"Perhaps the greatest deception that the spy lizard chameleon have ever achieved is deceiving humans into thinking that they change colors to blend in with their surroundings. They do not. They change color based on temperature and their mood. The only surrounding this can help them blend into would be a sad clown convention."In Real Life, chameleons have only a limited colour-changing ability which is primarily dictated by the lizard's mood. Any usefulness as camouflage is entirely unintended. The colours they change into (shades of green, brown, and grey, with bolder psychedelic patterns usually reserved only for courtship or frightening rivals and predators), just happen to be the same as their surroundings most of the time.note Fictional chameleons, of course, can seamlessly will their skin into an exact reproduction of wherever they're standing. One could argue that a sapient chameleon may be able to consciously change color to match his or her surroundings whereas their real-life counterparts only act out of instinct, but this doesn't excuse the more fantastical versions of this trope that become straight-up invisible or even change shape. The most common way of playing this trope for laughs is for a chameleon capable of speech to face a situation where it must match a plaid background. It will invariably be unable to do so, and won't be shy about saying so. As a side note, the most well-known animal that actually does this is the octopus, a trait rarely attributed to it in fiction. Meanwhile, the camouflage thing isn't the only behavior which has been falsely attributed to chameleons; in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was popularly believed that these lizards lived by eating nothing except air. The title character of Shakespeare's Hamlet references this, claiming to do the same thing himself (during his period of feigning madness). Subtrope of Somewhere, a Herpetologist Is Crying. Compare Invisibility Cloak.
— zefrank1, True Facts About The Chameleon
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- There was a commercial for paint where two chameleons were discussing which color they should get for their house, the wife commenting that they have to be sure because they're going to "be this color a lot." As they discuss the different options, their colors change to reflect them.
- An Italian food commercial in The '90s featured a family of chameleons: the son, Carletto, used his mimetic powers to hide from his parents ("He's seven, dear. They're in full mimetic phase at that age") and only the advertised food could take him out of hiding. In the following years, Carletto became the food company's mascot, but the "mimetic" angle was dropped.
- In Naruto, a giant one of these a person can hide in is one of Animal Pain's many summons.
- In Digimon, Chamelemon can appear to disappear even if they're not standing up against anything.
- In Yaiba there's Chamaleon Bonaparte, a french-speaking chamaleon who could not only turn invisible but even transform into another character
- In Kemono Friends, the panther chameleon Friend's color-changing ability is treated more like the ability to turn totally invisible.
- The title character from British comic strip Kid Chameleon was raised by lizards and wore a skin-tight suit of chameleon scales (and not much else). By concentrating, he was able to make the scales change colour, turning him almost invisible - except for his prominent mop of blond hair, which somehow the bad guys never noticed.
- Anole from The New Mutants has this ability.
- A very short lived minor character in the UK run of Marvel's Transformers is called Chameleon, and true to the trope, he has what is effectively an Invisibility Cloak. Not quite so bad given the wide spectrum of Transformer abilities. Also notable for pointing out in-story that this kind of disguise is imperfect due to being an entirely visual bluff—Chameleon's sneakiness is quickly thwarted by an enemy that relies on heat detection instead of traditional sight.
- One Gaston Lagaffe strip has Gaston put different-colored papers behind an increasingly-irritated chameleon, who ends up dumping a pot of red paint on Gaston's head.
- Subverted in Dr. Dolittle 2, with Pepito the chameleon, who thinks he has the ability to blend completely into the background, but never can. At the end, Charisse paints a room completely green as a surprise for Pepito, and it looks like he finally got his dream.
- Played With in Tangled with Pascal, who mostly changes with his mood, it's just that half the time he happens to be in front of something of the same colour. The exception is the first scene with him, when he tries to blend in with a colourful pattern by appearing as this pattern. It doesn't work.
- Randall Boggs from Monsters, Inc. is an extreme example. He can turn completely invisible not only when standing against a background, but even when standing in the open and in physical contact with someone else. He also tends to instantly change colors and patterns when hit hard. Though it's justified given that he's a monster and not an actual chameleon.
