Colourful Language: How Chameleons Use Colour to Communicate

Why are chameleons so popular? The answer lies in their ability to change their colour on a whim, but the reason why may be more complex than we once thought.

The most common answer given for why chameleons change colour is that the colour provides camouflage and allows the lizards to stay hidden. It’s true that camouflage is the primary way that chameleons defend themselves against predators, but most chameleons already blend in quite well to their surroundings, and colour change actually only plays a minor role in the camouflage process. So why do chameleons change colour?

In fact, chameleons actually don’t change their colour at all. It has been recently discovered that chameleons’ skin is made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny crystals, which the lizards can shift and relax to reflect light. These crystals act as a prism, simply changing the way we perceive the chameleon’s colour. Another major discovery is that chameleons’ primary use for this ability is to communicate with other lizards.

Most often, it is used to communicate during mating rituals. Female chameleons live for around 5 years and can mate 3-5 times each year during that period. Male chameleons will compete for the females’ attention by showing off their brightest displays of colour, and females will change their colour to communicate whether or not they are willing to mate. They change to a lighter green if they are interested and become very dark, often with colourful spots, if they are already carrying eggs.

The lizards also use colour to defend their territory. When two males spot each other, they display their brightest reds and yellows to warn the other lizard of their strength. The smaller, weaker lizard will admit defeat by returning to its natural colour first, and some chameleons even mimic the more neutral colours of a female to discourage aggression from other males.

Chameleons also use colour to communicate a variety of other emotions and social cues. A stressed chameleon will turn a darker shade of green or brown, while an excited one will show off its brightest colours. Similarly, a chameleon that feels fear will flash between its darkest shades in an effort to stay well hidden. Chameleon sub-species which are able to turn red will often do so when they are angry, and black, particularly around the throat, could mean the lizard is ill. Finally, deep browns can be a sign that a chameleon is depressed or about to enter brumation, the reptile equivalent of hibernation.

Lladró’s Chameleon Sculpture is a perfect homage to nature’s most colourful reptile. Its pearlescent green and copper finishes reflect light to create an iridescent effect reminiscent of that created by the tiny crystals in the chameleons skin. The figurine pays tribute to the peculiar reptile whose ability to change colour personifies our own ability to adapt to our surroundings. Contact our team to learn more.

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