Join Molly and co-host Arjun on a reptilian romp, where they learn all about chameleons’ color-changing abilities, powerful eyes, and super sticky saliva. Along the way, they’ll be joined by a pair of chatty chameleon cabaret performers — Kiki and Paul — and chameleon expert Chris Anderson! Color yourself excited for this awesome creature feature, and an all-new mystery sound!

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ANNOUNCER: You're listening to Brains On where we're serious about being curious.

SUBJECT 1: Brains On is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

PAUL: Do you ever look at a pair of crusty socks in the corner and think, man, I wish I had a tongue so long I could grab those stinkers and put them in the hamper without getting out of bed.

KIKI: Or eyeballs so powerful you could see the heat beating down on the pavement as you fry an egg well those are just two of the things we can do I'm Paul. And I'm Kiki.

PAUL AND KIKI: And we're chameleons.

PAUL: We're here to show you how chameleons' lives are a trillion times cooler, chillier, and more fun than you could have ever imagined.

KIKI: Hire us to blow young minds at your kid's next birthday party.

PAUL: Or book a ticket on Paul and Kiki's Chameleon Cruise.

KIKI: Got an auditorium full of rambunctious human children? We will captivate them for at least 11 minutes.

PAUL: We also do weddings, bar mitzvahs, and quinceaneras.

KIKI: We sing, we dance, we change color.

PAUL: And we explain all the most difficult scientific concepts using jokes and props so you won't be left thinking, what in the chamupatidoop just happened?

KIKI: So what are you waiting for? Stop eating those cheese puffs and hanging around the monkey bars.

PAUL: Monkey bars. Those, my friends, are chameleon bars.

KIKI: We can hang from our tails forever.

PAUL: So give us a call at 1-600-WILD for chameleons today! And we'll waddle your way.

KIKI: I'm Kiki.

PAUL: And I'm Paul.

PAUL AND KIKI: And we're chameleons.

KIKI: Committed to changing colors and hearts one show at a time.

MOLLY BLOOM: You are listening to Brains On from APM Studios. I'm Molly Bloom, and I'm here with my co-host, Arjun from Sydney, Australia. Hi, Arjun.

ARJUN: Hi, Molly.

MOLLY BLOOM: Today's episode is about colorful, captivating chameleons. So, Arjun, what comes to mind when I say chameleon?

ARJUN: When you say chameleon, I think of the Jackson's chameleon, which has three horns on its head like a triceratops. That's probably my favorite type.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's so cool. I didn't even know that chameleon existed. You're already teaching me things. So have you ever seen any kind of chameleon in real life?

ARJUN: No, sadly.

MOLLY BLOOM: Me neither. OK, this is our goal now. In 2023-- no, maybe 2024. OK, in the next year, we're going to both aim to find a chameleon that we can see with our eyeballs in real life. Deal?


MOLLY BLOOM: So you also host a podcast called Animals Rule, which is probably why you're teaching me about animals already. So can you tell us a little bit about your podcast?

ARJUN: Yeah. So animals rule is a podcast only found on Spotify, where we cover all sorts of animals and dinosaurs. In the podcast, I have a wise old monkey sitting with me in the studio whose name is Loki. So he helps me explore more facts about all these animals.

MOLLY BLOOM: Have you done an episode on chameleons yet?

ARJUN: Yes, that was my third ever episode.

MOLLY BLOOM: Amazing. OK. So all animals are awesome. But today, we're talking about chameleons. And they are really rad reptiles.

ARJUN: Lounge-y lizards.

MOLLY BLOOM: Terrific tree-hugging tail havers. They're known for their bulging eyes, long sticky tongues, and of course, the fact that they can change color.

ARJUN: And they've been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today, there are 228 different chameleon species on the planet.

MOLLY BLOOM: So many chameleons, so little time.

ARJUN: Especially on Madagascar, which is a big island off the coast of Africa. Almost half of all chameleon species live there.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK. Packing my bags. Madagascar, here I come.

ARJUN: Wait, Molly. Don't go yet. We need to answer our most pressing question about the wizards of lizards.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, right. Jaden and Luke sent us these colorful questions.

