Ask the Aquarium: Little Green Lizards
Q. We saw one of those little green lizards sunning on a railing at the aquarium. Its skin was falling off. Was it sick or something?
A. It sure could have appeared that way, but chances are it was shedding its old skin.
The lizard you describe is the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) — a master of camouflage. Anyone who spends much time outside is familiar with these rapid racers, often mistakenly called chameleon. Depending on the surroundings, and even on the air temperature, anoles can appear bright green, dull olive, brown or gray. No other lizard in our area has the ability to undergo such color changes.
Anoles are reptiles. Reptiles are thought to have evolved from primitive amphibians about 300 million years ago. They grow continuously throughout their lives. Because their skin doesn’t grow along with them, they must shed the old skin periodically.
Different reptiles shed in different ways. Lizards shed in sections, often beginning with a split down the back. Snakes usually shed in one piece from head to tail. Turtles shed individual plates, called “scutes,” that make up their shell, and crocodilians shed their large scales individually rather than all at once.
Shedding depends on size, age, how much the animal is eating and its overall health. Animals usually shed more as hatchlings and juveniles than later in their life cycle. Some anoles shed as often as every month, some as infrequently as once a year. After shedding, lizards sometimes eat the old skin for the nutrient value.
In preparation to shed, anoles become less active and usually duller in color. They may cut back on their diet of small insects, such as spiders, crickets or most any insect they can swallow. After shedding, they may not eat quite as much for a day or two. Anoles drink by lapping water droplets from grass and plant leaves.
Information is provided by the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The state operates three public aquariums: one in Pine Knoll Shores, another at Fort Fisher and a third on Roanoke Island. The aquariums are administered by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and are designed to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environment.
For more information about the aquariums, visit www.ncaquariums.com, or call (800) 832-FISH.
More like this story