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Green Basilisk Lizard

Basiliscus plumifrons

Photo: Green basilisk lizard running on water

Photo: Green basilisk lizard running on water (View larger version)

Photograph by Joe McDonald/Animals Animals-Earth Scenes

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The green basilisk lizard is also called a plumed or double-crested basilisk; but its amazing ability to run on water gives this species its most recognizable moniker: the Jesus Christ lizard.

Abundant in the tropical rain forests of Central America, from southern Mexico to Panama, green basilisks spend much of their time in the trees and are never far from a body of water. When threatened, they can drop from a tree into the water and sprint, upright, about 5 feet (1.5 meters) per second across the surface.

To accomplish this, they have long toes on their rear feet with fringes of skin that unfurl in the water, increasing surface area. As they rapidly churn their legs, they slap their splayed feet hard against the water, creating a tiny air pocket that keeps them from sinking, provided they maintain their speed. They can move along the surface like this for 15 feet (4.5 meters) or more. When gravity eventually does take over, the basilisk resorts to its excellent swimming skills to continue its flight.

Part of the iguana family, green basilisks grow to about 2 feet (61 centimeters) in length, including their long, whip-like tail. Males have distinctive, high crests on their heads and backs, which they use to impress females.

Pregnant females prepare a shallow trench where they lay up to 20 eggs. The mother then leaves the eggs to hatch on their own. Hatchlings are born with the ability to run (on land and water), climb, and swim.

Green basilisks are omnivores, surviving on a diet of plant material, insects, fruit, and small vertebrates. They are common throughout their range and have no special status, but abundant natural predators like snakes and birds keep these amazing lizards on their toes.

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