The little guy below is called the basilisk lizard, but the horrifying mythological implications of “basilisk” don’t quite suit this small escape artist. He’s better described by his nickname: the Jesus Christ lizard. However, he didn’t earn it by performing healing miracles or multiplying loaves and fishes.
According to local eye-witness accounts, we have basilisk lizards on Isla Palenque. This lizard is known for his ability to run on the surface of the water to elude prey.
Wikipedia explains the origins of this little lizard’s official name. The basilisk is a monster in Greek mythology who was part rooster, part snake, part lion, and could turn you to stone with his gaze. Sounds scary, but the small Jesus Christ lizard doesn’t live up to the horrifying myths associated with his proper name. He’s really a gentle guy who prefers to run away rather than fight.
I first heard about him in a Panama field guide, and then got confirmation from a local that he lives on Isla Palenque. Last night I was watching Life on Discovery (fantastic series – I recommend it for all nature lovers!) and the featured animal, our Jesus Christ lizard, stole the show on their Reptiles and Amphibians episode. In twenty-two seconds, you’ll see why he’s such a unique character in the cast of cool species that make up wildlife in Panama. There are also plenty of Youtube videos that showcase these lizards in action, so I found one for those who don’t have Tivo or the Discovery Channel. Watch out for the 0:43 second point. Enjoy!
I can’t wait to take my next nature hike on Isla Palenque to try and catch the basilisk lizard, alias Jesus Christ lizard, fleeing a predator for my amusement and fascination.