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Lessons Learned – An Anole-Keeping 1960’s Flashback

Green AnoleGreen Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) were one of the first lizards to be widely available in the US pet trade.  Although there were bright spots, our knowledge of their needs was severely lacking, and millions met untimely ends as a result (Horned Lizards, Phrynosoma spp., the other trade staple at the time, remain difficult captives still). Today we (and they!) fare better, but as my own experience indicates, the road has been rocky… Read More »

The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis carolinensis) in the Wild and Captivity – Care in Captivity – Part 4

Click here to view Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this article. If you’re looking for information on Green Anole Natural History, click here.

Candidates for the Mixed-Species Terrarium

I have kept green anoles with 5 lined skinks, house geckos, brown anoles, green, gray and squirrel treefrogs, southern and spadefoot toads, DeKay’s (brown) snakes, various millipedes and land snails (…and water moccasins, but that was at the Bronx Zoo.  As they say “don’t try this at home“!).

I once established a group of green anoles in the upper half of a 300 gallon aquarium housing tropical fish – they take readily to such situations if provided ample branches and live plants upon which to climb.

Captive Longevity

Captive longevity approaches 10 years, but averages 5-7.


Green anoles are high strung and do not take well to handling.  They are fast moving and make long, seemingly reckless leaps, so be careful when opening their terrarium.  Let them see you open the enclosure, and do so slowly – in time, the anoles will move to safe, elevated locations as opposed to coming towards you.  They will, however, watch you closely and may take an opportunity to flee if you turn your back, so close the lid or door when reaching for tools, etc.  A small net might be useful to have on hand.  Green anoles shed their tails readily when grabbed forcibly.


Please see also “Reproduction”, in Part I of this article, for notes on distinguishing the sexes.  Captive breeding has occurred spontaneously, but is most consistently achieved when the animals are exposed to cyclic changes in temperature, light and humidity levels.  Watch for young animals, as undetected eggs may hatch within the terrarium.

Green anoles originating from the northern portions of the range require longer and cooler “winters” than do those from the south.  In fact, southern-range animals are different, physiologically, from those in the north.  Experiments have shown that anoles living in south Florida are killed by the winter-time temperatures routinely tolerated by those native to northern Florida.  You can assume that pet trade animals are from the more southerly portions of the range (usually central/south Florida and Louisiana).

Cooling off periods of 60 days or so may stimulate reproduction.  Nighttime temperatures should be allowed to dip to 60-65 F for animals originating in the northern sections of the range, and 62-68 F for those from the south.  Daytime temperatures can rise to 81-83 F.  The daytime light cycle should gradually be reduced to 9-10 hours from the usual 12-14 (cover the cage during the day if it is located in a well-lit room).  Misting should be reduced to once daily.

Potted plants make ideal egg deposition sites.  Eggs incubated in vermiculite (1:1 vermiculite:water by weight) at 82-86 F will hatch in 32-46 days.

An interesting article on anole reproductive and social behavior, as well as a review of this species’ 100-year history as a laboratory animal, is posted at:


The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis carolinensis) in the Wild and Captivity – Care in Captivity – Part 3

Please see Part I and Part II of this article for further information on Green Anole care. For Green Anole Natural History, Check out here.

Social Grouping

Keeping Several Males Together

Male anoles usually establish territories of at least 4 ft x 4 ft x 4 ft in captivity, so “one male only” is the rule in most home situations.   However, establishing 2 males in a suitably large enclosure is a worthwhile undertaking if at all possible.  If enough space is provided so that each can establish a territory, the males will display vigorously but will largely avoid physical contact (if crowded, the dominant animal will attack the other).  The presence of a competitor for female attentions may spur the males to breed as well.


Be sure to keep at least 3-4 females per male when attempting multi-male exhibits, as their presence may divert attention from aggressive displays and combat.  Another key to success lies in providing a complex environment filled with escape routes and sight barriers.  Vines, hanging plants and inter-twined branches will go a long way in increasing the effective size of your enclosure.

The Value of Smaller Pets and Zoo Animals

Observing anoles in colony-type situations will provide you with insights not possible in single-animal terrariums.  I have always preferred to keep smaller animals that could be well-provided for in captivity, as it is from these that we can truly get a feel for how life is conducted in the wild.

In a zoo or at home, one can more easily provide a “complete environment” for an anole than for an alligator.   Surrounded by creatures from all over the world during my years working for the Bronx Zoo, it was to those creatures most able to carry out a full range of behaviors that I was drawn.  I learned far more sitting in a greenhouse watching a colony of nearly “free-living” green anoles than I did in  front of multi-million dollar exhibits that, for all their good qualities, provided rhinos, bears, gorillas and other large mammals only a minimal replication of their wild habitats.

