Anoles in Trees

Top Photo: Green anoles engaged in mating.

The sharp eye of Ranger Dakota spotted the two lizards on the trunk of a small cherry tree outside the door leading from the main museum building to Gateway Park near the bells, drums, metal tubes, wooden sound boards and other music and noise making devices that make up Sound Garden. What he saw were two green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) engaged in mating.

I’ve been familiar with green anoles since childhood, though I was raised about 4 degrees of latitude north of where the Museum of Life and Science resides in Durham, NC. Green anoles are not found north of our border with Virginia (except in the Virginia Beach area) much less more than 270 plus miles further north.

In my youth, I had several pet anoles, or American chameleons as they were then sold, purchased from the local Two Guys Department Store. They were billed as chameleons because of their ability to change color from green to brown. They are not related to any of the various chameleons of Africa, Madagascar, and parts of Asia. By the way, a green anole’s color change has more to do with its mood, stress level, general health and ambient temperature than its need or desire to conceal or camouflage itself. In winter here at the museum they’re usually brown and sometimes quite gray. Green seems to indicate optimum conditions.

Female, sunning in January.

Over my nearly 14 years here at the museum, green anoles have not been a common sight until the most recent three years or so. Now, they seem almost common throughout the grounds, Explore the Wild, Catch the Wind, even Gateway Park. The males especially seem more visible with the frequent displays of their red or pink dewlap, that extended flap of skin projected out from their throats, as they either show off to nearby females or warn off rival males in the vicinity.

Male displaying his dewlap.

What I’ve forgotten, or maybe never knew, is that females also display, though their dewlap is not as large or prominent as the male’s. There’s been much study over the years concerning male displays and interactions but not of female dewlap display and what it means. Females actually display and chase off other females that enter their territories. But they may also be signaling to males their unwillingness to mate. I haven’t had many experiences with anole sexual behavior, but through research, I’ve discovered much has been written about the subject.

Males stake out several female territories and patrol the areas either seeking the females for mating and or discouraging rival males, head bobbing and displaying their brightly colored dewlap as they go. Encounters with males may result in aggression while female encounters often end up with a pairing of the two. But not always.

I’ve read at least one paper where females of certain species of anoles display their dewlap to approaching males in what has been described as an attempt to “dissuade” mating. Even when a male is successful in convincing a female to mate she may become agitated and show her dewlap. If that’s so, the female in the photos here seems to be indicating her desire to break free.

Note brown color and dewlap of female.

I wasn’t present for the beginning of the encounter, but as you can see in the photos, which are chronological (except where noted), the female is brown in the first photos and nearly all green near the end. Is she stressed or agitated in the first shots and displaying her displeasure (and dewlap) with the ordeal? I don’t know, but if the conclusions reached in the paper I read are correct, then yes, the female may have wanted no part of this interaction.

Note female’s dewlap, and male’s grip on female’s neck and elsewhere.

Mating can go on for an hour. The female typically lays one egg per sexual encounter over the course of the summer, about one egg per week. Females can store sperm allowing them to lay fertile eggs even if their male counterpart somehow disappears during the rest of the breeding season.

Again, note the dewlap of female.

The eggs are individually placed in a shallow hole in the leaf litter or soft soil beneath the trees (green anoles are largely arboreal). When the egg hatches in about 6 – 8 weeks the tiny 2 inch lizard is on its own.

Female is slowly turning green.

At the end of this encounter the female quickly hurried off while the male paused, then continued up the tree until it was lost from view.

Male slowly moves up trunk and out of view.

Depending upon who you talk to, there are some 400 species of anole in the New World. They range from North to Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands. North Carolina hosts one.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.