Meet The Basilisk Lizard: The Lizard That Can Run On Water

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: December 1, 2022
© Don Mammoser/
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The basilisk lizard, also known as the Jesus Lizard, is a genus of large corytophinad lizards. They are native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. There are four known classes of these lizards, all ranging in color and appearance. One of the most special qualities about these lizards is that they can run extremely fast over water before sinking. Hence the moniker “Jesus Lizard”. All four species of this lizard share this unique quality because of their webbed feet. However, many of them have different characteristics that make them special. In this article, we will meet the basilisk lizard: the lizard that can run on water!

Running on Water

Basilisk Lizard
Green basilisk (Basiliscus plumiforms) or “Jesus” lizard. This impressive lizard can run over water! This one takes a rest.


The most commonly seen Basilisk lizard is the Green basilisk lizard, also known as the Plumed or Double-crested basilisk lizard. While those names are technical, the most commonly used nickname for it is the Jesus Lizard, because it can run across water. In fact, this lizard can run upwards to five feet per second for nearly 15 feet before it eventually sinks into the water and begins to swim. The basilisk’s speed isn’t the only thing that makes it skid across the water. Its uniquely formed feet are what really allow this lizard to do the unspeakable.

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These lizards have long and special toes that spread out along the surface area of the water, allowing them to slap against the surface at a fast pace. These intricately formed feet are able to catch tiny air bubbles as they travel, helping them skitter across the water before sinking.  It’s not just their feet that allow this to happen, but their long tails are also used to propel them forward. Once underwater, they can be submerged for nearly ten minutes. Therefore, they also make excellent swimmers!

Meet The Basilisk Lizard: Species and Appearances

Green basilisk lizard (Basiliscus plumifrons) isolated on white background.
The green basilisk lizard is a very tiny yet long green lizard.


The most commonly seen basilisk lizard is the Green basilisk, which is a small and long vibrantly green-colored lizard. However, there are a few other species of this lizard that range in color and appearance. The Common basilisk is a small, dark green lizard with yellow stripes and a narrow body. The Western basilisk is also green in color. However, the sail-like skin on the head of this lizard can sometimes be red in color. This has led to its other nickname, the “Red-headed” basilisk. The Brown basilisk, or Striped basilisk, is very similar to the Common basilisk. However, its tail is typically larger in size as well as its body.

Meet The Basilisk Lizard: Habitat and Diet

Colorful blue Basilisk Lizard in a terrarium. Basilisk lizards come in a variety of interesting colors.
Colorful blue Basilisk Lizard. Basilisk lizards come in a variety of interesting colors.

©Peter Ekvall/

The Basilisk and its species are most commonly seen in Mexico, Central America, and South America. It is native to Columbia, Honduras, Ecuador, and even Panama. These lizards typically dwell in trees, feeding off of insects. However, if they are threatened by a predator, they are known to drop from these trees. Their main source of escape is to sprint on their hind legs across the water in order to evade the danger that threatens them. If their predator still chases them across the water, they will often dive beneath the surface and continue their escape. Since they are able to run very quickly and stay submerged for several minutes, they have proved to be amazing escape artists!

Are They The Only Animal That Can Run On Water?

six spotted fishing spider
The six-spotted fishing spider (pictured here) is another creature that can glide across the water much like basilisk lizards.

©Jukka Jantunen/

Basilisk lizards aren’t the only animals that can scurry across the water. In fact, it’s not even because their bodies are uniquely formed to make this happen either. Water often has high surface tension, thanks to hydrogen bonding. Because of this, the basilisk’s wide and long feet are able to avoid sinking for a short period of time because their feet are not separating the molecules. Instead, they are catching the droplets to stay afloat.

Fishing spiders also use this surface tension to glide across the water, even though they have long and wax-like legs. Pygmy geckos also take advantage of water tension. Even though they do not run like basilisk lizards, their water-repellent skin allows them to rest on the water without sinking for a small period of time.

Meet The Basilisk Lizard: Conclusion

Young basilisk Lizard in the Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica.
Basilisk lizards are unique in many ways. They run on water and come in a variety of interesting colors!


In conclusion, we find that not only are basilisk lizards unique in many ways, but they are perhaps one of the greatest escape animals. They have a high advantage of surviving because of their amazing ability to run across water. The Jesus Lizard stands out in more ways than one, with their brightly colored scales and long intricate bodies, as well as their fast flicking tails and incredibly long toes. These fascinating creatures are surely one of the coolest little creatures that this world has to offer!

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The Featured Image

Male plumed basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) sitting on a stump, Costa Rica.
Male plumed basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) sitting on a stump, Costa Rica.
© Don Mammoser/

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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