Female Dominance

Female green anoles will also establish a dominance hierarchy, based largely upon size. Those at the top may inhibit others from feeding and basking, so be sure to offer numerous basking and feeding opportunities and sight barriers.


Immature males are difficult to distinguish from females.  Watch smaller animals as they mature and remove any males, as these will be attacked by the adult male (please see Part I of this article for tips on distinguishing the sexes).

Compatible Species

Anoles, if given enough room, are ideally suited for community terrariums.  In the wild, they dwell in “edge habitats” (areas where 2 distinct habitat types meet) such as meadow-forest borders, and in the ecologically similar overgrown fields and gardens.  Habitat borders and edges usually support a greater variety of animals than do the interiors of either associated habitat.

The moderate temperatures and humidity levels favored by green anoles are suitable for a wide range of other interesting creatures.  It is often difficult to house amphibians and reptiles in the same enclosure, due to the great differences in their requirements, but green anoles uniquely span this gap.

Mixed-Species Considerations

When maintaining a mixed group of animal species, always provide more space than would be required for the same number of individuals in a single-species terrarium.  Be sure also to keep in mind the different feeding strategies of each.  For example, American toads will likely gobble up all non-climbing insects before anoles even begin to feed. On the other hand, anoles will leave no food for nocturnal hunters, such as green treefrogs, if all feeding is done during the day (the solution is to add a portion of the diet after the lights have gone out).


The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis carolinensis) in the Wild and Captivity – Care in Captivity Part I

Please see Green Anole Natural History for information concerning the natural history of the green anole and its relatives.

Green AnolesGreen anoles became a US pet trade staple in the 1960’s and early 70’s. Labeled “chameleons” due to their color-changing abilities, millions were collected in Florida and Louisiana and sold at circuses, fairs, pet stores and through the mail. In time, they became the “first lizard” for a generation of budding herpetologists. A host of grossly inappropriate supplies (including lapel chains!) and husbandry techniques assured most of the unfortunate creatures a short and unhappy captive existence.

My Less-Than-Promising Start
I remember well purchasing a green anole (packaged, oddly enough, in a small pie box) at the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in the early 60’s. I knew enough to bypass the recommended diet of “sugar water and dried ant eggs” but was ignorant of the beast’s UVB requirements. I did, however, gather that it craved sunlight, and during one basking trip the lizard escaped up a caterpillar- laden apple tree where, I hope, it at least enjoyed the NYC spring and summer.

A Bit Delicate, but Well-Worth the Effort
Green anoles do reasonably well in captivity but are not the hardy, “starter lizards” they are often proclaimed to be. They are prone to stress-related ailments, require careful attention to the diet, and are quite sensitive to light, temperature and humidity levels.

That being said, I feel that their potential is largely ignored – a properly maintained group will readily display numerous social interactions, and makes as active and interesting a lizard exhibit as can be imagined. What’s more, establishing a colony of green anoles in such a situation is well within the financial and space constraints of many pet keepers, which cannot be said of most lizard species.

My co-workers at the Bronx Zoo frowned when I began adding green anoles to several large exhibits, but they (the lizards, not co-workers!) quickly became crowd pleasers. Even in an exhibit housing 2 huge water moccasins, it was the leaping, displaying anoles that drew most of the public’s attention.

Enclosure and Physical Environment
Green anoles are highly arboreal and will prefer the upper reaches of their enclosure. Branches of various thicknesses and orientations should be provided, along with plentiful sight barriers in the form of suspended live or artificial plants.

Despite their small size, green anoles require a good deal of room, as they are very active and are easily stressed by tight quarters or if confined too closely to one another. Ideally, a trio should be provided with a well-planted, 20 gallon aquarium.

Males are intolerant of each other. If several females are kept, horizontal and diagonally oriented basking sites (these are preferred over vertical branches) should be plentiful, as dominant animals will exclude others from these important areas.

Anoles do best in complex exhibits, especially those with live plants. They are quite easy on live plants, and really do look at their best when among them. Snake plants, pothos, Philodendron, peace lilies and many others will be well-used by these little gymnasts, and the areas between large leaves make naturalistic nocturnal retreats.

Arboreal shelters, in the form of cork bark and hanging plants, should be provided. These and similar sight barriers are important, as females will establish a dominance hierarchy, and subordinate animals may be inhibited from feeding or basking, even absent outright aggression.

The substrate should hold a bit of moisture but not be soggy. I recently used Exo-Terra Jungle Earth with a covering of Compressed Frog Moss and dead leaves in a public exhibit, and am pleased with the results. You can also use Keeper’s Choice Red CypressExo-terra Forest Bark or Coconut Husk, with any type of moss mixed in.

Click here: The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis carolinensis) in the Wild and Captivity – Care in Captivity Part 2, to read the rest of this article.


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