The chameleon is the most well-known camouflaging species, but several snakes can also pull the trick. However, there is usually a gradual transitory color transformation for snakes over time.
Coloration in snakes is caused by light reflection and dispersion by cells and tissues and light absorption by chemical compounds inside skin cells. Color changes can happen quickly or gradually over time. Different circumstances require different color-changing abilities, for instance, when searching for mates, hiding from predators, or hunting prey.
How do Snakes Change Color?
Snakes alter color in reaction to their environment, which includes changes in backdrop color and the presence of predators, partners, or rivals.
They must examine their surroundings to determine which color to use. The brain processes information about a snake’s environment via the senses, and the brain delivers messages to chromatophores directly or via hormones.
Rapid color change in snakes can occur due to various triggers such as temperature or light, which causes a reflexive reaction through light-sensitive receptors in the skin. When they change color, snakes can be able to regulate their body temperature. When it is cold, a snake may appear dark because the color will absorb more heat, and when it is hot, it may appear quite pale because bright colors reflect heat.
Some snakes have cells that make up all of their body’s organs, including the heart, lungs, and even the skin, that enable them to change color.
Related Article: Are Snakes Vertebrates or Invertebrates?
Why Do Snakes Camouflage?
Camouflage is one of the most straightforward yet effective protection tactics snakes use. Camouflage helps snakes avoid being seen by predators, allowing them to escape without having to defend themselves.
Most snakes have acquired a color that allows them to blend in with their surroundings. For instance, snakes use grey or light brown camouflage to blend into the desert to fit in with their surroundings.
However, the two most significant purposes of color change are concealment and communication. Snakes with this ability can flash dazzling colors to scare rivals or entice mates while staying hidden at other times.
Snakes That Change Color
1. Arizona Black Rattlesnake
These rattlesnakes are mainly found in Arizona mountain ranges between the Rincon Mountains and the Colorado River. Although these snakes are generally active during the day, they may be active at night and when the conditions are right.
The Arizona Black Rattlesnakes are born with brown blotches and face markings on a light grey backdrop, with the background color slowly darkening as they get older. Their patterns become less visible as they darken. This is referred to as Ontogenetic color change.
This snake is also known for its ability to shift colors in response to changes in sunlight. Its colors change from midnight black to light grey. This is known as physiological color change. Additionally, as their skin extends due to feeding, the migration of melanosomes in their skin may produce some color shift.
2. Green Tree Python
As their name indicates, green tree python spends a lot of time in trees. However, they are not always green- instead, they come in various hues.
As the snake ages, its skin, which is either brilliant yellow or red at birth, changes to blend into the environment. Juveniles are generally yellow, crimson, or dark brown-black. Their immature yellow and red coloration mix astonishingly well with the multi-colored foliage and grass near the woodland border.
As they hunt rodents and birds in the canopy, the adult green enables them to conceal themselves from predators. They eventually shed their skins; their color changes to the vivid green seen in many adults. However, some retain their brilliant yellow coloring, while others transition to blue. As they age, each hue is distinct and lovely in its own right.
This snake is popular in the pet trade industry because of its vibrant colors.
But did you know that some pythons are known to eat humans?
3. Kapuas Mud Snake
The Kapuas mud snake is a Homalopsidae snake that is native to Borneo. The Kapuas River inspired the name of this snake. It is a nonvenomous snake that may grow to be 91.4cm to 122 cm long. Its mating mechanism is polygynous.
Its body color ranges from bluish to glossy black, and the lower side is red and black, with reddish to pinkish bands on the upside. It only takes a few minutes for the color to change. It’s a chameleon snake that lives in marshy lowlands and deep woodlands, and it prefers moist areas where it may conceal itself in mud.
The scales of the Kapuas mud snake changes when it is dark. Within a matter of 20 minutes, the reddish-brown snakes become white.
4. Papuan Python
The Papuan python is a giant and gorgeous snake with an extraordinary bulky head with massive contrasting scales. It also possesses incredible luminosity and can change color.
The Papuan python is highly-known for its ability to change colors. It is usually olive green, although it may also be yellow or black, and it sometimes shows two colors at once. The causes behind this snake’s color changes are unknown; however, it has been speculated that this occurs when the snake is stressed.
5. Round Island Keel Scaled Boa
Round Island keel scaled boa is found on this tiny island off the coast of Mauritius, but it used to reside on several outlying islets and the main island. Adult Round Island boas may grow to be up to 150 cm long. Males have smaller and thinner bodies, more pointed skulls than females. Tiny keeled scales coat their body.
A unique feature of this snake is that it is the only snake in its genus with a mandibular joint that may detach and divide the anterior and rear bones of the higher jaw. This unusual modification is considered to assist snakes in better hanging on to their prey of skinks and geckos.
The snake also possesses specialized skin cells that allow it to change color throughout the day. When they are inactive during the day, they darken. However, they have a brighter hue when they are active at night.
6. Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The western diamondback resembles the eastern diamondback in appearance. It features a triangular head, a thin neck, a large body, and a short tail with two diagonal stripes running from each eye to the mouth. The body design is made up of black diamonds with pale borders and a bright center.
The diagonal markings usually neutralize at the tail and transform into a ringing design of wide white and black hoops. The snake’s basic color frequently mixes with its surroundings, ranging from drab gray to brown to reddish. Like the Texas diamondback, near-desert varieties can be so pale that the markings are invisible apart from the white diamond edges.
Go Deeper: 7 Snakes that Look Like Rattlesnakes
Changing colors is common in particular creatures, such as the chameleon, but it is extremely rare and underappreciated in snakes. The capacity to blend into their environment by changing hue is the most astonishing of all.
Snakes that can change hues are an intriguing illustration of how nature has guided species to develop and adapt. Many snakes employ camouflage to hide from both prey and their predators by acquiring a color that allows them to blend in with their surroundings, making it difficult to identify them.
Some snakes do experience color changes; for example, Colombian rainbow boas are milk-chocolate in color with a white belly during the day, but they shift to silvery sides with a dots-and-rings pattern at night. However, this is a progressive transition as the sun sets, rather than a sudden transformation like a chameleon.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.