An Amorous Anole Afternoon

Bright green male displaying pinkish throat fan

Yesterday afternoon about four, I was returning to my front door after closing my greenhouse against an impending cold night when I spotted two Green Anoles (Anolis carolinensis) — one green and one brown — moving about in one of my White Texas Sage plants near my front water feature. One of the lizards displayed his dewlap — that reddish throat pouch you see above — and I realized I was watching some kind of anole-anole encounter. I ran inside to grab my camera, hoping they might still be there when I returned.

By the time I got back out, the dark brown anole had vanished into the greenery near the base of my little pond. But the bright green male in the picture above was still there, now on the low railing of my front deck beside the White Texas Sage. He obligingly posed for the shot above. I was only sitting about two feet from him.

These lizards are common in my yard, but I had never seen them so docile about my presence. At first I attributed their slowness to the cool day, but as I continued to watch — for almost an hour and a half — I realized that although this fellow wasn’t thrilled about my presence, he was vastly more interested in the female lurking below him.

I sat on the edge of the deck beside the White Texas Sage for the first hour, until I finally realized that the male was not happy with my proximity. I then moved to a bench just above the area about six feet away. It was only after I moved that the female relaxed enough to join the male.

I watched the male change color repeatedly from bright green to greenish brown to brown to deep gray and back to green. At the time, I thought perhaps the color show — along with many throat pouch displays — were designed to impress the female. But after researching these animals a bit, I now think my proximity was stressing the poor little guy. He eventually got through to me — looking straight at me and opening his mouth wide at me — a silent roar, if you will. That’s when I finally got a clue and moved further away.

I took almost 200 photos. Here’s a photo synopsis of what I watched, beginning with the photo above. After that display, the male jumped back to my White Texas Sage and began changing to a greenish brown color:

A short time later, he began reverting to a greener shade:

When he was fully green, he inflated his throat patch again:

After his pouch deflated, he went back to brown:

He then jumped back to the low rail surrounding my front deck, where he lounged for a bit, then turned and glared at me:

At least, I thought he was glaring at me. Turns out he had spotted the female. My research tells me these lizards have keen vision. I finally spotted her too, lurking deep within the new foliage of a daylily:

The female’s color never changed, and her gender lacks the throat fans the males possess.

The male jumped back onto the White Texas Sage, turned green, and inflated his throat fan:

Turning toward the female and going a little browner, he displayed again:

Failing to achieve his desired result, and likely stressed by my intrusive camera, the male darkened to a deep brown:

Note the ridge along the back of his neck. He may have raised this in an attempt to look larger and scare me off.

When I didn’t react, he shifted priorities back to the female and returned to green:

Yes, he might have been glaring at me. I suspect the female retreated, because the male moved back to the deck. Here he has jumped to the side board framing the deck floor:

Check out those pads on his feet. Green Anoles are mostly arboreal, although they can be found in many suburban and even urban environments at any level from ground to rooftop. Those pads allow him to stick to vertical surfaces.

He climbed back on to the narrow low rail and once again displayed his dewlap:

It was at this point that I realized I was too close, so I moved to a bench about six feet away. The male appeared to relax a bit, remaining green, and soaking up some afternoon sun:

He jumped up abruptly and turned to look down into the greenery below. He must have spotted the female again, although I couldn’t see her no matter how hard I looked.

Determined to impress the object of his desire, he puffed out his throat pouch again:

This one did the trick. As I watched him leap back down to the White Texas Sage, the female suddenly appeared on the same plant. The male made his move:

Mating was achieved:

I read that mating can continue for 30-45 minutes. After about five, I moved in for one last close-up and then gave them their privacy:

I read that females only lay one egg at a time, and may lay one a week for a number of weeks. Dominant males keep harems of up to six females, but I saw no evidence of that in my front garden yesterday.

Green Anoles eat insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. When I had pet cats lounging on this front deck, I rarely saw lizards, but I had an abundance of Praying Mantises. With no cats to plague them, the Green Anoles and skinks now rule my decks, and I almost never see a Mantis in my front garden anymore.

These changing population dynamics, and the encounter I was lucky enough to observe yesterday, remind me that my Piedmont garden is always first a habitat for the natives with whom I share this space. That’s why I don’t use poisons, and why my yard will always look less groomed than many others. My gardens and yard are as integrated into the native landscape as I can manage. After all, the plants and animals here are as much Piedmonters as I am.

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  1. #1 by Terica on April 11, 2012 - 8:24 am

    Geat blog. I often read all the post but seldom comment. Got a chuckle seeing someone as fasinated by those little creatures as me! You got some fabulous shots. Do you ever catch yourself wondering “What was I supposed to be doing right now?” when getting caught up in the moment of nature? I call them nature’s distractions. They can get me a dozen times a day in the garden. I made a video when I got my first camera of shots I took of 2 anoles that played daily on my deck. Peace Terica

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on April 11, 2012 - 9:42 am

      Hi, Terica. And welcome!

      Yes, I confess that I am often distracted by everything going on in my yard and gardens. My most recent rationalization to justify the time I spend out there is this blog. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, I am helping a few others appreciate the natural world a bit more. Happy anole watching!

  2. #3 by frank "T.J." Jacobs on May 11, 2013 - 4:07 pm

    I live in piedmont N.C. and have a small voriety of lizards on an acre of property bordered by @ 150 acres, with a 1/3 acre pond 15 Feet off of the property line; mostly deep woodland.
    While coming up to the house from the pond I nearly squished a “couple” of anoles mating on the top of the back gate of the deck while reaching for a hand hold. Their activity stopped for just a minute,and then I saw an anole I have watched for the last few months , I’ve named him bluespot due to an injury he had gotten when he was half the size he is now; onhis right side. This was most likely from a bird bite.
    He is a surviver.

    Frank “T.J.” jacobs Mint Hill, N.C.

    • #4 by piedmontgardener on May 11, 2013 - 4:56 pm

      Your home sounds wonderful, Frank — great for wildlife-watching. Anoles can be particularly single-minded when in the grip of their hormones, I agree. One feisty male, who often suns himself on my front deck, insists on puffing out his neck pouch every time I stop to stay hello. 🙂 They are resilient and fearless little reptiles.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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