Giant Anole

Photo of Giant Anole, Lagarto Verde

Giant Anole (Eng.), Lagarto Verde o Chipojo (Sp.), Anolis cuvieri (sci.) íctor M. Cuevas, Biological Scientist, EYNF/LEF

General Notes

Lizards and snakes belong to the order Squamata, and are reptiles with scales, the vent forming a transverse slit, and the male copulatory organ a pair of hemipenes. Normally snakes can be distinguished from lizards by the absence of legs, external ear opening, movable eyelids, and urinary bladder. Snakes usually have one lung, the right one, while lizards have two. In lizards the two halves of the lower jaw are firmly united while in snakes the jaws are not fused but are connected by a ligament and each half of the jaw can be moved independently.

There are six families of Lizards in Puerto Rico: 1) Gekkonidae the geckos, 2) Teiidae the Ameivas, erroneously called "iguanas" in PR; 3) Scinidae the skinks; 4) Anguinidae the four legged snakes; 5) Iguanidae the Anoles, the Mona Island Iguana and the true Iguanas; 6) Amphisbaenidae the bind or two-headed snakes.

There is a superstition that when the "Lagarto verde" bites it will not release its hold until it thunders or until a black cow moos. It is also said that in order to escape from poisoning, a bitten person must cross three rivers immediately. All these absurd beliefs are well rooted among some people and there are still persons that feel very uncomfortable if they cannot cross three rivers after being bitten by a "lagarto".


Is the only giant Anolis in mainland Puerto Rico, the other giant form A. roosevelti from Culebra Island is now probably extinct. The "lagarto Verde" comes in two color phases. In the most common phase the body, tail, and extremities are emerald green or yellowish green. The head is sometimes suffused with blue and there are some purple scales on the snout and in back of the orbit. The less common phase is gray or greenish gray with dark brown mottles (which may form bars) and dots. In both phases the eye is surrounded by yellow, the dewlap is yellow, and the tongue and palate light orange-yellow. In female A. cuvieri there is also a dewlap, smaller than in the male and which in the green phase is green or greenish-yellow sometimes with blue anterior and upper margins. The male can be distinguished by the large dewlap and high tail crest. Apart from the size, (about 125 mm/5 in. from snout to vent length) the Giant Anole, can be distinguished by its large bony head, by the uniform size of the head scales and by dorsal scales fringed by small tubercles. The yellow fan, the orange-yellow mouth and the yellow area around the eye are also distinctive features of this species. Young A. cuvieri are cream or light chestnut with darker chestnut markings in color. It is believed that this coloration protects them from depredation by the adults.

Natural History

Not much is known about the habits of A. cuvieri, probably because it is a canopy species. In the wild it lies closely pressed to branches and trunks and slowly moves around to the other side when disturbed. It may occupy the same tree (or two or three adjacent trees) for several weeks or months, but it home range may extend to around 300 m2 for the male and about 70 m2 for the female. For capturing its prey, it stays motionless and follows it with its eye movements. It then moves slowly and when about a meter away it dashes forward and captures it. When the prey is small, it engulfs it complete; if not, it scrapes and smashes it against the substrate until is broken to pieces or until its size is reduced.


It seem to prefer the shady, cool coffee plantations and intermediate elevations along the Cordillera Central and El Yunque, but it has been collected as low as Mayaguez and Dorado and is quite common in the low karsts hills (Mogotes) south of Quebradillas and Isabela.

Look for it in the EYNF

This species is apparently declining in high elevations of the El Yunque National Forest, so it is difficult to be found in the Palo Colorado, Sierra Palm or Dwarf Forest. Recent observations were in the Tabonuco forest.

Additional Information

Rivero, Juan A. Los Anfibios y Reptiles de Puerto Rico The Amphibian and Reptiles of Puerto Rico 2. ed. Rev. pag. 402-403. ISBN 0-8477-0243-x