The green anole has been a mainstay in the reptile hobby for decades.
Walk any reptile expo floor and you’ll see hundreds of bearded dragons of varying colors and textures. Many breeders work with bearded dragons, which today is generally considered the best beginner lizard. This is due to its gentle personality, willingness to be handled and not-too-fussy appetite. Give bearded dragons enough warmth and the proper enclosure and they’ll usually thrive for their keepers. Add to that increasing numbers of mutations resulting in more unique types, and its safe to say that the reptile-buying public and the breeders who supply it have cemented the bearded dragon’s reputation as the number-one lizard for beginner hobbyists.
Yet, despite the bearded dragon’s tremendous popularity as a beginner lizard (as well as that of the leopard gecko, another big-time favorite, but perhaps not quite as popular as the bearded dragon due to its primarily nocturnal lifestyle), its price tag may sometimes work against it in regard to parents wishing to supply a pleading child with his or her first lizard pet.
Enter the common green anole (Anolis carolinensis, also known as the Carolina anole). Historically, this pet store mainstay could be the most popular beginner lizard ever, due to its many decades in the retail pet trade, active diurnal lifestyle, manageable size, and pleasing green coloration (not to mention the impressive pinkish-purple dewlap of the males). The species also exhibits some color-changing behavior, basically green to brown, which has led to many people referring, incorrectly, to the green anole as a chameleon.
Read the Green Anole Care Sheet
Anoles were so popular that years ago they were given away as carnival prizes, much as goldfish are now, and they even became a fashion accessory for a time in the ’50s, when people, mostly women but not always, would “wear” them on their blouses, shirts and sweaters, with the lizards harnessed to a pin that was then attached to the garment. So here these people were, with a green anole scurrying about their shoulders.
The low sticker price of the green anole contributed not only to the species’ immense popularity, with millions of these lizards making their way into people’s homes over the decades, but also, unfortunately, millions of these lizards dying prematurely due to uninformed owners who bought them on impulse. Regrettably, the green anole became an early member of that unfortunate group of pets, which also included baby red-eared sliders, goldfish, etc., that ignorant keepers considered “disposable.”
The good news, however, is that today, anyone interested in keeping green anoles can do so, thanks to the existence of hobbyists with a more enlightened approach to reptile keeping, as well as an arsenal of reptile-keeping products that are available to help maintain these still-inexpensive yet fun-to-keep lizards — and the green anole is definitely worth keeping, too, for all the reasons mentioned previously.
Slender and Agile
Though the green anole’s native range is the southeastern U.S., it’s spreading beyond that. Introduced anoles can now be found in other states, such as California and Hawaii, as well as other countries, including Japan and Micronesia. As its common name indicates, it typically exhibits an attractive green dorsal coloration of varying intensity, including, sometimes, a slight blue or yellow tint. Shades of brown may also be displayed dorsally, often depending on stress levels, health and temperature. Ventral coloration is whitish in color. It’s because of its occasional brown coloration that the green anole used to be, and still is, called a “chameleon” by many (non-herp) people.
Adult length is about 8 inches total, more than half of which is tail, with males being the larger of the sexes (females are usually a couple inches shorter). Sexual dimorphism is also exhibited in another, more striking fashion: Males possess impressive dewlaps that they will extend to attract females, as well as part of a territorial threat display, usually accompanied by vigorous head-bobbing. The coloration of these flaps can range from pale pink to a brighter purple.
Green anoles are slender lizards, very agile and primarily arboreal. Their coloration and streamlined body shape aid them greatly in avoiding predators while hunting insects among leafy vegetation within their native habitat. They are carnivorous and will eat just about any insects they encounter, including crickets, flies, moths, ants, etc.
Think Vertical Enclosures for the Green Anole
As mentioned, the green anole has been offered for sale in pet shops for decades, since the 1950s. Because it does not command a very high retail price, and also because doing so can reportedly be difficult, with hatchlings often succumbing, captive breeding of the green anole is virtually nonexistent, and those that you see for sale are usually wild-caught animals. Residents of states within the green anole’s range who might want to catch their own anoles are advised to check local laws regarding the keeping of native reptiles, as well as permits and licenses. This can often be done by checking a state’s department of natural resources/wildlife website.
Several anoles can be kept together, as long as only one of them is a male; housing multiple males together will usually result in combat. A single green anole can be kept in a standard 10-gallon aquarium; this is the minimum recommended size, as a 20-gallon tall aquarium would be better, and while you’re at it, you could add another couple anoles. If you do keep multiple anoles together, watch for signs of bullying, and be sure everyone is getting enough to eat. If more timid individuals aren’t thriving, they may need to get their own enclosure.