- Averted with the main character in Rango, whose colour-changing abilities are more in keeping with a real chameleon's ("It's an art, not a science!"), which doesn't do him any good when trying to hide in the desert. He does a moderately better job at imitating a packet of licorice while hiding in a sweets machine, although he's found out anyway.
- In the movie Curious George, George causes a chameleon to display a veritable kaleidoscope of colors by quickly passing a series of different-colored objects behind it.
- The movie Man's Best Friend featured a genetically-modified killer dog whose abilities included "chameleon genes". At one point, the dog matched the cluttered garage he was in, blending so perfectly that he was invisible to a human three feet away. Presumably based on this trope, as the mention of chameleons seemed to be all the explanation needed for the stunt.
- A deleted scene (restored in special editions) in Terminator 2: Judgment Day shows this becoming a problem for the T-1000 after it reintegrates from being frozen in liquid nitrogen and blown apart by the T-800. The problem for it being that it uses its ability to mimic visuals and textures on whatever it is touching no matter what at the point of contact. This is how John is able to Spot the Impostor when the T-1000 imitates Sarah - its feet and lower legs match the pattern of the platform everyone is standing on.
- Hank the Octopus from Finding Dory effortlessly blends with all sorts of backgrounds.
- In Jurassic World, the I Rex is capable of changing color to blend in to its background. When questioned on this, Dr. Wu states that the genetically engineered dino has cuttlefish DNA in it that is likely the source of this ability.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Primeval, they faced a camouflage monster. It could almost seamlessly disappear into any background. Even when moving really fast, it is still hard to spot. Although, being a creature from the future, it isn't exactly a chameleon.
- In Michael Crichton's The Lost World (1995), the Carnotaurus had extremely complex colour-changing abilities, being able to mimic the appearance of its surroundings, including a chain-link fence. As an aside, Crichton was aware of how (to put it gently) unlikely this would be. He explained that he decided to essentially turn Carnotaurus into the Predator just to see how Steven Spielberg would handle the effects in The Film of the Book. (And then they aren't included in the film, which goes in a completely different direction. Cue sad trombone.)
- Similarly, it appears as though Ceratosaurs have this ability in Age of Reptiles. It's a tad bit jarring.
- The Eric Carle story The Mixed-Up Chameleon has a chameleon that behaves as a normal chameleon does, until it visits a zoo one day and suddenly starts wishing to be more like the animals it sees, which ends up turning it into a Mix-and-Match Critter.
- A storybook by Leo Lionni was also about a chameleon that can change colour this way. He angsts over it because he feels this means he doesn't have an identity of his own. Until he meets a lady chameleon, who explains that "we can be all different colours together". D'aww.
- The protagonist of the picture book Chameleon Was a Spy by Diane Redfield Massie is capable of matching backgrounds and reproducing complicated patterns; it's a plot point that he's even capable of manipulating his pigment to form writing.
- Exaggerated in A Spell For Chameleon—the things referred to as chameleons in-setting definitely aren't, and are capable of disguising themselves as other species.
- In The Wishsong we get one of these... As a giant tiger. (The Cheshire Cat reference is obvious.)
- Actually subverted in a book where a kid buys a chameleon because he's seen how they can apparently change to any colour. Turns out they can only turn brown or some other colour, and the kid is understandably disappointed.
- This is likely based on a weird Real Life case of Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit". The Carolina Anole, a small tree-dwelling Iguanid, used to be sold in pet stores under the name "Chameleon". The only reason for this was because the Anole can change from green to brown depending largely on health or temperature; they look nothing like a real chameleon and are nowhere near closely related. Nowadays, they're usually simply sold under their real name... which can lead to a bit of confusion when they are called Chameleons in older media.
- In Dark Life, this is Shade's Dark Gift. Interestingly, Dark Gifts are based on the abilities of sea creatures, so this fits under the octopus example.
- Discussed in Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception. Holly mentions in conversation that Foaly named his Cham-foil invention in honor of the chameleon. Artemis wonders whether or not Foaly is aware that chameleons use their color changes to express mood rather than as camouflage.
