Added 2 May 2006. Last updated 30 October 2012: updated classification information.

A look at the

Anole Lizards


What are anoles?

Anoles are small tropical lizards, being found from the southern states of the US to the middle of South America, being especially prevalent in the Caribbean where they seem to have run riot in terms of different species. In some ways they seem to fill part of the ecological niche that in the Old World is filled by the geckos, in that they are small insectivorous species with the ability to climb vertical surfaces such as trees, buildings and even panes of glass.

Apart from this climbing ability, anoles are often distinguished by their coloration, in particular that of the dewlap, or throat fan, which is used by males in displaying to one another and to females over territory and the readiness to mate. They vary in size, but most tend towards the small although there are a few relative giants in the family; even so, none exceeds 24" or so.


Depending on your taxonomic opinion, anoles form either the subfamily Anolinae or the family Polychrotidae (see Iguanidae for details).

Until recently the genus Anolis was one of the largest among lizards or even vertebrates, numbering about 300 species. In the late 80s a large number of species was removed to a separate genus, Norops, but this still left a very large number of Anolis species. To further complicate matters, scientific opinion then became divided on whether Norops was a valid genus, and authorities such as the Reptile Database now treat all Norops species as Anolis species again. Since in literature over the past few years the same species may be referred to as either Anolis or Norops, we have included a separate page for Norops but also list all the species included in that genus on the Anolis page as well.

Although also called anoles, the few Polychrus species have always been known as such and are unaffected by the above controversy.

If the anoles are treated in the old way as subfamily Anolinae, then the genera Anisolepis, Diplolaemus, Enyalius, Leiosaurus, Pristidactylus and Urostrophus would also be included here. As it is now these species may be regarded as members of the family Leiosauridae which contains two subfamilies, the Leiosaurinae (Diplolaemus, Leiosaurus and Pristidactylus) and Enyaliinae (Anisolepis, Enyalius and Urostrophus). For the time being these genera are not included on this page, not least because there seems little interest in them or experience of keeping them in captivity. If anyone knows otherwise I would be very happy to hear from them.

Anoles in captivity

Despite the huge size of the group, very few of its species are kept in captivity. The Green Anole (A. carolinensis) and Brown Anole (A. sagrei) are offered fairly often but do not get the attention they deserve, being usually regarded as "beginners'" lizards. The large Knight Anole (A. equestris) is also seen, albeit less frequently. European hobbyists and breeders are working on other species, but even so at the moment these reptiles are regarded as suitable for specialists only rather than being sought after.

This is in some ways a pity, as most anoles are not difficult to keep and their small size makes them viable for community cages, as well as allowing specialists to keep a number of different species without taking up the entire house. Many are attractive and their behaviour interesting, making an interesting focal point, and unlike chameleons they do not have a reputation for easily stressing. Furthermore they are, unlike the similar geckos, diurnal, so can often be counted on to be out during the day. Most if not all do need UV light, however, and smaller insects than those offered by some pet shops: brown crickets of instar 3 size or smaller would probably be best, while for new-born anoles possibly only fruit flies and similar-sized prey would be suitable. Being good climbers, a closed cage is obviously a necessity: however, most need some degree of humidity, so there should be ventilation as well as security. Most males are highly territorial, so a general rule is one male per cage unless you have a very large setup (which most keepers do not, at least for small lizards!). See some of the captive guides in the Bibliography for more information.

I hope these pages serve to trigger an interest in these small but fascinating reptiles.

The genera


Number of species



About 380 or so

Southern US southwards; many found in Caribbean. Total includes those species formerly considered part of Norops


About 150 or so

No longer considered a valid genus, but we have left it here for reference



Mostly South America, one species also in Central America


Lizards of the World, Mattison

Keeping and Breeding Lizards, Mattison

The General Care and Maintenance of Green Anoles, Philippe de Vosjoli, Herpetocultural Library 1992. Probably the best introduction to keeping not just Green Anoles but also many other anole species. De Vosjoli also includes community setups and a selection of non-anole species that could be compatible with these lizards. Recommended.

Carribean Anoles, Heselhaus and Schmidt, TFH. Another excellent book, by two German authors who have personally visited some of the islands where the lizards are distributed. This gives the basic description and captive requirements of most of the Anolis species and is somewhat more comprehensive than some TFH books. Recommended.

See also Index of Iguanid Related Articles for articles on Anolis species by Jerry G Walls and Axel Flaschendräger, both of which were invaluable.


Caribbean Anole Database - excellent site by Lluis Perez i Gorgoy in Spanish and English giving information on these lizards. Very good explanation of the different habitats, the islands and the different "types" - "twig-dwarves" and other loose groupings. Recommended.

Under the Leaves - complete Anole care. Well written site concentrating on anoles and the care in particular of the Green Anole A. carolinensis and the Brown Anole N. sagrei.

Anole Pictures - superb Anglo-German site containing well-organised pictures of many different Anolis and kin. Please respect the copyright on these shots! As used by the EMBL reptile database.

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