Chameleons are well known for many of their unique qualities that they have, including their sticky projectile tongues, their eyes that move independently from each other, and possibly the most fascinating of them all, their ability to change the color of their skin.
But how do they change their colors? Can they match any surrounding? And why do they change colors? The ability to morph into your surroundings has been attempted by humans for years and often mimicked by hunters, military, and teenagers sneaking out of the house.
But few of them have the abilities that our beloved chameleons possess. They don’t have just one camouflage pattern but they are able to change and adapt to their environments by utilizing their extremely special skin cells.
Till nowdays, no one fully understood exactly how chameleons changed their colors.
Now we know that chameleons change their color by adjusting microscopic cells within their skin to reflect light differently. These cells are called iridophore cells and they contain tiny crystals called nanocrystals. Nanocrystals of different sizes that are arranged in different shapes and groupings cause light to be reflected in different ways making the skin of chameleons change colors, which is similar to how a crystal hanging in a window reflects the sunlight and shines a rainbow onto the wall.
Chameleon’s skins are filled with these tiny crystals and when they are moving their skin by relaxing or tensing up their bodies the crystals shift is reflecting the light differently. The skin cells also swell and shrink so that they can move closer and farther apart. Shorter wavelengths of light, such as blue, are reflected when skin is relaxed and the iridophore cells are close to each other. Since chameleon skin also contains yellow pigments, the blue and yellow colors are mixing to create a color we often see in chameleons at rest – green. Longer wavelengths of light, including red and yellow, are reflected when skin cells are farther apart. Research also found that female chameleons have far less iridophore cells in their upper skin layer making males able to change color better than females.