What Happens Inside a Chameleon that Changes Its Skin Color?
Chameleons are so cool! Think about having skin that changes color when there is a change in temperature, or if you get excited –upset–mad–don’t feel well. We would not be able to “hide our feelings.” But it would be fun for just one day.
A chameleon has four layers of skin and except for the top layer all have special cells that contain pigment. Pigment is a chemical that absorbs and/or reflects different parts of visible light, which is energy that you perceive as different colors. The range of colors from least to the most energy are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. White light, such as sunlight contains the entire spectrum of colors.
More About Pigments
A pigment is a chemical, made up of a protein with a special group of chemical elements attached to it. This add-on group of chemicals is called a chromophore and it produces the color in the chameleon’s skin.
In a chameleon, light can penetrate the four skin layers. Some of the light energy is absorbed and some is reflected, which means it moves away from the chameleon’s skin and it what enters your eyes and you perceive the color.
The pigment in cells, such as the melonocytes in the diagram are like tiny grains. When they group together, most of the cell is transparent, meaning light passes and the pigment has little affect on the color of the cell. But, when the pigment grains spread throughout the cell, the cell is the color of the light energy the pigment reflects.
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