The Jesus lizard, a name the basilisk lizard earned for its ability to walk on water, is also known as the double-crested or plumed basilisk. It is an impressive-looking creature, and the only lizard that can stand vertically on two feet, but only when fleeing. The basilisk actually skims the water's surface, using its oddly equipped feet to create a tiny air pocket under each to keep them atop the water. Using this method, they attempt to evade predators.
Basilisk lizards live in the tropical rain forests of Central America. They're plentiful in areas of southern Mexico and Panama and share their tropical habitat with several mammals, including the white-nosed coati. The coati is an unusual-looking animal with a ringed tail and long snout, sort of a cross between a raccoon and an anteater. A type of opossum also lives in the rain forest in parts of South America and dines on the Jesus lizard. Both the coati and the opossum are omnivores that eat insects, rodents and lizards.
Raptors are have long talons, keen eyesight and razor-sharp beaks. They are opportunistic feeders eating anything they deem edible, living or dead. Hawks, vultures and eagles can be found just about anywhere on the planet, save the Arctic, and many species live in the same rain forests as the Jesus lizard. Raptors are one of the basilisk lizard's most formidable foes. Whereas mammals cannot swoop down and pluck off an animal running atop the water, raptors do so easily. They also dine on hatchlings—the tiny Jesus lizards emerging from their eggs—and will eat the eggs as well.
Snakes, both venomous and nonvenomous, are abundant in just about any rain forest, and are dangerous predators whether they live in the trees or on land. Snakes eat the eggs of most lizards, including the Jesus lizard. Unfortunately for the Jesus lizard, a diurnal animal, snakes are nocturnal and can easily make a meal out of a sleeping adult basilisk. Vipers, coral snakes, asps, moccasins and rattlesnakes are all on the the Jesus lizard's list of things to avoid at all costs.
While most lizards are herbivores or insectivores, omnivorous lizards that grow larger than other lizard species are also foes of the Jesus lizard. Specifically in the rain forests of Central and South America, the most dangerous lizard is the giant ameiva, which can grow to a length of 20 inches. Although the Jesus lizard reaches 24 inches when fully grown, before that point it is at risk from the giant ameiva.
- Environmental Graffiti: Walking on Water: The Jesus Lizard
- National Geographic: Green Basilisk Lizard
- Animal Diversity Web: Basiliscus basiliscus
- Animal Diversity Web: Accipitridae: Eagles, Hawks, and Kites
- Animal Diversity Web: Didelphidae: American Opossums and Opossums
- Animal Diversity Web: Ameiva ameiva
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.