What to Know About Brown Anoles

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 24, 2022

The anole family is a large family of small and medium-sized lizards. Brown anoles aren’t native to the U.S., but they currently have made their home in several states. These lizards have a dull brown or gray coat offset by a vibrant dewlap under the throat.

Brown anoles (Anolis sagrei, formerly Norops sagrei) are a medium-sized species of lizard. They’re usually 5 to 9 inches long. As their name suggests, brown anoles come in shades of brown and gray and often have yellow spots or markings.

Brown anoles are sexually dimorphic, meaning the males and females of the species have distinct differences. Males typically weigh about 8 grams, while females weigh closer to 4. Males are darker in color, sometimes nearly black, while females are lighter and often have a dark diamond or scalloped pattern down their backs. Both males and females shed their skin several times a year.

Brown anoles have a dewlap, an expendable flap of skin under the throat. When extended, the dewlap of the brown anole is bright red or orange, but when collapsed, the color is hidden. Both males and females have the dewlap, but the females' are smaller and they don’t extend them often. Males may extend theirs when they’re defending their territory or trying to attract a mate.

Brown anoles live in groups, although males and females live separately. They aren’t generally territorial except sometimes during mating season. They aren’t vicious but will sometimes fight among themselves. Larger brown anoles tend to have more power in their group, but otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of social hierarchy. 

One of the most common species of anoles in the U.S. is the green anole, Anolis carolinensis. They’re easy to identify, as the green anole is green with a longer, more pointed snout and a light pink dewlap.

Brown anoles typically prefer to live on the ground in areas with dense vegetation or moist forests. While they spend much of their time on the ground, they’re also comfortable up high in trees and will also make their territory in fences, shrubs, and vines. They prefer semi-tropical climates, with temperatures around 75°F to 80°F (23.8°C to 26.6°C) but no lower than 65°F (18.3°C), and humidity levels between 40% and 80%.

Brown anoles originated from the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Cuba, and Honduras. They currently live in the U.S. as an invasive species. Brown anoles were first recorded in the Florida Keys in the 1880s and since then have spread to Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. They’ve also been found in California and Hawai’i. Most of this spread is caused by accidental transplant, especially from live plants being transported into the U.S.

Because brown anoles can adapt to changing environments so easily, they’ve made themselves comfortable in the U.S. Their presence in the U.S. is an ecological threat, as they displace the native green anole population and spread parasites.

Brown anoles have a varied omnivore diet. They eat mainly arthropods, like crustaceans, spiders, and insects such as:

  • Beetles
  • Butterflies
  • Crickets
  • Flies
  • Grasshoppers
  • Moths

They’ll also eat other types of invertebrates like snails and earthworms, and some small vertebrates, including newly hatched green anoles.

In the wild, brown anoles can live up to five years. In captivity, they can live up to eight years, though the average is closer to four.

Both male and female brown anoles reach sexual maturity at about a year old. After mating, a female lays one or two eggs and buries them in soil or mulch. She then abandons the eggs. They hatch about seven weeks later, and the new hatchlings are able to survive on their own.

The weather needs to be warm for brown anoles to breed and lay eggs, so their breeding season is often in the summer. In areas that are consistently warm, their breeding season may be year-round. Females can lay eggs weekly or bi-weekly, and often lay 15-18 eggs during an average breeding season. The breeding season for females lasts longer than it does for males, as females are able to store sperm within their bodies to continue fertilizing eggs after the male breeding season has ended.

Anoles are not bad pets, but they display some behaviors that may make them better suited for experienced reptile keepers. Most anoles don’t like being held, and being handled may stress them out. This can cause them to bite. These bites can sting, but yanking your hand away can cause damage to the anole’s mouth and jaw.

Habitat. Anoles can be kept alone or in groups, but the more anoles you have, the bigger space you need. You also need more hiding areas and basking areas. The minimum-sized tank for two adults is 10 gallons. Three or four should have a 20-gallon aquarium.

Their tanks should include:

  • Branches or logs for basking
  • 2-inch potted plants to provide shade and keep the atmosphere humid
  • Substrate, the bottom layer, made of sterile peat moss posing soil over pea gravel or a few inches of potting soil with a layer of bark mulch on top

Their enclosures should range from 75°F to 80°F (24°C to 26.5°C) during the day and 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C) at night. Their basking area should be 85°F to 90°F (30°C to 32°C), and their basking light should only be on in the daytime. To keep the tank the right temperature, use thermometers throughout and use a nocturnal heat light as needed at night. Anoles also need UVB light for 12-14 hours a day.

Humidity should be about 60% to 70%. To keep the enclosure humid, spray the plants with purified water or set up a mister or dripper.

Diet. When keeping anoles as pets, feed them food similar to what they would find in the wild. Insects work well, especially small crickets. Gut-loading, or feeding the prey a high-protein diet before offering them to your anoles, is a great way to help your anoles get essential nutrients. Feed your anoles daily.

Anoles may have a hard time learning to drink from a bowl. Spraying leaves allows them to lap moisture off the leaves as they do in the wild.

Show Sources

Anapsid: “Anoles.”
Animal Diversity: “Norops sagrei.”
Journal of Morphology: “Functional morphology of dewlap extension in the lizard Anolis equestris (Iguanidae).”
Texas Invasive Species Institute: “Brown Anole.”

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