How a Chameleon Works

Chameleons are interesting creatures that change color based on their mood or as a territorial signal, light, or temperature, not to blend in with their environment.  This change actually occurs on a microscopic level through cells called chromatophores.  Several creatures other than chameleons are use of chromatophores such as cuddlefish and octopuses.  The for a cuddle fish its body actually contains several colors; its skin is made-up of several layers of chromatophores with each layer containing a single pigment.  Each chromatophore is surrounded by a circular muscle that can constrict or expand.  When the muscle constricts, pigment goes to the top of the chromatophore and the cell becomes a wide, flat disc.  Upon relaxation, the cell is a small spot, which is difficult to detect.  The color of the body is based on which pigments are being constricted at a certain time.

Here are a few links of interest: (This link contains a video of an octopus and how they change color.  Of interesting note is an octopus only uses a few patterns to blend in with its environment. )

animal-camouflage-3          cuttlefish_1

The picture of the chameleon on the left and a cuddle fish on the right.


Color Change in Fish or Frog Melanophore Cell (A melanophore is a chromatophore that contains black melanin pigment.)


contraction skin

Left:  Muscle fibers expand and contract the chromatophore

Right:  As different patches expand and contract, the skin of the squid changes color



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