The common basilisk is a lizard found in Central and South America tropical rainforests normally in low elevations near rivers and streams. Although in Costa Rica it can be found as high as 1,200 metres (above sea level) in some places. It is more commonly known as the Jesus Christ Lizard for its amazing ability to run on the surface of water. They gather sufficient momentum aided by their large web-like feet to run across the water for a brief distance.

When alarmed it escapes by speeding to the nearest edge of water and continues sprinting across the water. The lizard runs only on its hind legs in an upright position, holding its fore legs to its sides. It runs an average speed of 5.2 mph and younger lighter basilisks can run up to 20 metres on water. It is also an excellent climber and swimmer and can stay under water for up to 30 minutes.

jesus christ lizard

It can be distinguished from similar species by its large size and the high fin-like crests down its back. Males also have high crests on their heads and backs which they use to impress females. Both sexes are brown to olive in colour. Adults grow up to two and a half feet long. The tails of these lizards comprise approximately 75% of their total length. It has a large mouth with saw-like teeth on the inner sides of the jaw. Its diet consists of plants, insects, fruits, flowers, eggs and small snakes, birds and fish. 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.

Although this lizard stays close to water to escape terrestrial predators, it swims only when necessary as other aquatic animals such as snakes also present a significant danger to it. It can conceal itself under leaves on the forest floor and can remain motionless for a long time.

Lloyd Boutcher,

Director Sunvil Traveller