The more you learn about reptiles the more incredible they are. Reptiles are a special group of animals that have unique adaptations to help them survive. When amazing adaptation that many reptiles have is the ability to change color. Some reptiles can change color instantly, and others take a few hours to make the change.
In this article, we’ll list all of the reptiles that can change color.
So many reptiles are able to change the color of their skin. Most species of chameleons and geckos can change colors at will. Other reptiles like green tree pythons and green anoles also have color-changing capabilities. This trait helps these reptiles camouflage and evade predators in the wild.
Before we start listing the amazing reptile species that change color, we’ll talk about the biology behind this incredible ability.
How Do Reptiles Change Color?
There seem to be two general hypotheses on how reptiles are able to change the color of their skin.
The first theory has to do with an alteration of the distribution of natural pigments in reptile skin cells. According to the University of Melbourne, some lizards are able to darken their skin color by concentrating pigments in their skin cells. On the other hand, lizards can become lighter by spreading out payments, and their skin cells. This particular method was proven with bearded dragons, who changed colors to avoid detection and to stay cool under the hot desert sun.
The second theory is a little more difficult to explain and comes from research done on chameleons. Science magazine reported in an article that chameleons change colors by moving and rearranging nona crystals in their skin. These nanocrystals are called iridophores and are organized in a close pattern. This pattern typically reflects one color when exposed to light. When chameleons rapidly change color the organization of the crystals changes and expands, so that a different color is reflected.
As we said, it’s not so easy to explain, but there are definitely scientific explanations for how reptiles are able to change colors so quickly.
11 Reptiles That Can Change Color
Not all reptiles that can change color are created equal. Some reptiles take a few minutes to change color, others can change color instantly, and some may take up to an hour to change their color. Below, we’ll give descriptions of every reptile that can change color, and exactly how and why they do it
Chameleons are probably the most well-known reptile that can change color. Chameleons are a huge group made up of over 200 distinctive species of lizards. Not all of these species have color-changing capabilities, but many do. For the most part, chameleon species, change colors from green to brown. But in some cases, like in the video above, chameleons, change from one very vibrant color to another.
Panther chameleons are one notable species that change color. Unlike many other chameleons, these lizards, don’t change color to hide themselves. Rather, these lizards often go from blue to red when they’re threatened or upset. Male panther chameleons also use their bright colors as a meeting ritual to attract females.
If you have a pet chameleon and notice that they’ve turned white, this isn’t a good sign. It’s probably an indication that something is wrong and is not just a cool color-changing ability.
Like chameleons, several species of gecko can change color as needed.
Geckos aren’t quite as adept at changing colors as chameleons. Not nearly as many species of gecko show color changes. That being said, there are some great examples of geckos that change color, and many geckos are masters of disguise and camouflage even without color-changing abilities.
One study followed the behavior of the Moorish gecko. This gecko proved that its species is capable of changing color in response to environmental factors. For example, this geckos back often change color to match the color of the surface it was on. The point of this color-changing trait was to help camouflage the small gecko from predators above.
3. Kapuas Mud Snake
The Kapuas mud snake is a wild snake native to Borneo that can spontaneously change the color of its skin. While there isn’t much known about this snake, one thing is certain. The snake was put into a bucket and 20 minutes later its color was changed to completely blend in with the bucket. The snake went from a vibrant blue and brown color to completely white within minutes.
In this case, we can assume that the Kapuas mud snake uses color change for camouflage.
4. Green Tree Python
If you’re not convinced that a snake can change color, just watch the quick video above. You’ll be able to witness a green tree python changing from a yellow color to a bright green color in the span of just a few months. These snakes don’t change color as rapidly as many other reptiles do.
Instead, green tree pythons are born either yellow or brown and turn into vibrant green colors as adults. This is purely a survival technique because when they’re yellow and brown juveniles, they’re mostly on the ground blending in with leaf litter. As they mature they can move up into the trees and blend in with the jungle canopy. Some of these pythons have been bred in captivity to become other bright colors, like bright blue, red, or even purple.
5. Painted Terrapin
Painted terrapins are our first example of a reptile that changes color purely for breeding purposes.
We’ve all seen videos of those birds that wear extravagant feathers and dance to attract mates. These turtles aren’t so different. You can see in the video above hatchlings and juveniles of the species are unremarkable. They’re a dull green, or brown color that blends in well with ponds.
