Green Anoles

A green anole lizard on a porch screen
Diane Maconald/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

​Green anoles are known by many names but they are also known for their ability to change colors from green to brown and back again (although they are not true chameleons). They are often found running around and basking in the sun in the Southeastern United States and islands in the Caribbean as well as in terrariums across the country as pets.

  • Name: Anolis carolinensis, green anole, Carolina anole, American anole, American chameleon, red-throated anole
  • Size: Males reach 8 inches long (including the tail) in captivity but are larger in the wild; females are smaller
  • Lifespan: Around 4 years, although they can up to 8 or more years, if well cared for

Green Anole Behavior and Temperament

Green anoles are the only breed of anole native to the United States; they can be found in the wild in Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, and Texas. Green anoles are very popular and make good "starter" pets for children. These pretty little lizards have emerald green backs and pink "dewlaps" (pouches under their chins). An occasional anole may even have a blue tint.

Anoles are fun to watch, as they are active during the daytime and love to climb. One of their best attributes is their willingness to interact with their human owners; many are willing to eat from their owners' hands. While it is fine to pick an anole up (and many enjoy perching on a human shoulder), it's important to avoid grabbing them by the tail. Instead, teach children to pick them up by placing their hand under the lizard's belly.

Housing the Green Anole

Anoles can be housed in a fairly small tank or terrarium. A 10-gallon tank is sufficient for a single or pair of anoles. A larger tank is, of course, better though and if you are housing multiple anoles lots of space is necessary.

You should only keep one male anole per tank. Females will get along fine as long as the tank is roomy enough, and there plenty of basking spots and multiple places to hide. A securely fitted lid is necessary since green anoles can squeeze through very small places.

A humidity level of 60 to 70% is necessary for green anoles (use a hygrometer to monitor these levels). This can usually be achieved by misting the inside of the tank daily. Misting systems are available although they are quite expensive. If you are having a hard time maintaining the humidity level try covering part of the top of the tank and/or increasing the number of live plants in the enclosure. Misting also provides drinking water for the anoles as they often will not drink from a bowl (they will lick droplets of water off the misted plants like chameleons).

Heat and Lighting

During the day be sure to provide a thermal gradient from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 27 degrees Celsius) with a basking spot of 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29 to 32 degrees Celsius). A combination of under tank heaters and a basking light on one side of the tank works well. Make sure the appropriate temperature gradient is provided by measuring temperatures in various spots around the tank. Night temperature can drop to a gradient of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 24 degrees Celsius). Do not use white basking lights to achieve nighttime temperatures but instead use heating pads, ceramic heating elements, or special night heat lights.

In addition to the incandescent basking light you should provide a full spectrum UVA/UVB light for 10-12 hours per day. This special light will help prevent your anole from developing metabolic bone disease, keep them looking brightly colored, active, and happy. The bulb needs to be changed out every six months (even if it hasn't burned out) and nothing should be blocking the light other than a metal mesh screen (no plastic or glass).

Substrate

A substrate of peat moss and soil with or without a layer of bark (e.g. orchid bark) is an ideal substrate for anoles. Live plants help maintain humidity and provide cover. Favorite live plants include sansevierias (snake plants), bromeliads, philodendrons, ivy, orchids, and vines. Pieces of bark and branches should also be provided for climbing and basking. Avoid oily or scented substrates such as wood shavings, and stay away from very dry substrates such as sand.

Food and Water

Green anoles are insectivores and are generally good eaters. While crickets can be the main part of the diet, it is best to feed 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.

Common Health Problems

In general, green anoles are hardy animals and are rarely ill. They can, however, develop respiratory issues, mouth rot, or a metabolic bone disease that results in weight loss and swollen joints. Look for:

  • Swollen joints
  • Loss of appetite
  • Smelly or runny stool
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Discharge from nose, eyes or mouth
  • Shedding problems or discolored skin

You should always consult a veterinarian if you see any of these problems. Meanwhile, however, do check to be sure that your pet's substrate and diet are appropriate, as problems with these are often the cause of stress-related illness.

Choosing Your Green Anole

Green anoles are available at almost any pet shop and should be inexpensive (under $20). Look for an active, alert specimen and be sure that other anoles at the shop look healthy and well-cared-for. It's helpful to know that missing toes are not a problem: green anoles lose and regenerate them with no health implications.

Give your new pet a few days to acclimate to its new home before taking it out to play. If possible, locate a vet with reptile experience, and bring in your green anole for a "well-pet" checkup.

Similar Species of Green Anoles

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Otherwise, check out all of our other reptile and amphibian breed profiles.