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What pet lizards can change color?

Some lizards have the remarkable ability to change their skin color. This can help them regulate body temperature, communicate, and camouflage themselves from predators or prey. For pet owners, the color changing abilities of certain lizard species can be quite fascinating to observe.


Chameleons are likely the most well-known color changing lizards. There are over 160 species of chameleons, and most have the ability to change their skin color. This color change is the result of pigment cells in their skin called chromatophores.

There are three main types of chromatophores that contribute to color change in chameleons:

  • Xanthophores – contain yellow pigments
  • Erythrophores – contain red pigments
  • Melanophores – contain black/brown pigments

By dispersing and concentrating these pigments in different combinations, chameleons can create a wide array of colors and patterns. Some common colors and patterns displayed by chameleons include:

  • Stressed pattern – dark colors with white or light blue stripes
  • Relaxed pattern – greens and yellows
  • Threatened pattern – bright reds, oranges, blacks, and whites

Chameleons primarily change color for signaling, thermoregulation, and camouflage. Signaling color changes communicate a chameleon’s mood, health status, or can play a role in mating rituals. Thermoregulatory color change allows chameleons to control their body temperature by altering how much solar radiation their skin absorbs. Camouflage color changes help chameleons blend into their surroundings to avoid predators and catch prey.

Popular Pet Chameleon Species

Some chameleon species commonly kept as pets include:

Species Origin Adult Size Lifespan
Panther Chameleon Madagascar 12-16 inches 5-7 years
Jackson’s Chameleon East Africa 8-10 inches 5-10 years
Veiled Chameleon Yemen and Saudi Arabia 18-24 inches 5-10 years
Parson’s Chameleon East Africa 10-16 inches 5-10 years

These chameleons make interesting display pets due to their frequent color changes. However, they require specialized care to thrive in captivity.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are a popular pet lizard species that can change color, although not to the extent of chameleons. Native to Australia, bearded dragons display different color patterns depending on temperature, mood, and social situations.

Some key color changes observed in bearded dragons include:

  • Darkening – Dragons will turn darker when trying to absorb heat. The darker pigmentation allows their body to warm more quickly.
  • Lighter tans and yellows – When cooler, dragons will lighten their skin to limit heat absorption.
  • Black beards – When threatened or aggressive, dragons will turn their throat area black. This serves as a warning signal to other dragons.
  • Breeding colors – During breeding season, males can display vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds to attract females.

Like chameleons, color change in bearded dragons is driven by specialized skin cells that contain pigments. By regulating the distribution of these pigment cells, beardies can rapidly alter their skin tones.

Bearded Dragon Species

There are nine recognized species of bearded dragon, but only two are commonly kept as pets:

Species Origin Adult Size Lifespan
Inland Bearded Dragon Australia 16-24 inches 5-10 years
Rankin’s Dragon Australia 8-14 inches 5-10 years

Both make interesting pets due to their generally calm temperaments and color shifting abilities. Proper habitat setup is important to keep pet bearded dragons healthy.

Day Geckos

Day geckos comprise over 100 lizard species in the genera Phelsuma and Rhoptropus. Most day geckos have green coloration and the ability to change to darker or lighter shades. Unlike chameleons and bearded dragons, day geckos cannot produce a wide spectrum of colors – just different shades of green.

Green skin helps day geckos camouflage on the leaves and branches of trees and bushes. The geckos will darken or lighten their skin to better match their surroundings at a given time. This helps conceal them from predators and prey.

Color change in day geckos is driven by the movement of pigment granules (melanin) within skin cells called melanocytes. By aggregating or dispersing melanin, day geckos can alter their shade from nearly black to very light greenish-yellow.

Popular Pet Day Gecko Species

Some of the most common day gecko species kept as pets include:

Species Origin Adult Size Lifespan
Madagascar Giant Day Gecko Madagascar 8-10 inches 5-10 years
Gold Dust Day Gecko Madagascar 4-6 inches 5-10 years
Electric Blue Gecko Madagascar 4-5 inches 5-10 years

Day geckos require specialized care to thrive, but their color changing abilities make them fascinating display pets. Proper habitat and feeding is key for pet day geckos.


Anoles are a large group of small lizards found throughout the Americas and Caribbean islands. Most anole species can change color to some degree, often for signaling or thermoregulation.

Some examples of anole color changes include:

  • Darkening when cold to absorb heat
  • Lightening when hot to reflect heat
  • Displaying bright colors when defending territories
  • Showing dark patterns when stressed or submissive

Specialized cells called chromatophores enable anoles to alter skin pigmentation for color change. As with other color changing lizards, aggregation or dispersion of pigment granules contained within the chromatophores allows different colors and patterns to be displayed.

Common Pet Anole Species

Two popular anole species kept as pets are:

Species Origin Adult Size Lifespan
Green Anole Southeastern United States 5-8 inches 2-4 years
Brown Anole Caribbean islands 4-6 inches 1-3 years

Anoles are easily stressed, so handling should be minimal. With proper setup though, they can make interesting display pets.


Uromastyx are a genus of lizards originating from Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia. They inhabit arid, rocky environments. Many uromastyx species can change color, especially when basking.

Some key uromastyx color changes include:

  • Darkening while basking to increase heat absorption
  • Showing bright whites, yellows, and reds when guarding territories or attracting mates
  • Exhibiting darker black, gray, or blue hues at night or when cold

Specialized dermal chromatophore cells allow uromastyx to alter skin color by aggregating or dispersing melanin pigment granules. This color change ability aids thermoregulation and communication.

Pet Uromastyx Species

Some uromastyx species commonly kept as pets:

Species Origin Adult Size Lifespan
Spiny-tailed Uromastyx Northern Africa 16-28 inches 15-20 years
Ornate Uromastyx Mali, Niger, Sudan 16-28 inches 15-20 years

Uromastyx require very hot, dry enclosures with hides and basking sites. With proper care though, their color changing behaviors can be quite interesting to observe.


The ability to change skin color is certainly fascinating. For reptile enthusiasts, lizards that can shift hues provide novelty and interest. Chameleons, bearded dragons, day geckos, anoles, and uromastyx are just some of the color changing species that can potentially be kept as pets.

Caring for these animals takes dedication though. Their environments and nutritional needs must be met for good health and to allow natural color changing behaviors to occur. With the right habitat setup and owner commitment however, pet lizards with color changing talents can thrive while providing unique enjoyment for their human caretakers.