed predator such as a bird, the lizard’s color changes to match the stick upon which it rests perfectly. Less well-sighted animals, such as snakes, elicit a less-perfect camouflage.

It seems that color change exacts a heavy toll, physiologically, on the chameleon. This is likely the reason that it does not employ “perfect” camouflage unless forced to do so by the nature of its enemy.

Please write in with your questions and observations on the color changing ability of the chameleons you keep. Thanks, until next time, Frank

4 comments

  1. avatar

    Chameleons hold a fascination for many people because of their rather over exaggerated ability to change colour. While they may not have the ability to match all the colours of the rainbow instantly some species do not need to: they are already half way there.

  2. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Good point – the natural colors of most offer great camouflage without embellishment.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    First off what a great site, so much information about so many different reps and phibs…Brilliant.
    I have kept many Chameleons and have studied and researched them extensively. Have a look at my site i too have researched this topic and we seem to have found the same report.
    http://www.yourchameleon.com/how_do_chameleons_change_colour.html
    Very interesting article indeed.

    Keep up the good work.

    Dave.

  4. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Dave; I’ll check your site, best regards, Frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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