JADEN: My name is Jaden. I live in Boynton Beach, Florida.

LUKE: My name is and I'm Williamsburg, Virginia.

JADEN: And I want to know, how do chameleons change color?

LUKE: Why do chameleons change color when they are mad, sad, or afraid?

ARJUN: Exactly. How do chameleons change their color?

KIKI: Chama-chama-chama-chama-chameleon!

MOLLY BLOOM: Wait. Do you hear that?

ARJUN: Yeah. Where's it coming from?

MOLLY BLOOM: It sounds like it's right--

KIKI: Hello, human.

MOLLY BLOOM: There's a teeny tiny lizard on my microphone.

KIKI: The name's Kiki.

ARJUN: Wow. Are you a brookesia chameleon?

KIKI: How did you know?

ARJUN: I host a podcast about animals. So I know a thing or two about you guys. Brookesia chameleons or leaf chameleons are the smallest kind.

KIKI: We are. We're about the size of a sunflower seed.

ARJUN: And Parson's chameleons are the biggest.

PAUL: You got that right. Hiya. I'm Paul. A Parson's chameleon with a big body and an even bigger heart.


ARJUN: Hi, Paul.

PAUL: My size? Thanks for asking.

KIKI: No one asked about your size, Paul.

PAUL: From the tip of my tail to the tip of my nose, I'm over 2 feet long.

MOLLY BLOOM: You're the size of a small cat.

PAUL: And my purr is even better. Purr. Purr.

KIKI: Nice try, Paul.

ARJUN: Maybe you can tell. But chameleons don't purr, they hiss.

PAUL: Yep, like this. Hiss!

MOLLY BLOOM: Wait. But why are you here?

PAUL: We're on a mission to teach the world about chameleons.

KIKI: So when we heard you were doing a show all about us, we thought we'd better stop by.

PAUL: That question, how do chameleons change color. What a classic.

KIKI: We have an act for that.

PAUL: And since you're already spreading the word about our amazing kind, we'll do it free of charge.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh that's really nice of you.

PAUL: All right, Kiks, you ready to let it rip?

KIKI: You betcha, Pauly. Here comes the music.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wait. This is not what we have planned. So if we--

PAUL: Chameleons change color. From green and brown to pink and blue.

KIKI: To red and yellow and orange hues, to purple and black, how about you?

PAUL: They're humans, Kiki. They're not like us. That's always why they make a fuss about our bodies, our skin so cool.

KIKI: You're right. Let's take them to chameleon school.

MOLLY BLOOM: What in the wide world of weird is happening?

ARJUN: I think these chameleons are performers, Molly. Shh!


PAUL: Welcome class, Professor Paul here. A big chameleon with an even bigger heart and a pretty big following on Lizardstagram.

KIKI: Stick to the script, Paul!

PAUL: Find me at-- as I was saying, today, we're going to learn how chameleon skin works. And it's pretty complicated. So pay close attention. All right.


PAUL: So chameleons have not one, not two, not three, but four layers of skin. The first layer of skin is where it all begins. Kiki, my props, please.

KIKI: Coming right up.

PAUL: Ah, perfect. The first layer of our skin is mostly clear and lets the light shine through. But it has a bit of yellow in it, just like this slightly yellow sheet of see-through plastic.

MOLLY BLOOM: The first layer of skin is clear with a little bit of yellow pigment. Got it.

PAUL: Yes. Now the second layer of skin is where a lot of the magic happens. Kiki.

KIKI: Here you go.

PAUL: It looks like this net. And it's made up of teeny tiny crystals.

KIKI: That's a crystal.

PAUL: And this net of crystals can expand. See me stretch it? It's OK to ooh and aah as I stretch it.


KIKI: And it can also contract or shrink back down.

PAUL: When the second layer of skin is in its regular resting state, the crystals it's made out of are snuggled up next to each other.

KIKI: That's a crystal.

PAUL: And together, they often reflect blue light. That blue light mixes with the yellow in the first layer, which makes us chameleons look-- when blue mixes with yellow, it makes--

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, you want us to answer. Green.

