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February 2015

Changing Skin Colors

Author Affiliations
  • 1Retired
  • 2private practice
JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(2):199. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.1453

The term chameleon frequently creeps into the dermatologic literature. Diseases with a pleomorphic presentation, such as syphilis, borreliosis, or leprosy, are often described as “chameleons.” But the usage is not very precise, because no skin disease can truly alter its colors almost instantly, whereas several groups of reptiles show physiological color change or metachrosis.

Chameleons are ancient, highly specialized lizards found in Africa, southern Asia, and even southern Europe. They are most common in Madagascar. Some can change their colors dramatically. They have other unusual features—a prehensile tail, opposing clasping toes, eyes capable of focusing independently and providing 360° surveillance, and a ballistic tongue that shoots out to capture prey.1

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