Keeping Anoles as Pets
For a fascinating easy-care pet that’s great for a reptile beginner, look no further than the anole. Anoles are very attractive little lizards that are commonly found in the pet trade. Males, in particular, have a colour dewlap of skin under their chins which they can expand and flash during courtship and territorial displays. Anoles can also change colour and so are sometimes referred to as “American chameleons”.
They are small – about 8 inches in captivity, of which most is tail – and relatively easy to care for, with an average life span of 4 years although they can live up to 8 years if properly looked after. Anoles originate in the US and are regularly imported into the UK – the most popular is the green anole, although brown anoles are also available. Unfortunately, most anoles offered in pet stores have been caught from the wild and are often stressed and prone to disease so it is best to try and find a captive-bred anole if possible. A captive-bred anole is also more likely to be tamer and easier to handle as anoles are very skittish and shy by nature and can become very stressed by handling if they are not used to it. In particular, they will “drop” their tails if held by the tail or if they feel under threat and although it will grow back, it will never regain the look of the original.
Where Should I Keep my Anole?Although anoles themselves are inexpensive to buy, the housing and equipment needed to properly care for them are not! It is essential to get a good-sized aquarium, with 10 gallon being the absolute minimum for 1 to 2 anoles but as large as possible is preferable, certainly for a group of 3 or more where it is vital to provide adequate basking spots and places to hide and general space. Some feel that anoles are better kept in small groups due to their communal nature and if doing so, it is best to limit it to one male per group to prevent fighting. Note that anoles should not really be kept together with other species – for example, the brown anole will dominate all basking and feeding if kept together with green anoles while geckos can be aggressive and their nocturnal habits may disturb the anoles and cause great stress.
The substrate in the tank should ideally be of peat moss and soil, maybe covered with a layer of orchid bark. This is to help maintain the humidity in the tank which should be about 70%. Plants in the tank will also help to create the semi-tropical environment, as well as providing hiding spots and branches for climbing and basking. Despite their small size, anoles are extremely active and curious and will not thrive unless given ample space and environmental enrichment to perform natural behaviours. Keep the temperature in the tank at about 75-80 degrees F (24-27 degrees C) during the day, with one basking spot that is warmer (85-90 F / 29-32 C) - as like all reptiles, anoles are cold-blooded. They will also need a full spectrum UV light for 10-12 hours per day, if natural sunlight is not available. Remember to fit a secure lid to the top of the tank, which will also help to maintain the humidity at the correct levels.
What Should I Feed my Anole?Feeding anoles is easy as they are insectivores and generally not fussy eaters. Most will thrive on a diet of commercially-bred, “gut-loaded crickets” available through pet stores and pet suppliers. These are crickets which have been purposely fed with nutritious food, such as fish flakes or fruit, to provide greater nutrition for your reptiles. In addition, you can dust the crickets with vitamin and mineral supplements especially created for reptiles. It is a good idea to supplement the crickets with a variety of other insects, such as wild-caught ones if you are sure that they are pesticide-free. Adult anoles usually feed every other day, eating about 2 crickets at a time.
Unlike many other reptiles, anoles do not lap water from a dish therefore it is important to mist the tank regularly to provide droplets on the plants that the anoles can lick off. This will also help to maintain the humidity levels in the tank.
While anoles are relatively easy to care for compared to other reptiles, they should still not be considered a low-maintenance pet and thorough research should be done before getting one. In addition, remember that like all reptiles, anoles can carry Salmonella bacteria and therefore careful hygiene is essential after handling the anole and its equipment, particularly if there are children or members with weakened immune systems in the household.