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Carolina Anoles

carolina-anolesThe Carolina anole is native to the coastal regions of the Carolinas.

They make great pets for first time reptile owners and require similar care to other reptiles. They are among the least expensive lizards offered by most pet stores and and remain less than seven inches long. (Of course, if you live in the Carolinas, you can catch one for free.)

This article provides an introduction to these charming reptiles and some basic care information.

Carolina anole photograph courtesy of stock.xchng user Sheila Rosamond

Living in the Carolinas


If you have ever visited the coastal regions of the Carolinas, you may have encountered a Carolina anole. These seven-inch-long green lizards can change colors and put on quite a show when they extend their bright red throat fans.

Like our spring hummingbirds, green anoles marked the beginning of springtime when we were living in eastern North Carolina. They would often scamper about our front porch and sun themselves along the railings.

Mom’s never been a great fan of creepy crawly things but these little guys quickly charmed her once she knew they don’t bite.

I must admit that all of us had encounters that began with a scream and ended with hysterical laughter. When all you see is their head poking up from a bunch of leaves, it’s hard to tell if you’re facing a little green lizard or a snake that might harm you – particularly when the lizard is hiding among brown leaves and he looks brown too.

Since we’ve moved to the western part of North Carolina, we haven’t seen these lizards as regularly. We do have a number of native lizards living in our yard but we don’t appear to have any Carolina anoles in residence.

photo courtesy stock.xchg user Mary Boyer

World’s Smallest Lizard

The world’s smallest lizard, discovered in the Caribbean, is also the smallest of all 23,000 species of reptiles, birds and mammals. It’s scientific name is Sphaerodactylus ariasae. It measures on 3/4 of an inch long.

World’s Largest Lizard

The world’s largest lizard, Varanus komodoensis or the Komodo Dragon, can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds. They are considered a vulnerable species but are becoming more popular attractions in many zoos. Like the smallest lizard species, these lizards are also native to islands – the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar.

Master Hunters

komodoDid you know that the locals call these giant lizards land crocodiles? I’ve seen Carolina anoles snatch and grab insects in a blink of an eye, chomp down on them a few times and essentially swollow their prey whole. If the Komodo dragons or Komodo Island monitor attacks and kills its prey in the same way, it makes total sense that they would be compared to crocodiles.

photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license by Wikipedia contributor Dezidor

Lizards as Pets


Size Matters

Yes, there was a reason for bringing up the world’s smallest and largest lizards in a conversation about Carolina anoles and keeping them as pets. It´s rare to see a young anole in the wild. If you capture a wild anole or purchase one from a pet store, it will most likely be full grown. On the other hand, many of the other lizards offered for sale, are young animals that haven’t yet grown to their full size.

Some lizards, commonly found in pet stores can grow into a five-foot long animal weighing as much as 20 pounds with a 35-year lifespan.

iguanaWhile most reputable pet stores post information cards about the animals they sell, we once saw one cute little “green lizard” that had no species information who looked much like the charming, little fellow in the photo to the right.

A child and his family was considering buying the lizard – “aw, Mom, look how little he is…” was part of the child’s request. Fortunately, for the lizard and that family, another customer walked by and asked the family if they realized that cute little baby lizard they were considering taking home would become a 5 foot long animal weighing as much as 20 pounds. Turns out that cute little lizard was a baby green iguana.

green iguana image courtesy of stock.xchng user Eduardo Cordova

Keeping a Carolina Anole as a Pet


Carolina Anole Enclosures

A 20 gallon fish tank is the perfect size for a Carolina anole. As they are quite territorial animals and have been known to fight to the death, you should therefore only keep one anole per enclosure.

Line the bottom of the tank with a couple of inches rich soil or wood loam; avoid bagged dirt with Perlite or fertilizer. Place some twigs in the cage for climbing and include several live or artificial plants as a water source.

Carolina anoles get their water by lapping it off of leaves. Plants should be misted at least once a day; otherwise, your pet may die of dehydration. A shallow bowl of water should also be provided but not as a replacement for daily misting.

Like all reptiles, light and temperature control are critical to keeping your pet Carolina anole healthy. You should provide both UVA and UVB light. Daytime temperatures should be maintained between 75 and 82 degrees, and nighttime temperatures should not fall below 60 degrees.

What do Carolina Anoles eat?

Be prepared to handle live bugs if you want to keep an anole lizard as a pet.

anole-eatingCarolina anoles are carnivores and should be fed 3-5 times a week. Mealworms and crickets can be found at most pet stores. However, fresh caught insects will provide your pet with a more diverse and interesting diet. Just pay attention to what you catch before adding it to your pet’s enclosure. Venomous and parasitic insects may harm your pet, not to mention leave you with welts or the itchies if they sting or bite you. Crickets, grasshoppers and roaches provide the most nutrition and are fairly harmless to humans.

