A team of scientists decoded the true mechanism behind the chameleons’ changing colors. According to the research team, these bizarre animals are equipped with a set of nanocrystals located within their skin cells which are rearranged when colors change.
Past studies had claimed that the reptiles changed colors by replicating or spreading pigments across their skin cells. But the new findings reveal that the nanocrystals within their skin act as a “selective mirror” that helps skin cells render brighter colors.
During their study, scientists also discovered a superficial skin layer that can reflect infrared radiation. The team believes that this layer helps chameleons keep cool on sunny days.
Researchers explained that chameleons have two methods of rendering colors – they either use the pigment in their cells (for warm and dark colors) or they employ their nano-crystals to bounce off light and create the blues and whites. The latter colors are called “structural colors” of the way they form.
But the reptile’s skin cells use both methods when changing colors. For example, a light green is formed by a yellow pigment within the skin cells and a structural blue overlaid on it.
But the mechanism is not unique among animals. Some species of fish also have it and use it as a response to stress or as a means of hiding when hunting.
However, chameleons change colors also when they spot a mate or are angered by a competitor. Usually, when mating, these reptiles use vibrant and spectacular colors, leaving aside the camouflage tint.
The findings were published this week in the Nature Communications by a mixed team of quantum physics experts and evolutionary biologists.
The physicists helped their peer biologists to decode the mechanism that led to the formation of structural colors. They discovered the nano-crystals by using an electron microscope, which revealed that the crystals formed a regular pattern regardless of the angle used when looking at them.
Scientists even explained how the nano-crystals act like a “structural mirror”:
“Light will go through except for very specific wavelengths. If the distance between the layers is small, it reflects small wavelengths, like blue; if the distance is large it reflects larger wavelengths – for example, red.”
The team is now content that their finding is the first of its kind to prove that that a reptile changes colors due to a “geometrical shift.” Additionally, it is the first time a research team finds that chameleons split their skin cells into two layers – one for changing colors when hiding or communicating, and another for keeping their skin cool in bright sunlight.
Image Source: Playbuzz
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