The running style of the Plumed Basilisk - Basiliscus plumifrons 

Also known as Plumed, Emerald and Green Basilisk, Basiliscus plumifrons (Corytophanidae) inhabits the rainforests of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama at the Caribbean side. This species is found mostly in trees, bushes, rocks, logs and riverbanks. If you approach too closely it run away at their hind legs, across the water or into dense bushes.

Basiliscus plumifrons can cross the water for quite some distance, like they run over land. A narrow seam of skin, which runs around each toe, forms a moveable flap that is expanded when its foot is pressed onto the water, thus creating a larger surface area. The force that the basilisk puts into the downward movement of its foot, produces an upward pressure that keeps him from sinking.

When the basilisk presses its foot down onto the water, an air-filled pocket is formed around the foot. This pocket quickly fills with water, so the basilisk must rapidly withdraw its foot to prevent from having to ‘plough’ through the water. As the foot retracts, the moveable skin-flaps on the toes fold down against the sides of the toes to reduce friction against the air.

This combined pressure allows the basilisk to run on water with a speed of 8 to 10 km an hour. Young basilisks can run larger distances on the water before sinking. This ability gave them the name of Jesus Christ lizards.

Basiliscus plumifrons is also an excellent swimmer, often he simply escapes by swimming away. 

References: [1] - [2] - [3]

Photo credit: ©Dominique Schreckling | Locality: Costa Rica (2006)

Newly Discovered Species of Ancient Jesus Lizard Walked on Water

A 48-million-year-old fossil of a new species from the Bridger Formation in Wyoming may be the earliest ancestor of what is known as the “Jesus lizard” group of animals. The new species has been named Babibasiliscus alxi.

New Species, Old Fossil: 48-Million-Year-old New Species of Jesus Lizard in Wyoming

The unearthing of a 48-million-year-old fossil at the Bridger Formation in Wyoming has led to the exciting discovery of a new species. Researchers believe the new species, named Babibasiliscus alxi, may be the earliest ancestor of the Corytophanidae group. This group is commonly referred to as the “Jesus Christ lizard” due to its ability to walk on water, a reference to Jesus Christ in a Christian Bible passage.

The study was conducted by Jack Conrad of the American Museum of Natural History and published on 1 July in the journal PLOS ONE .

Conrad, a resident research associate of vertebrate paleontology, believes the fossil can give insight into how climate change affects tropical species.

Earliest ancestor of Jesus Lizards lived in Wyoming’s tropical habitat

The fossil found in Wyoming belonged to the earliest known member of what would later become the group of Jesus Lizards. Contrary to the group name, the group is also comprised of iguanas and chameleons.

Though the Jesus Lizards are well-known by the general public perhaps for the informal name or its odd ability to walk across water, research is limited as only a small sample of fossils are available to study. The recent discovery of Babibasiliscus alxi however, has widened the understanding of the early ancestor of the casquehead lizards.

Conrad believes the fossil found was two feet in length and lived in a tropical Wyoming. Yes, a tropical Wyoming. It was a rather different climate 48 million years ago when temperatures in the northwestern state averaged 16 degrees Fahrenheit more than its current, much more mild temperatures.

The author said the lizard ancestor was most likely active in the day, skimming across the surface of Wyoming’s warm waters and shimmying up trees in the lush tropical paradise. It dined on plants, snakes, fish, insects, and other lizards with its tiny but well-adapted teeth. However, it also could have feasted on larger prey as its cheekbones were fairly large for the lizard’s size.

With such a hot and sunny climate, the lizard’s skull had evolved a ridge of bone over its eyes to give a permanent, angry scowl that doubled as shade for its eyes.

What the Jesus Lizard Fossil Can Teach Us About Climate Change

Today, the idea of a tropical Wyoming is so far-fetched it is almost inconceivable. Wyoming’s climate now is not ideal for the Jesus lizard, which has mostly fled further south to warmer areas near the equator between central Mexico and Colombia.

Other fossil records of animals and plants also indicate similar migration patterns of species from higher altitudes, which were considerably warmer millions of years ago, to the equator where they now thrive in the warm climate.

Conrad believes the ancient lizard’s descendants and their migration south can teach us about climate change and how it will affect other tropical species.

“Given our current period of global climate fluctuation, looking to the fossil record offers an important opportunity to observe what is possible,” said Conrad.

As we persist in finding ways to preserve our planet with the ongoing climate change, the new species of Jesus lizard can provide clues to how species lived in other climates, survived great changes, and continue to thrive today.

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