PAUL: That's right. But when that net of crystals stretches out, that second layer of skin starts to reflect other colors of light like, for example, red.

KIKI: Which mixes with a yellow in the first layer of skin, so the chameleon might start to look--

ARJUN: Red plus yellow makes orange.

PAUL: Bingo.

MOLLY BLOOM: So the second layer of skin is made out of a net of crystals that expands, and contracts, and reflects different wavelengths of light.

PAUL: Yep. Onto layer three. This one contains melanin which is the same pigment found in.

ARJUN: Oh, I know this one. Human hair and human skin and lots of other places.

PAUL: Yes. The melanin in the third layer of skin can create brown and black pigment, which mixes with the colors in the first two layers and can turn the chameleon a darker shade.

MOLLY BLOOM: So the third layer is all about melanin. And it releases brown and black pigment.

KIKI: Correct.

ARJUN: And the last layer?

PAUL: It reflects white light. But it's not as involved in the color changing effect.

KIKI AND PAUL: And that's the end of our colorful show.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow. Thanks for that awesome color changing education, Kiki and Paul.

ARJUN: Yeah. That was really fun.

PAUL: Wow. So you want to know more about chameleons?

MOLLY BLOOM: I mean, yes. But--

PAUL: They're going to love my tongue trick. Cue the music, Kiki.

KIKI: OK. This one's pretty great.


MOLLY BLOOM: Actually, we have the rest of our show to do, so--

ARJUN: Molly, shh, I got to see this.

PAUL: Step right up. Actually, stay seated. You humans see that pen over there.


PAUL: I'm going to grab that pen with my tongue from here.

MOLLY BLOOM: But it's over 4 feet away from you. That's like the length of a cello.

PAUL: Yep. But that's OK because my tongue is twice the length of my body.

MOLLY BLOOM: Whoa, that was so fast.

ARJUN: Chameleons have some of the fastest tongues on Earth.

KIKI: Wow. For a human, you know your chameleon facts.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wait. But how does your tongue go so fast?

PAUL: I coil it up at the back of my throat.

KIKI: Paul, no one can understand you with that pen in your mouth.

PAUL: As I was saying, I coil it up at the back of my throat like a spring or an archer pulling back a bow and then whizoo! Off it goes.


KIKI: That's not all. Chameleon saliva is 400 times more sticky than human saliva. That means we can carry about a third of our body weight back to our mouths in one fell swoop.

PAUL: Like a crunchy little fly.

PAUL: Or worms or plants.

PAUL: Or a teeny tiny leaf chameleon named Kiki.

KIKI: Oh, stop it!

PAUL: I'm kidding. It gets you every time. Chameleons hardly ever eat each other.

KIKI: Don't make me play leaf.

MOLLY BLOOM: Play leaf?

PAUL: She looks like a leaf when she plays dead.

KIKI: Like that'll do me much good in here. Not a leaf in sight. All I see are these big stands, and microphones, and paper, and pens.

PAUL: Microphone arms are good for climbing. I feel my next trick coming on. Cue the music, Kiki.


PAUL: Do the thing, say the lines.

KIKI: Give me a second, you big tongue head. Observe the chameleon climbing the microphone stand. Watch all of his big toes clamp around that microphone stand. Schlop, schlop, schlop. And now, watch him coil his prehensile tail, which is like the tail of a monkey around the arm. And watch for it. He can hang from his tail, folks.


Chameleon tales are like a fifth hand.

ARJUN: That's really cool. But I'm wondering about.

KIKI: About our eyes.

PAUL: It's got to be about our eyes.

KIKI: Oh, my gosh, our eyes.

PAUL: Our eyes, how did we forget to talk about our eyes.

KIKI: It's not a normal part of the show.

PAUL: We've got to talk about it.

KIKI: I do have beautiful eyes.

PAUL: Changing color is important, but--

MOLLY BLOOM: Arjun, do you know what the deal is with chameleon eyes?

ARJUN: Oh, chameleon eyes can move in two directions at once, which means they have almost 360 degree vision. So they can see all the way around themselves.


KIKI: Down.

