Anolis carolinensis or Green Anole is a tree-dwelling species of anole lizard native to the southeastern United States and introduced to islands in the Pacific and Caribbean. A small to medium-sized lizard, the Green Anole can change its colour to several shades from brown to green.
Common names include the Carolina Anole, American Anole, and Red-Throated Anole. It is also sometimes referred to as the American Chameleon (typically in the pet trade) due to its colour-changing ability, however, it is not a true chameleon.
The Green Anole is a small to medium-sized lizard, with a slender body. The head is long and pointed with ridges between the eyes and nostrils, and smaller ones on the top of the head. The toes have adhesive pads to facilitate climbing. They exhibit sexual dimorphism, the males being fifteen per cent larger. The male dewlap (throat fan) is three times the size of the female’s and bright red, whereas that of the female is lighter in colour, ranging from white to pale pink. Males can extend a pronounced dorsal ridge behind the head when displaying or when under stress. Females have a prominent white stripe running along their spine, a feature most males lack.
Adult males are usually 12.5 – 20.3 cm long, with about 60 – 70% of which is made up of its tail, with a body length up to 7.5 cm, and can weigh from 3 – 7 g.
Anolis carolinensis is arboreal in nature but may be seen on the ground and frequently seen on shrubs in the low country of the Carolinas, but is also a common sight in urban areas on steps and railings, adjacent to foliage. It is common on roadsides, the edges of forests where there are shrubs and vines, but also building sites having abundant foliage and sunlight. Their preferred habitat is moist forests and brushy clearings.
Colour varies from brown to green and can be changed like many other kinds of lizards, but anoles are closely related to iguanas and are not true chameleons. Although Anolis carolinensis is sometimes called an «American Chameleon», true chameleons do not naturally occur in the Americas, and Anolis carolinensis is not the only lizard currently in its area of distribution capable of changing colour. In contrast, many species of true chameleons display a greater range of colour adaptation, though some can hardly change colour at all.
The typical colouration for a Green Anole ranges from the richest and brightest of greens to the darkest of browns, with little variation in between. The Anole changes its colour depending on the mood, level of stress, activity level and as a social signal (for example, displaying dominance). When stressed – while fighting, for example – the skin just behind the lizard’s eyes may turn black independently from the rest of the animal’s colouration, forming «postocular spots».
Male Anoles are strongly territorial. Some have even been witnessed fighting their own reflections in mirrored glass. The male will fight other males to defend his territory. On sighting another male, the Anole will compress his body, extend the dewlap, inflate a dorsal ridge, bob his head and attempt to chase the rival away. If the rival male continues to approach, Anoles will fight by biting and scratching each other. Serious injury is rare, but males often carry numerous scars on their heads and faces, especially during the mating season. Their territory, which is about 1 m (35 cu ft), usually includes two to three females.
The Carolina Anole is diurnal and active throughout the year, peaking in spring and fall. Winter activity is dependent on the sun and temperature.
An Anole’s diet consists primarily of small insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, flies, butterflies, moths, cockroaches, small beetles, and other arthropods, including spiders, as well as occasionally feeding on various grains and seeds. Although Anoles have been observed preying upon smaller reptiles such as juvenile skinks, this is not thought to be typical behaviour. Many people who keep these lizards as pets feed them mealworms, grubs, maggots, and small crickets.
Carolina Anoles’ nervous natures make it advisable not to attempt to handle them very often; despite this, Carolina Anoles are popular pets. Individual animals may or may not adapt readily to cage life. Care must be taken to ensure the animals receive the support they need to adapt to captivity and live full and enriching lives; an adequately sized enclosure, as well as the appropriate plants and substrate material, are beneficial to the health of captive Carolina Anoles.
Carolina Anoles can live in a 20-gallon or larger terrarium, with numerous plants lining the back and sides of the cage. A typical set-up would include an arena in which feeder insects, appropriately fortified with calcium supplements, can be dropped in clear view of the lizards. Carolina Anoles like to leap down on potential prey and engulf it.
Although Carolina Anoles are not overly social animals, in the wild they do interact with their neighbours and form loose clans. This can be successfully translated into captive life, with several females kept together in the same enclosure, although the more lizards are kept, the larger the tank must be. However, having more than one adult male in a tank will inevitably lead to territorial disputes and fighting regardless of the enclosure’s size, resulting in increased stress for all the animals in the cage.
Pet owners are advised to leave a heat light over some of the highest plants so the reptiles can bask directly below them. In the wild, Anoles drink by lapping water droplets off of leaves; thus, water is best administered with a mist bottle, as the lizards may ignore a water dish even after becoming severely dehydrated. As with all reptiles, it is important to keep the temperature and humidity of their environment within their comfort zones.