Chameleons communicate with complex colour changes during contests: Different body regions convey different information

Russell A. Ligon, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Many animals display static coloration (e.g. of feathers or fur) that can serve as a reliable sexual or social signal, but the communication function of rapidly changing colours (as in chameleons and cephalopods) is poorly understood. We used recently developed photographic and mathematical modelling tools to examine how rapid colour changes of veiled chameleons Chamaeleo calyptratus predict aggressive behaviour during male-male competitions. Males that achieved brighter stripe coloration were more likely to approach their opponent, and those that attained brighter head coloration were more likely to win fights; speed of head colour changewas also an important predictorof contest outcome. This correlative study represents the first quantification of rapid colour change using organism-specific visual models and provides evidence that the rate of colour change, in addition to maximum display coloration, can be an important component of communication. Interestingly, the body and head locations of the relevant colour signals map onto the behavioural displays given during specific contest stages, with lateral displays from a distance followed by directed, head-on approaches prior to combat, suggesting that different colour change signals may evolve to communicate different information (motivation and fighting ability, respectively).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20130892
JournalBiology letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 23 2013


  • Agonistic signalling
  • Chamaeleo calyptratus
  • Colour signals
  • Combat
  • Communication
  • Physiological colour change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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