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Carolina Anole: Classroom Critter Extraordinaire

Easy-to-care-for, color-morphing Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) make great classroom critters. In this activity, students learn about anoles, create a classroom habitat for them, and discover the 3 things anoles need for an active, healthy life. Designed for elementary and middle school students, this activity meets the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades K–4 Content Standard C: Life Science

  • Characteristics of organisms
  • Organisms and environments

  • Grades 5–8 Content Standard C: Life Science

  • Regulation and behavior
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms
  • Meet the Carolina Anole

    Found naturally throughout the southeastern United States, anoles are often referred to as the "American chameleon" because of their ability to change the color of their skin from green to brown (and vice versa). Anoles are typically found in bushes or trees, but because they are excellent climbers, they can also be seen on walls and fences. A distinguishing characteristic of the anole is the bright red dewlap present in all males and some females. Anoles can inflate this vividly colored piece of cartilage located under their chins to make themselves look larger and more dominant. This behavior is most often seen in males intimidating rivals or courting females. Females also have dewlaps, but they are less colorful than those of males and seldom displayed.

    Like other reptiles, anoles are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals that regulate their body temperature using the environment. When an anole needs to raise its temperature for activities like hunting or eating, it basks on a tree branch or a rock, absorbing heat from the sunlight. To warm up quicker, some anoles change color, from green to brown, because dark colors absorb more sunlight than light colors do. To cool down, anoles seek shade and shelter beneath a rock or log. They can also change color, from brown to green, to absorb less sunlight.

    How to create a classroom anole habitat

    Materials

  • A 5-gal aquarium (glass or plastic) with a secure, ventilated cover
  • A flat rock
  • A small climbing branch
  • A small, shallow water bowl
  • Bark chips
  • Plants
  • Potting soil
  • Sand
  • Smooth pebbles

  • Procedure

    1. Clean the aquarium thoroughly with mild soap and warm water. Carefully rinse it out to ensure that no soap residue remains, and then dry it with clean paper towels.
    2. Cover the bottom of the aquarium with a 2 to 5 cm deep layer of moist potting soil.
    3. Place a 2 to 5 cm deep layer of a mixture of sand, bark chips, and smooth pebbles on top of the potting soil. You can vary the depth of the mixture in the aquarium to create interesting contours.
    4. Dig a shallow depression somewhere in the aquarium and place the flat rock over it to provide a hiding place for the anole.
    5. Place the climbing branch in the aquarium. Make sure it is anchored firmly in the soil so it won't topple over when an anole climbs on it.
    6. Plant the plants in the aquarium and spray them with a mist of water.
    7. Place the water bowl in the aquarium and fill it with clean, fresh water.
    8. Introduce your anole to its new home! Note: Anoles love to climb and jump, so make sure to securely fasten the cover on the aquarium.

    How to care for your anole

    This can be summarized in 3 words—food, water, and heat. Here is a brief guide to providing all 3 and keeping your anole active and healthy.


    Food

    In nature, anoles consume a wide variety of small insects and insect larvae. However, they only eat food that is alive and moving. Small crickets (or nymphs), wax worms, and mealworms are anole favorites. You can also feed them flies (including wingless fruit flies) and small worms, but be sure that all food is free of insecticides or pesticides that might harm the anole. To feed your anole, simply place the living food in the habitat. The average adult can eat 4–5 crickets a day. Activity idea: Count the crickets or worms consumed by your anole at different temperatures and graph the results.


    Water

    Make sure there is always clean, fresh water available to your anole. In addition to adding water to the bowl, mist the plants in the habitat with water. This provides water for the plants and an alternative source of water for the anole.


    Heat

    Remember, your anole is ectothermic, so it needs to warm itself before it can hunt, eat, and move about. The easiest way to provide heat for it is to shine a 100-W light bulb into part of its habitat for 14 hours a day. Natural sunlight can also provide heat and vitamin D, but be careful not to leave your anole's habitat in the sun for too long.

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