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The green anole is the only anole native to the United States. It grows up to 7", snout to vent length.
Anoles are sometimes called "chameleons." This is due to the green anole's color-changing ability which, when severely stressed or ill, will turn dark brown. (They may also turn a lighter shade of brown if sitting on a brown branch.) However, they are not true chameleons, which look very different than anoles and come from different parts of the world. If your green anole is not trying to blend into a brown background, and it is always brown, it is a sure sign of stress.
Origin, Habitat And Habits
Anoles are commonly found in southeastern USA, Cuba, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands. The vast majority of green anoles sold in the pet trade are wild-caught in the southeastern United States. There are over 36 species of non-native anoles breeding in the wilds in Florida (out of an estimated total of 250 anole species in the world), and there has been considerable interbreeding, so markings may be considerably altered from the true wild types. Unfortunately, recent incursions of larger and more aggressive brown Cuban anoles are killing or displacing the gentler green anoles. In many areas, they have been totally exterminated.
Anoles are most commonly found in bushes, trees (not above 15 feet), in and on rock walls, in the woods, and clinging to any portion of houses and other structures. They are primarily terrestrial, and love to bask on exposed walls and branches.
The wild anole's diet includes grubs, crickets, cockroaches, spiders, moths, and any arthropod which will fit in their mouths. This makes them extremely good neighbors to have, and they should be encouraged to live near human homes, because they will kill and eat many insects that humans find particularly annoying or destructive. In captivity, avoid feeding them 'sowbugs' (aka potato bugs, pill bugs) and beetles. Even though anoles will go for bigger prey, the size fed to them should be no bigger than the space between their eyes.
The captive anole's diet should be as close to their wild diet as possible. Most people feed them small crickets. Avoid feeding them mealworms, which are mostly composed of a hard shell that is difficult to ingest. Stomach impactions can occur, and must be surgically removed. As with many reptiles, anoles may be scared of prey that is too large for them to handle.
Wild-caught bugs may be accepted eagerly. Make sure the insects are collected from pesticide-free areas, and areas that are not impregnated with auto exhaust particulates. Stay away from bugs you are not certain of, and ones known to be toxic, such as fireflies.
Feed your anoles daily, letting them have as much as they will eat. If crickets are left uneaten in the enclosure, be sure to provide them with proper cricket food and moisture. Otherwise, they will eat whatever is handy--like your anoles!
Anoles can be kept singly or in groups. The minimum tank size for a group of two adult anoles should be a tall (arboreal) 10 gallon tank, or a small hanging web cage at least 2' high. Three or four anoles (one male and up to three females) may be kept in a tall 20 gallon aquarium, or a medium- to large-sized hanging web cage at least 3' high.. The more lizards there are, the more hiding places and basking areas are needed, so tanks must get correspondingly larger.
Despite their relatively inexpensive price tag, anoles are not "cheap" lizards. The basic captive environment requires:
Items that are NOT appropriate for anoles:
Anoles like it hot. Their basking area should range between 85 - 90º F during the daytime. The overall tank range should be between 75 - 80º F during daylight, and 65 - 75º F at night.
Humidity and Water
The ambient enclosure humidity should be maintained around 60 - 70%...humid, but not wet, rainforest conditions. Spray plants with purified water (tap water causes hard water spots on plants and glass) a few times each day, or set up a dripper or misting system.
In the wild, anoles lap water off leaves. In captivity, you will need to spray the leaves for them. Some anoles do learn to drink from bowls: you can aid this learning process by setting up a dripper bottle to drip water into a shallow bowl. It is the sight and sound of dripping, splashing water which attracts their attention.
Caring For Your Prey Insects
This topic is often overlooked, and should be considered a crucial step to maintaining healthy reptiles. What you feed your crickets is what you feed your reptile! So prey insects need to be cared for properly, to provide the most nutrition for your lizards. An excellent food/bedding for crickets, superworms, and other prey insects is a mixture of yellow corn meal and powdered milk, with a few potato wedges thrown in for moisture.
Feed your anoles every day. Usually 6-8 appropriately-sized insects per feeding is fine. If any food is left in the tank, food for the prey MUST be provided.
Some anoles may eventually become comfortable with being gently handled. On the whole, however, handling is very stressful to them, and stress will cause them to become ill. Initially, all anoles will try to run from you, and may bite...and they have quite strong bites for being such small, delicate creatures! Biting is more dangerous for them if you jerk your hand away–this can break their tiny jaws, or cause teeth to be ripped out.
Handle them as little as possible. If you do get bitten, put them back in their enclosure so that they can feel something solid under their feet. That will encourage them to release their grip. Also, be careful never to snatch them from branches, bark, or your clothing, as this can break their fragile toes. And never grab them by the tail, as they may "drop" their tail (i.e. allow it to break off entirely, so that they can escape).
