The brown anole is a readily available, active and fairly hardy lizard that is semi-arboreal. Because it is also very inexpensive – a single anole sells for $2 to $3 each – the brown anole is a principal “starter” lizard for many beginning hobbyists. But it should also be considered a just-to-look-at terrarium pet (much like a goldfish in an aquarium), not as an animal to be handled. They don’t enjoy that at all.
Known scientifically as Anolis sagrei, the brown anole is also referred to as both the Cuban and Bahaman anole. Like all anoles, it is now considered a member of the rather newly established family, the Polychrotidae. (Previously, they were in the Iguanidae).
The brown anole is an insectivorous lizard that will climb the plants and branches you provide in its tank. It is active by day and likes to bask in the sun. And most have noticeably expanded toepads that aid them in climbing. Many are able to negotiate windowpanes and walls with reasonable facility.
Other species of anoles can change their color rapidly from deep brown to bright green, and are often referred to as chameleons. They shouldn’t be. Anoles and chameleons are not at all closely allied. The brown anole is not capable of those kinds of color changes.
Origin and Life Span
There are about 300 species of anoles. These lizards are primarily distributed within the West Indian and Neotropical regions. The brown anoles available in the pet trade are 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. They are simply backyard lizards. Longevity can exceed 5 years, and may near 8.
As might be expected, brown anoles of both sexes are brown in color. The female tends to lack a pattern on her sides. She is also smaller than the adult male, lacks a distensible dewlap and usually has a light vertebral stripe with gracefully scalloped edges.
Males are larger and usually darker than the females, have a large, distensible light-edged orange dewlap and are capable, through muscle contractions, of raising a ridge of skin from the back of the head to above the pelvis.
Occasionally, a brown anole will be a solid brick red color. Other than this, there are no known color variations.
Adult female brown anoles are about 4 1/2 inches in total length from nose to tail tip, and the males are often more than 6 inches in total length. Both sexes have flattened toepads that help them climb.
In the wild, brown anoles often perch low on a trunk or fence post by day, usually in a head down vertical position. If given the chance, they will position themselves similarly in the terrarium, often stationing themselves in a head-down position on the glass near the top of the tank or on a vertical or diagonal limb or corkbark.
Brown anoles often move in short bursts, traveling just far enough to seize a nearby cricket or mealworm, and then returning to their perch. However, if frightened, they can move quickly and are adept at escaping.
Anoles should be provided with the largest possible, well-ventilated, terrarium. A minimum of a 29-gallon high terrarium works well for a pair or trio. A wire cage of similar size is also acceptable.
The tank or cage should be outfitted with diagonal and horizontal limbs of about the diameter of the lizard’s body or larger, as well as climbing plants. The limbs and vines will provide perches for your anole as well as visual barriers that can foster a feeling of security. You should also provide cork bark hides.
Full spectrum lighting and a natural day-night photoperiod are suggested for these lizards. The terrarium temperature should be maintained at 82 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but can cool by several degrees at night. One end should be slightly warmer than the other end. This provides a thermal gradient and, if perches are provided at both ends, your anole will select the most suitable temperature.
The tank should have a substrate of leaves (dried live oak leaves work well) or finely shredded mulch (of a non-aromatic form.)
Females get along with each other, and males usually get along satisfactorily with females. House only a single male to an enclosure.
Brown anoles are primarily insectivorous. They will eat a wide variety of insects such as small roaches, mealworms, baby silkworms, crickets and waxworms. Captives will also often lap up a vitamin-mineral fortified honey-fruit mixture.
Baby anoles will require insects of smaller size than the adults. The insects should be healthy and gut-loaded. Fast growing babies and ovulating female anoles should have periodic supplements of D3-calcium. Twice weekly supplementation is suggested while growth is rapid and eggshells are being formed. This can either be provided by dusting the insects with a vitamin-mineral supplement or by incorporating the vitamins and minerals into the fruit-honey mixture. Adult males should be provided vitamin-mineral supplementation about once every two weeks. It is possible to overdose these lizards with D3 and calcium. Use care.
To make the honey-fruit-vitamin mixture, mix 1/3 pureed apricot baby food, 1/3 honey, 1/3 water, a few drops of Avitron® liquid (bird) vitamins, and a very little calcium-D3 powdered vitamins.
Anoles require specialized watering methods. They will seldom drink from a dish unless the surface is roiled by an aquarium airstone attached to a small vibrator (or other) pump (available at pet stores). They prefer to drink pendulous droplets from leaves, branches or from the glass sides. It is up to you to mist them with water once or twice a day, but do so in moderation. Do not allow the tank to become saturated or to hold water as a result of the mistings.
Brown anoles do not like to be restrained. They will try to wriggle free and may try to bite when held. A darkening of the overall body color of a restrained anole will denote stress.
Common Diseases and Disorders
If properly fed, hydrated and handled, brown anoles are hardy and almost trouble free.