Karma karma karma chameleon

Today I watched an epic documentary about reptiles & amphibians. 
While watching said documentary, absorbing all the glorious David Attenborough narrations, all of the unbelievably epic shots and marvelling at a whole bunch of cold-blooded creatures, I saw the panther chameleon. 

Edging along a branch through the Madagascan forest, I was captivated. It’s pincer-like hands gripped around the branch as it crawled along, it’s individually rotating eyes looking 360° around itself. It looked so perfectly adapted to its environment, I was in awe. 

And then I realised.

Chameleons are colourful. 

My blog is about colours. 

I can write all about chameleons! 

I’m sure this will surprise you all when I say I’ve never really known a lot about chameleons or any sort of reptile for that matter, so we’ll be starting with the basics. 



  • A chameleon is a type of lizard, part of the suborder Iguania
  • With 171 different chameleon species, the majority of them are found in Madagascar 
  • The largest chameleons are over half a metre long (69.5cm)
  • The smallest chameleons can be only 16mm
  • The chameleon will continuously grow throughout it’s life
  • Chameleons eat insects and birds with an absolutely crazy tongue that can shoot out twice as far as its body length
  • They are 1 of only a small number of animals that can change the colour of their skin

Now this is where it gets interesting. It’s a common assumption that chameleons can just change their colour to match their surroundings. Scientists believed they changed colour in the same way that octopus or squid do by adjusting pigments in their skin cells to alter colours. 

However, it doesn’t work quite like that. 

Chameleons change the colour of their chameleoncellskin in response to their emotions or environmental factors like light or temperature. More recent research has discovered they do it by changing the actual structure of their uppermost layer of skin cells called iridophores. 

These iridophores contain nano-crystals (made up of guanine, one of the key components of DNA) which will determine the colour of Chameleons skin. 
When these nano-crystals are all close together, the chameleon is in a relaxed state. Because of this closeness, only small wavelengths such as blue or green are reflected from the cells and that is the colour we see the chameleon as. (To read about different wavelengths of colours click here).

When a chameleon gets amped up, say if a rival comes along, the chameleon will stretch his skin. This spreads these nano-crystals apart from each other and will consequently reflect colours of longer wavelengths such as yellow, orange and red

Beneath this fascinating upper layer of cells is another, thicker layer of skin cells. Scientists believe it is this secondary layer of cells which help to maintain the temperature of the chameleon as the cells found here reflect near-infrared sunlight. 

However, all this cool skin cell stuff going on, only really happens in male chameleons. Female and babies are generally dull colours as they don’t need to be competing with rival chameleons therefore their upper layer of iridophores is greatly reduced in comparison.

To conclude one of my favourite blogs to write so far, chameleons are pretty amazing creatures. For more interesting info on chameleons check out these resources:



As we know, colour surrounds us. It’s everywhere, inescapable, only until night comes and swallows it up, to let the sun come up the next morning and re-gift us all of the colours. 
Could these all-encompassing colours have such an impact on our day-to-day lives? On how we feel? On who we are?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe seemed to think so. He also seemed to be the only person in town who didn’t quite believe in any of Newton’s ideas on colour. 



“A great mathematician was possessed with an entirely false notion on the physical origin of colours”

“The theory of colours… has suffered much, and it’s progress has been incalculably retarded by having been mixed up with optics generally”

While Newton had very physics-based ideas on colours (read about them here), in 1810, Goethe (an author and politician) took a much more psychological route to explaining colours and although his ideas were dismissed by…. well, everyone, Goethe still had interesting ideas. 

Goethe’s version of science was less focused on experiments, but more about his own personal observations. As a poet, a man of art, he thought having previous physical knowledge would be a hindrance to learning about light and colours.

He created his own colour wheel which he divided in half, one side being Positive and the other Negative. Only when one colour from each opposite side was chosen, would colour harmony occur. He used this wheel of colours to link them with human emotions.

The Positive Side:


1yellowGoethe really liked yellow. In fact, he apparently owned twenty yellow waistcoats. It is “the colour nearest the light” and could be so easily tainted or contaminated by other colours. He linked emotions of serenity, happiness and saw yellow as “softly exciting”


Red-yellow in Goethes eyes represented the deeper darker part of a fire. From this metaphor, he associated it with warmth, and happiness.


Yellow-red he noted, “seems actually to penetrate the organ”. By this he meant, it makes people feel extremely excited, similar to the way an animal is enraged by a [yellow]red cloth, it inflames people from within. 

The Negative Side:


On the opposite side of his wheel, Goethe said blue has “a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye”. It encourages feelings of darkness and coldness he thought, however it also brings emotions of tranquility and rest. 


Similar to the way in which yellow changes into red-yellow, Goethe saw red-blue as a colour which begins to become more active compared to blue alone. However, rather than exciting somebody, Goethe interpreted red-blue (or lilac) as a colour which could be found more disturbing. 


Red is a powerful colour. To Goethe, lighter hues of red expressed grace and eloquence while darker shades command respect and portray heaviness. 


If a green hue is mixed by yellow and blue perfectly, Goethe states it will create a perfect, calming, harmonious colour for the eyes to ease over with the viewer having “neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it“. 


Colours don’t belong with emotions as such, yet humans have always seemed to link the two together. A study published in 2001 undertaken on preschool aged children aimed to prove that even kids as young as three, relate colours with emotions.

It was found that yes, by age three, most kids would associate bright colours like yellow with happiness. This also goes for adults. Darker colours such as blue and purple were associated with sad facial expressions and emotions. These dark colours are viewed as low in arousal and therefore might encourage the relation to sadness. By age 10, children are also connecting black to sadness and red to anger. 

So, it seems that although there really is not much of a reason to, human brains have been connecting colours and emotions for a very long time.

My next blog looks more into this topic and at an ever-so-slightly more scientific approach to this idea!