From what I’ve observed of these animals in the wild, grasshoppers appear to be their food of choice. For such petite lizards, it was amazing to see them snatch and eat a large green grasshopper or moth as shown in the photo. Sometimes their prey seemed bigger than the lizard happily gulping it down.

Allowing a few mealworms to burrow into the soil will provide your pet with continuous access to live food. Just make sure that you provide some small crumbs for the mealworms to eat. Anoles will not overeat but they will go hungry rather than eat a dead insect.

green anole photograph by R. Colin Blenis under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Keeping a Green Anole as a Pet

Here’s a few items you might want to consider purchasing to care properly for your little green pet. While anoles are among the easiest lizards to care for, you’ll still need an escape-proof enclosure, the proper light/heat source and detailed information on maintaining your pet’s health.

Aquarium Tank, Glass, 20 Gal

This is a top-notch aquarium that according to many reviewers is made with thicker glass than what’s available at most pet stores.

Keep in mind if you are buying an aquarium for your new pet lizard that you don’t need the fish filter, gravel, nets or other things that come with many aquariums – you just need a good tank. Also keep in mind that the lights for fish tanks are designed for our viewing pleasure and not to provide heat for the animals contained in the tank.

It is offered through Amazon by Carolina Biological Supply – the company which has been supplying science teaching materials since 1927. Chances are good if you ever had a hands-on science class in the United States, you were using materials supplied by them.

<4>Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture, Black

Wonderful light for the reptile lover. With two lights, you can easily use a day and night bulb in each of the fixtures. Each has their own switch and both have their own power cord.

One customer suggested putting a timer on each light to automatically switch between the day and night bulbs so you’ll never have to worry if you aren’t home to switch between the two.

Zoo Med ReptiBreeze Open Air Screen Cage, Medium, 16 x 16 x 30-Inches

Another option from the folks at Zoo Med is an open-air screen cage. They come in a number of sizes and provide more vertical space for your pet green anole to climb upon. You’ll have to buy lighting/heat elements, plant/climbing materials and substrate separately but the folks who have purchased these cages report that their lizards seem happier and more active.

The easy-access doors allow you to add larger plants, sticks and other items to your pet’s habitat. Keep in mind since green anoles drink their water off of the leaves of plants, adding larger plants will help ensure your pet does not get dehydrated. The cage is constructed of materials that hold up well to water and misting of the plants inside.

The American Chameleon

….with a bright red dewlap and an autotomic tail.


Carolina anoles, like chameleons, have the ability to change color as a defense mechanism. Unlike chameleons, anoles can only match their surroundings if they are green or brown; which works well, considering they often are found in natural areas.

Despite being able to change colors, Carolina anoles are more closely related to iguanas than to chameleons.

Aren’t I Beautiful

Carolina anoles, like many reptiles have what is called a dewlap. A dewlap is a flap of skin that hangs on the lower jaw or neck of some animals. Anoles, however, have particularly large dewlaps that are a different color from the rest of their bodies. Scientists are divided on whether these displays are part of a courting ritual, some sort of defense mechanism or a form of communication.

When anoles display their dewlap, they often bob up and down like they are doing pushups. Then, with almost explosive force, they extend their bright red dewlap for all to see. It’s really cool to watch.

Can’t Catch Me

So, until today, I didn’t know there was a name for this. Though, I should have suspected there would be one. Autotomy is the act of self-amputation by an animal trying to elude a predator.

With lizards, they have the ability to drop their tails. This is called caudal autotomy. To make escape even more likely, the detached tail can continue to wiggle in order to divert the attention of the predator away from the fleeing lizard. When keeping a pet anole, you should always be careful not to frighten your pet into thinking it is trapped or attempt to pick it up by its tail.

When we lived in the eastern part of North Carolina, we had a large screened porch. Our cats loved it. Unfortunately, so did many of our resident anoles. We sadly found a number of abandoned tails on the porch and a few lizards that perhaps didn’t drop their tails fast enough.

The tails do eventually grow back though structurally they are different and they often are colored differently. Watching a tail-less or semi-tail-less lizard running around is a pathetic sight. You know that the ability to lose their tail enabled them to escape but at the same time they looked damaged and hurt.

green anole with red extended dewlap photograph by R. Colin Blenis under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Join the Conversation

The Carolina anole is a charming little creature that would make a great first choice for a pet reptile. Lizards do require very specific care and finding veterinary assistance can sometimes be a challenge. Always check with your vet and do some research before bringing an anole or other reptile into your home.

Do you have any backyard lizard stories?

Maybe you’ve kept an anole as a pet and would like to offer suggestions to anyone considering bringing one of these reptiles into their home?

{I originally posted this article on a community writing forum. Since that forum is dying, I thought it would find a great new home here on OurHerbGarden.com. I’ve also moved the original comments to encourage on-going conversations.}

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