Text and photos by Peter Vankevich
Let’s start with a colorful story: “Hey did you see that bright green lizard sunning on the porch railing? It just jumped into the bush.” Moments later, “I don’t see the green one, but there is a nice brown one on a branch.”
Ah, but it is not a different lizard. The “green one” just changed its color.
One of the enjoyable aspects of nature observation in Ocracoke village is being able to see this fascinating lizard which, except for the cold months, you should have no trouble spotting in the trees, bushes and even on houses. Its name is the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis).
This is the only lizard in North Carolina that can change its color. Because of this trait it has been mistakenly called a chameleon. True chameleons are primarily found in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Whereas chameleons may change to various colors to fit into its environment as a form of camouflage, anoles overall color changes are only in shades of green and brown. When the temperatures are warm and sunny or when attempting to attract a mate they usually appear bright green. They are brown when the temperatures are cooler or when they suddenly become stressed as in the above story.
Their length is usually from five to eight inches and they have adhesive foot-pads which permits their Spiderman-like capabilities for crawling along walls and hanging upside down.
Males have a throat fan called–I love this word–a dewlap. When engaging in courtship display or defending territory against rivals, the dewlap will expand and reveal its, usually concealed, red/pink-colored under layers.
Females are noteworthy in that they will lay only one egg at a time in intervals usually of every couple of weeks from April into August.
Anoles feed primarily on small flies, moths, crickets, grasshoppers and other insects. Unlike other lizards in North Carolina, they will also take nectar from flowers and have been known to visit hummingbird feeders for a few swigs of sugar water.
Green anoles in North Carolina are most common in the coastal plain and southern piedmont areas. According to Jeff Beane, the Collections Manager for Herpetology at the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences they have long been documented on Bodie Island as well as Bogue Banks and Shackelford Banks but on much of the Outer Banks they are absent or scarce. Only recently have records from Ocracoke been officially reported and they have been seen primarily in the village and along the Hammock Hills nature trail across from campground. I wonder whether they may have increased their presence on the island over the past 50 years or so.
My time on Ocracoke dates back to the early 1980s but my visits in the early years were in winter time when anoles seek warmth in areas under logs and brush piles, and thus not easily seen. Since I’m not a good candidate for gauging their historic presence I checked with a few others.
Kathleen O’Neal, owner/jewelry designer at the Island Artworks, recalls seeing them over the past 35 years or so. Nature artist Annie Runyon and author of the acclaimed children’s book, “The Sheltering Cedar,” about a tree in the dunes that shelters wildlife from a Christmas Eve storm, has spent her summers on Ocracoke since a young girl. She does not recall seeing them in the late 50s and early 60s, though she does have memories of skinks and even glass lizards hanging out amidst the sea oats, pea vine, Joe Bells, cactus and other low yard plants. If anyone has any recollections of either their presence or lack thereof, I’d love to hear about it.
As flora and fauna move around, often human assisted, the impact on native species often have negative consequences. In Florida, two subspecies of the Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) from the Caribbean have in recent years colonized and may be taking over the habitat of the native green anole and reducing their numbers.
Okay, I almost got through this column without mentioning a certain high-profile gecko with an affected (Aussie) accent shilling car insurance. And I practically finished without making a pitch that our featured lizard be hired for a series of ads, speaking in the genuine hoide-toide brogue about the many wonderful reasons to visit Ocracoke. I almost did.
Comments on anoles or suggestions for a future article are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.