Communicating with Color in the Animal Kingdom

Do you use colorful language? Not in the sense of 4-letter words. Rather, do you use colors to express yourself in conversation? For instance, depending on your situation you might say:

  • “I feel blue.”
  • “You look green with envy.”
  • “They call me mellow yellow.”
  • “I’m red hot with desire.”
  • “That is just peachy.”

Colors can be good descriptors for human emotion. But another species in the animal kingdom takes colorful expression to the next level. Chameleons are known for their camouflage traits. The lizard descendent changes color to match its environment. Not only is this a form of protection, it is also a form of communication.

Chameleons Communicate with Color

The Royal Society journal recently published a paper about the complexity behind chameleon communication. In their research, Dr. Russell Ligon and Dr. Kevin McGraw found that a male chameleon’s brightness of color and speed at which it changes, in addition to where the color is located on the body, may predict how aggressive the chameleon would be in competition with another male.

Brightness of the Color

In their study it was reported that the male who developed the brightest stripes and spots would often approach the other chameleon. Similarly, the chameleon with the brighter head was more likely to win the fight.

Speed of Change

Another important indicator of who would dominate in a duel was the speed at which the colors changed. The chameleon that transformed fastest was positioned well.

Body Position

In an article with, the researchers say they “found that the stripes, which are most apparent when chameleons display their bodies laterally to their opponents, predict the likelihood that a chameleon will follow up with an actual approach.” The researchers go onto suggest the chameleon whose colors are not as bright and prominent may back down before any aggression has been exerted. Dr. Ligon explains why: “By using bright color signals and drastically changing their physical appearance, the chameleons’ bodies become almost like a billboard – the winner of a fight is often decided before they actually make physical contact.”

These findings tell us a lot about a chameleon’s character. Does it speak to human nature as well? On another level of the animal kingdom, humans are billboards too. Our outward appearances and expressions represent our values, our families, our communities, and our places of business. More than the clothes we wear, the colorful expressions we choose to show are telling of how we feel. But unlike chameleon’s, we can’t use these colors to hide. Which color are you today?

Read more Segmation blog posts about Art and Animals:

Sea Urchins have left the Beach to Inspire Art

Birds of a Feather Art Fun Craft by!

Do you love Cats?

Be a Artist in 2 minutes with Segmation SegPlay® PC (see more details here)


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