Scientists have discovered that changes in hue in chameleon skin is caused due to photonic crystals.
A number of chameleons, in particular the Panther Chameleon, have the ability to rapidly change their colors at will. This is especially seen during the times when alpha males are fighting each other or happen to be wooing the females.
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The pigment cells in dermal substrates have been held to be responsible for this phenomenon. Via the use of chromatography, microscopy and spectroscopy it has been discovered that chameleons control their external colors via a shift in the guanine nanocrystals.
The iridophores show a reflection of solar light especially in matters having to do with the bigger crystals. Thus the rearrangement of the crystals within the skin leads to the changes in superficial color.
Thus the previous hypothesis has been disproved and the new evidence points towards the nanocrystals mirroring the sun’s light within the chameleon’s skin. Even infra-red light is reflected thereby allowing the reptile to remain cold during sultry times.
While some of the past theory does apply even now, mostly the crystals mirror the sunlight to lend the chameleon a blue or white hue. And the beauty of this mimesis is that the colors may be combined and recombined thus leading to many vibrant chromatic samples.
The melanin beneath the skin does have a role although it is minor. Many other fish and reptiles have the selfsame ability and the chameleon is no exception. It is indeed a trick of the light that the chameleon engages in to fool its prey when it sends its long sticky tongue to trap an insect.
The chameleon’s bright skin coloration that changes faster than you can think is a classic example of camouflage and biomimicry. It shows us that nature loves to hide even in the case of animals. The selective mirror-like cells on the chameleon’s body have their functions and they perform them with rainbow rigor.
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Chameleons often move very slowly and can remain still for long periods of time in order to avoid detection by their predators. As far as their eating habits are concerned though, it is there that they show lightning fast reflexes and their long tongues are released from their jaws and capture whichever unfortunate insect happens to be nearby. They are indeed interesting reptiles that have provoked mankind’s curiosity since time immemorial.