Green Basilisk

Part of the Lizards and Snakes: Alive! exhibition.

Lots of lizards are fast on land, but this one sprints on water. The trick? Run fast and hard--and have big feet.


The long toes of the hind feet are fringed with scales that spread out as the foot strikes the water.

Basilisks don't skim on top of the water like insects--they're too heavy for that. Instead, they churn their legs like windmills in a gale, creating pockets of air with their big, fringed feet. To manage a feat like this, an 80 kilogram (175 pound) human would have to maintain a speed of 104 kilometers (65 miles) per hour.


These long, strong hind legs help Green Basilisks to run upright--and to pull their feet up before the water pulls them down.

Basilisk Lizard (Basiliscus sp.), Running on water
© Stephen Dalton / Minden Pictures


When running on water, the Green Basilisk holds its tail in the air. This helps counterbalance upright posture and reduces drag.

Body Size

As a rule, Basilisks run on water only when startled. Smaller and lighter juveniles do it regularly, while heavier adults do it less often.


The mythical beast called the Basilisk--half rooster, half lizard--gave this animal its name. In Green Basilisks the crest is largest in males and smallest in juveniles. Jaw muscles attach to the crest; a large crest helps attract females.

Emerald Basilisk
© Jack Goldfarb, Texas Tech University

Meet the Family

Most of the nine species of Casque-headed lizards-Corytophanidae--are well--camouflaged tree dwellers. Of the group, only Basilisks have taken up life on the ground-and even their young live mostly in bushes. A close relative of the modern Basilisk lived in Europe about 40 million years ago.



Striped Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus)
© Gregory G. Dimijian, M.D./Photo Researchers

Striped Basilisk

Basiliscus vittatus

This lizard can run across water, but it spends most of its time on land, farther from the water than most of its relatives.

Fast Facts

Name: Green Basilisk; Basiliscus plumifrons
Size: 80 centimeters (30 inches)
Range: Central America
Diet: Insects and other invertebrates; seeds, fruits and leaves