Chameleons are famous for their ability to change their skin color. However, not all chameleon species share this trait. For those that do, their skin is embedded with cells containing guanine crystals. By changing the space between the guanine crystals, chameleons change the wavelength of light reflected by the crystals, which alters their skin color. Chameleons change their skin color for three different purposes:

  1. to make social signals to other chameleons
  2. to alter their body temperature
  3. to camouflage their bodies when threatened by predators

Other Unique Features of Chameleons

The ability to change skin color is just one of several outstanding body design features that chameleons possess. They also possess the longest tongue-to-body-length ratio of any animal. Some chameleon species can project their tongues out of their mouths to an astounding length that is double that of their bodies (not including their tails)! Chameleons are equipped with an extremely complex set of specialized bones, muscles, and collagenous elements that enable the tongue to be catapulted out to its full length in just 0.07 seconds (see image 1).1 The elastic recoil in the tongue projection mechanism is designed to be relatively insensitive to temperature changes.2 Thus, unlike other reptiles, chameleons can capture prey even when their body temperatures are low.


Image 1: Chameleon’s Elastic Recoil Tongue Projection Mechanism
Gif Credit: Wikimedia Commons/SurreyJohn 

The machinery controlling the tongue action of chameleons would be useless if it were not for an equally exquisite design of its eyes. Each eye of a chameleon can pivot and focus independently, giving it a 360° arc of vision and the ability to track prey without moving its head. Each eye is independently capable of depth perception (through varying the focus rather than by binocular triangulation) and can accurately track flying insects no matter how fast they are flying. Each eye consists of a negative lens and a positive cornea. Because of this unique telephoto lens system,3 chameleons possess the highest sight magnification, relative to their body size, of any vertebrate animal. There is no limit to how tiny an insect it can grab.

Now, biophysicists have discovered another amazing design feature that chameleons possess. Their tongues are coated with a special adhesive that equips them to capture not just small flying insects but large insects as well.4 This adhesive is a special mucus with a viscosity measure that is 400 times greater than that of human saliva. The combination of the very high viscosity of the mucus coating the tongue, the large contact area the chameleon’s gigantic tongue can make with its prey, and the tongue’s blazingly fast retraction velocity enable chameleons to capture prey that measure a large fraction of their body sizes. This combination of design features in concert with the chameleons’ unique eye designs also explain why chameleons are the only reptiles that, under normal circumstances, never miss their prey.

In Job 38–41, God speaks about how wondrously he designed the lion, the raven, the goat, the deer, the donkey, the ox, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, the eagle, the hippopotamus, and the crocodile. As I explained in chapters 10 and 12 of my book Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job each of these creatures stands alone among Earth’s animals in manifesting their marvelous design features. Similarly, the many complex design features of the chameleon really stand out among all Earth’s terrestrial animals. The chameleon has no peer. No other land animal comes close to matching all its exquisite design features.


Image 2: Sand lance Burrowing into Sand to Hide from Prey
Image Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

An Ocean Chameleon?

While no other land animal matches its features, a marine animal comes amazingly close to duplicating the chameleon’s tongue and eye designs. That animal is the sand lance fish (see image 2). Like the chameleon, the sand lance possesses eyes that pivot and focus independent of one another and are capable of extreme magnification. Like the chameleon, the sand lance can determine depth perception using a single eye and the eyes can be covered with skin that keeps the eyes from being conspicuous to both predators and prey. Like the chameleon, the sand lance possesses a tongue that can be catapulted out of its mouth at high velocity. Both creatures use the same feeding strategies and techniques.

In a comparative study of the sand lance and the chameleon, three zoologists noted 13 complex morphological designs that the two species share in common.5 Five of the 13 designs are features that are not known to exist in any other fish or lizard species.Commenting on just the unique eye designs, the authors wrote,

“This is a completely new design principle found only in the eyes of these two vertebrates.”7

How the Two “Chameleons” Challenge Evolution

In the same research journal issue another zoologist, in a paper, also commented on the “extraordinary catalogue of convergences between the visual systems of the sandlance and the chameleon.”8 The extraordinary catalogs of convergences that “break all the rules”9 pose an enormous challenge to models of biological evolution.

What is the challenge? Actually, there are two. The first is the severe difficulty from an evolutionary perspective of explaining all the amazingly complex, specialized, extreme morphological designs that chameleons possess. The second is the even more severe difficulty from an evolutionary perspective to explain why two species living in radically different environments possess the identical complex, specialized, extreme morphological designs.

Models of biological evolution predict that morphological designs are the product of natural selection. However, the forces of natural selection in the desert environment of chameleons are radically different than the seafloor bottoms of sand lances. Rather, the identical designs that both chameleons and sand lances share provide examples that the more we learn about the universe, Earth, and all the life that Earth contains, the more evidence we establish for the supernatural, super-intelligent handiwork of God. Or, as the psalmist declared thousands of years ago,

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”10


  1. Jurriaan H. de Groot and Johan L. van Leeuwen, “Evidence for an Elastic Projection Mechanism in the Chameleon Tongue,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 271 (April 2004): 761–70, doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2637; Christopher V. Anderson, Thomas Sheridan, and Stephen M. Deban, “Scaling of the Ballistic Tongue Apparatus in Chameleons,” Journal of Morphology 273 (November 2012): 1214–26.
  2. Christopher V. Anderson and Stephen M. Deban, “Ballistic Tongue Projection in Chameleons Maintains High Performance at Low Temperature,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 107 (March 2010): 5495–99: Christopher V. Anderson and Stephen M. Deban, “Thermal Effects on Motor Control and in vitro Muscle Dynamics of the Ballistic Tongue Apparatus in Chameleons,” Journal of Experimental Biology 215 (November 2012): 4345–57, doi:10.1242/jeb.078881.
  3. Matthias Ott and Frank Schaeffel, “A Negatively Powered Lens in the Chameleon,” Nature 373 (February 1995): 692–94, doi:10.1038/373692a0.
  4. Fabian Brau et al., “Dynamics of Prey Prehension by Chameleons through Viscous Adhesion,” Nature Physics, published online June 20, 2016, doi:10.1038/nphys3795.
  5. John D. Pettigrew, Shaun P. Collin, and Matthias Ott, “Convergence of Specialised Behaviour, Eye Movements and Visual Optics in the Sandlance (Teleostei) and the Chameleon (Reptilia),” Current Biology 9 (April 1999): 421–24.
  6. Ibid., 421.
  7. Ibid., 422.
  8. Michael F. Land, “Visual Optics: The Sandlance Eye Breaks All the Rules,” Current Biology 9 (April 1999): R288, doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(99)80180-8.
  9. The title of the paper is “Visual Optics: The Sandlance Eye Breaks All the Rules.”
  10. Psalm 104:24.

Subjects: Animals, Challenges to Evolution, Common Design vs. Common Descent, Convergence, Life Design

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About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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