Like other chameleons, the graceful chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis) has a number of odd traits: bulging eyes that move independently, fused toes that work like pincers, a tongue that can shoot out like an arrow, and a helmet-shaped head. The chameleon’s ability to rapidly change color, though, is its most famous trait.
For a long time, people thought that chameleons changed colors to blend in with whatever they touched. Scientists now believe they change color primarily to communicate. They change hues during courtship, when defending territory, and when under environmental stress.
In their home in sub-Saharan Africa, graceful chameleons can be a range of greens, browns, and yellows. But how do they change hues so fast?
In their skin, chameleons have tiny, nanoscale crystals under a layer of pigmentary skin cells. They can change the spacing of those crystals by stretching or relaxing, which affects how the crystals reflect light.
When the chameleon is relaxed, the crystals are close together and reflect more blue light. Combined with the yellow pigments in the lizard’s skin, the chameleon looks green. When the crystals move further apart, they produce colors ranging from yellow to red.
Graceful chameleons are plentiful and live in a wide range of habitats, from dry to humid mature forests and in savannas. About 31 centimeters (12 inches) long, they are one of the four most popular chameleons exported for the pet trade. Valued in traditional medicine, many of these chameleons are also captured, killed, and dried for medicinal purposes.
Despite these pressures, as well as habitat loss, the graceful chameleon has a stable population and is plentiful in areas with suitable habitat.
Do any other animals have the kind of crystals chameleons do?
How does the graceful chameleon spend its day?
Why do chameleons change color?
Can chameleons see well?
Are many graceful chameleons sold in the pet trade?
How does a graceful chameleon capture its prey?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry courtship Noun
behavior in animals resulting in mating.
environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.
Encyclopedic Entry: habitat hue Noun
tint or general variety of color.
length scale whose relevant unit of measurement is the nanometer (nm), or a billionth of a meter. Also called the nanoscopic scale.
material that changes the color of reflected or transmitted light.
grasping appendage or apparatus.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
type of tropical grassland with scattered trees.
land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.
characteristic or aspect.