Chameleons’ Color-Changing Science | March 16, 2015 Issue - Vol. 93 Issue 11 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 93 Issue 11 | p. 5 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 16, 2015 | Web Date: March 13, 2015

Chameleons’ Color-Changing Science

Lizards shift shades by tuning guanine nanocrystals in their skin
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: chameleon, photonic crystal, guanine
When this male panther chameleon sees another adult male, it changes color to show who is boss. The video is accelerated 8 times. The first frame of the movie is shown in the lower-right for a better visualization of the extent of color change.
Credit: Michel C. Milinkovitch/

Whether it’s to hide from predators, to attract mates, or to frighten rivals, changing colors is more than just a neat trick for chameleons. It’s key to their survival. But just how the skin of these creatures shifts from red to gold to green and many colors in between has been something of a mystery, until now. Using electron microscopy, specialized videography, and some modeling, Michel C. Milinkovitch and coworkers at Switzerland’s University of Geneva found that panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), one of which is pictured here, alter their hue by tuning guanine nanocrystals within their skin (Nat. Commun. 2015, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7368). By changing the spacing between these nanocrystals, the chameleons can alter which wavelengths of light their skin absorbs and reflects.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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