There Goes an Anole!
Jeanne Powell, Sumter County Master Gardener
Most of us have seen lizards scurrying across the patio during the daytime. And then might say, “There goes a gecko.” Wrong! Geckos are nocturnal, have globelike eyes, and make sounds. Is it a chameleon? No, the lizard has huge eyes, mitten feet and a tongue twice as long as its bodies. Is it a skink? No, the lizard is shiny and has smooth skin.
The lizard on your patio is an anole (pronounced: uh NOHL). It eats ants, spiders, beetles, small grasshoppers, crickets, roaches and other bugs, but won’t eat your plants. There are two types in this area: the green native anole (Anolis carolinensis) and the brown Cuban anole (Norops sagrei) that came here over 100 years ago. The Cuban anole is bigger, very aggressive and needs a lot less space than the green anole needs. They both eat the same food. The males and some females have dewlaps under their chins. The green will have a pinkish one, and the Cuban, an orange one.
The slender, shy green anoles have a mild disposition. In order to survive, they moved to very tall shrubs or the tree canopy. The browns stay in the smaller shrubs below, but they both lay their eggs in moist ground. When the eggs of green anoles hatch, they are sometimes eaten by the brown anoles before they get up to the tree canopy.
There are many more browns than greens. Severe winters can reduce the population of the browns from time to time. Both can see almost 30 feet away and almost 360 degrees. They have a “third” eye on top of their heads to sense the season. They like the temperature to be between 70 and 90 degrees, and are sluggish when cold. They have great hearing ability. The green’s skin can change color to dark brown, gray or black when they are angry, cold or scared.
They shed bits and pieces of their skin when growing, and then eat that for protein. They communicate a number of ways. They head bob, do push-ups, and stand up high and show their dewlap under their chins to frighten their enemies. The males show their dewlaps to attract females. Between April and early September, they mate, but not until they are about one year old. The mating for the browns lasts for 2 to 8 minutes, and the greens for 30 to 60 minutes and both just once a day. Both males have small harems.
They can run fast, but tire easily. They can jump 30 feet and can swim. If you get one in your house, they are hard to catch. If you catch their tail, it will break off and keep wiggling to distract you. But the tail will regenerate in several weeks. They can live for 2 to 3 years. They can be the food for snakes, mocking birds, blue jays or other meat-eating birds.
So, make a good home for these little reptiles, and they will reward you by keeping the bug population down. Next time you see one, you’ll say, “There goes an anole!”
This article appears in the August 2021, Sumter County Master Gardener's Journal