Chameleon / Cuban Knight Anole

Part of the Lizards and Snakes: Alive! exhibition.

Cuban knight anole crawls along a small branch.
Cuban knight anole
© AMNH/D. Finnin

Push-ups and head bobs, color change, display of colorful throat "fans"--that's how anoles communicate.


Anoles can change the color of their bodies, usually from brown to green and back again. Excitement or environmental shifts—hot to cold, for example—can trigger these changes.


Anoles have expanded toe pads that let them cling to vertical perches and cross smooth surfaces; they also have long claws for climbing.

Small saddled anole clambers vertically up the trunk of a tree.
Saddled anole
© Jack Goldfarb, Texas Tech University


This animal is the largest of the anoles. Its whiplike tail may be as much as twice its body length.

Throat Sac

In the Cuban knight anole, the dewlap is a pale pink. The dewlaps of other anoles can be many colors, including yellow, red, orange, blue or a combination. When courting—or defending its territory—a male anole will extend its throat sac.

Many lizards, including this Cuban knight anole, have "detachable" tails. When a predator has the lizard by the tail, the tail breaks off at a particular spot, a "fracture plane." Muscle contractions squeeze the blood vessels so the lizard doesn't bleed much, and eventually it grows another tail. But the new tail is supported by cartilage, not bone, and it is often misshapen.

The color of the chamelon anole blends in with the tree branch on which it is resting.
Chameleon anole
© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Meet the Family

With about 400 species in their family, Polychrotidae, how do anoles tell one another apart? Colorful throat fans in a rainbow of colors distinguish between—and signal among—species. Most anoles like humid forests, and fossils show they had the same preferences 50 million years ago.


American green anole (A. carolinensis) with dewlap
© James H. Robinson / Photo Researchers

American Green Anole

Anolis carolinensis

Sometimes called the American chameleon, this anole is displaying a bright pink dewlap—a form of communication—and growing a new tail.



A brown lizard with dewlap on a plant stalk.
Amazonian leaf-litter anole (Anolis nitens tandai)
© Nature's Images/Photo Researchers

Amazonian Leaf-litter Anole

Anolis nitens tandai

Both males and females have these bright blue, patterned dewlaps, but they are larger in the male. Dewlaps are extended to attract females or discourage invading males.



Spotted anole perched on a branch.
Spotted anole (Anolis punctatus)
© David M. Schleser/Photo Researchers

Spotted Anole

Anolis punctatus

The anole lives in the canopy of Amazonian rain forest.




A transverse anole clinging to a branch
Transverse anole (Anolis transversalis)
© Nature's Images/Photo Researchers

Transverse Anole

Anolis transversalis

The banded color pattern of this anole makes it look like certain plants-bromeliads-in the Amazonian rain forest canopy. The animal has a blue iris, unusual in squamates.

Fast Facts

Name: Cuban knight anole; Anolis equestris
Size: 30 to 50 centimeters (12 to 20 inches)
Range: Cuba
Diet: Insects, small lizards, amphibians