Guide to Green Anoles as a Pet

These handsome lizards are ideal first pets

Green anole lizard
Jeremy Woodhouse/Photodisc/Getty Images

Green anoles are common and make a good beginner reptile. They have the advantage of being relatively small, inexpensive, and easy to care for. It is fairly easy to meet their housing and dietary requirements, although some specialized equipment is required to properly set up a vivarium for anoles for the first time.

  • Names: Anolis carolinensis, Green anole, Carolina anole, American anole, American chameleon, and red-throated anole
  • Size: Males are about eight inches long (including the tail) in captivity but are larger in the wild. Females are smaller than males.
  • Life Span: Average four years, but can live as long as eight years

Behavior and Temperament of Green Anoles

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.

These lizards are sometimes called American chameleons, although they are not true chameleons. Anoles can change their color from brown to bright emerald green. The green anole is native to the southeastern United States and the Caribbean.

Anoles are also attractive little lizards. Males have a colorful 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.

They can drop their long tail as a defense against predators in the wild. It's not a good idea to hold them by the tail. When an anole drops its tail, it will usually regenerate but will not look the same as the original. Green anoles are skittish and shy, but with consistent and gentle handling, they will become somewhat tame.

Housing Green Anoles

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. A good sized aquarium with a tight-fitting screen top makes the best home; an absolute minimum 10-gallon aquarium for one or two, 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 as much as the next lizard, they prefer to do so among plants. They're active little critters, who 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.

The pads on the bottoms of their feet allow them to climb and cling to most surfaces and to escape enclosures that are not secure.

Green anoles 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.


The preferred substrates include soil (without perlite), peat moss, or orchid bark. Essentially, a semi-tropical environment should be created (not rain forest) with daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 F and a humidity of 70 percent.

Food and Water

Several plants should be provided, and branches for basking are essential. Anoles do not lap water from a dish as a rule, so their cages/plants should be misted twice daily. The anoles will get their fluids by licking droplets off of leaves.

Green anoles do best on a variety of gut-loaded insects including mealworms and wax worms. Feed two to three appropriately sized prey items that are 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 allowing your anole to catch wild insects; there's no way to know what kinds of pesticides wild-caught insects may carry.

Choosing Your Green Anole

If a captive-bred lizard can be acquired, this is preferable, as they tend to be less stressed and less prone to illness or disease at the time of purchase. 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.

Avoid anoles that look ill or dehydrated. New anoles should be checked by a veterinarian for internal and external parasites.

Although anoles are relatively easy to care for, this does not necessarily make them a low-maintenance pet. Remember that 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.

Common Health 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.

This condition requires treatment by a veterinarian with reptile expertise. Don't try to treat this with a home remedy; this painful condition can lead to tooth loss and eventually infect the lizard's jaw. 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, but these are relatively uncommon in green anoles. They're not unheard of, however. If your anole is wheezing or holding its mouth open, these are signs of a respiratory infection, usually resulting from insufficient humidity or heat 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 indicates an underlying health issue. Consult with your veterinarian before trying to treat your anole at home.

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:

For other lizards similar to the green anole, check out other lizard breed profiles.