A Saintly Lizard
“It’s a Jesus Lizard.”
“Eh? Come again?”
That was many years ago, when I saw my first lizard walking on water. It’s the common name for the basilisk lizard genus, known for its unique ability to walk and run, as a biped, across water. Basilisks are native to the tropical rain forests of southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, meaning they’re non-indigenous to Florida. To date, the furthest north they’ve been spotted is Ft. Pierce. Part of the iguana family, basilisks can reach 2 feet in length, including their long tail. The high crests on the males’ heads and backs are used to impress females.
On water, basilisks can run on their hind limbs at about 5 feet per second for approximately 15 feet, before sinking to all fours and swimming. I’ve often seen them running across solid surfaces as well however, and this National Geographic article describes the complicated mechanics of the basilisk lizard’s movements. During times of danger, basilisks will swim at fast speeds, using their crests as rudders. They also burrow in the sand — a ring of muscles around both nostrils prevents grains of sand from entering the nose. Since being introduced to Florida, and a slightly cooler environment, they’ve taken to burrowing in the leafy undergrowth (something I commonly witness).
Although they’re not huge — big enough to notice, for sure — they definitely have a prehistoric air to them. I call them Little Godzillas whenever I see them on our hikes. And their name helps this primeval aura…. BASILISK. I hope they can stay safe in their selected home; they’ve chosen an area which is now home to no less than three alligator nests — slightly larger reptiles.