The green anole is relatively small, inexpensive, and easy to care for, but they need to be handled gingerly or not at all. These little lizards are common pets and make a good reptile for first time reptile keepers. They are native to the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. It is fairly easy to meet their housing and dietary requirements, although some specialized equipment is required to set up a proper vivarium for anoles as they are quite active little animals. Although anoles are relatively easy to care for, this does not necessarily make them a low-maintenance pet; maintaining their terrarium or enclosure requires careful and frequent attention.
Common Name: Green anole, Carolina anole, American anole, American chameleon, and red-throated anole
Scientific Name: Anolis carolinensis
Adult Size: Males are about eight inches long (including the tail) in captivity. Females are a bit smaller.
Life Expectancy: 4 to 8 years
Green Anole Behavior and Temperament
Anoles can be kept alone or in small groups. Males are territorial and may display and fight with one another, so a group is best composed of females with no more than one male. They are pleasant enough pets, but their natural instinct is to protect their territory. Males will try to show dominance by extending their dewlaps to appear larger to prospective mates. If it opens and closes its dewlap, this is a sign of aggression and signals that the animal is feeling unsafe or threatened.
These lizards are sometimes called American chameleons, although they are not true chameleons at all. Anoles can change their color from brown to bright emerald green, and they are attractive little lizards. Males have a pink or red dewlap (the fold of skin under the chin/neck), which they flash during territorial and courtship displays. Females of some species also have dewlaps, although they are generally smaller and not displayed as often.
Green anoles are skittish and shy, but with consistent and gentle handling, they will become somewhat tame. Anoles are active little lizards that scamper about quickly, making them hard to catch. They prefer not to be handled too much; avoid it if at all possible, and always handle them gently.
Never dangle green anoles by the tail, as anoles can detach and drop their long tail as a defense against predators in the wild. When an anole drops its tail, it will usually regenerate, but will not look the same as it did originally.
Housing the Green Anole
An appropriately-sized aquarium with a tight-fitting screen top makes the best home; an absolute minimum tank size would be a 10-gallon aquarium for one or two anoles, but larger is better and necessary for groups of three or more.
These lizards are mainly diurnal (active during the daytime) and while they like to bask in the sun, they prefer to do so among plants. The pads on the bottoms of their feet allow them to climb and cling to most surfaces, including glass, and they will escape enclosures that are not secure. The preferred substrates include soil (without perlite), peat moss, or orchid bark.
Use a hygrometer inside the enclosure to measure the relative humidity; as hygrometer readings can change with age, they can also be calibrated once annually. Maintain the humidity for this anole enclosure at 70 percent by misting daily with dechlorinated or bottled (not distilled) water. A dish of the same water should also be provided.
Essentially, a semi-tropical environment should be created (not a rain forest) with daytime temperatures of 75 to 82 F for 12 to 14 hours per day. The temperature should not fall below 65 F at night. During the day, a basking area with a basking light should cover only 25 percent of the surface of the enclosure; aim for a basking temperature of 85 to 90 F during the daytime. Do not use hotrocks as heat sources as they can burn your pet and also end up over-heating the entire enclosure.
A variety of lights are needed, some for heat, some for white light, and some for UVB light. Green anoles generally need 12 to 14 hours of light and 10 to 12 hours of darkness. Turn off all light sources at night.
No artificial light is as good as sunlight for providing UVB, so when the outside temperature on a sunny day is over 70 F, place your anole outside in a secure screen or wire cage with a locking door. Provide some shade and a hiding place within the sunny day enclosure.
If an anole does not have access to bright sunlight, ZooMed's reptile or iguana lights, and Durotest's Vita-Lite are two good options; these UVB light sources should be replaced every six months. Glass cages, even those with a screen top, should never be used near a window as they will trap heat and can cause fatally high temperatures.
Food and Water
Anoles usually get 100 percent of their water intake by licking droplets off of leaves of plants, so provide several plants in the enclosure; branches for basking are also essential. Generally, anoles will not lap water from a dish unless it is equipped with a constant slow drip, so their terrarium plants should be misted twice daily.
Green anoles do best on a variety of gut-loaded insects including mealworms and wax worms. Feed two to three appropriately sized prey items, about half the size of the anole's head, every other day. A calcium and vitamin supplement should also be dusted on the insects. Be careful in allowing your anole to catch wild insects; there's no way to know what kinds of pesticides wild-caught insects may be harboring.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Like many reptiles, green anoles are susceptible to an ailment called mouth rot or stomatitis. If you notice puffiness or redness around its mouth or a substance that looks like cottage cheese around its teeth, it's likely mouth rot.
Do not try to treat this aggressive infection with a home remedy. This condition requires treatment by a veterinarian who has expertise in treating reptiles. This painful condition can lead to tooth loss and eventually infect the lizard's jaw. For this reason, mouth rot can be fatal if left untreated.
Metabolic bone disease, which comes from a poor diet or lack of UVB exposure, shows symptoms of weight loss, puffy face, and general weakness and lethargy. Rectifying the diet and exposing your anole to an adequate amount of UVB rays should help.
Other lizards are prone to respiratory infections; these are relatively uncommon in green anoles, however, they do occur. If your anole is wheezing or holding its mouth open, these are signs of a respiratory infection, usually resulting from insufficient humidity or an insufficient heat gradient in its enclosure.
If your anole is not turning green and appears to be a dull brown color, this may be a sign it is stressed or that it has an underlying health issue. Consult with your veterinarian before trying to treat your anole at home.
Remember that all reptiles are common carriers of Salmonella bacteria, so proper hygiene is necessary when handling them and cleaning their equipment, especially if children or people with weakened immune systems live in the same house.
Choosing Your Green Anole
Most anoles available in pet stores are wild-caught. Sometimes, pet store anoles will be dehydrated and emaciated when purchased, as evidenced by loose folds of skin. If a captive-bred lizard can be acquired, this is preferable, as they tend to be less stressed and not as prone to illness or disease.
Avoid anoles that look ill or dehydrated. Any anoles that are new to you and intended for your group should be housed separately and checked by a veterinarian for internal and external parasites while still quarantined.
Similar Species to the Green Anole
If you’re interested in other pets like the green anole you may want to check out these similar breeds:
- Black-throated Monitor Species Profile
- Savannah Monitor Species Profile
- Nile Monitor Species Profile
Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your pet!
Hedley, Joanna. Metabolic Bone Disease in Reptiles Part 1. Companion Animal, vol 17, no 6, 2012. doi:10.1111/j.2044-3862.2012.00210.x