Basilisks as Pets

What reptile fan can resist a dragon-crested creature that runs across the water’s surface and is named after a mythological half-rooster/half lizard?! Bearing fantastic head, body and tail crests, Basilisk lizards possess a true-life power that seems born of mythology – the ability to run across water without sinking! This unique talent lends these amazing Latin American creatures the alternative name of Jesus Christ Lizards.

The spectacular Basilisk lizards do very well in large enclosures that provide running and climbing space, plenty of cover, and a large pool of water. When kept in close confinement, Basilisks will rub their snouts in escape attempts, and will not thrive – please don’t try to disprove this rule!


The four Basilisk species are classified with other Casque-Headed Lizards in the family Corytophonidae (formerly Iguanidae) and the genus Basiliscus.

Range and Habitat

Basilisks range from southern Mexico through Central America to northern South America. Two species, the Plumed or Green Basilisk, Basiliscus plumifrons and the Brown Basilisk, B. vittatus, have been introduced to Florida, USA, where they are now quite abundant.

The Brown Basilisk ranges further north than others, being found from Mexico to Columbia. The wide range of the Common Basilisk, B. basiliscus, extends from Nicaragua to Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela, while the Green Basilisk is restricted to Central America (Honduras to Panama). The Western Basilisk, B. galeritis, occupies Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Columbia.

Basilisks favor rainforests or secondary growth along rivers and lakes, and rarely venture far from the water’s edge. Adults forage on the ground but bask on limbs overhanging water. They drop from these perches and run off across the water when threatened. Youngsters spend most of their time in the lower branches of riverside brush. Introduced Green and Brown Basilisks in Florida have adapted to life along the state’s many canals.

Appearance and Temperament

Basilisks are alert and active, and sport long tails and powerful hind limbs. Males (and, to a lesser extent, females) bear head, tail and body crests. These are most spectacular in the Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons), a species that, however common in the pet trade, never fails to evoke “wows” when seen. Depending upon the species, the background color is emerald green to brown, and they measure 2-3 feet long when fully-grown.

The key to the Basilisks’ near-unbelievable ability to run on water lies in the foot structure and running style and speed. Long, fringed toes spread the weight over a large area, and the feet are raised high and slapped down hard when in motion. This traps air pockets that help to keep the lizard aloft, as long as it is moving quickly. Speeds of 5 feet/second have been clocked…a 175 pound person would need to travel at 65 mph to achieve the same results. Basilisks sink into the water after traveling about 15 feet, at which point they continue their journey by swimming.

Handle-ability varies by individual Basilisk, but all Basilisks make spectacular exhibit animals.

Basilisk Housing

Pet Basilisks do very well in large enclosures that provide both floor and climbing space, security in the form of real or artificial plants, and a large pool of water. When kept in close confinement, Basilisks will rub their snouts in escape attempts and become subject to stress-related diseases. Both Green and Brown Basilisks are regularly bred by hobbyists.

Basilisk Diet

Wild Basilisks are largely insectivorous, but also take the occasional small fish, frog, tadpole or lizard. Fruit, leaves and seeds have also been reported in the diet, but pets vary in their acceptance of such foods.

A highly-varied diet, calcium and vitamin supplementation, and exposure to UVB is essential for success with these fascinating lizards. Fluorescent UVB Bulbs simulate daytime sunlight, and produce both UVA (ultraviolet A), and UVB (ultraviolet B) light, which many reptiles require to metabolize calcium.

A diet rich in pink mice has been linked to kidney, eye and liver ailments in pet Green Basilisks.