The Loh Down On Science

Custom Chameleons

Armed with stuffed birds and rubber snakes, scientists learn the whys and what-fors of chameleon camouflage.

How much wood WOULD a woodchuck chuck?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

saying, who cares--when there's news about customizable chameleons!

Dwarf chameleons are famous for their color-changing skills. But researchers in South Africa wanted to get more details about their color changing ability.

So they presented wild chameleons perched on shrub branches with realistic models of two major predators.

Which would trigger a faster response-- a rubber snake or a stuffed shrike, a type of bird?

They filmed the lizards from the point of view of the predator. With the convincing almost-snake? Booo! Hiiissss!!! The chameleon barely attempted self- camouflage. In fact, in the BIRD's view, it stood out like. . . well, like a lizard on a stick.

But the shrike? Although suspiciously STIFF, it caused the same lizards to step it up, and match their surroundings better! The shrike has sharper eyes and is hence more deadly. Chameleons have figured that out.

They don't sense the inherent NON-danger of a stuffed animal. But what can you expect from a lizard whose responses ONLY run. . . skin deep.


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