You've probably seen the green anole in pet stores. They're common and makes a good beginner reptile. Anoles have the advantage of being relatively small, inexpensive and easy to care for. They reach an adult length of around eight inches in captivity, and a lot of that is the tail. It is fairly easy to meet their housing and dietary requirements, although a fair amount of equipment is required to properly set up a vivarium for anoles.
What Anoles Look Like
They are sometimes called American chameleons, although they are not true chameleons. Anoles can, however, change their color from brown to a bright emerald green. There are several species of anole, the most common pet species being the green anole (Anolis carolinensis), native to the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. Cuban (Knight) and brown anoles can also be found fairly readily as pets, but the information in this article refers to the common green anoles.
Anoles are also attractive little lizards. Males have a colorful dew-lap (fold of skin under the chin/neck), which they flash during territorial and courtship displays. Females of some species also have dew-laps although they are generally smaller and not displayed as often. They can drop their long tail as a defense against predators in the wild. Because of this, it's not suggested to try to hold them by the tail.
The tail will usually regenerate but will not look the same as the original did. They are fairly skittish and shy but with consistent and gentle handling will become somewhat tame. An exception is the Cuban anole which is a more aggressive species.
Keeping Anoles as Pets
Anoles can be kept singly or in small groups.
Males are territorial and may display and fight with one another, so a group is best composed of females with no more than one male. A good sized aquarium with a tight-fitting screen top makes the best home; an absolute minimum 10-gallon aquarium for one or two, but larger is better and necessary for groups of three or more. The preferred substrates include soil (without perlite), peat moss, or orchid bark. Essentially, a semi-tropical environment should be created (not rain forest) with daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 F and a humidity of 70 percent. Several plants should be provided (potted will make maintenance easier), and branches for basking are essential. Anoles do not lap water from a dish as a rule, so their cages/plants should be misted twice daily as the anoles will get their fluids by licking droplets off leaves. For diet, live crickets (gut loaded and supplemented with vitamin/mineral mix) and sometimes mealworms are normally fed to them. Be careful allowing your anole to catch wild insects as pesticides the bug may have encountered could hurt the anole.
If a captive bred lizard can be acquired this is preferred as they tend to be less stressed and less prone to illness or disease at the time of purchase.
However, most anoles available in pet stores are wild caught. Sometimes anoles will be dehydrated and emaciated when purchased, as evidenced by loose folds of skin. Avoid anoles that look ill or dehydrated. New anoles should be checked by a veterinarian for internal and external parasites. A green anole care sheet is a simple primer on keeping anoles as pets.
Do Green Anole's Make Good Pets?
It is important to realize that although anoles are relatively easy to care for, this does not make them a low-maintenance pet, and the commitment to properly caring for one is the same as for any other pet. It is also important to remember that although the lizards themselves are inexpensive, the proper equipment to care for them is not. As always, education is the key to preparing for and developing the right expectations for any pet.
It is also important to remember that reptiles are common carriers of Salmonella bacteria, so proper hygiene is necessary when handling them and cleaning their equipment, especially if children or people with weakened immune systems live in the household.