COLORFUL CRITTERS

Chameleons mostly live in the rain forests and deserts of Africa. The color of their skin helps them blend in with their habitats. Chameleons that hang out in trees are usually green. Those that live in deserts are most often brown.

They often change color to warm up or cool down. (Turning darker helps warm the animals because the dark colors absorb more heat.) They also switch shades to communicate with other chameleons, using bright colors to attract potential mates or warn enemies.

So how exactly do chameleons change colors? The outer layer of their skin is see-through. Beneath that are layers of special cells filled with pigment—the substance that gives plants and animals (including you) color. To display a new color, the brain sends a message for these cells to get bigger or smaller. As this happens, pigments from different cells are released, and they mix with each other to create new skin tones. For instance, red and blue pigment may mix to make the chameleon look purple.

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Chameleon Range Map

EYES EVERYWHERE

Over 150 species of chameleons exist, ranging from the size of your thumbnail to that of a house cat. Some species of chameleon (such as the tiger chameleon) are endangered, but others (like the Drakensberg dwarf chameleon) are not. No matter their differences, all chameleons have a prize pair of eyes. Their peepers can move in two different directions at once, giving the lizards a panoramic view of their surroundings. This eye-popping reptile really knows how to scale up the cool factor.

Yum! - Chameleons Snatch Bugs A chameleon’s tongue shoots from its mouth superfast—all to snag a bug to eat. Watch this episode of Moment of… to find out!