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Anole Lizard Care, Facts & Behavior

Allison's Anole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Fil.Al

In terms of the sheer number of species and of individual animals, Anoles may be the most successful of all lizard groups.  Each year, herpetologists add several new discoveries to the total species count – which now stands at 388!  In Anole-rich regions, several seemingly-similar species manage to co-exist in the same habitat…and many thrive in and around towns, farms and even cities.  Their adaptability sometimes leads to staggering population densities, with up to 10,000 Anoles per acre being present on some Caribbean islands!  Intelligence may also play a role in their success, as is shown by this fascinating study .  Many herpers of my generation were introduced to reptile-keeping by the Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis…today we’ll take a look at the fascinating, diverse family to which it belongs.

 

Classification

The world’s 388 Anole species are classified in the family Dactylidae (formerly Iguanidae) and the genus Anolis. 

 

Description

Most Anoles are alert and active, and nearly all have a streamlined body with long tails, limbs and digits.  Males have colorful dewlaps (areas of loose skin below the throat) that are erected during mating and territorial displays. Female Green Anoles, and those of several other species, sport smaller, less colorful dewlaps.  The body color is usually some shade of green, tan or brown, and many are capable of rapid color changes.

 

Leopard Anoles breeding

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nathalie Colucci

Anoles range in size from the various Twig Anoles, which barely reach 3 inches in length, to Cuba’s Knight Anole, A. equestris, an 18-inch long hunter of treefrogs, lizards, small snakes, and nestling birds.  The Grenada Anole, A. richardi, is also sizable, sometimes exceeding 12 inches in length.  Most Anoles, however, measure 6-8 inches when fully-grown.

 

Range and Habitat

Anoles range from the southern United States through the Caribbean and Mexico to Central and South America.  Mexico is home to over 50 species, while well over 100 occupy various Caribbean islands.  The USA has but a single native, the Green Anole.  However, it is by no means “Anole-poor”, as stowaways and released/escaped pets have resulted in the establishment of breeding populations of at least 9 foreign species!

 

In the USA, all introduced species except the Brown Anole are restricted to Florida, which is now home to Hispaniolan Green, Puerto Rican Crested, Barbados, Marie Gallant Sail-Tailed, Cuban Green, Jamaican Giant, Large-Headed, Bark, and Knight Anoles.  The highly adaptable Brown Anole has managed to extend its range into southern and perhaps central Georgia.  First documented in peninsular Florida in the 1940’s (and likely established earlier in the Florida Keys), the USA’s Brown Anole population is comprised of 2 interbreeding subspecies – the Cuban Brown Anole, Anolis sagrei sagrei and the Bahaman Brown Anole, A. s. ordinatus.

 

Anolis barbatus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Olaf Leillinger

While ground-dwellers are known, most Anoles are arboreal, with different species (often in the same habitat) favoring reeds, bushes, tree trunks, low limbs, and forest canopies.  Anoles have adapted to life in rainforests, dry forests, cities, farms, suburban yards, arid scrub, swamps, brushy grasslands, riverside thickets, and many other environments.  Some, such as the Cuban Brown Anole, may actually be more common around human dwellings than in their natural habitats.  This highly adaptable lizard has actually been observed to quickly change to an arboreal lifestyle after the introduction of a terrestrial predator (please see this article); many believe that it is also responsible for decline in Florida’s Green Anole population.

 

Anole Care and Feeding

Anoles make wonderful pets, as they are out and about by day, and usually quite active; their group dynamics will keep even the most experienced keeper fascinated.  Many breed year-round if properly cared for, and some may be housed with certain treefrogs, skinks and other animals.  However, the common opinion that Anoles are a “beginner’s” lizard does these fascinating creatures a great disservice.  All Anoles are highly-complex, and have very specific needs that must be met.  Without ample space and cover, proper temperatures, access to UVB and a highly-varied diet, they will not thrive.  Please see the linked articles for detailed information on their care, and be sure to post your questions and observations below.

