Do Chameleons Learn to Change Color?

Ontogeny explains how certain traits of a behavior develop over an individualís lifetime. Typically, behaviors are either innate, meaning that an individual is born knowing how to do it, or it is learning, meaning that a parent or other experiences individual shows them how to perform the behavior, or the individual figures it out by watching their parent or other experienced individual.

Chameleons do not participate in direct parental care and interactions between parent and offspring are minimal or nonexistent. Adult and juvenile chameleons tend toward living in different habitats, which is likely explained by the frequency of parent-offspring cannibalism (Keren-Rotem et al., 2006).

Because chameleons tend to live with others of similar age and experience, it is unlikely that they learn how to change color. The role of hormones and their nervous systems in color change (outlined in Mechanism) also support the common belief that chameleons do not learn how to or decide when to change color, but that it is an involuntary process in response to external stimuli.

If the ability to color change is a social skill, as many have recently speculated and are in the process of researching, then chameleons must learn in one way or another the social rituals they will partake in, but no information has explicitly addressed this point thus far.