What is the Jesus Lizard?

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  • Written By: J.L. Drede
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Images By: n/a, Wildnerdpix, Photorebelle
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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Jesus lizard is a nickname given to the common basilisk lizard, also called the green basilisk. The nickname is derived from the lizard's unique ability to walk across water, referencing the biblical story of Christ crossing the Sea of Galilee. Its natural habitat is in the rain forests of Central and South America, usually near bodies of water such as rivers and streams.

This water-walking lizard gets its messiah-like power thanks to flaps of skin on the feet that unfurl when in the water. This increases the surface area of the lizard's feet. When running, the flaps hit the water hard, creating small air pockets that keep the lizard from sinking long enough for it to move forward. Thanks to these specially designed feet, the basilisk can sometimes run as far as 15 feet (4.5 meters) across the surface of the water before eventually submerging. Adding to the uncanny sight, some basilisks do this on two feet, giving them an humanoid appearance and further leading credence to the Jesus lizard nickname.


The walking on water ability of the basilisk is typically used when fleeing larger predators. The Jesus Lizard is low on the food chain in its natural habitat, and is frequently preyed upon by birds and snakes. When the water-walking ability has taken them as far as it can they dive into the water. The basilisk can move fast underwater as well as on top of it. In captivity a basilisk can live up to 10 years, but they rarely make it that long in the wild as they are pursued by so many predators.

The basilisk is an omnivore, meaning it will eat both plants and animals. Common prey for the Jesus lizard includes small insects, fish and vertebrates as well as various fruits and plant matter. Like many other lizards, the basilisk grows perpetually from birth to when it dies. They can get as large as 30 inches (75 centimeters), but they are more frequently seen around 12 inches (30 centimeters) or less. Aside from its ability to walk on water, this lizard's other defining characteristics include a large crest on its head, and sharp claws that adorn each toe.

The Jesus lizard is a popular pet lizard for many reptile aficionados. They are typically kept in a large aquarium or a lizard cage, either solitary or in groups, and require a good amount of heat and humidity in order to stay healthy.


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