The Basilisk Lizards
Despite the name, these reptiles are not giant creepy snakes living in the sewers of Hogwarts and terrorising Harry Potter and his friends. There are four species of the amazing basilisk lizards living in the equatorial dry and wet tropical forests from Venezuela and Ecuador up to Central Mexico;
- The Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) (also goes by the names plumed basilisk and double crested basilisk, due to the crests on their heads they use to attract females). The Green Basilisk lives in the humid lowlands from Eastern Honduras to Western Panama and in Southwestern Costa Rica.
- The Western Basilisk (Basiliscus galeritus). Its range covers Southwestern Nicaragua to Northwestern Colombia and central Panama.
- The Common Basilisk (Basiliscus basiliscus). This species can be found in Panama and throughout the Pacific lowlands into Western Ecuador.
- The Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus). This species occurs throughout Mexico into central America and has also been introduced into Florida.
All four species belong to the family Corytophanidae, a group of iguanan lizards with characteristic helmet shaped crests on their heads, which only the males possess. The bony protrusions can be used as a defence mechanism and to frighten off predators by appearing bigger.
Fortunately, all four of the species are currently listed as least concern by the IUCN, but the tropical forests they call home are significantly threatened.
All species of Basilisk lizards are diurnal, egg laying reptiles that spend most of their time in trees, but never far away from a body of water where they can display one of the most amazing physical feats in the animal kingdom: walking on water.
Miracle makers: the Jesus Christ Lizard
There is a very good reason the Basilisk lizards go by the nickname the Jesus Christ lizard. When threatened, these lizards drop from their trees into the water below and gather up sufficient momentum to run across the surface of the water to flee. This seemingly magic ability comes from specialized long toes on their rear feet with long fringes of scales that increase the surface area of the foot as it slaps against the water. When they launch into their run, they pump their legs furiously, and this action creates tiny little pockets of air that keep them suspended on top of the water. Smaller lizards can run 10 – 20 metres before gravity finally catches up to the lizards amazing physiology, and it sinks. Fortunately, they are great swimmers and will already have a head start on any predator that was looking for a tasty lizard snack. They make it look pretty effortless, but to put this in human terms; the average human (wearing special fringed shoes) would have to run at 65 miles per hour to keep themselves walking on water the way these lizards do!
Amazing National Geographic footage of the basilisk lizard running on water
Glasheen, J.W. and McMahon, T.A. (1996) ‘A hydrodynamic model of locomotion in the Basilisk lizard.’ Nature, 380, pp 340-342