Chameleons have several layers of skin containing special cells called chromatophores. The cells are filled with pigment, which they’ll redistribute in response to chemicals in the chameleon’s body. For example, the cells containing the red pigment (called erythrophores) are in the upper layer of skin. When those cells expand, they can block out the colors contained in the lower layers of skin, turning the chameleon a vivid red. This can happen quickly or over the course of several minutes. There are over one hundred species of chameleon and not all of them are able to change color to the same extent, though almost all of them have some range of green and brown.
While most people think of the chameleon as a master of camouflage, they mainly change color as a way to communicate. Their changes in hue can indicate whether or not they’re looking for a mate, aggression, or their level of stress. Chameleons also change color as a way to regulate temperature, turning darker to absorb more sun and lighter to reflect it.
If you’re interested in having your own chameleon, Bartlett and Bartlett’s Chameleons: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual is available here at the library. However, be aware that, according to the authors, they’re one of the most difficult lizards to care for. Gary Ferguson’s Chameleons: Care and Breeding of Jackson’s, Panther, Veiled, and Parson’s and François Le Berre’s The Chameleon Handbook are both available through CLEVNET.