Did you ever just wish you could blend into the background? Perhaps you forgot to read all of your homework assignment and the teacher calls on you. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make yourself look like a desk and chair?

If you’re a fan of lizards, you probably already know that there are some types of lizards — called chameleons — that can change their color. Have you ever wondered why — and how — they can do this?

Chameleons are lizards that are part of the scientific family called Chamaeleonidae. In addition to the ability to change color, chameleons have many other characteristics that make them special, including parrot-like feet, eyes that can look in two different directions at once and long tongues and tails.

Chameleons come in many colors, such as pink, blue, orange, red, yellow, green and turquoise. They can be found in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. There are about 160 different species of chameleons, and they can live in both rain forests and deserts.

Many people believe chameleons change colors to disguise themselves and hide from predators. However, chameleons are very fast — many can run up to 21 miles per hour — and can avoid most predators quite easily. Camouflage is thus only a secondary reason why most chameleons change color.

So why would they want to change colors? Scientists believe that chameleons change color to reflect their moods. By doing so, they send social signals to other chameleons. For example, darker colors tend to mean a chameleon is angry. Lighter colors might be used to attract mates.

Some chameleons also change colors to help their bodies adjust to changes in temperature or light. For example, a chameleon that gets cold might change to a darker color to absorb more heat and warm its body.

Chameleons change their color by manipulating specialized cells — called chromatophores — that contain different colors of pigment. When a chameleon wants to convey a particular mood or message, its brain sends a message to its chromatophores, which then move pigments around to change the chameleon’s color.

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  1. Chameleons aren’t the only animals that can blend in. Polar bears can blend into the snow, so they won’t be seen without their colors changed :-)

    • Julie,

      That’s right! A lot of animals, reptiles and insects blend into their surroundings. That’s called “camouflaging.” :-)

    • Happy Sunday, “Wonder!” We like all the exclamation points you put in your comment (it shows us how enthusiastic you are about WONDERing in Wonderopolis)! We did need to remove a few of them, though, so that your comment would fit into the appropriate space (our comment section treats exclamation points differently than regular letters, and sends them flying off the right side of the page!). We hope you understand. We REALLY appreciate all the AWESOME comments you share with us when you visit! :-)

  2. I have seen a chameleon on a computer. I never saw one climb on sunglasses and change colors. I think chameleons are amazing.

    • Helena,

      We think chameleons are amazing, too. If you could change colors, what color would you want to be? :-)

    • Thanks so much for sharing what you know about chameleons, Dacoda! We are SUPER happy that you stopped by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • We’re so glad you learned something new and FUN about chameleons by exploring this Wonder with us, Maeve! Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis today and THANKS for sharing your SUPER comment with us! :-)

    • We appreciate you sharing your thoughts about this Wonder of the Day®, “Wonder!” We respect your opinion and hope you will find another Wonder to explore that’s more to your liking! Thanks for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • We think it’s SUPER that you’ve been WONDERing about chameleons in their natural habitat, Sophia! We hope you continue to join us while we discover new and interesting Wonders! :)

  3. Hey… I think that chameleon part is wrong because I went to the reptiles center it said no, they do not change the colours!

    • Thanks for sharing your comment today, Wonder Friend M! We bet there are lots of different types of animals who change in their habitats– we are glad you WONDERed with us today! :)

    • Sometimes learning “why” is just as cool as learning “what”, Carlos! Thanks for sharing your SUPER comment with us– we are glad you’ve been WONDERing about our favorite, changing animal! :)

    • Hi there, Monkey Geek! We’re sorry to hear that you weren’t having a great time at Wonderopolis… we appreciate your comment and we really hope you come back to Wonder with us soon! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wonder Friend! :)

  4. Hey sorry that day I was angry so I thought of that when I send you that message so I thought it was mean but I just want to tell you that I’m sorry anyways I know that chameleons do not change the colour so that’s a fact and please tell everyone in this website that chameleons do not change the colour that’s fantasy so… I will come to that website everyday okay and also can you post the website about the monkeys or apes because I love the monkeys and apes and you know my user name is monkey geek so… thanks.

