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Under Its Skin

Defeated When a chameleon has lost a battle or is otherwise feeling meek, a dark pigment called melanin in its cells moves up. The melanin near the top of the skin absorbs most of the light that strikes its skin. That makes the skin look dark and dull.

Relaxed When a chameleon is relaxed, the nanocrystals are close together. They refl ect blue light. The blue light mixes with the light refl ected by the yellow pigments in the top layers of skin. When this happens, the chameleon’s skin looks green.


When a chameleon is excited, it stretches its skin so the nanocrystals are farther apart. Then the nanocrystals refl ect longer wavelengths of light. As a result, the skin changes to warmer colors—yellow, orange, or red.




Power Nanocrystals in chameleon skin refl ect different amounts of light depending on their thickness and spacing.

When the crystals are close together, they refl ect the cool colors of the spectrum, such as blue or green.

When the crystals are far apart, they refl ect warm colors, such as yellow, orange, or even red.

MARCH 2016 7

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