The Green Anole (American Chameleon)

Filed Under: Reptiles, General Care

The Green Anole, also known as the American chameleon or red-throated anole, (scientific name Anolis carolinensis) is a lizard with plenty of personality and is a good beginner reptile for enthusiasts. These 5-to 8-inch long lizards, of which most length is the tail, range from North Carolina to Florida and as far west as central Texas. The anole is also native to warm, moist climates throughout North and South America, and various additional varieties of the anole are found on certain Caribbean islands. Although not a true chameleon, their color can change from brown to a bright emerald green. The color of the body depends on the mood, time of day, surroundings, health of the lizard, and ambient temperature, while the underbelly remains white. Green anoles prefer habitats where humidity levels are at least 50% or above. They inhabit trees and low bushes, and appreciating the alternation of sun and shade.

In captivity these lizards may be housed in a 10-gallon terrarium or its equivalent. Two green anoles may be housed in the same area as long as they are a pair: male and female. Male anoles are often territorial and will fight with other males. The green anole males have a colorful pink dewlap (a fold of skin under the chin and neck area). Females also have a dewlap but they are generally smaller and they don’t typically display them as frequently as is seen with males. The dewlap is extended for courtship and territorial displays.

A variety of anole native to Puerto Rico is the yellow-chinned anole. Researchers have found that this variety of anole will do pushups to warn competing males in their area. The yellow-chinned anole will puff up its brightly-colored dewlap and bob its head while performing pushups. This exercise is believed to gain the attention of other lizards in dense vegetation and effectively help in the defense of its territory, and it is perhaps also useful in attracting the ladies. Green anole behavior is believed to be similar.

As a defense mechanism the lizard may drop its tail (a process called “autotomy”) when trying to escape a predator. The tail will be left twitching and is used as a distraction for the predator, thereby allowing the lizard just enough time to escape safely. A tail will regenerate but it is not usually as aesthetic or as functional as the original.

A single male anole may be housed with several females just as long as the terrarium is large enough to house them all. A bigger enclosure is always better, and taller is better still since these lizards are arboreal. The most critical components to an enclosure for green anoles are heating, lighting, and adequate humidity. At one side of the terrarium a heat lamp should provide a hotspot capable of mimicking a sunning area of approximately 85° to 90ºF, while the opposite side should maintain temperatures of approximately 70°F. Allowing for a temperature gradient across the terrarium allows the green anole to self-regulate their body temperature. A UVB-producing bulb such as the Vitalite® should be provided over the terrarium for proper lighting. Both the lighting and heat lamp should be provided for approximately 12 hours daily.

At night the terrarium may drop to 70ºF. If temperatures drop below 70ºF, a heater under the tank should be provided to ensure the lizard a warm place to sleep at night.

Substrates for the bottom of the enclosure may consist of potting soil (without perlite), peat moss, orchid bark, or ground coconut coir. The lizard should be provided with a shallow water bowl measuring approximately 4-inches long by 4-inches wide. Green anoles may prefer drinking water droplets off plants and should be misted several times daily, maintaining an adequate humidity level of around 70%. Alternatively a mister or dripper system may be set up. Real or plastic branches should be provided for the lizard to climb on and hide behind. Live plants add much to the aesthetics of an enclosure and are good stress relievers for lizards by providing them hiding places. Some possible good live plant choices include: bromeliads, philodendrons, ivies, and orchids.

The green anole is an escape artist; therefore, a secure screen top should be provided.

The green anole is insectivorous (eats insects). This lizard will eat most any type of insect but wild-caught bugs are not recommended if there is a chance of them containing any chemical contamination. Crickets typically form the bulk of the diet for most captive housed anoles but should be gut loaded before feeding and dusted with calcium. Meal worms may also be fed. Insects should be offered every other day and only as many as are eaten within a half-hour period. Feeder insects should only be about half the size of the individual lizard’s head. All reptiles swallow their food whole, so the properly-sized insect allows the anole to more easily swallow its food.

The breeding season for green anoles begins early in April and typically ends in August or September, and will occur following brumation in a captive environment. Brumation is a process in which the lizard is kept for several weeks at a lower temperature (typically 65° to 70ºF during the day and down to 60ºF at night) with shorter photoperiods of 8 hours rather than the usual 12 to 14, effectively creating a winter season. Only healthy lizards should be brumated. Two to four weeks following mating the female will begin to lay her first clutch of eggs and will continue to lay eggs until around a total of ten have been produced. The female buries her eggs in soft soils or compost after which she no longer cares for her young. Eggs are incubated by the sun and will hatch in 30 to 45 days.

When breeding anoles in captivity, eggs should be removed from the adults’ enclosure and incubated in moist but not wet vermiculite (one part water to 12 - 14 parts vermiculite) at a temperature of around 85ºF and 70% relative humidity. These eggs will hatch at around 40 days.

Hatchings should be housed in their own separate enclosure. They may be fed soft-shelled pinhead crickets, small leaf-hoppers, or flightless fruit-flies.

A constant shade of brown body color, persistent black semi-circles behind the eyes, and atypical lethargy may identify stress and disease in an anole. Dehydration causes the eyes to be sunken and there will be considerably more folds of skin present. If any of these clinical signs become apparent it is best to seek medical attention from your veterinarian immediately.


Foose, Ken. “Green Anole.” Reptiles. March 2009. Pp. 32.

Kaplan, Melissa. http://www.anap;

McLeod, Lianne.

“Muscling Up to Send a Message.” Veterinary Economics. February 2009. P. 12.

Topics: green anole, lizards

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