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Hollywood Chameleons

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"Perhaps the greatest deception that the spy lizard chameleon has ever achieved is deceiving humans into thinking that they change colors in order to blend in with their surroundings. They do not. They change color based on temperature and their mood. The only surrounding this could help them blend into would be a sad clown convention."
zefrank1, True Facts About The Chameleon

In Real Life, most chameleons have only a limited colour-changing ability which is primarily dictated by the lizard's mood. Aside from a few species, most 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 colour to match their 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 is actually capable of camouflaging to match their surroundings is the octopus. 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 and Chameleon Camouflage. Compare Invisibility Cloak. Can often overlap with Lovable Lizard.


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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.
  • This Vertigo ad animated by Cyriak Harris has a chameleon eat a vertigo lollipop and change color to reflect its candy side, unfortunately, its appearance and the fact that the Vertigo's stick is still sticking out of its mouth causes an elephant to begin licking it.

    Asian Animation 
  • Season 2 episode 43 of Happy Heroes features a chameleon-like beast who has the ability to change color at will, befitting of the species he resembles.

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 chameleon 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Anole from The New Mutants has this ability.
  • A very short lived minor character in the UK run of The Transformers (Marvel) 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.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • Subverted in RWBY: Scars. Neo is a chameleon Faunus who can change her appearance and colors at will. However, that is just her semblance and it has nothing to do with her being a Faunus (with Neo's semblance being distinctly different from Ilia's ability at Chameleon Camouflage). Her Faunus trait is actually a simple forked tongue.

    Film — Animated 
  • 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 color. The exception is the first scene with him, when he tries to blend in with a colorful 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.
  • 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.
  • In the movie Curious George, George comes across a chameleon and that turns brown as he passes it. Then he brings his animal friends (hippo, crocodile, zebra, etc.) to make the chameleon match their color. Then they run around the chameleon in circles and the chameleon, dizzy, falls to the ground in a kaleidoscopic state and George places the dazed chameleon back in its tree branch.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Jurassic World, the Indominus 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 to be the source of this ability.
  • A trio of made-for-TV films in the late nineties, Chameleon, centered around Kam, a genetically-engineered woman who served the interests of mega corporations. As per the trope, Kam had the ability to turn invisible.

  • 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 colors 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 of Shannara 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 color, 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. True chameleons are very difficult to take care of and are not common as pets; most references to "pet chameleons" are actually talking about Anoles.
  • 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).
  • In the Franny K. Stein book The Invisible Fran, Franny owns a chameleon capable of turning invisible, which inspires her at one point to create an invisibility potion that she uses to whisper ideas to her classmates in hopes of getting them to share her interest in mad science.

    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.

  • Old Master Q have the titular character attempting catching a chameleon in strip. Said chameleon managed to escape detection by performing a perfect camouflage while clinging on Mr. Chin's shirt.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In the mythology of Nigeria's Yoruba people, Top God Olorun has a chameleon messenger named Agemo. When Olorun granted Obatala permission to create solid land, a powerful water deity named Olokun (who may be male or female, depending on the version of the mythology) was not happy due to the reduction of their territory. So they challenged Olorun to a weaving contest, hoping to prove themselves the more regal deity, and thus more worthy of being leader of the gods. Olorun sent Agemo to compete in his place, and Agemo copied the color of every outfit Olokun made. Olokun submitted to Olorun's authority, under the logic that if Agemo was their equal, then Olorun must be their superior.

