In Florida, it would be unusual not to come across a Brown Anole while relaxing on a lanai, poolside or just walking down the sidewalk. This small lizard, though not native, is part of the landscape or “cityscape” here, like it or not! Common on walls, fences, low shrubs and bushes, the Brown Anole has made Florida its home. Now, coming across a lime green Green Anole is a surprise to the eye, due to the extreme color. Is it the same lizard that can change its color? Is it a chameleon? No, that is not the case.
Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei), introduced in 1887 to Florida from Cuba and the Bahamas, via boats to Key West and other sea ports, have established (breeding) themselves south of Gainesville for at least ten years. The male of this species can reach eight inches, with the females growing to about six inches. They are brown, sometimes with yellow stripes.The male is readily identified with his red or bright orange dewlap (loose, expandable flap of throat skin) in spring and summer whenhe displays as he performs “pushups” to attract the female and mark his territory. Common in ornamental and suburban, disturbed “habitats”, they prey upon the native Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), which is a smaller, less aggressive lizard.
The Green Anoles have been driven to higher ground, so to speak. The Brown Anoles are common in suburban areas with ornamental, non-native vegetation. Green Anoles depend on Florida native vegetation and, with less and less habitat, they seek higher, less (Brown Anole) populated branches to escape the more aggressive and voracious Brown Anole. (Did you know such a struggle was occurring in your back yard?) Green Anoles need native, thick shrubs and trees, such as a Coco plum hedge (versus a Ficus hedge), Simpson Stopper, Geiger, Buttonwood or Wax Myrtle trees (versus Queen, Areca and Fox palms). Not a chameleon, but chameleon-like, they can change colors, from lime green, brown and even white, to blend into the environment.
Other small four-legged amphibians and reptiles, such as, geckos, skinks and frogs, are secretive, but common in yards and help with insect control. They are vital to the balance of a healthy ecosystem, controlling insects and other invertebrates, so can be a economic benefit to a homeowner. While strolling in your lanai, pool area or garden, look for both Anoles but also some of the following beneficial residents:
Southeastern Five Lined Skink (Blue Tailed Skink) – Skinks havecharacteristic smooth, shiny bodies with short legs and are typically out in the day time hours hunting insects.
Ashy Geckos (Sphraerodactylus elegins) – Commonly seen by wall or front door lights at night catching insects, they are light brown with dark brown dots. Geckos, amphibians, can drop their tails quickly (just ask any cat!); have large eyes and round tails. Their toes have ridges and bristles to aid in their easy climbs up trees and walls.
Cuban Tree Frogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis) – Have you been awakened by the loud chorus of chirping or croaking by these invasive frogs? It seems the more rain we get, the louder these frogs are! Most noticeable in suburban, developed and landscaped areas, such as Marco Island, these large frogs originally from Cuba and the Bahamas, predate native American Green Tree and Squirrel Frogs, causing rapid decline in their populations.
While it is common to manage pests with chemicals or claim that one does not want lizards or amphibians in the backyard, please remember that they are harmless and provide benefits in controlling destructive insect, invertebrate and small rodent populations naturally. Providing habitats, such as native Florida vegetation, shady ground covers, and sunny spots, you will receive the pleasure of that rustle of the leaves, the ambiance of the tropics and, most important, the health and cost savings in fewer chemicals in your environment.
Nancy Richie is a long time Island resident and Marine Biologist.