- The hero of the Chameleon the Spy books is a color-changing chameleon who uses his abilities to solve crimes (and play pranks on his mother).
Table Top RPG
- Chameleo Arm in Kirby Super Star. He can turn practically invisible, though the projectiles he spits at Kirby conveniently provide the Paint ability, which will remove his camouflage.
- Kecleon from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, aside from its belly stripe, which never changes.
- The Sonic the Hedgehog character Espio's ability to blend into any colour is represented by him becoming almost invisible. In Sonic Heroes, he can use this ability to literally walk through laser detection systems without being spotted by them.
- The chameleon in Impossible Creatures has the Camouflage ability, which makes part-chameleon creatures invisible. It shares this ability with the rattlesnake and walking stick, which make it even more ridiculous considering they only blend in with specific surroundings.
- The Stealth Sneak in the Kingdom Hearts series. Its camouflage mostly keeps you from telling what it's doing the first time it's fought, due to Clayton riding on it, which gives its location away. While you don't have the same luxury in later encounters, it eventually drops its camouflage once it's been damaged sufficiently anyways.
- The Carnotaurus in The Lost World: Jurassic Park arcade game had chameleon abilities like its novel counterpart, but the way it looked in the game was more along the lines of a cloaking device.
- Sting Chameleon in Mega Man X could blend into the background and avoid X's weapons, though it's more of a cloaking field than color change. His weapon, when charged, causes X to flash in a rainbow of colors and be incorporeal to enemies and invincible while it lasts, ignoring all Collision Damage and moving straight through them. The Updated Re-release Maverick Hunter X for the PS Vita turns the charged Chamelon Sting into a near Game-Breaker by allowing X to switch weapons and attack while the invincibility is still active.
- Francis from Super Paper Mario. Annoyingly, he's completely invincible while camouflaged and only offers brief opportunities to strike when he is visible. There are some ways to make him show himself if you take advantage of Mario's dimension shifting ability, though...
- The blabbermouth boss Cameo Leon in Viewtiful Joe 2. Justified in that he's a robot.
- The Chameleos in the Monster Hunter series is a huge chameleon dragon that can become completely invisible and spends much of its time in the state, notably not even bothering to take the initiative in attacking you (At least until Monster Hunter 4, where it's evidently wised up and realized that an aggressive approach is more effective at fending off pesky hunters). The ability is said to be a result of the supernatural ability to refract light around its body as opposed to color changing, though, making it more justified.
- The chameleons in NetHack can disguise themselves as other creatures, and even gain the abilities of whatever they mimic.
- Leon from Awesomenauts has a cloaking ability that is stated to be natural. He uses this in conjunctions with dummy clones to throw off his opponent.
- The Chameleon Deathclaw in Fallout 4 can change its color to become almost invisible (apart from a faint Predator shimmer around it). Presumably, they have this power because Deathclaws were originally created from genetically engineered Jackson's Chameleons to begin with. Ironically, when not using this ability, they're actually easier to spot than regular Deathclaws due to their bright green coloration, which sticks out against the grey and brown landscape much better than the black or grey coloration of most other Deathclaw types.
- Chameleon, Khameleon and Reptile, all lizard-people from Mortal Kombat, each have some variation of camouflage. Reptile can turn completely invisible on command, and Khameleon and Chameleon are constantly transparent, but their clothes are always visible.
- The Lizalfos are given this design in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. On top of having the same independently mobile eyes, they can change color to blend into their environment, potentially enabling them to ambush unwitting players. The disguise isn't perfect, however, and a player attuned to a Lizalfos' anatomy can make them out against the landscape they're supposed to be blending into.
- RWBY: Averted by Illia Amitola, a chameleon faunus whose animal trait is her color changing skin. The closest she ever comes to this trope is turning herself pitch-black when skulking around in the dead of night, while her skin usually changes colors depending on her mood (blue when sad, red when angry, ect.) and in patterns and colors that are clearly not meant to blend in with anything.
- Dreamscape: Justified with CHEN, the giant cyborg chameleon, since its more like a cloaking device than color-changing camouflage.
