In the intricate tapestry of nature, the ability to change color is a captivating phenomenon observed across various species, habitats, and body parts. While many animals possess this remarkable trait, the Labord’s chameleon (Furcifer labordi) has recently stunned researchers with a mesmerizing display as it approached the end of its brief existence.
Captured for the PBS series Big Little Journeys using time-lapse photography, the Labord’s chameleon in western Madagascar’s Kirindy Forest showcased its vibrant transformation during the final hours of its life. Producer Valeria Fabbri-Kennedy and herpetologist Chris Raxworthy from the American Museum of Natural History were astonished by the colorful spectacle, a phenomenon unprecedented in the wild.
The footage documented the chameleon’s final moments, from laying eggs to meticulously covering them for protection against the harsh weather extremes of Madagascar’s dry season. The female Labord’s chameleon channels all her energy into producing eggs that must endure the challenges of a prolonged drought while buried underground. As resources dwindle, the female succumbs to death within a few short hours.
The stunning burst of colors in the chameleon’s skin during this period is a result of intricate layers of skin cells. The topmost layer is transparent, while layers beneath contain chromatophores—cells with various pigments. When triggered by the nervous system in response to changes in temperature or mood, these chromatophores produce an array of colors across the chameleon’s body.
Even in death, the nervous signals persist, altering the shape of the skin cells and creating chaotic yet beautiful technicolor patterns. The Labord’s chameleon, an already peculiar species with a lifespan of merely four to five months, spends the majority of its life as an egg, developing for nine months before hatching. Hatchlings emerge in November, breed by January, and exhibit signs of aging by February.
Experts speculate that this shortened lifespan is an adaptation to cope with Madagascar’s severe seasonal variations. Regardless of the scientific reasoning, the captivating display of colors exhibited by the Labord’s chameleon in its final moments leaves an indelible mark on our understanding of nature’s intricate wonders.