Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Brown is the new green

with 49 comments

On the afternoon of April 10th I noticed a bright green anole lizard on the Ashe juniper tree trunk outside my window. I walked several steps to my camera bag, quickly attached a long lens to my camera, and turned back toward the window. In that brief interval the anole had become completely brown. Such a presto change-o has earned Anolis carolinensis the nickname American chameleon, even though an anole isn’t a true chameleon—just as an Ashe juniper isn’t the “cedar” that people commonly call it in Texas. Shakespeare said it well: that which we call an anole, by any other name would be as changeable. And speaking of saying, the word anole is pronounced in three syllables: a-nó-le.

If you’d like to see what one of these critters looks like when it’s green and displaying a bright red dewlap, you’re welcome to check out a classic portrait from 2012. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2020 at 10:40 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

49 Responses

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  1. What a wonderful creature and a great photo!


    April 24, 2020 at 10:59 AM

    • On a bunch of days over the last two weeks I caught sight of an anole (maybe the same one each time) climbing the tree outside my window. Even if the location isn’t the greatest, how could I not try for pictures?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2020 at 11:08 AM

  2. “Brown is the new green” – isn’t that the slogan for lawns in the drought-ridden states in the southwest?


    April 24, 2020 at 11:06 AM

    • Well said. When the drought has gotten severe enough, some municipalities have forbidden the watering of lawns.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2020 at 11:09 AM

  3. I love the green anoles and we have them here. Over the last few years a brown anole has moved in and that one has a yellow/orange dewlap. I think they now outnumber the green ones here or at least in my yard.

    automatic gardener

    April 24, 2020 at 12:05 PM

    • It appears that an individual anole can quickly change color between green and brown. The Wikipedia article on the species notes that “the anole changes its color depending on mood, level of stress, activity level and as a social signal (for example, displaying dominance).” A 2019 thesis available at


      has this to say: “I tested whether body color is used in conjunction with behavioral displays of green anoles, and if this differs between the sexes. My results showed that overall, males are far more likely to be green than females. Further, males and females differ in how they use body color during social displays. In sum, my studies found that body color change is predominantly used in behavioral displays of green anoles, and males and females differ in how they use color during social signaling.”

      I also read that the paler dewlaps are found in females; that seems to identify your latest anole as female.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2020 at 1:14 PM

      • The new brown ones are from Cuba. Here is an article. I have a good photo of one on my blog from Nov.10,2015. I also have Geckos, which we call night lizards, from Greece. https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-17_lizard_gecko.htm They get in the house often. It is very international here. And yet, we still have lots of bugs.

        automatic gardener

        April 24, 2020 at 5:24 PM

        • Ah, I misconstrued. Now I understand that there’s a different brown species from Cuba that’s putting pressure on the species native in the United States. The article notes that green anoles are now being found higher off the ground than before, and that coincides with my recent observations (including this photo) of anoles at second-story height.

          I was aware of the European geckos, which we occasionally see on the outside of a window or occasionally find inside our house.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 24, 2020 at 6:33 PM

  4. Remarkable. It changed color at the speed of anole!


    April 24, 2020 at 1:24 PM

  5. It’s a cool lizard! I would love to see it in both shades.


    April 24, 2020 at 1:55 PM

  6. We visited Florida a few times when my brother and I were boys, and when I discovered the anoles in a nearby overgrown vacant lot, I spent pretty much every spare minute I could squeeze out of our activities to watch and try to catch them. I have kept this fascination through the years and always look forward to any trip to where they can be found–and I’m not really happy until I do. Thanks for this great memory jog!


    April 24, 2020 at 4:15 PM

  7. I was not aware that the Ashe juniper is also known as a cedar. I have two Eastern red cedars here, but I just introduce them as junipers to avoid confusion.


    April 24, 2020 at 5:30 PM

    • Yes, just like the eastern red “cedar,” the Ashe juniper gets called cedar in Texas. I always call the Ashe juniper a juniper, just so people know what it actually is.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2020 at 6:35 PM

      • It would be really confusing if it were a Fraxinus.


        April 24, 2020 at 6:39 PM

        • Some or maybe even many people mistakenly write “ash juniper,” not realizing that Ashe was the name of a botanist. That extra -e is the key in writing, but in speech there’s no way to tell the difference.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 24, 2020 at 6:42 PM

          • It was one of the few species I recognized on the trip to Oklahoma. The first that I saw were in a landscape of Texan species at a rest stop near Amarillo. I remember the landscape because it also had a few weird yuccas from much farther south. I was surprised to see Ashe juniper in a landscape. I do not know if they were garden varieties, or the sort that would be observed in the wild. A few grew wild near where we were staying in Cleveland County in Oklahoma. They looked like diminutive cypress.


            April 24, 2020 at 6:57 PM

            • In central Texas Ashe junipers are very common. Some areas are covered with them. We have a bunch in our yard, as this is their natural habitat.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 24, 2020 at 8:55 PM

              • I got the impression the the Eastern red cedar, although native, was more abundant in the region of Oklahoma City because of the lack of fire. It covers what used to be more productive range land.


