Does North Carolina have chameleons?
November 2, 2004
No, but the Aquarium gets this question often because
of the little green
lizards so common along our coast. This lizard is the
Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) and is commonly
found in the humid temperate and tropical regions of the
southeastern United States and Caribbean. Although unrelated
to chameleons, anoles are often confused with chameleons
because of their ability to change color.
Both chameleons and anoles change color in response to
environmental factors. Humidity, temperature, excitement—nearly
anything that causes stress, can prompt a color change.
These stress factors and the resultant color changes have
been the subject of numerous scientific studies. In fact,
anoles are one of the most commonly studied reptiles in
the world. Their primitive social structures are also of
Dominant male anoles
are extremely protective of their territories.
They will defend their range with elaborate displays
and occasionally through physical attack, even
though that range is little more than one cubic
yard. Bright green males with their characteristic
pink dewlap or throat pouch, will respond to an
invading male by rising up on his haunches, alternately
expanding and contracting the bright warning colors
of his dewlap, and performing a series of push-ups.
As the circulating stress hormones rise, the anole
will change to a dark brown color.
noles are seldom found on
the ground. They prefer roadsides, forest edges,
old buildings, fences, boardwalks – anywhere there’s
lots of shrubbery and sunlight. Because of their
adhesive toe pads, they can even climb glass!
Higher stress levels will result in the development of
an eyespot just behind the anoles true eye and a change
back to a brilliant green. His head and neck crest may
become raised. These displays rarely result in violence
and are more often than not, simple endurance tests. The
less dominant male will usually give up and go along his
way. If a female enters the picture, the anole takes on
a very different tone. The male puts on his brightest green
shade and struts closer to the female. He expands his dewlap
and nods his head rapidly. This romantic display prompts
the female to mate. Each male may have three or more females
within their territories.
Female anoles tend to be much smaller than males, rarely
exceeding 5 inches. After mating, they will lay at least
one egg every other week from March through October. The
eggs are shaped much like chicken eggs, but they are soft
and are little more than ¼ inch in length. The eggs
are carefully placed among moist plant matter and will
hatch in 5-7 weeks.
Anoles feed on a variety of insects and spiders throughout
the day. Their toes are equipped with adhesive pads enabling
them to climb along vines, trees or buildings in search
of prey or to escape predators such as rat snakes or common
house cats. Anoles are rarely active at night. As they
grow, anoles shed their skin similarly to other reptiles.
Carolina anoles are commonly sold as pets in local shops.
Before taking an anole, or any other animal home from a
pet shop, learn about their needs and habitat requirements.
Properly regulating the temperature, humidity, space and
nutritional requirements of reptiles is quite a commitment.