Most chameleons change color from brown to green and back, but some can turn almost any color, like the Jumbie Art Chameleon. A change can occur in as little as 20 seconds. Chameleons are born with special cells that have a colour or pigment in them. These cells lie in layers under the chameleon’s outer skin. They are called chromatophores. The top layers of chromatophores have red or yellow pigment. The lower layers have blue or white pigment. When these pigment cells change, the chameleon’s skin color changes.
Chromatophores change because they get a message from the brain. The message tells the cells to enlarge or to shrink. These actions cause cell pigments to mix—just like paint. A chemical called melanin also helps chameleons turn color. Melanin fibers can spread like spiderwebs through layers of pigment cells and their presence causes skin to darken.
Many people think chameleons change color to blend in with their surroundings. Scientists disagree. Their studies show that light, temperature and mood cause chameleons to change color. Sometimes changing color can make the chameleon more comfortable. Sometimes it helps the animal communicate with other chameleons.