Animals that can change color are observed more often than you might think across different species, habitats, and even body parts. While reindeer have eyes that change color in winter and fish can turn black with anger, documentary makers have witnessed the Labord's chameleon (Furcifer labordi) putting on a spectacular display at the end of her life.
"On reviewing the footage, we were amazed and moved by the colorful spectacle they had filmed – something that the scientists have never observed in the wild before," producer Valeria Fabbri-Kennedy and Chris Raxworthy, a herpetologist at the American Museum of Natural History, told Live Science.
Using time-lapse photography for the new PBS series Big Little Journeys, the team recorded the last few colorful hours of the chameleon's life in Kirindy Forest in western Madagascar. The researchers recorded her laying her eggs and covering them to protect them from the harsh weather extremes of a dry season in Madagascar.
"The females put all their energy into producing eggs that need to get through the long drought while underground," Fabbri-Kennedy and Raxworthy said. "They die within just a few hours of having laid them, as they have few resources left."
The colorful display occurs because of several layers of skin cells. According to Wired, the topmost layer is transparent while the layers beneath contain cells known as chromatophores. Each chromatophore has a different kind of pigment, some are deeper down and contain melanin, while those on top might have yellow or red pigments within types of chromatophores called xanthophores or erythrophores. When the chameleon changes temperature or mood, the sacs containing the pigments are triggered by the nervous system, which produces a whole array of colors across a chameleon's body.
"During death, nervous signals continue to transmit and to change the shape of the skin cells, creating the chaotic technicolor patterns that were captured," Fabbri-Kennedy and Raxworthy said.
The Labord's chameleon is an unusual chameleon species in the first place with a lifespan of just four to five months. In fact, the species spends more of its life as an egg developing for nine months before hatching. According to The Guardian, hatchlings typically emerge in November and are able to breed two months later. By February, they show signs of aging and even fall out of trees because of weakened grip.
Experts believe this shortened lifespan could be to cope with the harsh variations in season present in Madagascar. Regardless, we'll be watching the last colorful display of this female on repeat for the rest of the week.
[H/T: Live Science]