Friday Postcards of the Costa Rican Basilisk Lizards

 In Central America, Destinations

It’s time to play spot the Costa Rican Basilisk. Can you find him? I sure couldn’t when we happened upon these green guys in Tortuguero National Park on the north Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This park is home to more birds than I could name, sloths, jaguars, monkeys, turtles, and this crazy green lizard that seemed to be hanging out on random branches throughout the park.

The guide on our boat tour was able to spot a basilisk from across the river while the rest of us had to be right next to the flower it was hanging out on. Imagine my surprise when I thought I was looking at a leaf, but it was a lizard instead. My camera went crazy, and for good reason.

The Costa Rican Basilisk, also known as the common basilisk or “Jesus Christ” lizard because it can walk on water, is typically found in Central and South America, near rivers and streams. While its Pacific Coast brethren tend to be brown or ivory in color, the basilisk on the Atlantic side is green, which is why it is also referred to as the green basilisk. The Atlantic Coast basilisk is also known as the plumed or double-crested basilisk thanks to some fancy dressing (a crest) on the male’s head and back to attract the ladies, and is generally found only in Central America, particularly eastern Honduras, through Nicaragua and Costa Rica, to western Panama.


According to Wikipedia, “this lizard is able to run short distances across water using both its feet and tail for support, an ability shared with other basilisks and the Malaysian sail-finned lizard, Hydrosaurus amboinensis. In Costa Rica, this has earned the plumed basilisk the nickname “Jesus Christ lizard”. It is also an excellent swimmer and can stay under water for up to 30 minutes.” What makes it possible for these lizards to run across water? Well, their feet are large and have flaps of skin along the toes that allow it to catch tiny air bubbles under its feet. “When moving quickly, the lizard can cross a surface of water before sinking. On water, it runs an average speed of 8.4 km/h (or 5.2 mph), which is just a little slower than its speed on land.” They can’t run an infinite distance, but this trick does help them escape a predator quickly.

The green basilisk of Costa Rica wasn’t the only fascinating creature I met on my first trip to this Central American country, but it definitely did one of the best jobs of hiding out in plain sight. I got better at spotting them as the week wore on, but I will never be as good as the guides. Their eye sight is amazing, and its nice to know they don’t take these creatures for granted. At least out guide didn’t. He seemed pretty thrilled with our reaction every time he pointed out a new creature to us. Four pretty ladies has a way of doing that I guess.

Have you ever seen a basilisk? 


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  • Samantha

    I love these guys! It’s truly amazing to see them run on the water, I’ve been trying to get a picture of them actually running but it’s so hard haha. Fascinating creatures.

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