The green basilisk or plumed basilisk (also known as the Jesus Christ lizard because of its ability to run on top of water. I’ll get back to that in a minute) has bright yellow eyes and skin that comes in shades of bright to emerald green and white patterned spots with yellow or bluish flecks.
They may also be found in colors like yellow-green or a light blue and have little to no spot pattern at all. Basilisks get their name from the Ancient Greek word “basiliskos” which means little king, in reference to the lizard’s head dressing that is thought to look like a crown.
Probably the single most visually striking feature, at least in my humble opinion, is the male’s dorsal crest that runs from the shoulder area all the way down to their tail.
Always do your research to find the most reputable reptile breeder you can. There are plenty of reptile and basilisk forums online. You can join one of those as well. There are usually breeders there who are willing to answer questions and address concerns. I always recommend purchasing from a reputable breeder.
That way you know you are getting an animal that is parasite-free, eating, and generally in good health. They also know more about that particular animal than most pet stores ever will.
If you do purchase online, make sure the seller has an “arrive alive” animal guarantee. Reputable sellers do have this in place. It guarantees your newly purchased animal arrives alive and healthy and probably ready to eat after it adjusts to its new enclosure.
Adult female basilisks range between 18 and 24 inches. Adult males range between 26 and 34 inches. Like most lizards, a basilisk’s tail makes up most of its length.
Parasites are rare when you buy from a reputable breeder, but it can happen, so be aware. Rostral abrasion or snout rubbing is something that quite a few lizard caregivers have to deal with.
The lizard rubs its nose/snout along the inside of the enclosure wall in an attempt to escape the enclosure. They will rub their snouts bloody, which can lead to some very nasty infections. Lizards don’t understand what glass is or why they can’t just walk right through it.
Impaction is another common issue for basilisks.
Ulcerative stomatitis or mouth rot is seen in many reptiles. It is caused by bacteria that forms in and around the jaw line. It is easily treated by a vet.
There are more health concerns, so make sure you do your homework and understand what you are getting yourself into.
Most basilisks live 7 to 12 years. With that said, there are some that have lived 18 years in captivity because of outstanding husbandry practices.
Basilisks come from Central and South America and live along river banks and other watery areas that provide plenty of exposure to the sun and cover from predators. For your basilisk to feel comfortable, you need to replicate those conditions the best you can. Basilisks will need a lot of room to move around, climb, and even soak or swim.
The minimum size enclosure for an adult basilisk is 4 feet wide by 3 feet deep by 4 feet tall. Because basilisks come from a humid environment, make sure the decorations are able to stand up to the heat and humidity of the enclosure. Make sure to provide plenty of areas and branches for your basilisk to climb on and lots of artificial plants and vines for them to climb on and in and around.
Be absolutely sure that all the decorations you just installed are secure, especially if you are using something like an aquarium waterfall feature. Make sure none of the new items will fall over on top of the basilisk and hurt it. To be sure the vines won’t fall if the basilisk walks on them, give them a little tug to see if they need to be tightened up.
Provide plenty of places to hide, sleep, or just relax. The selection of reptile hides on the market today has you covered there, with items like caves and cork bark. You can also use an old shoe box with an entry/exit hole cut out of it, turned over, and partially buried.
Coarse bark wood chips are clean, cheap, and super easy to spot clean. They are also free of dust. Coarse bark wood chips will slowly release humidity into the enclosure after the morning misting, but this additional humidity won’t last very long, maybe only a couple of hours.
Newspaper is an alternative. Keep an eye out for molds, and change the newspaper often. To really make sure you have all-day humidity, use peat moss or coconut fiber, which will hold on to moisture longer and slowly release it back into the enclosure wonderfully.
Whatever you decide to use, take care not to soak your enclosure. That can promote the growth of molds. You don’t want your basilisk in a moldy enclosure. There are all kinds of health issues there. Also make sure to keep the enclosure clean. There are cleaners on the market today that are reptile safe and clean really well.
Lighting and Temperature
Basilisks require temperatures to be between 80 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and no lower than 73 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Make sure to purchase the appropriate size UVB light for your enclosure. If it doesn’t say UVB on the box, it’s not a UVB bulb.
The light of the UVB bulb is beneficial to the lizard’s health. Among other things, the light helps reptiles break down and process different parts of their diet. You will also need a ceramic heat light for the basking area. The temperature in the basking area should be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity levels need to stay between 60 percent and 80 percent. This can be accomplished with daily sprayings with warm water, or if you prefer, there are foggers and misters available that will do wonderfully and help you keep your reptiles happy and healthy.
Like every creature on earth, it is very important that basilisks get all their nutritional needs met. If they don’t, their colors fade away with their health. Dust their food 3 times a week with a calcium powder that contains D3, and dust with a vitamin supplement that contains beta-carotene the rest of the week. Beta-carotene is vital to both their health and brilliant colors.
Basilisks will eat crickets, locusts if you can find them, mealworms, waxworms, earthworms, frozen/thawed pinky or fuzzy mice, small minnows, and dubia roaches.
Feel free to gut load the prey items with carrots, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Always have a large water bowl that’s heavy and strong enough to hold the lizard when it decides to crawl inside and hang out for a few minutes. It could be cooling off, helping to loosen some remaining skin that hasn’t completely shed, or using it for a toilet (they often do, just saying). Keep the water clean and fresh because they may actually drink out of it too.
Speaking of basilisks’ relationship with water, earlier I said they are also known as the Jesus Christ lizard because they can run on top of the water. That’s true! Basilisks have frills of skin on their rear feet only, and those unroll as they hit the water.
These skin frills increase the surface area of the rear toes against the surface of the water. As they turn their legs, their feet open wide and slap against the water, which creates tiny air bubbles that help keep the basilisk from sinking right away.
Because those special frills are only on the back feet, basilisks must stand upright to run on the water, and they use their tail as sort of a rudder to help them dodge and swerve out of harm’s way.
Basilisks can run on top of the water for up to a speed of 5 feet per second for about 15 to 20 feet. As soon as they slow down, they lose the surface tension and sink into the water, where they then swim even faster than they run. Basilisks can hold their breath up to 15 minutes to avoid a nasty threat like a predator looking to eat them.
Most of the time though, basilisks in captivity usually put their head above water about every 5 to 10 minutes when swimming because there is no real threat to them, like being scooped up by a bird for example.
Handling and Temperament
Plumed basilisks are usually pretty tame in captivity when properly cared for. They don’t exactly look forward to being handled, but there are some tamer ones out there that will tolerate occasional handling. For the most part, basilisks are really a pretty hands-off pet.
Just remember that this lizard has strong jaws and very sharp claws. Always exercise caution when handling one of these lizards.
Should you be the unfortunate person to get bit by a basilisk, you are in for some pain. Do not struggle! If you do, you’ll notice the basilisk has the ability to bite a bit harder when it’s scared and thinking it needs to defend itself from an attacker.
You can also hurt the basilisk even more than it is hurting you at the moment if you go flinging your hand around and the lizard can’t hold on and hits a wall and then the floor. That could be it for the basilisk.
Simply keep some vinegar in the same room you keep your basilisk, and if you are bitten, put a few drops of the vinegar in the lizard’s mouth. It will let go.
This care information is a brief overview of a subject that has been covered in many books by respected authors and on many breeder forums. For more information, please consult a specialized book, visit one of the breed-specific forums/message boards, or contact an expert in that particular field. Your new animal will thank you for it.