PAUL: And all around. We can also use our eyes to zoom in on objects like a camera.

KIKI: Mr. Parson's, I'm ready for my close up.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow. OK. I'm impressed. But I think we've forgotten the elephant in the room.

PAUL: What? Where is the elephant?

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, that's just an expression. There is no elephant.

PAUL: Bring it on, trunk swinger.

KIKI: Human friends, my apologies for the reaction. Paul always wants to be the biggest creature in the room.

PAUL: I'll take you, for real. I'm getting heated up just thinking about it.

ARJUN: Look, Paul is changing color.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's what I wanted to talk about. You told us how you change color. But I want to know why you guys changed color.

PAUL: Human friends, we will tell you. But this is the grand finale.

KIKI: We need to prepare.

PAUL: And I need a snack to recover.

KIKI: OK. Well--

PAUL: And I got to say, Kiki, you've never looked so delicious.

PAUL: Paul. Don't you dare.

PAUL: Joking. Kiki, come back. I love you.

KIKI: Preposterous! When will you learn!

PAUL: Oh, come on. We'll be back, human friends. We just need a few minutes.


ARJUN: Bye-bye.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow. What a dynamic duo. I could use a snack too. Snack break?

ARJUN: Sure. We'll be right back. So don't go anywhere.

MOLLY BLOOM: Hi, friends. We're working on an episode about how we grow. And we want to know if you had the power to either grow super tall or shrink super small, which would you choose and why? So, Arjun, which one would you choose? Shrink super small or grow super tall?

ARJUN: I would probably shrink super small because then I'd be able to slip into places no one else would be able to go.

MOLLY BLOOM: Ooh. Like, what kind of places are you thinking?

ARJUN: Maybe the other day, I accidentally walked into a door. So if I was super small, I could just go under the door.

MOLLY BLOOM: Perfect. I'm sorry you walked into a door. Did you hurt yourself. Are you OK?

ARJUN: Yeah, I'm OK.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, good for you. Listeners, send us a recording of your thoughts at And while you're there, you can send us mystery sounds, drawings, and questions.

ARJUN: Like this one.

LULA: Hi, my name is Lula. And I'm from Grand Junction, Colorado. My question is why are apples different colors?

MOLLY BLOOM: Again that's

ARJUN: And keep listening. You're listening to Brains On. I'm Arjun.

MOLLY BLOOM: And I'm Molly. And we're learning all about, laser eyed, tough tailed, color changing--

ARJUN: Chameleons.

MOLLY BLOOM: We've learned all sorts of cool facts about them. Their eyes can move in different directions at the same time.

ARJUN: They can hang from their super strong tails like monkeys.

MOLLY BLOOM: And their second layer of skin expands and contracts, which is one of the ways they change colors.

ARJUN: But what we haven't figured out yet is why they change color.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, Kiki and Paul said they'd come back to tell us why, but I don't see them yet. Do you?


MOLLY BLOOM: Well, while we wait, let's do the-- Mystery Sound. Are you ready, Arjun?


MOLLY BLOOM: All right, let's hear it.


What are your thoughts?

ARJUN: OK, so it sounds a bit like someone put a bunch of things in a box and is shaking the box around.

MOLLY BLOOM: So what do you think could be in the box?

ARJUN: Could be like board pieces. It sounds like it's not things that would be soft. Probably would be things that are wood or metal or--

MOLLY BLOOM: So you're thinking like board game pieces?

ARJUN: Yeah. Yeah.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, we'll hear it again and have another chance to guess at the end of the show.

ARJUN: I still don't see Kiki or Paul. Do you?

MOLLY BLOOM: No. Do you think they're playing hide and go seek?

ARJUN: Oh, maybe that's why they change color, to blend into the world around them.

MOLLY BLOOM: That means they could be hiding anywhere in here, perched on my purple polka pencil case.

ARJUN: Fanned out on our fancy fuchsia phone.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, hello.

CHRIS ANDERSON: Hi, Molly. It's Chris Anderson.

MOLLY BLOOM: Chris Anderson, Associate Professor of Biology at South University and Supervisor of the Anderson Lab. Oh, my gosh, Arjun. What perfect timing.

