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Choosing a Green Anole

By: R.D. and Patti Bartlett

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The green anole is an attractive, readily available and hardy lizard that is primarily arboreal. Because it is so inexpensive, the green anole is a principal "starter" lizard for beginning hobbyists. But it should also be considered a just-to-look-at terrarium pet (much like a goldfish in an aquarium), not as an animal to be handled.

Green anoles can change their color rapidly from deep brown to bright green, and are often referred to as chameleons. They shouldn't be. Anoles and chameleons are not at all closely allied.

Known scientifically as Anolis carolinensi and familiarly as the Carolina anole, the green anole is an active insectivorous lizard that will climb the plants and branches you provide in its tank.

Origin and Life Span

There are about 300 species of anoles. These lizards are primarily of West Indian and neotropical distribution. Green anoles are native to the southeastern United States. In many areas of their range, green anoles are so common that they are almost overlooked as pets. They are simply backyard lizards. Longevity can exceed five years, and may near eight.

Appearance

Adult female green anoles grow to about 4 ½ inches in length from nose to tail tip and usually have a well-developed light vertebral stripe. Males often grow to slightly more than six inches in total length, lack a vertebral stripe and have a large, distensible pink (rarely gray) dewlap. Both sexes have flattened toepads that help them climb. Although albinos have been found, no aberrant colors have yet been established in herpetoculture.

The green anole shifts its coloration between green and brown – but not, as you might think, based on the color of the background in which the lizard is sitting. Its color changes are caused by stress, or the lack of stress. Its base color in a stress-free environment of the proper temperature is green, but changes to brown as conditions warrant.

Like the tails of many lizards, that of the green anole is easily broken. The tail bears fracture planes in the bones-- weakened areas at which the tail can easily break if grasped. There's good reason for this. In the wild the broken tail tip wriggles animatedly for several seconds-- drawing the attention of a predator and allowing the anole to escape. The anole will regrow (regenerate) its tail, but it is never quite similar in appearance to the original.

Behavior

In the wild, green anoles perch and bask in low vegetation, but also readily and frequently access the canopy. Occasionally one will lose footing and fall from quite high up, but usually land on their feet and sustain no bodily damage. If caught out during a freeze, many of these lizards die.

In the terrarium green anoles are often found lying quietly on a horizontal branch or atop foliage. They frequently move in short bursts, traveling just far enough to seize a nearby cricket or mealworm, and then returning to their perch. However, if frightened, they can move quickly and are adept at escaping.

If you move slowly, once your anole has settled in, it will often allow close approach. However, most will not allow themselves to be handled or otherwise touched. Even if carelessly grasped, green anoles seldom bite.

In the wild, male green anoles establish well-defined home territories of about a cubic meter and they defend them avidly. The males allow females to enter their territory, but will do their best to deter male interlopers from even approaching their space. Posturing followed by savage skirmishing if the approaching male is not deterred are the ploys used.

Females get along with each other, and males usually get along satisfactorily with females. House only a single male to an enclosure.

Housing

Anoles should be provided with the largest possible, well ventilated, terrarium. We suggest a minimum of a 20-gallon high terrarium for a pair or trio. A wire cage of similar size is also acceptable. This housing arrangement will offer better ventilation, will not allow an untenable buildup of humidity and will not, as a result of misting the terrarium, hold water on the bottom.

The tank or cage should be outfitted with diagonal and horizontal limbs of about the diameter of the lizard's body or larger, as well as vining plants. The limbs and vines will provide perches for your anole as well as visual barriers that can foster a feeling of security for your anoles. You should also provide corkbark hides.

Full spectrum lighting and a natural day-night photoperiod are suggested for these heliothermic lizards. The terrarium temperature should be maintained at 82 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but can cool by several degrees at night. It is best if one end is slightly warmer than the other (this provides a thermal gradient for the anoles) and if perches are provided at both ends, your anole will select its most suitable temperature.

The tank should have a substrate of leaves (dried live oak leaves work well) or finely shredded mulch (of a non-aromatic form.)

Feeding

Green anoles are primarily insectivorous. They will eat a wide variety of non-noxious insects such as small roaches, mealworms, baby silkworms, crickets, and waxworms. Captives will also often lap a vitamin-mineral fortified honey-fruit mixture.

Baby anoles will require insects of smaller size than the adults. The insects should be healthy and gut-loaded. Fast growing babies and ovulating female anoles should have periodic supplements of D3-calcium. Twice weekly supplementation is suggested while growth is rapid and eggshells are being formed.

This can either be provided by dusting the insects with a vitamin-mineral supplement or by incorporating the vitamins-and minerals into the fruit-honey mixture. Adult males should be provided vitamin-mineral supplementation about once every two weeks. It is possible to overdose these lizards with D3 and calcium. Use care.

To make the honey-fruit-vitamin mixture, mix 1/3rd pureed apricot baby food, 1/3rd honey, 1/3rd water, a few drops of Avitron liquid (bird) vitamins, and a very little calcium-D3 powdered vitamins.

Anoles require specialized watering methods. They will seldom drink from a dish unless the surface is roiled by an aquarium airstone attached to a small vibrator (or other) pump. They prefer to drink pendulous droplets from leaves, branches or from the glass sides. It is up to you to mist them with water once or twice a day, but do so in moderation. Do not allow the tank to become saturated or to hold water as a result of the mistings.

Handling

Green anoles do not like to be restrained, but can be grasped if necessary. Doing so will usually cause a stress related color change. These lizards will try to wriggle free, but seldom try to bite when held.

Green anoles readily autotomize (break off) their tail. Do not grasp them by that appendage. It is best to move them by catching the anole while it is on the glass sides of its terrarium in a soft fish net, then sliding a stiff piece of cardboard or plastic over the mouth of the net to prevent the lizard from escaping.

Medical Concerns

If properly fed, hydrated and handled, green anoles are hardy and almost trouble free.

Because of their lifestyle, healthy feet and toes are particularly important to these very arboreal lizards. Be certain that the skin is shed from these normally.

An anole's tail is very easily broken off. An autotomized tail will regrow, and the break needs no medical attention. To prevent this problem do not grasp your lizard by its tail.

Although seldom a problem with this species of lizard, metabolic bone disease (MBD) can occur if too little calcium is available or if available calcium is improperly metabolized. Calcium should be given in conjunction with vitamin D3.

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