As mentioned, green anoles are arboreal, and their enclosures should reflect that tendency, starting with the height. A taller enclosure is more important than a longer enclosure, as green anoles don’t spend a lot of time roaming down below, on the substrate. They like to climb. Many companies that manufacture reptile terrariums now offer vertically oriented herp enclosures (Zoo Med even offers one called the Skyscraper). These often open from the front, too, rather than the top, making access easier — though be careful, as they might also make escape easier for your anoles if you’re not being watchful, especially when you consider that anoles can walk on smooth glass due to the lamellae on the bottoms of their toes.
The vertically oriented terrariums mentioned are also sold as kits that include the substrate, light fixtures, decorative backgrounds and other cage furnishings. It’s never been easier to house herps the right way!
Don’t Forget the Greenery
Plants, real or artificial, are a must to keep green anoles happy. Plus, let’s face it, plants increase an enclosure’s aesthetic appeal to a huge degree, taking it from something that might be tucked away in a herp room or bedroom and making it living room-worthy. And, unlike other herps that may dislodge or crush live plants, you don’t have to worry about that happening with green anoles, which won’t damage plants due to being so lightweight. It’s very entertaining to watch them hopping about plants within their enclosures.
Aside from providing tree-dwelling anoles places to climb, plants provide cover and security for these lizards, too, which in the wild must constantly avoid becoming a meal themselves (in the wild, they are prey for raptors, raccoons, snakes and other carnivorous creatures). They are much more apt to hide within vegetation than they are to use hide boxes that other species may prefer.
Living plants can help with humidity, too, which is important when keeping these guys, but all this said, if you don’t want to have to worry about keeping real plants alive along with your anoles, artificial plants have come a long way and don’t carry the same stigma of looking very fake that they once did. Many attractive and “real-looking” types are now available. The main thing is to provide some kind of plants. There’s the security both real and artificial plants can provide by supplying cover, but your anoles will also drink water droplets off their leaves after a misting, which is the preferred way to provide water to green anoles, rather than by keeping a bowl of standing water in their enclosure (so be sure any artificial plants you may use are waterproof, and that coatings or whatnot won’t come off when they’re misted).
If you do want to go live, some types that could work are pothos, ficus and hibiscus. Be sure, too, that none of the soil clumped around the roots of any live plants contains any fertilizers, perlite or other potentially harmful materials. For more detailed tips about using live plants and what types would work well, not just with anoles but with a variety of different herps, check ReptilesMagazine.com/plantsforherps.
In addition to providing plants for climbing, also provide some attractive branches. Some should extend all the way to the top of the terrarium, as height can provide additional feelings of security for arboreal lizards, and these will also get the anoles closer to UVB light that you may have over the enclosure (more on that later). Arboreal lizards often will try to ascend as high as they can inside their enclosures, whether green anole or green iguana.
Meanwhile, in the bottom of the enclosure, appropriate substrates for anoles would be types that can help hold humidity, such as untreated soil or bark-based substrates, such as cypress bark (bark-based substrates for reptiles are often found in pet stores that sell reptile supplies). Leaf litter can be mixed in, too, if desired. The substrate doesn’t need to be very deep, though this may also depend on whether or not you wish to plant live plants in it.
Lights, Heat and Humidity for the Green Anole
Green anoles are active during the day, and while they may not be world-class baskers such as bearded dragons, they do bask frequently and should be provided with proper lighting to maintain health. This means lights that provide ultraviolet light (specifically, UVB), as many reptiles need this in order to properly metabolize calcium. If they don’t get it, problems such as NSHP (nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, also known as metabolic bone disease) will result. In addition, if you’re using live plants in the anole terrarium, those will need proper lighting, too. Heat is needed, too, in order for the lizards to properly digest their food.
Regular readers of REPTILES will know that there are a variety of lamps that will provide UVB to pet reptiles. There are fluorescent tubes, which will provide the light but not heat; some reptile hobbyists use these in conjunction with incandescent lamps that provide heat, or heat heat emitters made for use with reptiles. There are also mercury vapor lamps that provide both UVB and heat, so they get the job done with just the one bulb. Go to a local pet store, examine the various bulbs they offer for use with reptiles and choose the one you think will work best for your setup.
As you may read on some of the product packaging, where the bulbs are placed matters. You don’t want UV bulbs too far from the animals, or their beneficial rays will be diminished. It so happens that in this issue we have an article by Dr. Frances Baines that is all about providing UV light to reptiles, including optimal distances, and I recommend that you read it, here. Something else to keep in mind is that glass filters out the UV, so placing a UV bulb over a glass top is a waste of time and UV. Use a screen top over the enclosure, instead.
Heat lights can also be placed closer to the top, which will allow a temperature gradient inside the vertical enclosure. The further down the enclosure, the cooler temps will be. This will allow your anoles to position themselves along the vertical gradient wherever they’re most comfortable. Be sure to provide cover (remember those plants we discussed?) in both cooler and warmer areas.
