Reptile Camouflage

The ability to hide is a crucial survival trait. From desert horned lizards blending in with the sandy substrate to leaf-tailed geckos disguised as dead leaves, these masters of camouflage give a new meaning to the game of hide and seek.


Local selection of dorsal camouflage against avian predators by island populations of Podarcis erhardii was observed in this study. This heightened local camouflage was consistent across island comparisons and within both sexes.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragons are a popular reptile species, and the ability to camouflage in their natural environment makes them even more fascinating to observe. Their camouflage helps them blend in with their surroundings and hide from predators. Understanding their coloration and behaviors allows pet owners to better care for them, and may also help pet owners recognize signs of health issues that would be difficult to detect without knowledge of bearded dragon behavior.

Like octopus and chameleons, bearded dragons have specialized cells called chromatophores that can quickly change the density of pigment molecules within the skin, changing the lizard’s color. These lizards typically use their colour changes to communicate, but Cadena and her colleagues wanted to see how their colours might respond to temperature.

To determine this, the researchers captured bearded dragons in the wild and brought them back to their laboratory in Melbourne. Then they placed the lizards in tanks with yellow play sand (similar to a nearby sandstone rock formation) and red desert sand from Alice Springs, and photographed them as the light conditions changed throughout the day.

The scientists found that the lizards’ dorsal surfaces — including their beards and chests — responded to temperature by turning dark. However, their ventral surfaces, which are used for social signalling in dominance displays and aggression displays, did not respond to temperature, which supports the idea that these lizards partition colour change between thermoregulation and social visual signals.

Western Diamond Back Rattlesnakes

When a rattlesnake feels threatened, it often stands its ground and rattles fearsomely. It does so because it knows that it can deliver one of the deadliest bites in the world.

The snake’s rattle is made of a series of interlocking segments that click together as the snake moves. The snake adds to this rattle each time it molts. This rattle is what gives the snake away.

It is also a very effective deterrent to humans. Western diamondback rattlesnakes can be found in the deserts, grassy plains, forests, and rocky hillsides throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. They are considered a generalist and can be found at elevations from below sea level to over 6500 feet (2200 m). Mice, rats, rabbits, gophers, ground-dwelling birds, and lizards make up the majority of their diet.

Rattlesnakes have evolved to be highly specialized predators that serve a vital role in controlling rodent populations. An average rattlesnake will eat 21 rodents per year and this plays an important role in lowering local rodent numbers. While some people may be scared of snakes, the fact is that this particular species of venomous snake is essential for the health of ecosystems across North America.

Leaf-Tailed Geckos

Some reptiles have truly awesome camouflage. One of the coolest is a new species of gecko called Mossy Leaf-Tailed Geckos (Uroplatus phantasticus). The animals blend in perfectly with their tree-filled habitats on Madagascar, where they are indigenous.

Their coloring and tail shapes are designed to mimic dead leaves, while their backs have ridges that look like leaf veins. Their eyes are even covered by a transparent membrane so they can avoid getting dirt in them. And when they rest, they flatten themselves against trees or branches to reduce their shadow and blend in completely.

During the day, the geckos hang motionless in their trees, or hide beneath rocks and other debris. But at night, they move through their rainforest habitats searching for ants and other insects that they eat. To do this, they have adhesive scales on their fingers and toes that help them stick to surfaces.

They can also flatten themselves to reduce their silhouette, open their mouths wide to show a scary red interior and shed their tails to imitate the appearance of a discarded leaf. If they’re caught by a predator, they can also stand up and scream a terrifying gecko sound.

Satanic leaf-tailed geckos are solitary creatures that are rarely seen by humans in the wild, and this incredible camouflage likely contributes to their safety. But in captivity, the geckos make excellent pets and are often kept in pairs or trios to ensure that they breed. Females lay clutches of two to three spherical eggs that hatch after about 95 days.


Chameleons are one of the most well-known reptiles for their camouflage ability. They can be found in a variety of ecosystems, including tropical rainforests, mountain rainforests, and savannas. The outer layer of a chameleon’s skin is see-through, but underneath are layers of special cells filled with pigment-the substance that gives plants and animals (including humans) color. When a chameleon wants to display a new color, its brain sends a message for these cells to get bigger or smaller, causing them to release pigments that mix with the outer layer of skin to create new colors. For example, red and blue pigment may mix to make a chameleon look purple.

Most chameleons are primarily green, as this helps them blend in with their forest habitats. However, some species are more adapted to desert habitats. These chameleons are able to vary their brightness, and many species can also produce shades of brown or yellow.

Researchers have discovered that a chameleon’s ability to change its color depends on whether it is trying to attract a mate or defend its territory. When a chameleon is displaying to potential mates, it uses more vibrant colors. This is likely because the lizard is trying to signal to other chameleons that it is a strong contender for the female’s attention. In contrast, aggressive behavior such as head shaking and displays in which a male puffs up its throat and flattens itself to appear larger, cause chameleons to use more muted colors.