                April 24, 2020 at 10:00 PM

                • I’ve read that fire suppression was one factor in causing the Ashe junipers to proliferate in central Texas.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 25, 2020 at 8:23 AM

                • It is a common theme. Yet, not many realize how important fire is to some ecosystems.


                  April 26, 2020 at 3:13 PM

  8. Handsome in brown. Beautiful in green.

    Michael Scandling

    April 24, 2020 at 6:58 PM

  9. Along with the anoles and the brown Cuban lizards, we’ve had a new addition this year: a black one that looks rather fearsome for something only a few inches long. I’ve occasionally caught one of the anoles in the process of a color change, or thought I did. I never was sure if I was seeing the same lizard, but your experience suggests I might well have. Anoles always seem alert and curious to me, as if they’re as interested in us as we are in them.


    April 25, 2020 at 7:33 AM

    • When I read your second sentence up to “I’ve occasionally caught one of the anoles,” I thought you’d actually caught an anole. Several times recently I’ve seen an anole on the Ashe juniper outside my window displaying its dewlap. Whether that means it saw me and was reacting, I don’t know. It’s certainly possible because, as you’ve seen a few times in my posts, a squirrel on that tree has often enough caught sight of me and engaged in a stare-down or has followed my movements with its head.

      I hope you find out what your black lizard is.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2020 at 8:30 AM

  10. I’ve never seen an anole sporting the brown color! The only anole that I have observed were that brilliant green. When in Rowlett visiting family one time, I managed a video of some kind of mating ritual or maybe it was a duel between two males. There was a third non-participating anole just a short distance away. The two bobbed their heads at each other and had long stare-downs. It went on seemingly forEVER. I finally had to leave and give up discovering the outcome.


    April 26, 2020 at 8:37 AM

    • Too bad you couldn’t have stayed around to learn the outcome. In Austin I probably see as many anoles looking brown as green. Of course the green is more photogenic, especially if there’s a complementary red dewlap extended. Still, I hope you’ll eventually see the brown form, just for the experience.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2020 at 1:07 PM

  11. Although we have our fair share of reptiles and amphibians, 5-lined skinks are the only lizards found in New England and they’ve avoided me so far. The one time I visited California we saw a couple but that’s it. They are cool and you are lucky to have them although I know there are places where they are pests found in homes. And of course there are some large ones that can cause a lot of trouble.

    Steve Gingold

    April 26, 2020 at 12:34 PM

    • How strange to have only one kind of lizard in New Zealand. I somehow assumed everyplace has an assortment. Imagine having to travel to California to see a couple of lizards.

      Regarding your link, I expect an enterprising person familiar with Photoshop could make a picture of Anolezilla.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2020 at 1:10 PM

      • Typo? I’m not in NZ.

        Steve Gingold

        April 27, 2020 at 6:18 PM

        • I used to call that a thinko rather than a typo. I believe I’d just commented on a couple of posts from New Zealand, so New England got converted to New Zealand.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 27, 2020 at 8:28 PM

  12. I love these little guys and your two portraits capture them perfectly. We used to visit grandparents who lived on one of the Georgia Sea Isles, for 2 weeks each spring. That’s where I got to know what we always called chameleons. They always bring a smile, as yours did today.


    April 26, 2020 at 6:00 PM

    • Ah, happy memories. You and I didn’t get to know anoles in New York, but both saw them first in the south.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2020 at 8:59 PM

  13. Wow! I love lizards (and reptiles in general), but they’re rare in the UK, where I live. They’re so graceful.


    April 27, 2020 at 8:49 AM

    • I’ve long heard that there are no snakes in Ireland. Now I find out that lizards (and reptiles in general) are rare in the UK. Do zoologists know why that is?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 27, 2020 at 4:00 PM

      • I’m no zoologist, but I imagine it has to do with the soggy weather all year round and the cold winters.


        April 28, 2020 at 6:08 AM

        • You seem to be right. At https://www.bcreptiles.ca/reptiles_north.htm I found this: “Reptiles need temperatures that are not too low and not too high. Just like you, most reptiles like to keep their body at a certain temperature. Because they can’t change their temperature by metabolism alone, instead, they change their behaviour! Reptiles maintain their body temperature by moving from place to place, putting part of their body in the shade and part in the sun, or changing how much of their body is touching the ground. The range of environmental temperatures over which they can do this is fairly limited. In cool conditions, reptiles also become cool and very sluggish. Where it is too cold for too long, reptiles simply cannot live.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 28, 2020 at 11:00 AM

  14. I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Great shots of both lizards Steve!


    April 29, 2020 at 1:54 PM

  15. I love this so much. I have really missed lizards, living here. We have snakes, so I’m not sure why lizards didn’t make it back after the glaciers left. Too sensible, perhaps. They anticipated the traffic.
    It is fun to see it brown, matching the trunk, but WOW the other image is stunning.


    May 27, 2020 at 10:50 AM

    • That’s funny about lizards anticipating the traffic. Yes, the picture of the green anole displaying its bright red dewlap is one of my animal success stories, photographically speaking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 27, 2020 at 1:22 PM

      • 🙂
        It sure is. And now I know how to pronounce anole.


        May 28, 2020 at 10:13 AM

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