Friday, December 18, 2015

R U a Chameleon?

The goal of this blog is to transform your Friday night dinner table.... Please print and share.

chameleonRecognize this critter? It’s a famous lizard called a chameleon.

They’re famous for changing their colors. They really can do that. It’s quite amazing. They can change from brown to green or other colors in twenty seconds.

But why do they change their colors? Are they trying to hide?

It turns out that they change color to communicate! They use color to tell other chameleons how they’re feeling! Some colors mean, “Hello, how are you?” and other colors mean “Stay away from me, I’m not in the mood to talk right now!”

Or, “You know, I’m tired of wearing brown, I think I’ll try green today.”

(We don’t know their language very well, but some people think they may have a special color for, “How was Trump last night?” What do you think?)

There are two other cool things about chameleons.

One you can see in these pictures — look at the cool bulging eyes. Each eye moves independently of the other. Think about it. When you move your eyes, they move together. Try to imagine being able to look at two different things at the same time. Is that cool or what?

But they can also work together to see in stereo if needed, like when they want to focus on a juicy bug for breakfast.

This leads me to the other cool thing about the chameleon: its secret weapon. Even though the chameleon moves incredibly slowly, like a snail, and looks very vulnerable, it has a truly incredible tongue. Most chameleons have a tongue longer than their own body that they can shoot out at lightning speed and grab something as heavy as half their body weight. You ever try catching a fly? Bet you can’t!

But a chameleon can! Its tongue can move faster than muscle tissue can physically move.

I’ll repeat that: it’s tongue, which is made of muscle, can move faster than muscle tissue can move.

How is that possible? It wasn’t until 2004 that scientists figured out how they do it. The secret is a material called collagen that the chameleon winds up under its tongue like a spring, turning its tongue into a 14 miles-per-hour catapult — Wham! Mantis for breakfast!

It is the only creature in the universe known to be able to do that.

There is an interesting midrash that mentions the chameleon:

Noah’s son Sheim was telling Eliezer about life on the Ark: “We had to feed all the animals, but my father didn't know what to feed the chameleon. One day he was sitting and cutting up a pomegranate, when a worm dropped out of it, which it [the chameleon] consumed. From then on, he mashed up bran for it, and when it became wormy, it devoured it” (Talmud Sanh. 108b).

(The above is excerpted from our new curriculum to engage students in the wonders nature. For more info, send an email or visit There are two versions - one like the above for Judaics classrooms and one for secular studies classrooms.)

Question for your table: Is the chameleon being more or less "honest" when it changes colors? Do people ever do that?

Shabbat Shalom.

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1 comment:

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