Discover the South Carolina Lizard Famous For Changing Its Colors

Written by Katie Melynn Wood
Published: November 20, 2023
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The slender green anole is a fascinating and sometimes deceptive lizard. While it might be called the green anole, this little guy can actually turn all sorts of colors when it needs to. In its native South Carolina, these lizards live in trees. They can change color depending on a variety of factors, mostly as a way to communicate with other anoles.

The scientific name of the green anole is Anolis carolinensis. They are part of the family of lizards known as anoles. They are similar to iguanas, chameleons, and geckos. Some other anole species can also change colors in certain situations. The green anole is a fun little lizard that exhibits interesting behavior, especially when it comes to defending their territory.

What Does a Green Anole Look Like?

Green Anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis) showing off his bright pink dewlap.

Green Anole lizard (

Anolis carolinensis

) showing off his bright pink dewlap.

©Leena Robinson/

The green anole is named for its characteristic green color. This can range from bright green to more of a brownish-olive green color. Their bodies are around 3 inches long but their tail is at least as long and maybe even longer. The largest green anoles are males and can get up to 8 inches long. They are pretty slender for a lizard, similar to a gecko. Green anoles are able to climb thanks to sticky pads on their feet.

Male green anoles have a distinct dewlap, also called a throat fan. It is typically pink. Female anoles can have a much smaller dewlap but in green anoles, most females do not have one at all. Females have a white stripe on their spine, which most males do not.

The Changing Lizard

Hispaniolan green anole

Green anoles can be bright green, emerald, olive, brown, or anything in between.


Green anoles can be everything from bright green to dark brown. They have three layers of cells that are responsible for their coloring. Their mood and stress can impact their color. It can also be a way to communicate and signal to others what they want, especially when it comes time to mate. They will turn a darker hue when the temperatures cool down, a signal to the lizards that it is the beginning of the mating season.

Anoles also use their coloring to communicate about territory. Male green anoles get brighter and greener when they want to stake a claim and let other potential rivals know to back off. These lizards are known to be very territorial, often puffing themselves up and extending their dewlap to show dominance. When they are stressed, the can get black spots around their eyes, another fascinating color variation. You’re likely to see this when they are fighting each other.

Some green anoles are missing one (or more) of the pigments that give them their color. They can appear as color mutations. Most often, these result in a lighter blue color. In the wild, these lizards have a harder time blending into their surroundings and don’t live very long. As pets, however, they are highly sought after. Typical green anoles and those with unusual coloring require the same type of care and make excellent pets. The most important thing is to set up the right type of habitat for them, although they don’t need much space compared to some other lizards because they are so small.

Are Green Anoles Chameleons?

Green Anole Lizard relaxing

The Green Anole is not a true chameleon, even though it is often referred to as the American chameleon.

©Brad Boland/

No, green anoles are not true chameleons from a scientific perspective. While they can change color, a feature often associated with chameleons, these lizards do not belong to the same family. Anoles are actually relatives of iguanas. They belong to the Iguania suborder of the Squamata order.

Anoles do not change color to blend in better with their surroundings. Instead, their color changes are used to communicate or signal to other anoles how they are doing. Feeling stressed? A new color. Want to scare off a rival? A new color. Ready to signal to potential mates? A new color. While the degree to which they change color can vary depending on the situation and the actual anole, it’s fascinating to watch them communicate in this way.

Where Do Green Anole Lizards Live?

These lizards live in South Carolina and Georgia in both urban and natural settings. They can make a home just about anywhere but prefer trees and areas with places for them to climb. Like other lizards, they are cold-blooded and can’t survive in cold temperatures. You’re more likely to find them in the warmer parts of South Carolina and Georgia instead of the higher elevation mountains.

The green anole is the only anole native to the United States. Others, such as the brown anole, have been introduced in some areas. This could cause problems for the green anole if their territories start to overlap. The two species will be competing for food, shelter, and other resources.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © victoria.schell/

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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