Note: This article appeared in the May 2015 issue of the Post Oak which is neatly formatted at http://www.acctexas.org/newsletters/
Anoles or Anolis are like Rodney Dangerfield; they are frequently seen, but “don’t get no respect”. To be fair, it is hard to respect a critter that we know so little about. So I’m writing this column to help us give them the awe and respect they deserve.
What are they?
Wikipedia says that Anoles are a genus of iguanian lizard comprised of 391 different species. Texas has the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), often called the green anole. It is a 6-8” long North America native found primarily in the southeastern US. So unlike many of us invasives, Anoles are true native Texans. Anoles are often falsely thought to be chameleons, since they can change from bright green to dark brown to camouflage themselves. However, they are not even a related species to chameleons and are probably insulted by this stupid comparison.
Where do they live?
You often see anoles in trees, shrubs, vines, fences, walls, and on the ground. They are typically just hanging around sunning themselves, hunting bugs, or bobbing their heads while flashing the red dewlap under their chin. They must be afraid of heights, since some web sites claim they do not climb higher than 15 feet. It is best to get to know them in your yard, because it requires costly equipment and lots of care to achieve the stress-free environment needed for them to survive in captivity. Besides, many advise having an anole you want to cage checked by a veterinarian for internal and external parasites. I can’t imagine taking an anole to my vet! Another good reason to leave them free outdoors is that reptiles are common carriers of the Salmonella bacteria.
What type of social life do they have?
Anoles, like many humans, are skittish, shy, and most active during the day. Unlike humans, they produce no sounds. They are generally not aggressive, but as in most species, males are more territorial than females and often will fight over a female or over territory. Females, and juveniles of both sexes, may have a white stripe down their back.
What do they eat?
Anoles are insectivores and do not eat vegetation. They like crickets, grubs, spiders, moths and cockroaches. So one way to rid your house of cockroaches is to keep a healthy supply of anoles around your house. At our house, I have found them eating a variety of bugs including grasshoppers and cicadas.
What eats them?
If you have an outdoor cat, you probably do not see many anoles. They seem to be tasty morsels for any number of predators such as snakes, skinks, hawks and other birds. Luckily, they can quickly shed their tail if caught by their long tail. The shed tail continues to move when broken off so the predator focuses on the tail as the anole runs away. Their tail will grow back, but will not look quite as good as the original. Humans are another predator since anoles are considered a common “beginner reptiles” in the pet trade. But, why go to the trouble of setting up an aquarium when you can just go outside and watch them in their natural environment. Handling anoles causes them stress and they often quickly escape never to be found again. However, there are reports of anoles becoming friendly with humans outside, especially if given worms or other favorite treats.
Do they have babies or lay eggs?
Approximately 2 weeks after successful mating, a female will lay one or possibly 2 eggs in a warm moist place and cover them. She will repeat this process to lay about 10 eggs per season. The eggs hatch in 30-45 days. Hatchlings are around 1.25” when born and mature to 4-5” in about 8 months.
How long do they live?
Their average anole lifespan is 3 to 5 years, though they can live as long as 7 to 10 years.
Where do they go in the cold winter months?
Anoles are active throughout the year and can be found basking on a sunny winter day. On cold nights, they seek heat close to anything warm, such as under a rotting stump or a flower pot or in loose soil or a foundation crack.
Is there anything else that I need to know about anoles?
- The throat fan or bubble of an anole, called a dewlap, is displayed in territorial disputes and to attract mates.
- Males have a bright red dewlap while females have a more whitish dewlap.
- Anoles have a dorsal crest just behind their head which they raise in disputes, typically with the dewlap extended.
- Male anoles are 15% larger than female anoles.
- Anoles toes have adhesive toe pads to facilitate climbing on almost any surface.
- Anoles have false eyes which make them look much bigger when fighting.
Now that I know them better, how do I attract them to my yard?
Attract anoles the same way you attract other critters such as song birds. The first step to having an anole friendly yard is to keep your cats indoors. To deter a neighbor cat going after your anoles, place a motion detector water sprinkler type device where the cat enters your yard. Use native plants that attract insects so your anoles have plenty of insects to eat. Do not use pesticides that can kill the insects that visit your native plants. Strive for an ecologically diverse yard with access to water and plenty of hiding places like a rock wall. Leave dead logs in out of way places so anoles can hide and avoid the winter cold. Finally, a well mowed monoculture lawn of Bermuda or St. Augustine grass will not attract anoles. So get outside and have a closer look at these amazing creatures.