Color Change Myth Unleashed


Chameleons do NOT use their ability of active color change to "blend" with their environment

The public believes, chameleon use their ability to change color for blending with the environment and they do in color and pattern. They are often given as a textbook example of this phenomenon and kids are taught this at school.

The truth is that this is a misconception, missbelieve - it is wrong.
Instead of making them invisible with color change they use this ability on contrary to become even more visible than normally.


Chameleons primarily use their ability to actively change colors for the following mechanisms:

1. Intraspecific communication

Colors and patterns are the language of chameleons, due to the fact the vision is their primary sense, they can express excitement, rivalry, surrender, gravidity, submission, receptivity, etc.

2. Interspecific recognition

Females tell based on colors and patterns the belonging to the same/different species of the approaching male

3. Thermoregulation

Light colors reflect the sun IR beams and cool down the bodies, dark colors foster heat intake.

The color pattern is also influenced by the:
health state,
nutritional state

Chameleons adapt very rarely by their color and pattern to the environment, there are only a few documented cases when this happens (eg. in the genus Rhampholeon), but they are rather an exception and not a rule.

The fact that that chameleons often look similar to their environment, is not the result of an active color change, but a long-term evolutionary adaptation to the environment in which they live and in which it is beneficial for them to be "invisible".

Author: Petr Nečas