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The green anole is no chameleon

Backyard Safari

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Media contact: Susan Smith, 850-488-8843

Green anoles, a type of American lizard, are often called American chameleons because they can change color, but they are not chameleons at all.

These anoles are the only native lizard in the southeastern United States that changes color, but it is only from bright green to brown or gray. Usually their change in color is due to stress but also to temperature and mating. Males extend a bright pink dewlap (a piece of skin that unfolds from its throat) when looking for a mate or when warning other males to back off. Their head-bobs are like pushups and show the female and other males that they are strong.

Mating season starts in the beginning of April and continues throughout the summer months. In South Florida, the mating season is a little longer. If you see a green anole bobbing up and down and showing his dewlap, look around; there may be a female nearby. A female lays one or sometimes two eggs every two weeks, usually in dirt or debris at the base of a plant.

The green anole is the only native anole in the Southeast and is found from North Carolina west to Texas and throughout Florida.

True chameleons, however, live in Africa, Madagascar, Portugal, Spain and parts of Asia. At least two species have been introduced into Florida. They can change to every color of the rainbow because of mood, temperature, habitat, stress, anger and defense. They often blend easily into their surroundings by changing color. Chameleons hold on to branches with their feet and coiled tails. Their long, curled tongues shoot out like arrows to catch prey.

Anoles are small, long and slender. Like the chameleon, they have the ability to cling to objects but only because of a sticky pad on the underside of their toes. Their tails are not coiled but long and thin and can break easily. This is so they can escape predators. When caught by the tail, the lizard squirms until its tail breaks and it can escape to freedom. The confused predator is left with only the tail and wondering where its lunch has gone. Lizard tails will grow back a little.

In southwestern Florida, the dewlap may be gray, white or light green. These populations are a different subspecies or race of green anole.

Watching green anoles is easy. Around homes, they hang from walls, scurry across sidewalks and driveways and climb shrubs, branches and trees. A little anole visits me daily. He perches on a railing outside my office window and bobs his head up and down, showing off his bright pink dewlap. Anoles generally have a territory, so chances are you’ll see one in the same place, day after day. The one I see is missing his tail.

Another anole in Florida that is not native is the brown anole from Cuba. Many times they are confused with the native green anole when the green anole has turned brown. But brown anoles have obvious patterns on their backs and sides. Green anoles typically have no pattern, although a female may have a slightly wavy whitish stripe down her back.

For more information, you can visit http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Anolis_carolinensis.html.



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