Veiled chameleons are one of many chameleon species capable of changing colors. But, contrary to the common perception of these animals, their ability to change colors helps more with social interactions than with camouflage.
In the blink of an eye, stripes all over the animal's body can morph from light green to darker green or light blue.
Colors in competition
In a recent study, Arizona State University researchers found that male veiled chameleons are more likely to win competitions with other males if they have brighter colors that change more quickly than their rivals.
Side color vs. head color
The researchers found that the chameleons changed color in different parts of their bodies depending on the stage of competition: Leading up to physical contact, the stripes on the sides of their bodies changed; during physical contact, the colors on the tops of their heads changed.
Warding off competition
Sometimes, coloration is used to avoid fights altogether: Duller-colored individuals tend to back away from more brightly colored individuals even before a fight begins.
A chameleon hisses in aggression leading up to a confrontation.
Opponents look each other over, sussing out the competition.
"I'm coming for you."
A dominant male flashes bright colors as its duller rival hides on a branch.