Anole Care Guide
Table of Contents
What's the Deal with these Little Lizards?
There are about 300 species of anoles primarily distributed within the West Indian and Neotropical regions. Specifically, they are found in Southeastern USA, Cuba, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands.
There are over 36 species of non-native anoles breeding in the wilds of the US, and there has been considerable interbreeding, so markings may be considerably altered from the true wild types. Only the green anole is native to the U.S. All others where released or escaped pets. The vast majority of green anoles sold in the pet trade are wild caught in the Southeastern U.S.
The Largest Anole
The largest anole commonly found in the pet trade is the Knight, or Cuban anole. Although a relatively popular pet, there are somewhat less common in captivity than green and brown anoles due to temperament. Knight anoles can grow up to 18 inches in length. While interesting, they are not friendly and are very prone to biting. They will not drink from a water dish, and therefore require misting several times per day. Because of their size, they will require a 30-gallon, vertical tank, well supplied with branches. The rest of their care mirrors that of the other anole species, with the exception that they will require more food per feeding due to their greater size. Because Knight anoles are less friendly, and harder to manage, this care guide will be mostly geared toward green and brown anoles.
Brown anoles available in the pet trade are usually wild collected in Florida, where they were introduced about 40 years ago. In many areas of their range, brown anoles are so common that they are almost overlooked as pets. Longevity can exceed 5-6 years, with some pets as old as 8 years being reported.
Brown anoles are probably the second most popular choice. Anolis sagrei, are now considered a member of the newly established family, the Polychrotidae, rather than Iguanidae. Like the green anole, the brown anole is an insectivorous lizard that requires a vertical tank. They are friendlier than the Knight anole, but do require careful handling as their tails are autotomous. They are diurnal and really enjoy basking. They are very skillful climbers and have noticeably expanded toepads that aid them in that activity. In fact, they are so good at it that inexperienced owners find that they have scaled the sides of their glass tank and disappeared!
Most Popular Anole - Green Anoles
Because of their easy availability, low cost and ability to change colors, green anoles are at the top of the pet trade list for these species. Like many species of anole, greens can change their color rapidly from deep brown to bright green, and are often referred to as chameleons, but they aren’t. Anoles and chameleons aren’t even marginally related.
Their ability to color change seems to have almost nothing to do with camouflage, as was previously thought. In fact, it may be just the opposite. A happy, healthy, and confident male green anole will perch on the highest brown branch in his terrarium and tun bright green. Flying his own colors. A green anole under stress will turn brown, as will a sick anole. For instance, when two Anolis carolinenesis fight, the winner will turn bright green and the loser will turn brown! Predation attempts, light levels and temperature can also affect color. Their motto seems to be; when in doubt, TURN BROWN. Side note, although true chameleons change color to blend in more easily with their backgrounds to a limited extent, their most vibrant and rapid displays are also reserved for mating and competition.
The main drawback to anoles is even though they are a very affordable pet, that they require the same type of set ups as more expensive lizards, something which people looking for a "cheap" lizard for their children (and adults buying them for themselves) often have a hard time accepting. Get over it, and get the right stuff. Also, if the lizard has been purchased from a big box store and not a private breeder, they will be riddled with parasites. The new owner needs to invest in a fecal count performed by their vet, and possible pro-phylactic treatment. However, if the owner is willing to make this investment, these great lizards can be set up in a wonderful naturalistic setting, enabling you to set up a bit of the jungle anywhere you like in your house.
Green anoles tolerate gentle handling, and they will usually prefer to perch upon a keeper’s hand or shoulder, rather than be tightly gripped. They are fragile lizards, and their tails will drop away easily, so while they do tolerate gentle interaction with their keepers, it’s best to keep handling to a minimum.
Male green anoles may grow to 8 inches, while females seldom exceed 5 to 6 inches. Young hatch at three-quarters to 1 inch in length. With a SVL (snout-to-vent length) of a large adult male being roughly 4 inches, fully half a green anole’s length is its tail.
A lithe species, the green anole is an agile and muscular animal. Older males are more heavy-bodied than their female counterparts. These slender lizards are lightweight for their length, which allows them to move through their canopy and vegetation with greater ease.
Hatchlings will reach sexual maturity in 18 months, and adults will continue to grow throughout the duration of their lives. Sexual dimorphism is exhibited, with males sporting larger dewlaps and females having a whitish to cream-colored stripe down the midline of the dorsum.
Green Anole Habitat
Minimum tank size for a group of two adult anoles would be a tall 10-gallon tank. Three or four (one male and up to three females) anoles may be kept in a 20-gallon tall aquarium (48" x 13" x 20"). The more lizards there are, the more hiding places and basking areas needed, so tanks must get correspondingly larger.
Green anoles seem to thrive better when their terrarium is slightly elevated, so that they may look out into your home at human eye-level. In nature, green anoles dwell in trees and other lofty locations, and anything you can do in arranging and orienting your anole’s enclosure to better simulate this elevated lifestyle is highly recommended. Being down lower can make them nervous, especially if there’s a fair amount of activity in the vicinity of their cage. Therefore, placing their enclosure on a shelf or custom cabinetry will reduce their stress.
