How Fast Do Chameleons Change Color?

One of the best experiences about owning a chameleon is seeing how they change their colors. We bet you don’t know too many of the animals who can shift from one color to another so perfectly without losing the visual appeal even a bit. But how fast do chameleons change color?

Well, there’s no way to deny that they’re fast shifters when it comes to color. Sometimes they take only 20 seconds to change from one color to another. But on the basis of the situation and species, they can do it even faster than that.

But how do they pull this off in the first place? And which species are the fastest when it comes to changing colors? Well, it’s time to find that out.

Does Chameleon Change Color Instantly?

Most of the chameleons out there come with the ability to change their color to green or black from brown. But there are some exceptional species too that can dress up into any color. Usually, these reptiles don’t need more than 20 seconds to change their colors. So, you can pretty much agree with the fact that they can change colors almost instantly.

By birth, chameleons got special cells which contain pigment or color in them that lie under their skin. If you’re looking for a name for those cells, they’re called chromatophores. Usually, the top layer of chromatophores contains red or yellow pigment. On the other hand, the lower layers come with white or blue pigment. Whenever there’s a change in these cells, the skin color changes as well.

Chromatophores trigger the change in color only whenever they receive a message from the cham’s brain. This message says whether the cells should shrink or enlarge. That’s what makes the pigment work like paint where they mix up.

By the way, Chromatophores aren’t the only ones that help a chameleon to change its color. A chemical known as melanin is also on that list. Melanin fibers are so thin that they can easily weave through multiple pigment cell layers while darkening the skin.

How Do Chameleons Change Color So Fast?

Basically, it’s the nanocrystals in the chameleon’s skin that triggers the alteration in their color, which most of us thought was fully done by their pigmentation. This thought probably popped up from the fact that certain creatures, like the octopus, are able to change the pigmentation of their skin. But the chameleons can change the reflectivity of their skin, resulting in a range of hues.

Like we said before, there is a total of two superimposed layers present in the chameleon’s skin that are held responsible for the changes in color. They mostly do that whenever there’s a need for help in controlling the reptile’s body temperature.

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How these layers work is also mesmerizing. The top layers come with a nanocrystal pattern. The function of that layers depends on not only the chameleon’s stress level but also its body temperature.

These crystals move farther apart, letting more light of longer wavelengths get through when the chameleon is under stress, gets too hot, or gets overexcited. This causes the display of longer-wavelength hues, including red, brown, orange, and yellow.

But when the chameleon is at ease again, the crystals get closer together, allowing for the production of more subtle colors like blue and green. And the time required in the whole process? Well, like we said before, not more than 20 seconds. Interestingly, some of the species like Panther, Madagascar, and Veiled chameleons can do it faster.

You probably have already started to wonder why they do that in the first place. Most of us think that it’s for the sake of defending themselves as the color work like a camouflage against the predator. That’s not always the case, and our next segment is all about putting some light on those facts.

Why Do Chameleons Change into Different Colors?

Changing color is probably the most effective way of communication for the chameleons. But it’s their color that makes it all clear as day that how the chameleon  probably is feeling at present. Now the question is, what do they try to say or express through their different colors? Well, here’s your answer –


Chameleons come up with brighter colors when they’re trying to show off their aggression. Their aggressive part is usually seen when they’re trying to defend their territory from another chameleon, especially when they’re up against a male. They undergo sudden and dramatic color shifts, going from red to bright green, blue, yellow, and sometimes even white.

In their natural habitat, they maximize their visibility by dressing up in brighter colors. They do that for two reasons – one, protecting their territory, and two, warning their opponent. As a sign of defeat, one of the male chameleons will dim its color first. By the way, their aggressive attitude can meet your eye during their mating season as well. They usually do that to attract female chameleons. If you’re into knowing more about this fact, feel free to click here.


When you’re seeing your chameleon in darker colors, that’s probably because it’s under stress. And when the lizard feels excited, you’ll see it in brighter colors, especially red, green, and blue. When you’d see black color in certain places like their throat, then it’s because the reptile is feeling sick or somehow threatened.

But there’s nothing to worry about when they’re sticking to their neutral color, as that represents their relaxed state. When they’re on their angry, you’d see traces of colors like red and black stripes on it. But if you’re seeing brown color over it, then that’s probably because the reptile is depressed. It also can be one of the signs of brumation in them.

