Classification and Range
Basilisks belong to the lizard family Iguanidae. Basilisks live in the understory of rain forests from southern Mexico to Ecuador.
Basilisks are usually found in trees and shrubs near water.
Male basilisks are distinguished by a tall crest of skin on the head, similar to a cock's comb, which rises from the top of the head and extends down the mid-line of the back onto the first half of the tail. Male basilisks can be up to two feet long, including the long, tapering tail. Females are slightly smaller and do not have the remarkable crest; nor do the immature basilisks.
In the wild: Basilisks eat plants (including some flowers and fruits), insects and small vertebrates. They are diurnal and are preyed upon by raptors, opossums and snakes. At the zoo: Crickets, mealworms, greens, fruit, occasionally newborn mice.
After digging a cavity in the ground about three inches deep, the female positions herself above the hole and lays up to 20 eggs. She then covers the newly laid eggs with soil and leaves. The eggs hatch 45-90 days later. Hatchlings cut slits in the parchment-like shell using an egg tooth on their snouts and take up to three hours or more to emerge fully from the shell. They average 3 inches (7.6 cm) long at hatching.
Basilisks are not only good swimmers and divers; they are able to tread on the water's surface at speeds of over 7 mph (11.2 kph). Long legs ending in long toes fringed with scales help move the basilisk quickly over the water, so that the soles of the feet do not break through the surface film. As the pace slackens, the lizard drops on all fours, becomes partially submerged and finishes the journey swimming. This unusual habit of "walking on water" to escape predators and find food has earned the basilisk the name Jesûs Cristo lizard.
Location at the Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo's basilisks are currently kept off exhibit at the Day Exhibit. Other lizards that can be seen at the Day Exhibit are the blue-tongued skink, inland bearded dragon and the European legless lizard.
Basilisks, as all reptiles, play an important role in nature's web of life. Habitat destruction and hunting for skins to make tourist products or souvenirs contribute to the decline of reptiles. The pet trade is also lowering numbers of certain reptile populations to the point where they may become extinct in the wild. Each of us needs to take action to protect wild habitats so lizards and other animals can continue to perform the vital roles they play in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.
Humans need basilisks and other reptiles. Here are only a few of the benefits they provide:
• Reptiles help keep animal populations in balance.
• Reptiles consume many animals that humans consider as pests, including mice, rats and destructive species of insects. This helps to control disease and damage to crops.
• Reptile venom and poison are used in medical research and provides effective medicines to fight certain human diseases. .
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the regional, national and international levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Don't buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about snakes by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at 303 W. 39th St., PO Box 626, Hays, KS 67601. Learn more about how you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Reptiles as Pets
We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area. In the Puget Sound region, it is the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Burton, Maurice. 1984. Encyclopedia of Reptiles, Amphibians & Other Cold-Blooded Animal. BPC Publishing Ltd., San Sebastian, Spain. 252 p.
McCarthy, Colin. 1991. Reptile. Eyewitness Books, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, NY. 64 p.