For furniture, several 2 inch potted such as Sansevierias are good, as are bromeliads, philodendrons, ivys, or pothos. Some of these can be artificial, but you pet will be happier if at least 50 percent of the furniture is natural. Logs or branches for basking are also essential for these guys.
For substrate on the bottom of the enclosure, choose aspen, recycled paper such as Yesterday’s News, fir bark, or cypress mulch. Commercially mixed substrates from Exoterra and other reptile supply outlets are also fine, as is orchid mix. Avoid cedar chips, clay cat litter, sand, and walnut shells as these substrates may lead to toxicity, impaction, or respiratory issues.
Lighting and Temperature
Green anoles are sun-worshipping baskers, and at least eight hours of full-spectrum UV lighting per day is recommended, with 12 to 14 being ideal, especially in summer. Ambient temperatures should range from the low-80s Fahrenheit during the day with nightly dips into the upper 60s to low 70s. Basking hot spots should reach the mid-90s.
Green anoles should be able to enter and exit warmer and cooler areas of the terrarium in order to thermoregulate. Although they are intrepid baskers, green anoles definitely require shady retreats occasionally. Owing to this species’ arboreal lifestyle, undertank heaters or hot-rock-style heaters are largely ineffectual as heat sources. Heat lamps (both daytime and nighttime, or moon-glow style, bulbs) work best as heating sources for a green anole enclosure.
For maximum health, this species requires a UVB-producing fluorescent lamp for 12-14 hours a day, a basking heat lamp, and depending upon the ambient temperature of the home at night, a nocturnal heat lamp. Many keepers recommend the Arcadia 8 watt MINI UV light Kit 2.4% UVB. This is an extremely low-level source of UVB and is safe for all dimensions of tanks. The light should be on a timer, so that the light automatically shuts off after 12-14 hours.
A good digital thermometer with a temperature probe is crucial for managing the heating regime. Better still; acquire a digital laser thermometer. It is a worthy investment and for less than $20, a keeper can take readings from all over the habitat with the push of a button. Especially after first setting up the habitat, be sure to take readings from more than one spot so as not to overlook hot spots and overly cool spots. Readings should therefore be taken at bottom of the habitat, in the center, at the top and in any areas your anole seems to hang out in quite frequently. Keepers need to remember that the ambient temperature of the room can affect that of the enclosure, so frequent readings are strongly recommended. Hot spots can be damaging to your anole’s internal organs and cool spots can aggravate any respiratory issues, so check frequently.
Humidity and Water
The ambient enclosure humidity should be maintained around 60-70%...humid but not wet rainforest conditions. Spray plants with purified water when possible (tap water causes hard water spots on plants and glass) a couple times a day, or set up a dripper or mister system.
In the wild, anoles lap water off leaves. In captivity, you cannot assume that they will figure out what a water bowl is, so you will need to spray the leaves for them. Some anoles do learn to drink from bowls: you can aid this learning process by setting up a dripper bottle to drip water into a shallow bowl. It is the sight and sound of dripping, splashing water which attracts their attention.
Water is a very important nutrient for your anole. Tap water contains harmful chemicals, such as chlorine and chloramine, so water straight from a tap should be avoided. However, if that is all you have access to, leave a container of it on a countertop or other well-ventilated space without a lid. Allow 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate sufficiently for your pet’s safety. If for some reason that is impractical, some reptile hobby companies make solutions to add to tap water that neutralizes harmful chemicals immediately. One such product is "Reptisafe" drops made by ZooMed. Well water, spring water, or rainwater are also excellent options.
Bugs - Crickets, Roaches, Mealworms
Wild diet includes grubs, crickets, cockroaches, spiders, moths, really about any arthropod which will fit in their mouths. In captivity, avoid 'sowbugs' (aka potato bugs, pill bugs) and beetles. Even though anoles will go for bigger prey, the size fed to them should be no bigger than 1/2 the size of the anole’s head.
Most people feed small crickets and mealworms (although some anoles seem to dislike mealworms). As with many reptiles, some anoles may be intimidated by prey that is too large for them to handle, and may refuse food that seems too big to them.
Anoles should be offered food daily. However, the keeper does need to monitor the consumption patterns, knowing when to hold back for a day. If crickets are left uneaten in the enclosure, be sure to hold off providing more for a bit. Also, if you choose not to remove the crickets, provide them with proper cricket food and moisture - otherwise, the crickets will have no choice but to chew on your anoles. A general rule of thumb for adult anoles is 2-3 appropriately sized, gut loaded, food items per feeding.
As with feeding any reptile or amphibian, thought must be given to nutritional supplements. Calcium supplementation should be added to the food daily and a multivitamin supplement once per week. Regular dusting of prey items with a supplement such a ReptiCal is most important for young, fast growing anoles - older animals that are closer to adult size need supplements less frequently.
