Chameleons Are Horses Of A Different Color When They're Ready To Rumble [Videos]

The chameleons' capability of blending into its environment via its biological gift of color-morphing has long been thought to be an avoidance technique to escape from predators. Another study points to findings that suggest their color changing ability is not actually used as camouflage - but rather a display of virility when they're in the mood to 'hit on' one of their female counterparts.

However, in addition to a mating ritual, in recent years, researchers have found that shade-shifting may play a more significant role in other types of social interactions - namely aggression. It appears that during the times when chameleons want to their stand their ground against a fellow male aggressor -- instead of blending into environs -- they actual change colors to win over a territory.

The research team at Arizona State University have actually shown that the faster and brighter a chameleon changes color, the more likely that male will battle for his turf.

The group analyzed one-on-one competitions with 10 male veiled chameleons — a species indigenous to certain mountainous regions throughout the world — by pairing them in different combinations and enclosing the pairs in isolated study areas for 30 minute intervals. An automatic digital camera snapped shots of the animals every 4 seconds.

During these fights, the males with the brightest stripes were more likely to approach their opponent, whereas those with the brighter heads were more likely to win. See if you can see those signals played out in this sparring match video.

Russell Ligon & Veiled ChameleonRussell Ligon & Veiled Chameleon"At their brightest, they have vertical yellow stripes, blue-green bellies, black speckles that provide contrast and make their stripes stand out, and orange around the corner of their mouths," says Russell Ligon, a behavioural ecologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

"When a male chameleon gets ready to rumble, it will first show its side to an opponent from a distance. Signaling a willingness to fight by flashing its bright stripes – which accentuate the size of the animal – could stop a less motivated chameleon from approaching," says Ligon. "If, however, both contestants are motivated enough to continue, the last chance to get information from an opponent about the possible outcome of the fight – before actually engaging in a head-butting, biting, shoving contest – could be to get a look at his head as it advances."

The most diversely colored species is the 'veiled chameleon' and as such are possibly the most aggressive. They hail in large numbers from the Middle East, but to date there's been no research to determine if the Israeli and Iranian veiled chameleons have had any recent skirmishes with each other -- or whether they had settled their border disputes ages ago.

Ron Callari
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