Have you ever seen a chameleon change color in front of your eyes? The process is quite magical and shall leave you amazed. Scientists have finally determined how reptiles are capable of changing their colors in such a magical way and that too so effectively. A team of Swiss researchers has revealed that chameleons make use of nanotechnology for changing color that is futuristic to the extent that humans do not possess it yet.
Reptiles have crystals located inside specialized skin cells that cause change in color. These color changes can be used for fending off a rival or to attract another of same kind for mating purposes. The process revolves around active tuning of a matrix of crystals that are known as iridophores. These crystals, apart from allowing the reptile to switch between colors, also offer protection from heat and keep it safe from getting overheated. Before this research came out, it was considered that the animal made use of colored pigments to change color.
Chameleons display a variety of colors that are created as a result of ‘optical interference’ between different wavelengths of light reflecting from the crystals. The study was carried out on panther chameleon that hails from Madagascar and it was concluded that the test subject was able to actively control the iridophore crystals responsible for color generation.
Jeremie Teyssier, a physicist at University of Geneva in Switzerland, explained, “We discovered that the animal changes its colors via the active tuning of a lattice of nanocrystals. When the chameleon is calm, the latter are organized into a dense network and reflect the blue wavelengths. In contrast, when excited, it loosens its lattice of nanocrystals, which allows the reflection of other colors, such as yellows or reds.”
The team further experimented by changing the spacing of crystals and concluded that they can simulate and explain the color changes. This conclusion further strengthened the idea that crystals in skin cells are actually responsible for the transformation of these animals.
Professor Michel Milinkovitch said, “Chameleons invented something completely new in evolution. They split the iridophores into two layers, one that is specialized for color change… and one to reduce the amount of energy absorbed by the animal. That’s an amazing toolkit that allows them to choose between being hidden or displaying very spectacular colors for communication – and on top of that they have this ability to control their temperature because of the deep iridophores.” Watch the following video to further understand the concept.