Sunday, 8 April 2012

How chameleons change their skin colour

A lot of people assume that chameleons only change to their surroundings, however this is only partly true. They change reflecting to their psychological needs and emotions as well such as aggression, territorial or mating behaviour.

The master of hide and seek

Chameleons have specialised cells called chromatophores which can mimic any colour combined, think of their cells like a painting pallet, mix and match.

How it does it

If you take a close look at a chameleon (without it running away from your scary face) you'll find that the outer layer of cells is see-through.

Take a look below that and you'll see various pigments. These are called xanthophores. These are your yellow paint.

Beneath the xanthophores you'll see a layer of erythrophores, your red paint.

Under that are iridiphores, the blue. These are guanine and are also used for making DNA.

And finally at the bottom is melanin, a brown pigment.

Changing colours

All these pigments are stored in vesicles, these are like containers for things in your cells. When they're in these, they don't look coloured.

However when a signal from the nervous system arrives, the vesicles let pigments out.

These colour the cell, and based on how much of each signal the brain sends out, you can create your favourite colour (the chameleon's favourite colour, you have no say).

We've all done nursery level art, if you mix red and yellow you get orange. Mix blue and yellow you get green etc etc. Except the chameleon is more like Vincent Van Gogh.

somebody's getting laid tonight!
It normally does this to convey mood, as your brain sends out different signals when your in different emotional states.

  • Normally a chilled out chameleon is green.
  • You make it angry, it's yellow
  • When it's hiding it'll blend in
  • And when it's horny it'll go multi coloured to impress the Mrs.

So chameleons aren't all about camouflage, they're more about emotion and expression. Maybe they should replace your English teacher?

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