Avoid placing branches or other perching areas too close to a bulb that gives off heat. A hot spot in the mid 90s Fahrenheit works well for green anoles, with an overall ambient cage temperature in the low 80s. Nighttime temps can drop to the upper 60s to low 70s.
Being from the southeastern U.S., anoles thrive in a fairly humid environment, and you must provide sufficient humidity, but along with adequate ventilation via a screened top or vents (built into some commercially manufactured reptile enclosures). Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to keep maintain both humidity and ventilation, but misting should allow you to do so. A good level to aim for is about 70 percent. Don’t mist the enclosure to the point that the substrate is sopping wet. Mist it so that the plants, as well as the walls of the enclosure, are covered in droplets for the anoles to drink. If you do this twice a day, and maintain temperatures in the 80s, proper humidity should result. Use a hygrometer to keep track. If it reads low despite regular misting, then keep a small bowl of standing water in the enclosure, and clean it often.
Green Anoles are Voracious Insect Eaters
Feeding green anoles is not difficult, as when kept properly at the correct temperatures, humidity, etc., they can be voracious devourers of any insects that come their way.
The staples of most pet green anole diets are standard mealworms (superworms are not recommended for anoles) and appropriately sized crickets (don’t feed overly large crickets; offer ones that are about half as long as an anole’s head). The lizards can be fed daily; about five crickets per anole will suffice. Mealworms should be offered in a shallow dish. It’s not recommended that you throw all the crickets into the enclosure all at once; it’s better to offer them singly or a couple/few at a time, to increase the chances of their being eaten right away rather than avoiding the anoles and hiding instead. If you’re using a water dish to raise humidity levels, remove any crickets that may have wandered into it and drowned.
If you don’t want the crickets wandering around inside your naturalistic enclosure, there is a method for offering them to lizards in a bowl that involves pulling off their legs. This may be distasteful for some hobbyists, or some may even consider it morally wrong. Plus, it eliminates your chance to watch your green anoles hunting down the crickets inside the enclosure, which can be rather entertaining. But it does keep the food items all in one place.
Beef up mealworm and cricket nutritional value by gut-loading them prior to offering them to your anoles. Place the insects in a plastic container (with a lid and air holes that are too small for crickets to escape through) with a variety of fruits and vegetables, dry dog food and/or flake/pelleted fish foods. There are also commercially available gut-loading diets (liquid and solid) available at pet/reptile stores that are specially formulated to get the proper nutrients into the insects, and ultimately inside your lizards.
Keep the insects with the these foods for at least 24 hours. A couple of times a week, just before you place the insects in with the anoles, dust them with a quality vitamin/mineral supplement for reptiles. This is easily done using the good old “shake and bake” method of placing the insects in a plastic bag with some of the supplement powder and shaking them together to get a coating of the powder on the insects. Now you’re ready to offer the insects to your hungry anoles.
Mealworms and crickets can be the base diet for your anoles, but they’ll eat pretty much any insects you offer. Wax worms can be provided occasionally; they’re fattier, so don’t overdo it with them. Think of them as an occasional treat. Phoenixworms and other commercially available types can all be tried, so run the gamut. After all, what’s wrong with a little variety in the diet?
Wild insects can be offered, too, but avoid giving your anoles any stinging or venomous insects, or excessively hairy ones, and if there’s any chance the insects have come into contact with any types of pesticides, fertilizers or other potentially dangerous chemicals, it’s best not to risk offering them to your anoles.
If you’re keeping a few anoles together in one enclosure, pay attention to ensure that they are all getting their fair share of the food. If an anole is constantly out-competed for food and otherwise stressed, you may need to move that one to a separate enclosure.
If your anoles stop feeding and begin to look unhealthy and lethargic, the first thing you should always do is check their environment, especially heat and humidity levels. Some people interpret the lower cost of these lizards to mean they’re very simple to care for. That’s not how it is, as green anoles, like any pet reptile, even the most expensive types, do need specialized care, and they must be provided with a proper living space in order to thrive. So use thermometers and hygrometers to keep track of the enclosure’s temperature and humidity levels. Keep green anoles properly, and you will be rewarded with healthy lizards that are a joy to observe.
There’s a reason the green anole has been in the hobby as long as it has, besides its inexpensive price. It’s a fun lizard to keep! By following the guidelines in this article, you should be able to do so successfully, and my guess is you’ll enjoy your anoles very much, especially if you keep them in a beautiful, naturalistic terrarium. You may even come to resent the fact that the personable little green anole has often been treated as an inexpensive, disposable pet. Keep some and you’ll find out that it deserves better! REPTILES
Russ Case is the editor of REPTILES magazine. He has also written three books for young hobbyists: Lizards (2006), Snakes (2007) and Turtles and Tortoises (2007).