Conspicuous social signaling drives the evolution of chameleon color change

Jan 29, 2008

What drove the evolution of color change in chameleons? Chameleons can use color change to camouflage and to signal to other chameleons, but a new paper published in the open-access journal PLoS Biology shows that the need to rapidly signal to other chameleons, and not the need to camouflage from predators, has driven the evolution of this characteristic trait.

The research, conducted by Devi Stuart-Fox and Adnan Moussalli, shows that the dramatic color changes of chameleons are tailored to aggressively display to conspecific competitors and to seduce potential mates.

Because these signals are quick—chameleons can change color in a matter of milliseconds—the animal can afford to make it obvious, as the risk that a predator will notice is limited. This finding means that the evolution of color change serves to make chameleons more noticeable, the complete opposite of the camouflage hypothesis. The amount of color change possible varies between species, and the authors cleverly capitalise on this in their experiments.

Stuart-Fox and Moussalli measured color change by setting up chameleon “duels”: sitting two males on a branch opposite each other and measuring the color variation. By comparing species that can change color dramatically to those that only change slightly, and considering the evolutionary interrelationships of the species, the researchers showed that dramatic color change is consistently associated with the use of color change as a social signal to other chameleons.

The degree of change is not predicted by the amount of color variation in the chameleons’ habitat, as would be expected if chameleons had evolved such remarkable color changing abilities in order to camouflage.

Citation: Stuart-Fox D, Moussalli A (2008) Selection for social signalling drives the evolution of chameleon colour change. PLoS Biol 6(1): e25. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060025 (www.plosbiology.org)

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Q&A: Why are antibiotics used in livestock?

Related Stories

Chameleon reorganizes its nanocrystals to change colors

Mar 10, 2015

Many chameleons have the remarkable ability to exhibit complex and rapid color changes during social interactions. A collaboration of scientists within the Sections of Biology and Physics of the Faculty of ...

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

Apr 01, 2015

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

Recommended for you

Birds 'weigh' peanuts and choose heavier ones

6 hours ago

Many animals feed on seeds, acorns or nuts. The common feature of these are that they have shells and there is no direct way to know what's inside. How do the animals know how much and what quality of food ...

Q&A: Why are antibiotics used in livestock?

21 hours ago

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, is the latest company to ask its suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Here's a rundown of what's driving the decision: ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.