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All rights reserved. Some people are like chameleons: They can blend into any environment with ease. But are chameleons, themselves, like Yes, and no, scientists say. Related: See how chameleons change colors.

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Though incapable of matching certain details in their environments, such as bright flowers or individual blades of grass, chameleons can, in fact, make small color adjustments to blend into their surroundings. And the more dramatic color transformations—which have made species like the panther chameleon famous—help these lizards defend territory and attract mates.

So while they may not live up to their common portrayal in entertainment media, their use of color is far more impressive than most people imagine.

Staying hidden is pretty much their only tactic to evade predators. In their natural state, they already look a lot like leaves or branches, much like stick insects looks like In other words, chameleons can, in fact, change the color of their skin to match the environment, but within a narrow sliver on the color wheel. The more elaborate displays, such as when multiple, bright colors appear at once, are saved for another purpose entirely.

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Chameleons have two opposing states, Milinkovitch says. They either try to be invisible, which subtle color shifts help them achieve, or try to be seen—again by changing their color, but this time much more explosively.

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No display stands out against the green forest backdrop like that of male dominance. Although many other lizards also use the tongue to capture prey, most can expel it only a short distance.

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In contrast, chameleons can launch their tongues at great speed to a distance of more than twice their body length, and they can strike and capture their prey with great accuracy. Most species are egg layers. Typically, females descend from their shrub or tree to bury between 2 and 40 eggs in the soil or rotting logs, and incubation lasts about three months.

In addition, the Madagascan chameleon, F.

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The eggs of F. After an intense competition for mates, eggs are laid in February, and the entire adult population perishes. Article Media. Info Print Cite.

Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Written By: Laurie Vitt. See Article History. Facts Matter. Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Still, true chameleons rely mainly on the tonglike arrangement of….

The chameleons, of those species studied thus far, have only a few sensory hair cells 40 to 50 in the auditory papilla. The geckos,….

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Unlike other arboreal lizards, chameleons possess a prehensile grasping tail and zygodactylous feet—i. Although these adaptations are inferior for vertical climbing, they are superior for locomotion on vertical or inclined, slender branches. Arboreal snakes tend to have either prehensile tails or….

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