Photo Essay – Chameleons – The Art of Change

Chameleon open-mouthed - one eye forward, one looking back [Julian Alper]
Chameleon open-mouthed - one eye forward, one looking back [Julian Alper]

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Albert Einstein

Chameleons really are fascinating little creatures and their most interesting feature, of course, is their ability to change color. Chameleons are lizards, but unlike most other small lizards we see, the chameleon moves very slowly, making it a nature photographer’s dream. Usually a photographer has to move quickly to capture shots of birds and animals and lizards in the wild, but the chameleon gives the photographer plenty of time to compose his picture – it moves as if it has all the time in the world, and indeed, makes the tortoise look like a hare. Not only does it lack speed but it also lacks a defense arsenal – it doesn’t have sharp teeth or claws or a hard shell to fend off predators. Its best chance of survival is to appear unthreatening or better still to appear as though it’s not there at all. 

Chameleon looking up [Julian Alper]
If you think the chameleon’s ability to change color is so that it can blend into its surroundings by camouflaging itself, you’re thinking the way I thought; and, I suspect, like most people think. But that’s not the case. The chameleon’s color change is usually associated with mood swings. Just as we will turn white if we’re frightened out of our wits or red if we’re embarrassed or are inflamed, so too the chameleon’s color can indicate how it is feeling. If it is happily walking along in the sun, enjoying life to the full, it will be a bright green color; if it’s frightened, its complexion turns a dark shade; if it’s feeling aggressive or angry it might be reddish; and if it has a bout of depression it could be brownish. It doesn’t hide its emotions well, it wears its heart on its sleeve – what you see is what you get.

Chameleon striding along in bright green [Julian Alper]
How chameleons change color and how they do it so quickly is beyond the scope of this short photo essay but there are other characteristics that are worth noting. Their swaying gait is an attempt to appear unaggressive and though not wide-eyed, so to speak, their eyes enable them a 360 degree field of view, which of course, isn’t bettered, by any other creature. They can even focus their eyes independently in different directions. Their ability to see what is behind as well as what is in front, as can any experienced school teacher, is useful for both defensive and offensive purposes. And its hugely long tongue, about one and half times its body length, enables it to capture its prey, primarily insects, without moving far at all. The chameleon may not have weapons with which to defend itself but when stalked by a bird or snake it uses its intelligence to appear aggressive and strong and opens its mouth wide to threaten its predator.

Chameleon in darker brown walking amongst twigs [Julian Alper]
Unlike the chameleon, most of us can’t see what is behind us, and not having such a long tongue we may have to get off the couch to hunt down our next meal but there is one way we can emulate the chameleon. If we’re feeling a little off-color, we should think of a million chameleons, and hopefully we’ll regain our color as quickly as can a vermilion chameleon.

Chameleon open-mouthed – one eye forward, one looking back [Julian Alper]
Chameleon in darker green [Julian Alper]
Chameleon looking back, with tail upwards [Julian Alper]
About the Author
I am an Amateur Photographer living in Tiberias, having made Aliyah from Manchester, UK. When not out and about with my camera I work as a Hi Tech Consultant. This is my website - You can see my contributions to Wikipedia - And this is my YouTube channel -
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