Gut Loading Feeder Insects
Instead of dusting, many keepers gut load their prey items. “Gut loading” means placing the feeder insects on an enriched diet for at least 24 hours prior to being offered to your anole. This enhances the nutritional value of the insects substantially. A purchased supplement such as those offered by reptile hobby stores is easily available and affordable. The convenience of a dry gut load diet, purchased from a pet supply house, is undeniable. However, many experienced breeders and keepers have found these products inadequate, so for the really persnickety keeper (and you know you should be) the following formula for gut loading your feeder crickets or roaches is suggested.
- 24 pbw whole wheat flour (not self rising)
- 8 pbw calcium carbonate with vitamin D3
- 4 pbw brewer's yeast (Not baker's yeast).
- 3 pbw soy powder
- 1 pbw paprika (this is to provide beta carotene)
The ‘pbw’ stands for parts by weight, whatever that weight may be. Think of this formula as a table of ratios. For instance, if you begin with 24 tablespoons of whole wheat, you would add 8 tablespoons of calcium carbonate and so forth. So for every unit of whole wheat flour, you would add 1/3 as much of the same unit of calcium powder and so forth. Place your feeder insects onto this feed for 24 hours at least and then release the needed amount into your anole’s habitat.
Improper feeding can be basis for a number of physical ailments. One of the most common problems for these and other captive reptiles is metabolic bone disease or ‘MBD,’ which can cause muscle weakness and softening of the bones. Although this can occur from multiple causes, vitamin D3 deficiency is the most common culprit, preventing reptiles from absorbing calcium from their food. Diurnal anoles are adapted to regular amounts of direct sunlight hitting their bodies and providing D3. If your pet receives less than 12 hours of UVB per day, occasional supplementation with a reptile vitamin mineral formulation that contains D3 is advised. If your pet is getting 12 to 14 hours of UVB daily, you can still supplement with D3, but do not provide this as often, as too much can be toxic. For keepers with good, high intensity UVB lighting for their anoles, supplementing every other week with D3 in food is still prudent. Also, choose a calcium supplement low in phosphorus, with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1.
Another common deficiency is lack of sufficient Vitamin A. This deficiency manifests as puss and swelling around the eyes and jaw area. An anole suffering from hypovitaminosis (too few vitamins) will have serious difficulties with the mucous membranes lining the eyelids. This can become so severe that the animal will be unable to open its eyes at all. Do not permit your pet to get to this extreme, for this is just the first sign of a progressive condition. The next stage may involve the pancreas, liver, and kidneys. Once the stage of the involvement of these organs is reached, recovery is unlikely. Proper supplementation and lighting is critical, as they will not get certain additional vitamins from their food, being as there are strictly insectivorous and not omnivores. Therefore, careful choice of appropriate supplements is essential for providing both vitamins A and D3.
How to Clean your Anole Habitat
Daily Spot Cleaning
Daily spot cleaning is recommended, although every other day can suffice. Pick up the poop with a paper towel, and if you soil your fingers in this process, be sure to wash your hands afterward, for many birds and reptiles such as anoles can carry Salmonella.
Be Aware of Salmonella
Salmonella infections can result from having contact with reptile or amphibian environments, not just the animal itself or feces. Children under 5 years of age are more likely to develop severe illness. If an anole is kept in a household with young children, it is important the parents or guardians perform cleaning diligently. Some health authorities even recommend that children under 5 years old not be allowed to handle reptiles and amphibians at all.
Unless you have set your pet or pets up in a bioactive habitat, monthly cleaning is highly recommended.
Scoop out the substrate and discard. Remove all furniture, water and food bowls, and any live plants. Either soak the furniture and bowls in a solution of 10% bleach for 30 minutes or (my favorite) throw it all in a NSF approved dishwasher and hit the pot scrubber cycle. The National Sanitation Foundation offers a list of dishwashers that they can certify as capable of providing the sterilization needed.
While the furniture is washing, do the house itself. Spray the sides and bottom (paying special attention to corners), with a bleach solution recommended for hospital use. Do not use scented bleach of any kind. Let the habitat sit for 30 minutes, wipe it down, and let it air out for another hour. Replace the substrate and furnishings and allow the habitat to come back up to correct temperature and humidity. Wipe down the leaves of any plants thoroughly, including the underside, and place back inside the habitat.
A potential route for bacterial infection can be autotomy if the habitat is foul and the substrate filthy. If any of your anoles have dropped their tails, they will be vulnerable to infection for about a week afterward. The raw stump at the fracture line needs to stay clean so that it can grow back safely without any complications from infection. The tail will seal itself within days of loss as the radial glia jump into action after separation has occurred. No interference with this process is necessary, but excellent sanitation is.
Anoles are not terribly difficult animals to manage in a terrarium and once it is set up and your feeding routine established, then common sense sanitation, gentle handling, comprehensive nutrition, and environmental management should be all that’s needed for your pet to live their full life span.