I recently stumbled across the following article: http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-do-chameleons-change-their-colors/ which made the claim:

Many people believe chameleons change colors to disguise themselves and hide from predators. However, chameleons are very fast — many can run up to 21 miles per hour — and can avoid most predators quite easily. Camouflage is thus only a secondary reason why most chameleons change color. So why would they want to change colors? Scientists believe that chameleons change color to reflect their moods. By doing so, they send social signals to other chameleons. For example, darker colors tend to mean a chameleon is angry. Lighter colors might be used to attract mates.

Is it true that the main reason chameleons change colour isn't to blend into their environment? Don't chameleons change colour to match the environment?

  • “Don't chameleons change colour to match the environment?” – No, they do (well, the next question is of course whether this video is genuine ;-)) Dec 22, 2012 at 13:49
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    Is this answerable? Should we ask a chameleon? :-P
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 22, 2012 at 14:36
  • Are you suggesting that we cannot understand the motives of animals? Why does the link say scientist believe that chameleons change their colour because of their moods then?
    – Kenshin
    Dec 22, 2012 at 14:40
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    Note that changing color for reasons of camouflage does not necessarily imply that they are hiding from predators ... chameleons are predators and might be camouflaging themselves against notice by their prey as well. Dec 22, 2012 at 20:42
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    Don't they also darken themselves to manipulate their body-heat (i.e., darken themselves to absorb more, lighten themselves to cool off)? I thought that was a common observation... Dec 22, 2012 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


From National Geographic - Chameleons Say It With Color:

"Communication is also partly the function of coloration," says Christopher Raxworthy, associate curator of herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

"Males become more brightly marked to advertise their dominance. Females become dark or flash red spots to advertise their hostile response to males or their non-receptive status. Aggressive chameleons may become very dark."

From the Smithsonian National Zoological Park:

The color change serves only partly for camouflage.

Although chameleons at rest tend to assume colors similar to their surroundings, color change is most often used to signify emotional state.

Many chameleons are some shade of green or brown at rest, but can become far more brightly colored when frightened, courting, or defending a territory against another chameleon.

From the San Diego Zoo:

...each species of chameleon has a group of patterns and colors that it is able to display; some of these patterns are designed for camouflage.

The skin color changes under the influence of the lizard's mood, such as fear or anger, the amount of light, and the temperature or humidity. The changing skin color also plays an important role in communication among males.


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