Striped Basilisk Lizard Lore
One of the coolest and most confiding reptiles I’ve encountered in the tropics is the Striped Basilisk Lizard (Basiliscus vittatus). This remarkable little monster is also known as the Brown Basilisk, but it shares a more glamorous nickname and ability with other lizards in its genus.
The genus Basiliscus, in the same family as iguanas, includes four species. Along with the striped basilisk are the Common Basilisk (B. basiliscus), Red-headed Basilisk (B. galeritus), and Plumed Basilisk (B. plumifrons). Basilisks collectively share the nickname “Jesus Lizard” or “Jesus Christ Lizard” because they can actually run on top of water. Large hind feet with flaps of skin between their toes help support the basilisk by creating a larger surface and a pocket of air. These traits combined with a speedy upright gait keep the lunging lizard from breaking the surface tension of the water until momentum slows and it resorts to mundane swimming. Smaller basilisks can run about 30 to 60 feet over water without sinking. This spectacular display is usually a response to perceived danger. While studies specific to striped basilisks are hard to come by, anyone interested in the three-dimensional hindlimb kinematics of water running in the plumed basilisk lizard could do worse than to check out this study. Better yet, check out this photo of one of these guys running on water!
The striped basilisk can be found close to water throughout Central and South America. This species also appears as an introduced nonnative in Florida. These diurnal dragons run between 1 and 2 feet long, eat a varied diet, and employ a defense of standing stock still and counting on their coloration to camoflauge them, a defense that might be more effective were it not for the bold lemon stripe down each flank. Surprisingly, the striped basilisk is not endangered.
This bonus lizard is one I lack the herpetological erudition to identify. I encountered this racy little reptile at the legendary Hotel Villa Maya in Guatemala. It is said that you can’t put lipstick on a pig but apparently this prohibition doesn’t apply to lizards…