How many of us have been in an embarrassing or difficult situation and have just wanted to disappear, to blend into the background, hidden? Who hasn’t wanted to merge with their surroundings and become invisible when told what they got up to at the office Christmas party? Sound familiar?
Well, we would probably all be envious of any one of the 202 known species of chameleon. They’re very well known for changing colour as a means of camouflage or as a means of communication to other chameleons. It is this ability to change extremely quickly to suit its circumstances that is the envy of many businesses who may be too large and cumbersome, or too inflexible to adapt to market demands.
Most of the world’s chameleons live close to the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa in Madagascar, the fourth largest island on the planet. Following the prehistoric breakup of a supercontinent, Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth.
David Attenborough has filmed chameleons in Madagascar on many occasions: “They are wonderfully adapted to life in the trees, their toes are fused so their feet grip like tongs. The arrangement of their legs is unusual for a reptile, they are completely beneath them which allows them to walk on branches thinner than their body”.
Chameleons change colour to camouflage themselves against predators but also as a means of communication and to express their emotions and intentions to others of their species. In most cases, they immediately change from green to noticeable hues of yellow, orange, or even red.
For many years scientists believed that pigment-containing cells at the skin’s surface controlled the changes. But now they understand that a lattice of nanocrystals within another layer of skin cells alters to reflect light differently. When the chameleons are calm, the nanocrystals are close together and reflect blue and green light, which gives the reptile its green colour. But when it’s agitated the space between increases and allows more light with larger wavelengths, such as bright red and orange. This makes the male stand out to competitors, while defeated males will darken in colour, “please leave me alone”.
Unfortunately, many species of chameleon are threatened by extinction due to habitat loss. Madagascar is among the world’s poorest countries and people’s day-to-day survival is dependent upon the country’s natural resources. Most Malagasy must live off the land that surrounds them, making use of whatever resources they can find. However, logging for timber and the conversion of forests into rice fields is a tremendous worry to ecologists in eastern Madagascar. Hardwoods such as ebony and rosewood fetch $2,000 a ton in international markets making illegal logging a significant problem in some protected areas.
None of this helps the poor chameleon of course. Changing colour will not help him escape the continual pillaging of the planet’s wilderness.
But businesses can learn a trick or two from this tiny and vulnerable reptile. How quickly a business responds to developments in the market is more important than ever, in a time when game-changing science is around every corner. Innovative competitors and new technology make it impossible to establish a system today that will automatically meet all future challenges. So we need to be prepared and respond quickly – like a cross between a chameleon and a Boy Scout (!)
At PEA we know how swiftly circumstances can change. Today’s business environment needs professionals to be innovative, well informed, highly organised and technically astute to deal with complex challenges every day. Our investor portal is an integrated part of how we communicate and engage with our clients. They are able to obtain the information they want when they want it. This offers clients tremendous insight and allows us to react and move quickly and decisively when conditions change.
James Orrick holds a Masters in Corporate Governance from Bournemouth University, a BSc (Hons) in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex, is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.