Of the four basilisk species, the green crested basilisk is the most brightly colored. These lizards can sprint on their hind legs and even run across the water's surface for several yards before diving underwater where they can remain submerged for more than 10 minutes.

Physical Description

Of the four basilisk species, the green crested basilisk is the only one that is bright green. It has white, gray or light-blue markings on its body, and some populations also have black dorsal markings. The lizard's belly is a lighter green than its sides. Its tail may be unmarked or have thin black bands.

The green crested basilisk's head is triangular in profile with ear openings slightly larger than its eyes. It has round eyes with round pupils and a yellow iris. The basilisk's skin is covered with small granular scales, and its body is laterally compressed. The lizard's hind limbs are much longer than its front limbs, and its toes are long and flattened. The tail is strongly compressed and has a crest running its length.

Adult males have four vertebral crests: a tiny crest just behind the eyes, a much larger one at the back of the head, a dorsal crest and a tail crest. Females and young have only a greatly reduced second head crest and a feeble tail crest.

These lizards live near water, spending much of their time basking on overhanging vegetation or foraging for food. If frightened while on land, basilisks can run on their hind legs, sprinting so rapidly that they can move at speeds of over 7 miles per hour (11.3 kilometers/hour). That speed, along with specialized scales on the bottom of their feet, allows them to run across a fair distance of water before breaking the surface tension.

As the lizard's pace slackens, it drops onto all fours, becomes partially submerged and swims for the remainder of its journey. Basilisks swim well and can remain submerged in excess of 10 minutes. This unusual habit of "walking on water" to escape predators and find food has earned the basilisk the name name Jesûs Cristo, or Jesus Christ, lizard.


Green basilisks may grow to reach 3 feet (90 centimeters).

Native Habitat

Green crested basilisks are found in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. They are considered to be semi-arboreal and semi-aquatic, inhabiting elevations ranging from sea level to 2,542 feet (775 meters). These basilisks will most often live near bodies of water.

Food/Eating Habits

Their diet includes insects, spiders, smaller lizards, small mammals, crawfish and snails. At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, green crested basilisks are fed insects and earthworms.

Reproduction and Development

Pregnant females become plump one to two weeks after breeding. During the third week, they normally begin looking for a site to lay between 15 and 17 eggs. The female will burrow to lay her eggs. The size of the clutch depends mostly upon the age, size and health of the female. Many times, females will lay multiple clutches during a breeding season; four to five clutches per season have been observed. Eggs typically hatch after about eight to 10 weeks over a one- to two-day period. Young green crested basilisks will reach sexual maturity in 18 to 24 months.

Conservation Efforts

The primary threat to these lizards is loss of habitat due to human growth and development.  They are also found in the pet trade, but additional research is needed to determine the impact that collection for the pet trade has on the species. It is believe that most individuals in the pet trade are captive bred. This species is relatively common within its range and occurs within some protected areas.

Help this Species

  • Be a smart consumer. Choose products made with sustainable ingredients, such as Smithsonian certified Bird Friendly coffees, which support farmers striving to limit their impact on wildlife and habitat.
  • Choose your pets wisely, and do your research before bringing an animal home. Exotic animals don’t always make great pets. Many require special care and live for a long time. Tropical reptiles and small mammals are often traded internationally and may be victims of the illegal pet trade. Never release animals that have been kept as pets into the wild.

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