While chameleons are best known for their ability to change the color of their skin, a group of scientists from the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology have found that they also have glowing, colorful bones, according to a new research published in Scientific Reports.
The team found that the lizards’ bones can glow fluorescent under ultraviolet light, a property that creates intricate, luminous patterns. This is seen in a wide range of species from Africa to Madagascar, and it is the first time such a process has been recorded.
The team made the discovery by shining a UV light on 160 chameleons from 31 different species. Most of the creatures emitted a blue glow under the lamp, and many of them also had previously invisible patterns across their head or body.
Once they recorded the patterns, the team used sophisticated scans to compare the distribution of fluorescent patterns against the structure of the chameleon’s skulls. That revealed the unique pattern perfectly matches the lizard’s bony bumps and ridges.
“[W]e could hardly believe our eyes when we illuminated the chameleons in our collection with a UV lamp, and almost all species showed blue, previously invisible patterns on the head, some even over the whole body,” said lead author David Prötzel, a PhD student at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, in a statement.
Though researchers are not sure what purpose the glowing bones serve, they estimate the feature could help chameleons communicate. Males and females have a different number of bumps on their skulls, which suggests the patterns are distinct. As chameleons can see ultraviolet light, the blue glow could then mark chameleons as male or female from afar. This would be especially apparent in the green and brown forests where they live.
Such a finding sheds new light on the species and helps researchers better understand how the lizards communicate.
“It has long been known that bones fluoresce under UV light, but that animals use this phenomenon to fluoresce themselves has surprised us and was previously unknown,“ Frank Glaw, Curator of Herpetology at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, Munich, Germany, according to Newsweek