Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


ASU researchers discover chameleons use colorful language to communicate

Chameleons' body regions are 'billboards' for different types of information

To protect themselves, some animals rapidly change color when their environments change, but chameleons change colors in unusual ways when they interact with other chameleons. Arizona State University researchers have discovered that these color changes don't happen "out-of-the-blue" — instead, they convey different types of information during important social interactions.

ASU researchers have discovered that color changes in chameleons convey different types of information during important social interactions. The lizards' body stripes and head colorings are particularly important during contests over territory and females.

Credit: Megan Best

For example, when male chameleons challenge each other for territory or a female, their coloring becomes brighter and much more intense. Males that display brighter stripes when they are aggressive are more likely to approach their opponent, and those that achieve brighter head colors are more likely to win fights. Also, how quickly their heads change color is an important predictor of which chameleon will win a skirmish.

The results of the study are published online today in the journal Biology Letters.

Russell Ligon, a doctoral candidate in ASU's School of Life Sciences, and Kevin McGraw, an associate professor in the school, used photographic and mathematical modeling tools in new ways to study how the color change of veiled chameleons (Chameleon calyptratus) relates to aggressive behavior. They studied the distance, maximum brightness and speed of color change of 28 different patches across the chameleons' bodies.

"We found that the stripes, which are most apparent when chameleons display their bodies laterally to their opponents, predict the likelihood that a chameleon will follow up with an actual approach," said Ligon. "In addition, head coloration — specifically brightness and speed of color change — predicted which was lizard was going to win."

Chameleons typically have resting colors that range from brown to green, with hints of yellow, but each chameleon has unique markings. During a contest, the lizards show bright yellows, oranges, greens and turquoises. Interestingly, when the chameleons showed-off their stripes from a distance and followed that display with a "head-on" approach before combat, the important color signals on the striped parts of the body and head were accentuated.

"By using bright color signals and drastically changing their physical appearance, the chameleons' bodies become almost like a billboard — the winner of a fight is often decided before they actually make physical contact," Ligon said. "The winner is the one that causes its opponent to retreat. While sometimes they do engage in physical combat, these contests are very short — five to 15 seconds. More often than not, their color displays end the contest before they even get started."

This is the first study of its kind. The research team took pictures of color standards and estimated the sensitivity of different photoreceptors in their cameras. Then, they used information on the physiology and sensitivity of the photoreceptors of chameleons, and were able to measure the colors actually seen by the lizards. Though this method has previously been used to quantify static (unchanging) coloration, this study is the first to quantify rapid color change while incorporating the visual sensitivities of the animals under study.

There are approximately 160 species of chameleons in the world. Veiled chameleons (Chameleon calyptratus) are native to the Arabian Peninsula – specifically Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They are omnivorous and live essentially solitary lives except when mating. Many chameleons are at great risk, as destruction of their habitats is occurring at alarming rates.

The study was funded by an ASU GPSA grant and by individual sponsors.

The School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sandra Leander | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: ASU Chameleon Forum Life Science color change social interaction

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>