Help: Chameleon colours

Mahlon G. Kelly mgk at darwin.clas.Virginia.EDU
Fri Jul 28 12:22:50 EST 1995

tours at  writes:
> I would really appreciate it if someone could explain to me exactly how 
> a chameleon changes it's colors.
> * Is there a movement of different pigments to the skin cells, or is each
>   cell 'free standing' in that it has the ability to change to any color?
> * What chemicals/reactions are involved?
> * Is it controlled by the nervous system/electrical stimili?
> * Has this been replicated in a 'man made' way, and if so how?
> As you might have gathered from the potentially dumb questions I am a layman
> in these matters, and would really appreciate some help.
> Thanks.
> Tony Brock       tours at

If you are referring to old-world chamaleons, then the color is
controlled by small organs called chromatophores. They expose
colors by contracting covering tissue, sort of like the iris
diaphragm in a camera. It is under nervous control, which is
why (unlike New World Anolids) they can do it so quickly. If
you have a specimen available you should be able to see the
chromatophores under a hand lens.
Associate Professor (Emeritus)
University of Virginia
mgk at

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