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By the way, we were talking about males only so far. What about the females? Well, if you see neutral colors on them, it’s probably because they’re not in the mood, and when they’re looking brown, that’s the time they carry their eggs. And if you’re asking how they’ll look while feeling sick, we’d say it can be black or pale, depending on the time of the day.


The easiest way to be sure about a chameleon being relaxed is to check if it’s mimicking its natural background. The most common colors they go for are usually green or brown. So, if you’re seeing the reptile roaming with those color on its body, then that’s because it’s feeling relaxed right now.

On the contrary, when feeling threatened or needing to hide, they will often move to a spot in their habitat where the predominant hue is the same as their calm color. When at ease, a veiled chameleon will exhibit a neutral brown color pattern.


A few of the times when chameleons feel stressed more than ever, it’s when they’re afraid. So, if they’re showing up their darker colors, then there’s a high chance that they’re in shock or have just been attacked.

They naturally dress up in darker colors because they find them the most suitable ones for blending into the surroundings. And if you’ve studied them well enough, you already should know how effective this tactic is in hiding themselves in threatening situations. They won’t leave this shade of color till they feel safe again. If they feel like things are getting worse, they might roll and take a ball shape for additional protection.

There’s an interesting finding came out from research about chameleons. Male chameleons can pass other males unnoticed by muting their hue and adopting a more feminine appearance. And if you’re seeing a female is dimming its color, count it as an indicator of submission. They do the same thing when it comes to avoiding males as male chameleons display aggression when mating season arrives.

Mating Time

The only way to find out when it’s the time of mating for the chameleon is observing their color. Male ones express their desire of mating by showing vibrant colors, which is also an attempt of dazzling and attracting the female chameleons.

During this phase of stimulation, the red tones show up in a chameleon’s skin, particularly on its head and flanks, will frequently become more prominent, of course. If the female isn’t in the mood, they will show a warning color, which can be white or brown stripe over their body.

Change in Environment

We guess you’re already informed of the fact that that chameleons are cold-blooded or ectotherms. So, it’s totally dependent on the environment that how they’d regulat the temperature of their body. If it’s too cold, they’ll go for a darker color in order to absorb more heat or light. On the contrary, if they’re wearing the lighter colors, then it’s probably because the surrounding is becoming warmer than required.

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Do Chameleons Change Color Automatically?

Color changes in chameleons appear to be both intentional and unintentional, depending on the circumstance, of course. Although chameleons’ skin contains many different tones, the pigments are hidden in tiny vesicles, which keep the color.

Normal environmental circumstances cause their skin to take on a greenish brown hue. In order to make a successful color change, they must first keep track of the surrounding environment and choose what shade best suits the occasion.

Once the decision is made, hormones are secreted from the brain to direct the body to perform the transformation. After the hormones have sent their message, the vesicles will discharge the necessary pigments, which will coat the chromatophores and cause the desired colors to be displayed.

Can All the Chameleons Change Color?

There are ore than a hundred different species of chameleons all over the world coming from Madagascar, Africa, and Asia. Though the color chart can be a subject to variation, all of them can surely change the color.

In contrast to females, male chameleons display more vivid colors during their transformations. When compared to males, the skin tones of female chameleons tend to be more subdued.

The panther chameleon has some of the most vivid colors of any pet you could possibly ask for. They have spots like a panther, which are easily distinguishable. As with most animal species, males can grow to be up to 20″ long in their natural environment, though they typically remain a bit smaller when kept as pets.

But Veiled chameleons are not that much brilliant on the colors, unlike the pather chameleons. Hold on a sec! That doesn’t mean they’re visually less appealing. Actually, as an exception, they’ve got the bony protrusion on the top of the head, which is known as casque. This exquisite casque, shaped like a crown, allows them to channel rainwater to their mouths.

The colors of female veiled chameleons are often more muted than those of males. Female chameleons of every breed are smaller than males, thus it makes sense that their casques would be smaller as well.

Young Jackson’s chameleons are brown, but they change to more vibrant hues as they get older. Jackson’s chameleons are able to transform from their initial brown to green, black, teal, and even yellow hues when they are about four or five months old.

Males of most chameleon species, including this one, display more vibrant colors like blue and yellow. Some people call male Jackson’s the “three-horned chameleons” because of the three large horns that grow from the top of their heads.

Final Words

Well, no, chameleons are not as fast as octopus that can change their color within a millisecond. They take a bit more time but still pull off the job just within 20 seconds, which we believe is an amazing part of their nature. But if you can simply just understand how and why these changes in color take place, we bet understanding the reptile’s behavior will become way easier for you.

Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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