The Many Moods of the Chameleon Illustrated in Colour

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DJ ChameleonPhoto:
Yo, what’s up y’all? DJ Cham is photoshopped but the rest are not!
Image: marfis75

When we think of chameleons, we think of their ability to change colour – and contrary to popular belief this is more a means of communication than camouflage. Lacking an outer or middle ear, or indeed facial expressions, it is believed chameleons are largely deaf and communicate instead via long-distance vibrations. And for eye-to-eye interaction they have another way of getting under each other’s skin: changing colour to indicate mood. Yellow means “Hands off, I’m grumpy!” and green “Proceed, I’m chilling”. Pretty cool we think. Definitely leaves mood rings far behind.

Chameleons belong to the family of Chamaeleonidae, a distinct and specialised subspecies of lizards. Around half the 160 known species live on Madagascar, and of these roughly 60 can only be found on this island nation of the eastern coast of Africa. Chameleons like warm habitats and can adjust to conditions ranging from rain forests to deserts. Their natural habitat stretches from Africa and southern Europe to South Asia and Sri Lanka, although they have also been introduced to Hawaii and California.

Grumpy?Photo:
Image: cj berry 2009

Grumpy old men? Not really, read on:

Communication rather than camouflage is the main reason behind the chameleon’s ability to change colour. Chameleons communicate with each other by turning green, blue, yellow, red, brown, white or black. Contrary to popular belief chameleons don’t simply take on colours from their surroundings, but rather display ones that indicate their moods and attitudes, for example their willingness to mate.

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Panther chameleonPhoto:
Image: Matthias Zepper

A bit indecisive, are we? Panther chameleon at the zoo in Zurich:

Skin colour changes in response to temperature, mood and ultraviolet light, which is part of a chameleon’s visible spectrum, and these variables also play a important part in dictating their social behaviour and activity levels. Female panther chameleons turn dark brown or black with orange stripes when they are carrying eggs or generally want to signify to males that they have no intention of mating. Talk about being direct!

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