How Do Chameleons Adapt to Their Surroundings?

chameleons-adapt-surroundings Credit: Paul Souders/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

Chameleons are famous for being able to change colors to adapt to their surroundings. Although this ability is used partly for camouflage, it also reflects the chameleon's emotional state and intentions, according to National Zoo.

Chameleons change their colors by expanding skin cells containing pigments. They tend to match their surroundings when they are at rest. Factors that may cause a chameleon to change color include being frightened, courting a mate or defending territory. When they are trying to intimidate, they usually turn a darker color. When they are courting a female, they show lighter colors or multicolored patterns.

Some species, like the Smith's dwarf chameleon, adjust their colors depending on what specific predator they are threatened by. Others are able to change their colors as a way to regulate their temperature, becoming darker during the morning to absorb heat, and lighter during the hot day to reflect the sun.

Male and female chameleons only interact when breeding; chameleons are primarily solitary creatures. They follow a carnivorous diet, eating mainly insects and spiders, although larger chameleons may feed on small mammals, birds or other invertebrates. They hunt with a long tongue, which they are able to launch at prey using specialized muscles.