    • Thanks so much, Drew! We’re so glad you liked WONDERing with us! While we can’t take credit for the Wonder video, we hope you’ll continue to Wonder with soon! Have a great day! :)

  5. I’ve always wondered why chameleons change color and just all about chameleons really and now I’ve found the answer but I could not have done without my fith grade teachers and them introducing this website to me if any teachers are on here you should introduce this web to your students that is what one of my teachers did then we had a homework assignment. P.S. How do you make those smiley faces? See you next week.

    • Grace, we’re so glad to know you learned so much about chameleons with us! Thank you so much for telling us all about your time at Wonderopolis, too! We are so glad you’re here, and we are thankful for your awesome teachers, too! Please tell them we say hello! :)

      P.S. You can make a smiley face when you put a colon : next to a closed parentheses ) — together they look like this : + ) and = :) !

    • You’ll learn all about chameleons and how they blend in with their surroundings if you read our colorful Wonder, Wonder Friend! :)

    • That’s awesome news, Bailey! We’re thrilled to know that you enjoyed WONDERing about these interesting reptiles! Thanks for visiting us today! :)

    • You’re so very right, Wonder Friend Rayla! We Wonder if you have seen a chameleon at your local zoo or reptile house? Could you imagine if humans could change colors like chameleons? We Wonder what that would look like… :)

    • Hi Paulo and Simone! Thanks for WONDERing with us! The color orange usually symbolizes energy, but we Wonder what orange means to you? When you see the color orange, what does it make you think of? What comes to mind? :)

  6. I loved seeing the chameleon move but I would like more facts on the life style of it. Thank you this was an interesting article.

  7. I loved this video. It was so cool to see the chameleons start out as boring colors and then start to change into vibrant colors! I love chameleons because I think they’re very unique on how they change colors because of their moods. I wonder if the colors they change into is the same as a mood ring, necklace, earrings, etc. I sometimes wish that we could change colors just to blend in with objects. This would be great when I play hide and seek! I personally don’t like reading about lizards because they really creep me out. I learned alot about chameleons with out having to read about other lizards so I really enjoyed this wonder just about chameleons.

    • Hi Emily! Thanks for WONDERing with us! Chameleons are super cool creatures! Have you ever seen one before? Keep WONDERing with us! :)

    • Hi, Addyson! For more information, be sure to read the Wonder Article. According to the Wonder, “Chameleons change their color by manipulating specialized cells — called chromatophores — that contain different colors of pigment. When a chameleon wants to convey a particular mood or message, its brain sends a message to its chromatophores, which then move pigments around to change the chameleon’s color.” How cool is that? Keep WONDERing with us! :-)

    • Thank you for asking, Jordan! There are many ways to WONDER about a certain topic, including viewing videos about it. So we always include a video with our Wonders of the Day. Many of our Wonder Friends have told us how much they like the videos! We hope you do too! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment with us, Miss Flawless! Chameleons do not need to be touching an object to change colors. They can do it all on their own! Keep WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend! :)

    • Thanks for commenting, Mdh! Chameleons don’t have to touch an object to take on its color. Their special skin cells are responsible for changing their colors! :)

  8. i am start to learning about chameleon in these month but when to study this a question why any other animal change it colour and why a chameleon eye colour is not change and whenever we see a chameleon is moves slowly.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do chameleons change their colors?
  • How do chameleons change their colors?
  • How many species of chameleons are there?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

We hope you enjoyed today’s colorful Wonder of the Day! Keep the learning going by checking out one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • People can’t change the color of their skin to match their moods like chameleons can, but we sometimes use fashion to reflect our moods. Do you ever dress up in a particular color to match a certain mood? What color outfit would you wear to match the following moods?
    • happy
    • sad
    • excited
    • nervous
    • anxious

What made you choose certain colors to fit particular moods? Why do you associate those colors with those moods? Share your thoughts with your Wonder Friends by posting on Facebook about what colors match your moods!

  • Have you ever seen a live chameleon? There are many different types of chameleons. For a look at a few of the different types of chameleons around the world, check out National Geographic’s Photo Gallery: Chameleons. Which chameleons fascinate you the most? Which one is the prettiest? Would you want a chameleon as a pet? Why or why not?
  • After you’ve spent some time perusing pictures of chameleons, check out a couple of chameleon videos to see these fascinating creatures in action:

Still Wondering

Head over to Science NetLinks for an interactive activity that allows you to check out different types of camouflage an animal can use to protect itself depending on the habitat in which it lives.

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