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May 2009 cover image eastern screech-owl

Wild Thing: Green Anole

The lizard that’s bright green, except when it’s brown.
By Sheryl Smith-Rogers

Crawling up the side of a house, a green anole (Anolis carolinensis) — long tailed and slender bodied — stands out. Quite the opposite holds true if the anole leaps onto nearby foliage, where — presto! — its skin may turn from bright green to drab brown. Or it may not.

No, it’s not a chameleon. The scales of both chameleons (which do not occur in North America) and anoles (native to the southeastern United States) switch color when temperature, light, mood and activity change, not surroundings. Green anoles vary between shades of green and brown. Several times a year, they shed their skin. Tail included, a mature male measures 5 to 8 inches in length (females are smaller). When defending territory or courting a lady, he may bob his head and flare his throat’s dewlap, a pink fold of skin. Tails broken off in a skirmish or lost to a predator typically grow back, though not as long or perfectly shaped. Adhesive toe pads (lamellae) and claws enable anoles to climb vertical surfaces, such as walls and fences.

Found across the eastern third of Texas, anoles inhabit most yards and other vegetated areas that offer shade, hiding places and moisture. During the day, they prey on insects and spiders, which are swallowed whole. At night, anoles sleep lengthwise along a stem or leaf.

After mating in spring or early summer, a female can store sperm eight months or longer. Then every two weeks or so, she deposits one small egg in leaf litter or soft soil. About six weeks later, a tiny lizard hatches. If not snagged by a cat, rough green snake or some other predator, it may reach the old age of five years.

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