 

t260596Anoles feed largely upon flies, caterpillars, spiders, beetles and other invertebrates, and many also take over-ripe fruit, nectar and sap.  Larger species, such as the Grenada and Knight Anoles, occasionally add smaller lizards, frogs and snakes to the menu.

 

Anoles are major food items for predators ranging from large spiders to small mammals and birds.  Therefore, most are instinctively wary, and they tend to remain high strung in captivity. While there are exceptions, few take well to handling.

 

 

Further Reading

How to Breed Green Anoles

 

Green Anole Natural History

 

Keeping Cuban and Hispaniolan Green Anoles

17 comments

  1. avatar
    Steve Castellanos

    Frank, the brown anole has been established in the New Orleans, LA area for at least 22 years and probably much longer than that. Once and awhile we get a bad freeze in the winter that will knock down their numbers a bit, but when we have several mild winters in a row, the population explodes. While I can appreciate their uniqueness, we are concerned that they will eventually adapt to the occasional freezes and displace our native green anole that we take for granted here.

    • avatar

      Thanks for the info, Steve…I’ve had reports that they were in LA, did not realize they were est. in New Orleans. Green Anole declines have been linked to brown Anoles in Fla, but the actual situation is very complicated, many factors involved and so far no way to document for sure. They do seem able, in Fla, to adapt somewhat to cold weather, but, there and in LA they are likely near the limit of their tolerance, best, Frank

  2. avatar

    Hi, I discovered some tiny garden millipedes in a potted plant I purchased for my cuban knight anole’s vivarium. Is it safe to place these into the vivarium? I understand they are good for vivariums, but I am concerned if it would be harmful if my anole happened to eat one. Thanks.

    Ray

    • avatar

      Hello Ray,

      Millipedes are distasteful to many herps (certain monkeys in SA rub arboreal millipedes on their fur, as insect repellents!) but I’ve not seen any evidence of problems…usually grabbed and rejected; many amphibs eat them…American toads, green frogs, most NA salamanders, but this may vary by millipede species. Those that live in soil are generally nocturnal, mostly fossorial and usually do not attract the attention of larger lizards, but I don’t have any specific info re knight anoles.. Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Hi Frank!

    A few quick questions about my Cuban Knight Anole’s behavior. For the most part, she is shy and just lounges around and doesn’t usually hunt, eat, or otherwise move if I am watching.

    However, every now then, when someone looks into the tank, she will leap at the person and stick to the glass right in front of us. Sometimes she circles back and does it again. There are no other behaviors I can associate with this – no pushups, dewlap display, mouth gaping, just leaping out at us. It is very rare that she does this, but I am wondering – what triggers this behavior?

    Another time, at night, I went to check on her and shone a flashlight into the tank. Usually she sleeps through this, but this time, I saw that she was alert. She then proceeded to go on a feeding frenzy right before my eyes, eating about 4 crickets non-stop. I was shocked, she had never done this before. Why the sudden binge, and why was she hunting at night? I’m just wondering if this behavior means some need is not being met.

    Thanks!

    Ray

    • avatar

      Hi Ray,

      Interesting, thanks. Females are territorial in the wild…they shy away from people for the most part, but in time can get accustomed to people, bold enough to try and drive someone off. I’ve noticed other diurnal lizards, turtles and fish feeding by night when there is unusual illumination…zoo exhibits open for a late night tour, room light on extra late…many are more flexible than we imagine, may take advantage of moonlight nights, etc. Captivity changes so much, however, so it’s difficult to link things to natural behaviors,

      Enjoy, best, Frank

  4. avatar

    Hello Mr. Indiviglio,

    I currently have two green anoles and eventually want to obtain a cuban knight anole. What recommendations would you make for housing, food, lighting, temp, and care?

    • avatar

      Hello Archie,

      Interesting animal….they need a large, vertically oriented tank, i.e. a 30 gallon high style or a 55 gallon. Provide lots of cover, preferably live plants. They are always shy/high strung and should not be handled. Can be kept as described in this article; article refers to different species, but heat/light recommendations are the same.