When heated, lighted, fed, and housed properly, anoles are fairly hardy lizards. Depending upon their age when caught/bought, the older ones may not settle in as well as the younger ones. Remember: to them, you look like a giant predator. They are not as intelligent as many of the much larger lizards, so you must be patient, and understand that you may end up with some beautiful lizards in a lush, beautiful environment (lots of plants, bark slabs for hiding places, etc.) rather than a lizard who will tolerate a lot of handling and social interaction.
Males are larger than females, and have a dewlap (throat fan) which they use to display to females and rivals. Some males have a dorsal crest (beginning just behind the head) which is raised as part of the threat display (typically with the dewlap extended). Males also have enlarged post-anal pores (found on the tail below the vent).
Females, and juveniles of both sexes, may have a white stripe down the back. Females of some species have dewlaps, but if they do, they are smaller than those of males, and displayed less frequently.
Captive anoles will breed, or attempt to breed, readily if conditions are right. Breeding occurs most often in the spring and summer months after a period of brumation. For several weeks, they must be kept at lower temperatures (65 - 70º F during day; down to 60º F at night) and with a shorter photoperiod (8 hours instead of the usual 14). During this time, they may be fed only if they take food--they should not be force fed, and weak or thin anoles should not be brumated. The anoles must be healthy, and be receiving the necessary UVA/UVB and vitamins, especially calcium, which is most easily accomplished by gut-loading their prey (see "Caring For Your Prey Insects" above).
Signs of breeding include males displaying their dewlaps and posturing to females. Males may start bobbing their heads rapidly while turning toward the female of their choice. If the female runs away, she's not ready; if she stays or, while running, allows herself to be caught, and bows her head, the male will grab her neck with his mouth and they will mate. Actual mating generally occurs in afternoon or evening hours. The breeding season lasts 4-5 months.
Within two weeks of a successful mating, the female will begin to show a swollen abdomen. She will search out a warm, moist place in the substrate, push it aside with her head, and deposit an egg (rarely, two may be laid), covering the egg with the substrate. This will be repeated every two weeks, for a total of about 10 eggs per breeding season. Eggs can be removed from the vivarium, but many successful hatchings have been achieved despite leaving by the eggs in the vivarium.
To prevent injury to the egg, either by the female digging to bury another one, or by you as you clean the terrarium, the eggs should be removed and set carefully in a mixture of damp sterile vermiculite (1:1 mix, or one part water to 12-14 parts vermiculite) or sand, in a covered container, and incubated at 82 - 85ºF. Check weekly to assure that the substrate remains damp, and that none of the eggs have molded. Provide gentle, indirect heat to keep the container at 84 -86ºF; eggs should hatch in 35 - 40 days.
Hatchlings are 1.25" from snout to vent. They will eat voraciously, and must be supplied with lots of pinheads that have been properly gut-loaded and shaken in a calcium and multivitamin supplement before being fed out. Fruit-fly larva and wingless fruit flies are also good foods for hatchlings.
Anoles produce no sounds. They can drop their tails if grabbed, or otherwise feel threatened. A new tail will generally grow in, but regenerated tails are rarely the same as the original in color, texture, or size.
Anoles are generally not aggressive, but males may quarrel if housed together. This applies to inter-species confrontations, as well. Some anole species will produce aggressive displays to their reflections in mirrors. Knight (Cuban) anoles should not be housed with smaller anoles--they will as cheerfully feed on green anoles, just as they will eat spiders and crickets.
Behavior during breeding season may be significantly different than outside of breeding season. Males will display more (posturing, dewlap-flaring) and become more aggressive towards other males. Dominant males may develop black postorbital spots on their head. This is a sign of their status, and most subordinate males will leave these dominant males alone. In a too-small enclosure, however, having two males both attempting to attain and maintain dominant status may end up tragically for one of them.
Breeding-minded males will also annoy females more.
Not all females will be receptive to all males. Despite extensive research in mate selection, there are still a lot of unknowns. We do know that if a male pursues a female who is not interested, it could cause significant stress in the female, to the point of illness. If you are housing more than one anole in an enclosure, you must increase the size of the enclosure and provide discreet areas so that the female can get away from, and out of sight of, the male.
Aggression may be overt and forceful, such as butting, biting, and chasing, but it can be more subtle, too. If you have two or more green anoles and one is always brown, observe them carefully. Notice where the brown one goes, and where it does not go. You will probably see that it is not eating, basking, or otherwise behaving in the same way as the others. More careful observation should enable you to identify which of the other anoles is causing this behavior. A dominant anole (male or female) uses posture and physical position within the environment to maintain their dominant status. While some subordinate lizards are fine with this, some are not, or may become the focus of the dominant lizard. If you have such a stressed anole, you will need to separate it from the others, providing a completely separate enclosure for it and possibly one other anole with whom you know it is compatible.
Good Resource Books: