Sunday, April 12, 2009

How chameleons change their colors

I was reading about chameleons (for research for the reptilian fauna of my fantasy world, indulging the inner child who read every book about animals in the school library, use whatever rationalization you like) and I ran into this page by the San Diego Zoo, which includes a great short description of how they change their colors. Really, it's more wonderful and complex than I imagined:

Chameleons have four layers of skin: the outer, protective layer called the epidermis; the chromatophore layer that contains yellow and red pigments; the melanophore layer that contains the dark pigment melanin and can create brown and black colors or reflect blue; and the nether layer, which only reflects white. Nerve impulses and hormone changes cause the color cells in these layers to expand and shrink, and the blending of the different layers creates the colors and patterns that we see.
I guess this page is aimed at kids, but I wouldn't be the first to notice how useful material designed for kids is when you want to get an initial handle on a topic. My goal here was to find some info on the unusual aspects of chameleons -- the fun facts -- so a kids' page was perfect. I can always get more detail, now that I know some of the variety that's available for chameleons.

I think I mentioned chameleons earlier. Oh yes, here. The chameleon idea came from my nine-year-old daughter Chloe. They're to be domesticated riding animals. I'll have to change their feet. Maybe they'll have three horns and you can tie reins to the horns.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. Just the term chromatophores is cool. Four layers of skin? That's fantastic.

    Makes me think of how important dermatology would be as a medical science for a color changing alien species like my Illuminators.

    And I'm always finding very helpful stuff in books aimed at kids. I scanned in most of a library book on medieval clothing last week, because it also included helpful sections on Arab, Indian, Native American, and Asian clothing. Just having color pictures and descriptions of materials for reference is very helpful.