      They have high calcium requirements, but sure to feed all insects well before using, and powder food with Calcium as well. Crickets alone will not suffice..roaches are a good source, as well as silkworms, hornworms and others mentioned in the article. A pink mouse can be offered every 6-8 weeks, but not more often than that. Also offer the nectar mix described in the article, and some over-ripe fruits of various types. Please keep me posted, best, frank

  5. avatar

    Thank you Mr. Indiviglio !

    You said ‘interesting.’ Is that the good interesting or the bad ? Are there any major concerns I should be aware of with this species? I know some people refer to green anoles as beginner level species, so would knights be more intermediate or advanced ?

    • avatar

      Hi Archie,

      Good interesting; green anoles are actually not simple…few live as long as they should, breeding not common. Knight anoles need lots of room, plenty of cover and a highly varied diet (please see here); they are best considered an animal to observe, not handle, as they never take well to disturbance, best, Frank

  6. avatar

    Hi Archie,

    I’ve had a Cuban Knight Anole for about 2.5 years now and she is doing quite well. If you do get one, I’d be happy to compare notes.

    Ray

  7. avatar

    Thank you for the recommendations!

  8. avatar

    Hey Mr. Indiviglio !

    I live in TN, and found a green anole sitting on the hood of a car in a parking lot. The temperatures are under 40 degrees around here at night, so I took her home. I had a green anole for a college environmental science class, but it was for an experiment so I only had it briefly. I have had snakes, geckos, and an iguana. However, I am aware that anoles are much more involved. I am happy to keep her, or release her when it is spring.
    I have a couple of questions which I was unable to find answers to after reading your site and various forums.
    1. Our state does not use chloroformates when treating the water, so if I dechlorinate the water will that be safe to use in order to hydrate the anole? What do you recommend as a safe water source for hydrating reptiles?

    2. Would a Zoo Med 5.0 UVB light be acceptable for an anole in a 10 gallon cage?

    3. Since, she is wild and most creatures on Earth contain a substantial amount of parasites, is there a particular medicine or herbal treatment you could recommend?

    4. We have two mellow cats that like to sit and watch her. I currently have her as high up as I can put her cage, I have the metal screen lid duct taped all the way around, and anytime we feed her or clean the cage we put the cats up. However, I know that they stress her out when they watch her. Will she eventually become accustomed to them?

    5. Also, do you think it would be okay to coat her (avoiding eyes and ears) in lukewarm coconut oil with a delicate paintbrush to assist with mites, just in case she has them? I thought it might be an option since it could be easier for her body to work with.

    She has consumed numerous crickets (soon wax worms and various insects), has no signs of illness (other than cat stress), we do not handle her, sleeps well and is active. I appreciate any feedback you could provide. Thank you- Sarah

    • avatar

      Hi there,

      It sounds like you are definitely on the right track with your anole.

      -I would still use some type of dechlorinator with your water, just to be on the safe side.
      – I wouldn’t be too concerned about internal parasites unless you start seeing signs that the animal is being effected by them. If you start to see that the animal is succumbing to internal parasites, the safest way to treat such a small lizard would be to use food grade diatomaceous earth. It is a powdery substance that you can dust a few crickets in and feed to the anole. On a microscopic level, it is so abrasive that it destroys the exoskeleton of most parasites.
      – A 5.0 UVB should be perfect for an anole in a ten gallon cage. Just be sure that you also hove a heat lamp, or other heat source so that the animal has a basking area between 85 and 88 degrees.
      – As long as the cats aren’t actively trying to paw at the anole, it should get used to their presence.
      – Coconut oil would be a fine treatment for mites if the animal has them. Lizard mites are pretty easy to spot, they will be bright red and about the size of the head of a pin.

      I hope that helps!
      -Josh

  9. avatar

    Thank you so much Josh! DE sounds like a superb solution to parasites, I will definitely give that a try. It was really kind of you to take the time to give such a thorough response. I greatly appreciate it!-Sarah

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.

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