  • Defied Trope in John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. When two people invite their chameleon friend over and present him with a patchwork blanket, encouraging him to sit on it to see what color he goes, he bluntly refuses, ashamed of his friends for exploiting him like that.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Inverted by Karma the Chameleon from Best Fiends. As she is color-blind, she will always stand out from her surroundings instead.
  • Dusty Raging Fist has chameleon-men enemies, who can turn invisible after they're left idle for too long (including their clothing and knives) where they'll attempt stabbing you while invisible. However, you can avoid them by spotting the still-visible shadow.
  • In the The Elder Scrolls series, the Chameleon spell effect draws on this idea by giving you a bonus to stealth. Getting it all the way to 100% (particularly via enchanting the effect onto your armor) is a complete Game-Breaker, as it renders you effectively invisible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Chameleon Sting into a near Game-Breaker by allowing X to switch weapons and attack while the invincibility is still active.
  • Monster Hunter: Chameleos from Monster Hunter 2 (dos) 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 Ultimate, 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. Fittingly, it's a massive troll, especially for an animal, as it starts messing with other creatures and pilfering their items either for a lark or to get them to sod off. Breaking the horn disables this ability.
  • The chameleons in NetHack can disguise themselves as other creatures, and even gain the abilities of whatever they mimic.
  • 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.
  • Pokémon has two Pokemon evolutionary families based on chameleons:
    • Kecleon from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire can change into any color and turn invisible at will, aside from its belly stripe, which never changes. Its ability is even "Color Change" (which makes it the same type as the move it was last hit with).
    • Sobble's evolution line, particularly Sobble itself, can also blend into their surroundings. The anime shows that projectiles like sand can render its invisibility useless.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog character Espio's ability to blend into any color 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.
  • 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...
  • Tales of Arise features a series of Elite Mooks based on chameleons. They can turn almost fully transparent, and teleport each time they do so, potentially escaping your combos. It may be a representation of their stealth abilities, but it's still weird. Then again, they're not actually chameleons, but rather zeugles, but no other enemy type displays such abilities.
  • The blabbermouth boss Cameo Leon in Viewtiful Joe 2. Justified in that he's a robot.
  • WarioWare: Touched!: One of the souvenirs you can get is the "Pet Chameleon", which changes colors to match the background(s) dragged down behind it. The souvenir's description invokes this trope as well:
    "Chameleons blend into their surroundings. If you threw one into a giant mound of butter, it would look like a chameleon-shaped stick of butter! Try pulling down the wallpaper to see this buttery ability in action!"
  • In Yooka-Laylee, Yooka the chameleon is one of these. In addition to being able to turn actually, literally transparent—which is used as part of some Light and Mirrors Puzzle parts—he can change not just his color, but his properties by eating certain foods. So, eating honey makes him yellow and sticky, while eating flames makes him red and hot.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Averted by Ilia 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, etc.) and in patterns and colors that are clearly not meant to blend in with anything.
  • Dreamscape: Justified with CHEN, the giant cyborg chameleon, since it's 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 color responds to emotions is the point (although that also gets exaggerated).
    • Later, Bruno and Corrie adopt a chameleon named Carla, who loves camouflaging herself, which caused her to be rejected by other families since she couldn't be easily found. Bruno and Corrie cope by having her wear wool that can't be camouflaged and wearing ugly sweaters for her to mimic. (And her best friend Turvy can use echolocation to find her easily.)

    Web Original 
  • In zefrank1's True Facts About The Chameleon, the narrator notes that a chameleon's best deception isn't their color changing, but that it tricked humans into thinking they do it for camouflage.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • One short had a chameleon who shows off his color changing abilities, but breaks down when he finds a plaid backdrop.
    • In a Shout-Out to this, the character Camo-Man (not Camel Man) in Duck Dodgers is only visible in front of plaid.
  • The chameleons in The Penguins of Madagascar use their colors 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 color of the rainbow" and even two colors at once, and look down on anyone who can't change color.
  • The Simpsons, "Alone Again, Natura-Diddly": A chameleon living on a racetrack changes colors 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 colors.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Lizard Whisperer", the boys' giant pet chameleon Steve can flawlessly blend in with his surroundings that he becomes practically invisible; Candace attempts to bust the brothers by showing Linda the giant chameleon, but she doesn't notice anything thanks to Steve blending in (although earlier in the episode, the boys are able to find Steve because he casts a giant shadow). It's most easily triggered when he's freaked out by loud noises.
  • In Rocko's Modern Life, the Chameleon Brothers don't actually change color...but they do change jobs a lot, based on what's trendy.
  • Justified with The Chameleon from T.U.F.F. 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 Umizoomi is 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.
  • Subverted 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. Said chameleon actually looks more like an anolis.
  • 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.
  • Outright averted by Liz in The Magic School Bus. She's a Jackson's Chameleon, but she's actually never shown changing colors, which is both unusual and refreshing for a fictional chameleon.
  • In The Lion Guard, Kinyonga the veiled chameleon is capable of rapidly changing her colors and going completely invisible, which is useful in spying on the villainous Outlanders. That is, until the skinks notice her shadow...
  • The Cramp Twins: In the episode "Chameleon Chaos" Lucien adopts a chameleon which can go completely invisible, no matter where it stands. When Lucien thinks that he lost it, he finds out it was in its terrarium the whole time, only invisible.

Alternative Title(s): Hollywood Chameleon