November 25, 2012
are questions about the most conspicuous lizards native to the Southeast.
Some people call them green anoles, others American chameleons.
I live in northern Alabama and recently saw a dozen lizards (the chameleon-like
ones that change from brown to green and back) in the yard. Is there
some kind of food we could put out for them this winter? Also, do these
Yes, green anoles hibernate in colder regions of their geographic range,
which extends from the Carolinas, throughout Georgia and Florida, to
Alabama and on to east Texas. They often hibernate in large groups and
were probably congregating before it turned cold. Anoles spend winter
under bark, inside rotten logs, or under boards of houses and barns.
They can be seen on bright, sunny days in winter basking in the sun.
As for feeding them, they will do fine with no help from us as they
eat little or nothing in winter. When spring arrives, they will feed
on small insects and spiders around the yard.
I have noticed that the lizards around our house in South Carolina are
sometimes brown, or even gray, and sometimes brilliant green. I thought
the lizards that changed colors were chameleons that mimicked the color
of the object they were on. But I recently saw a green one sitting on
a brown branch and on another day saw a brown one on some green vegetation.
Part of the confusion comes from green anoles being in a completely
different family of lizards from Old World chameleons, which do change
color based on their substrate and background, creating a true camouflage.
The green anole's brown-to-green-to-brown color change is not that simple.
Color change in green anoles is a response to other environmental factors,
such as temperature and humidity. It can also be influenced by their
hormonal or emotional state. Being threatened by a predator, being challenged
by another anole, or even increasing their level of activity can result
in color changes. Most anoles hidden under bark or leaves in late fall
and winter will be brown, whereas they usually turn green if they bask
in the sun. However, scientists do not understand all the factors that
make a green anole change color. Sounds like a worthwhile science fair
We were wondering if the warmer winter we had in Georgia last year could
explain the increase in the number of anoles we found around our house
and yard last summer?
Warmer winters could possibly result in more insects for anoles to eat
in the spring, which could lead to an increase in reproduction in the
species, and therefore more lizards. However, determining the exact
cause of an increase or decrease in the population numbers of animals
is extremely complex, even for population ecologists who study a particular
species in a prescribed area. Part of the problem is the difficulty
in determining whether an observed effect (such as change in population
size of the lizards) is the direct result of weather or climate changes
that affect the animal itself or an indirect result of an effect on
another species (such as a parasite or predator) that might influence
population size. To further complicate matters, some changes in numbers
of an animal species, even over a several-year period, may simply be
coincidental with an observed environmental change that is unrelated
to the species.
Why do the anole lizards we see that can change from brown to green
sometimes have a bright red throat?
Male anoles use a throat fan, or dewlap, to challenge other males, and
sometimes even people. The dewlap is typically bright red in the native
anole and yellow, orange, or a combination of colors in some of the
introduced anoles now found in southern Florida. The display of the
dewlap is often accompanied by the male lizard doing push-ups and bobbing
its head. Next time you notice one with a red throat, hang around and
see if he will put on a show.
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