But, as breeding season approaches, males change colors. If you happen upon a male during its summer and winter breeding seasons, you’ll notice that their heads turn white and get a dark red stripe through the middle. Their shells also change colors and become lighter so that their spots and stripes are more prevalent.
It’s pretty amazing that these turtles can change colors seasonally.
6. Papuan Python
The Papuan python or Iranian python is a wild and captive snake that can grow up to a length of 13 feet. Spider size, many of these snakes are kept as pets because of their beautiful, iridescent skin. When agitated, this snake can go from a beautiful olive green to black and yellow. This change can occur within minutes and can stay for hours or days on end.
7. Round Island Keel Scaled Boa
Round Island keel scaled boa is a snake native to a small island called, you guessed it, Round Island! As many island species are this snake population is devastated by the development of its land.
Currently, there are confirmations, working to preserve and protect the species. The kill, scaled boa is amazing because it changes color every day. During the day, when the sun’s out the Round Island keel scaled boa is incredibly dark. By nighttime, the snake is notably lighter.
This snake species is able to change colors through the use of manipulation of iridophores that we mentioned earlier.
8. Green Anole
Green anoles are popular pet reptiles that stay super small for their entire lives.
In captivity, they probably don’t have any need to show off their color-changing abilities. However, these small lizards regularly change color in the wild. This lizard’s color-changing ability is actually linked to hormones that caused the lizard to turn brown.
This change is brought on by environmental conditions, and it seems like the duller colors coincide with cooler temperatures. In the summer, anoles will be a bright green color that blends in with the healthy vegetation.
9. Bearded Dragon
One of the most common reptiles that change colors is the bearded dragon.
Now, don’t expect a vibrant color change from a bearded dragon. These lizards don’t have the same ability as others to go from blue to green or anything like that. However, these lizards can change color incredibly fast. Usually, a bearded dragon’s color change involves going from its natural color to something darker, or even black. Of course, everything changes when you start looking at morphs and you can find more colorful (even red and orange) beardies in the world of morphs.
Bearded dragons often change color to absorb more heat during the day. But, as you may have observed in your pet bearded dragon, they can also turn black when they’re agitated or upset. In the video above, you can see just how quickly this bearded dragon’s neck goes from white to black when they see their tank mate.
Again, it’s not normal for this species to turn white so if you notice your bearded dragon’s tail turning white, something is probably wrong.
Even though we know that frogs aren’t reptiles, there are a couple of species worth noting on this list.
10. Grey Tree Frog
The gray tree frog is a master of camouflage that can go from bright green to dark-speckled gray in a matter of minutes. When this frog turns gray or brown, the dark spackle pattern on top is more pronounced so that this frog might even look like a leaf from above. This color change is definitely defensive and helps these frogs camouflage in the forest.
11. Peron’s Tree Frog
Peron’s tree frog is found in Australia and is one of the frogs with the most variable colors. This frog has the ability to change color in under an hour. They can go from mottled yellow to various shades of brown and gray, and may even show red spots from time to time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Hopefully, we’ve given you a satisfactory list of all the reptiles that can change color. Now, let’s answer a few more frequently asked questions on the topic.
What Reptiles Can Change to Three Colors?
Most reptiles don’t just change to two colors. Rather, they have an endless range of colors from one end of the spectrum to another. The color change isn’t an on-off switch, it’s a gradual change on a gradient. There are many reptiles that can change to more than just two or three colors.
Is There A Snake That Can Change Colors?
There are many examples of snake species that can change colors.
Green tree pythons slowly change colors over a few months as it ages from juvenile to adult. Kapua mud pythons can completely change color within minutes to camouflage. When agitated, the Papua python changes to a vibrant black and yellow coloration. And of course, keel scaled boas change color daily, with the rising and setting of the sun.
How Many Species of Lizards Can Change Colors?
So many species of lizards can change colors. Chameleons and geckos are all lizards. Within those categories alone, there are handfuls of reptiles that can change colors. It’s actually hard to count because there are so many of these species that can change colors.
It’s amazing how many reptiles can change color. It’s also interesting to see that some of these reptiles change color as a defensive technique while others change color for mating or as a warning. The way reptiles change color isn’t even the same across the board with some using iridophores, others using pigments, and one relying on hormones to make the change!
In captivity, color changes won’t be as noticeable because reptiles aren’t under the same kind of stress that they are in the wild. But rest assured, there’s a good chance that your scaly friend has awesome color-changing abilities!