ARJUN: Hi, Chris. So glad you called. Molly and I were just wondering, why do chameleons change color.

CHRIS ANDERSON: Oh, yeah. Chameleons actually can change color for a wide range of reasons. For instance, if chameleons are cold first thing in the morning, they can change their color in order to absorb more heat energy from the sun. Or alternatively, if they're very warm, they can turn really pale coloration to become less absorbent, reflect more of that light. And they also will use it as kind of an indicator of their mood and how they are feeling about the surroundings of their environment.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, so chameleons change color to adapt to their environment and how they're feeling about the world around them.

ARJUN: Cool. Do chameleons change color in different patterns?

CHRIS ANDERSON: Yeah. So there's kind of that age old question about what happens if you put a chameleon on plaid or something like that? Does it match that background? Chameleons aren't really actively matching their background based on kind of that camouflage type of assumption about how they're changing color. Instead, what we see is that chameleons have kind of adapted over the course of evolution to the environment that they live in. And so some of the colorations that they adopt tend to conceal themselves well against a backdrop of their natural environment.

MOLLY BLOOM: So they can't control the colors or patterns they display. But they've evolved so that when they do change colors and patterns, they tend to blend into their surroundings.

ARJUN: Can chameleons communicate with each other by changing their color?

CHRIS ANDERSON: They can actually. And they can adopt a wide range of colors and combinations of colors throughout their body. And we've started learning quite a bit over the years. For instance, when two males are interacting with each other, a male that thinks he's dominant is going to tend to be brighter colorations and exhibit some of those more impressive bright colors. Whereas a male who wants to communicate to the other male that he's submissive, he would tend to adopt more muted and darker colors to try and bring that confrontation down a notch so that it avoids any type of fighting.

And similarly, females can communicate to males whether they are receptive to the male's advances or presence based on the colors that they adopt and some of the other signals that they can give including gaping their mouth, and hissing, and puffing up.

MOLLY BLOOM: So how did you get interested in chameleons?

CHRIS ANDERSON: So I actually became interested in chameleons when I was in middle school. And I was really interested in getting a chameleon as a pet. But my father had chameleons when he was a child and knew that chameleons were relatively sensitive animals to keep in captivity and was a little bit hesitant to allow me to get a chameleon. And so my parents made a deal with me that if I did my research on chameleons for six months and read everything I could and was comfortable with what I needed to do to keep a chameleon as a pet, that then, at that point, if I was still interested they would let me get a chameleon as a pet.

And so I ended up reading everything I could get my hands on, bought all kinds of books. I started talking to other keepers and researchers online, learning all I could about chameleons. And eventually, got my first chameleon as a pet. And that snowballed into an additional fascination and curiosity with chameleons more generally. And I'd get a couple more chameleons as pets over time. And I was keeping multiple different species. And then I started becoming really interested in chameleons in the wild as well. And so my interest in chameleons kind of ballooned into this broader obsession, if you will, with chameleons in general, which also helped to some of my interest in other general biological questions.

ARJUN: Thank you so much for answering our questions, Chris.

CHRIS ANDERSON: Not a problem. I enjoyed talking to you.


MOLLY BLOOM: Bye, Chris.


MOLLY BLOOM: I really wonder what happened to Kiki and Paul.

ARJUN: Yeah, you'd think they'd be back by now.

KIKI AND PAUL: Chama-chama-chama-chameleon. We come and go. We come and go.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, there you are.

ARJUN: What took so long?

PAUL: Oh, hello.

KIKI: Hi, humans.

PAUL: We went to a bodega around the corner, and they didn't have any frozen cockroaches. Imagine that. It must have sold out or something.

KIKI: And their leaf selection was unbe-leaf-ably bad.

PAUL: So we had to take a quick trip to the pet store.

KIKI: And the garden center. What a schlep.

PAUL: And ride along on the roof of a taxi.

KIKI: And cling onto a woman's leg just to get through the door.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow. Sounds like an adventure.

PAUL: More of a hassle, really. But anyway, finale time.

