The Lizard that walks on water

By Guido Trombetta on 3:11 PM , , ,


Today I would like to introduce you a very very special little animal: the Basilisk. To understand why it is so awesome I'm going to call him with its common nickname: "The Jesus Lizard"! The basilisk infact have received this very promissory nickname thanks to its amazing ability to walk on water.. yes you've read correctly, this lizard is able to walk on the surface of the water just like Jesus Christ in one of the most famous biblical passage: Matthew 14:22-34. However, in this case, having nothing to do with miracles and holiness, it would have probably been more appropriate to call him the Remo Williams Lizard, also because, just like the 80's movie action hero, the basilisk is able to run on the surface rather than walk.

Basilisk is actually a genus that includes four species that all share this incredible ability:
The following is a gallery of pictures gathered on Flickr (click on them to visit their page) of the four Basislisks. I think they're very nice, especially the Green Basilisk, don't you think?

The basilisk has mackled blue spots and a yellow iris, on average measures 70 to 75 mm (2.8 in - 3.0 in), and weighs about 80 grams (3.2 oz). Its growth is perpetual, fast when they are young and nonlinear for mature basilisks. Its long crest-like sails reinforced in three distinct points (head, back, and tail) confers the impression of creatures such as Dimetrodon and Spinosaurus. Its skin is shed in pieces. They are generally found in Latin America anywhere there is a body of water (usually from Central Mexico to Ecuador). Recently introduced to Florida, it has adapted to the colder winters by burrowing into the leaf litter for warmth. Current reports sight the basilisk as far north as Fort Pierce, on the state's East Coast, where small groups have crept up the North Fork of the Saint Lucie River.

But how these lizard are actually ablle to walk on the surface of the water having a weight greater than the water’s surface tension can support?

Not many animals are actually able to move on the surface of the water. Just a bunch of very specialized insects, like the Water Strider, are infact able to achieve this amazing feat, but they all are much lighter than the Basilisks and rely on surface tension to stay afloat, as you can read in this interesting Wikipedia entry about Animal locomotion on the surface layer of water.
The secret of the Jesus Lizard’s trick are instead its large hind feet, with flaps of skin between each toe similar to the webbed tootsies of a frog. These help support the basilisk, increasing its surface area and creating a tiny air pocket that stops it from sinking as long as it maintains its momentum. Running upright, often using only its back legs, the basilisk can run at a velocity of 1.5 meters (4.8 feet) per second for approximately 4.5 meters (14.75 feet) before sinking on all fours and swimming. They can also sustain themselves on all fours while "water-walking" to increase time above the surface by about 4.25 feet.

Having its habitat in the dark tropical forests and being so fast taking pictures of a Jesus Lizard walking on water it's not so easy:

However the best way to apreciate the Basilisk running on water is a video. Enjoy this wonderful National Geographic's documentary where we can admire Basilisk's feat in a gorgeous slow-motion: