Episode 241 – Basilisk Lizard: Walk on Water

“…and today we’re talking about a little king that is named after the king of kings. But more on that later.”

We usually use the term “walk on water” to refer to someone above reproach. But when we say that the aggressive and belligerent basilisk lizard walks on water, we don’t mean that it can do no wrong. Getting away from enemies as a little lizard can be tough, but not if you’ve got a miracle or two up your sleeve. But it’s all about staying ahead of the danger in style here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • Green basilisk lizards are long, green reptilians with specks of white.
  • They share a similar shape to other common Iguania members.
  • Males have a pronounced crest on their heads and a fin-like spine on their back and tail.
  • Females are sleek with no pronounced spinal fins, though they do have a subtle crest on their heads. 
  • Their tails sometimes have black stripes.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at Gmail dot com. We don’t have a measure up intro, so we’ll look back in the archives for our greatest hits.


  • 10 inches (25 cm) snout to vent
  • How many green basilisk lizards go into the road to Emmaus? 
  • Hint: Luke describes a post-resurrection event in which Jesus appears to two disciples that are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Luke records that Jesus was kept from being recognized by the disciples until they reached their destination and sat and ate with him.
  • 48,000 lizards. The distance between these two first-century cities has been described as 60 stadia, and a stade is 625 Roman feet (185 meters or 606.9 feet), or 125 paces. That’s about 12 km (7.4 miles).


  • 7 oz (198.4 g)
  • How many green basilisk lizards go into the weight of 5,000 tilapia?
  • Hint: Tilapia is sometimes called St. Peter’s Fish because it is believed to be the most likely fish caught by the disciples and fed to the 5,000 by Jesus. Matthew only records that 5,000 men, along with their families, ate and were satisfied, so they probably didn’t all eat whole fish each. However, when women and children are factored in, 5,000 fish could be somewhere close to the weight of fish consumed.
  • 57,142 lizards. Tilapia are about five pounds. 

Fast Facts

  • Males are extremely territorial. They will control a territory where several females and his hatchlings live. 
  • Green basilisks are kept as pets, but males are aggressive and don’t like to be held. They also can’t be kept with other males.
  • Females present to the males when they are ready to make some omelets. 
  • They lay as many as 15 eggs in a burrow in soft soil.  
  • Basilisks are omnivorous and prefer insects and berries. They may also eat flowers, seeds, small fish, reptiles, and amphibians. 

Major Fact

Like many lizards, the basilisk’s response to being on the menu of a hungry snake or bird is to run away as quickly as possible.

And as my dog Morph can attest, they’re quite the speedy little fellers.

But when you are a smallish lizard in South and Central America, the threats can come by land, air, or even sea… or river.

So jumping into the water and swimming isn’t the greatest idea when a caiman or an anaconda is making a beeline for you.

But that wouldn’t be as much of an issue if you weren’t exactly in the water when you made your escape.

What if I told you that the basilisk was so fast that it could run on water?

Yes, that’s right, it can literally run across the surface of a body of water.

It does this by hiking up on its hind legs like a person and wheeling its feet around really fast (notably unlike a person), and basically propellering itself across the water.

Insects can walk on water. In fact, if a bunch of ants fall in the water, they might link up together to form the worst raft. This is due to the fact that they aren’t heavy enough to break the surface tension of the water.

Three-foot-long basilisks, however, can’t rely on the surface tension to keep their heads above water.

The back feet of the lizard can spread out like paddles and maximize the amount of surface area is making contact with the water. 

When the basilisk’s foot enters the water at a high speed, it displaces water and creates an air cavity, a lot like the one the mantis shrimp uses to KO fish.

The basilisk can then push off of the air cavity and keep itself up while propelling itself forward.

It can move up to 5 feet per second, which would be like us moving at ten mph.

It’s all about having a low body mass, having wide enough flippers, and moving super fast

So basically, if you put on some flippers and were able to windmill your legs fast enough, and if the water was like 70% salt, you might find yourself skimming across the water.

In fact, this is a subject of study for robotics experts. Imagine a robot that can just sprint across the water at you.

Ending: So keep an eye out for snakes, petrify some muggleborns, and walk across the waves like the basilisk lizard here in LDT.