ARJUN: Well, we actually figured out the answer to our question.

MOLLY BLOOM: Chameleons mostly change color based on their emotions.

KIKI: Paul, did you hear that?

PAUL: Yes, Kiki. A human who understands our biggest secret.

KIKI: Paul, it's working. Our tireless performances.

PAUL: Our endless tours.

KIKI: Our cruises.

PAUL: Our home visits.

KIKI: Our studio visits.

PAUL: They're all making a difference. People are learning about us. Humans, thank you. Thank you for spreading the good word about our kind.

KIKI: Paul, I think this deserves our song of celebration.

PAUL: You're right. Cue the music.

KIKI: Changing colors, changing hearts.

PAUL: Our tongues and eyeballs are works of art.

KIKI: Humans come on and watch our show.

PAUL: 'Cause we're a lizard that you should.

KIKI: Love chameleons, and you'll find.

PAUL: Chameleons, we're a gift to humankind.

KIKI AND PAUL: Chameleons will blow your mind!

ARJUN: Yay! Bravo!

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, so wonderful.

PAUL: Thank you. Thank you. We're off to our next performance. We're performing at Lizardpalooza.

ARJUN: Wow. That's the largest lizard based music festival in the country.

KIKI: Well, what Paul meant to say is, we'll be performing for free in the parking lot outside Lizardpalooza.

PAUL: I'm sure they'll offer us a headlining bill once they see what we have to offer. Later, humans.

KIKI: Bye, tell all your friends.

ARJUN: Chameleons are lizards with tongues that are super fast, super long, and super sticky.

MOLLY BLOOM: They have cool eyes that can move in two directions at once and see more types of light than us humans. They

ARJUN: Have multi-layered skin, which can help them change colors.

MOLLY BLOOM: And they use their color changing powers to show how they're feeling. That's it for this episode of Brains On.

ARJUN: This episode was produced by Rose Dupont, Nico Gonzalez Wisler, Molly Bloom, Anna Goldfield, Aaron Wallace Lassie, Anna Weggel, Ruby Guthrie, and Marc Sanchez.

MOLLY BLOOM: Our editors are Sanden Totten and Shahla Farzan. Sound design by Marc Sanchez and we had engineering help from Alex Simpson. Beth Perlman is our executive producer. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert, and Joanne Griffith. Special thanks to Arvin Thangali, Steven Ferrone, Sarah Chayat, Josh Rudnick, Amy Chan, and Brant Miller.

ARJUN: Brains On is a non-profit public radio program.

MOLLY BLOOM: There are lots of ways to support the show. Head to

ARJUN: While you're there, you can send us mystery sounds, drawings, and questions.

MOLLY BLOOM: And you can subscribe to our Smarty Pass. It gives you a special ticket to Brains On universe bonus content, plus ad free episodes. OK, Arjun, are you ready to hear that mystery sound again?

ARJUN: Sure.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK. Here it is.


All right, new thoughts. Last time you thought maybe someone's shaking a board game box. What do you think now?

ARJUN: Well, originally, now I thought it might be someone knocking things over. But it goes on too long.

MOLLY BLOOM: I almost heard like wheels or something.

ARJUN: So maybe it could be a wheelbarrow with things in it. And they're shaking it back and forth.

MOLLY BLOOM: Totally. Totally. Or they're using the wheelbarrow to knock things over. Maybe.

ARJUN: Yeah.

MOLLY BLOOM: Who knows? You ready to hear the answer?


MOLLY BLOOM: All right, here it is.

SUBJECT 2: That was the sound of me stirring almonds in a bowl of soy sauce to make tamari almonds, which are a very yummy snack.

ARJUN: I didn't even think of cooking.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, so my wheels thought was totally wrong. But you-- the shaking of something in a box was like pretty close. Shaking almonds in a bowl.

ARJUN: Yeah.


MOLLY BLOOM: Now it's time for the Brains Honor Roll. These are the kids who keep the show going with their questions, ideas, mystery sounds, drawings, and high fives.



MOLLY BLOOM: We'll be back next week with more answers to your questions.

ARJUN: Thanks for listening.

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