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North Carolina Aquariums
Toward a greater understanding of North Carolina's aquatic resources . . .
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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 great interest.



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.