- Zig-zagged in Kevin & Kell: there have been several strips about chameleons blending into the background, but one story arc has a family counsellor called "Chamilla Moodring", and the fact her colour responds to emotions is the point (although that also gets exaggerated).
- The Disney film The Wild features a group of chameleons that can work together to basically paint any surface they cover, up to even rendering that object completely invisible.
- Looney Tunes:
- The chameleons in The Penguins of Madagascar use their colours as a means of communication
- In the animated film Katy Caterpillar, the titular character meets up with a group of chameleons who can change to "any colour of the rainbow" and even two colours at once, and look down on anyone who can't change colour.
- The Simpsons, "Alone Again, Natura-Diddly": A chameleon living on a racetrack changes colours to exactly match an STP can. It then gets eaten by a snake living in the can, regardless of the perfect camouflage.
- An episode of the 90's remake of Secret Squirrel had a chameleon as its villain—an art thief who could blend himself in perfectly with fine art. Like the Looney Tunes one broke down in front of plaid, this one completely broke down when he stood in front of modern, abstract pieces.
- The Caped Chameleon from The Tick has the power to mimic the pattern of any surface. Except plaid. He doesn't do plaid.
- My Gym Partner's a Monkey, after an advertising executive abused Ms. Chameleon's colour-changing abilities for a TV commercial, she was unable to stop changing colours.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Lizard Whisperer", the boys' pet chameleon Steve can straight-up disappear. Of course, that inspires Ferb to give his longest speech ever, so we're not complaining.
- In Rocko's Modern Life, the Chameleon Brothers don't actually change colour...but they do change jobs a lot, based on what's trendy.
- Justified with The Chameleon from Tuff Puppy. His camouflage consist in actually transforming in what he wants, but that's because of his special suit. Without it, he is just a normal chameleon.
- Milli from Team Umizoomiis a rare human example, but she changes only the pattern and color of her clothes.
- She does so to change/add the pattern of anything or fill in a missing part of an existing pattern.
- Averted in Stanley; Stanley becomes a chameleon, thinking it'll be cool to be able to change colors at will, but quickly learns that it doesn't work that way.
- In one episode of Arthur, Francine mentions having a pet chameleon that changed colors and escaped. It doesn't particularly look like a real chameleon, either.
- On The Angry Beavers, Bing is able to change colors and patterns and go completely invisible except for his eyes. He otherwise has attributes of a gecko, however.
- Anolis is a genus of lizards that can change color and use this ability for camouflage, but are not chameleons. They're native to the Americas and more closely related to iguanas. They are sometimes refered to as American Chameleons or some regional variation, but don't have the same color range and don't really look too much like true chameleons. Anoles typically change between dark, dingy brown and bright green due to being arboreal.
- Cephalopods in Real Life are more like Hollywood Chameleons than real life chameleons
- The cuttlefish can blend in with a checkerboard, or put on a hypnotic display of undulating lights.
- One squid was put on a striped background that researchers thought it couldn't mimic. It turned transparent.
- A mimic octopus can mimic a Banded Sea Krait, a venomous elapid snake, by changing colour to black and white rings. It even mimics the shape and swimming style of the Banded Sea Krait. It can also mimic a flatfish, lionfish, jellyfish, mantis shrimp, and stingray. And these are just the species we know about.
- Cephalopods can even change the texture of their skin by raising bumps in the appropriate places, which is something not even Hollywood Chameleons are depicted as doing.
- They even use Bioluminescence to hide their ''shadow'' and their outline.
- There actually are a few chameleons that use their trademark color-changing ability for camouflage, such as the Smith's dwarf chameleon.
- Frog fish can change their color to blend in with their background or mimic another animal like a sponge.
- Some bottom-lying flounders and plaice can adjust how dark their sand- or pebble-mimicking spotted upper sides are, the better to match the seabed.
- There are twilight-depth fishes that use glowing photophores on their bellies to emit just enough blue light to blend in with the faint blue of the waters above them, thus camouflaging their silhouettes against predators looking up from the depths. At night, they switch off their photophores so they won't stand out in the blackness.