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10 Facts About Chameleons
Read our advice. So while they may not live up to their common portrayal in entertainment media, their use of color is far more impressive than most people imagine. Staying hidden is pretty much their only tactic to evade predators.
In their natural state, they already look a lot like leaves or branches, much like stick insects looks like In other words, chameleons can, in fact, change the color of their skin to match the environment, but within a narrow sliver on the color wheel. The more elaborate displays, such as when multiple, bright colors appear at once, are saved for another purpose entirely.
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Chameleons have two opposing states, Milinkovitch says. They either try to be invisible, which subtle color shifts help them achieve, or try to be seen—again by changing their color, but this time much more explosively. No display stands out against the green forest backdrop like that of male dominance.
Research has shown that some male chameleons will use color to impersonate females, which allows them to sneak by other males without the threat of competition, much like cuttlefish have been known to do. Chameleons will also use their displays to dazzle females during courtship.
Stuart-Fox believes that changing color may serve yet another, albeit poorly-researched, function: Helping chameleons regulate their body temperature. Instead, they have to warm up using the sun. Darker colors absorb more light, and chameleons have likely evolved to capitalize on this principle, she says. In some cases, the talent satisfies multiple needs at once.
In , Stuart-Fox came across Smith's dwarf chameleon basking on a dark-colored flower stalk while doing field work in South Africa.