The basilisk lizard is a genus of reptiles in the order of squamates known for its large crest and ability to walk on water. Native to southern Mexico, Central and South America, basilisk lizards are fairly small (typically under 3 inches), the basilisk is now found in the North American continent as far afield as Florida due to pet releases. Named by Austrian naturalist Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti after the mythical lizard thought to be so poisonous that its glance alone could kill a man. The word basilisk comes from the Ancient Greek word basilískos (βασιλίσκος) meaning little king and existed in English as a reference to the legendary beast since the 13th century. It wasn’t until Linneus identified the basilisk in the 10th edition of his Systema Natura and later Laurenti identified the basilisk lizard more full in 1759 that the word took on a specific scientific meaning in English. The name still carries significant metaphorical value.
Image of a basilisk lizard courtesy Marcel Burkhard, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.