Modern magicians are known for having all kings of tricks and tools up their sleeves. When it comes to walking on water, human magicians usually make the illusion seem real by either suspending themselves on thin, invisible wires, or walking on thin glass plates hidden beneath the water. But Mother Nature is craftier and bolder than that.
A species of lizards, commonly referred to as “Jesus Lizard”, but officially named Basiliscus, or “older male cousin” if you translate it, simply steps on the surface of the water and starts splashing as it makes its way to its destination. There are no smoke and mirrors with this one.
The modern-day tropical Basiliscus can be found living in Mexico and Colombia, but recently, a group of researchers have found the fossil of a 48 million year old specimen buried in Wyoming. This would suggest that the species once lived on United States land as well.
Jack Conrad, paleontologist with the American Museum of Natural History and assistant professor with an expertise in anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology College, gave a statement explaining that researches have build projections of the past and learned that Wyoming was roughly 16 degrees warmer back when the Jesus Lizard lived there.
This would explain the discovery as the tropical species seeks out warm climates. Conrad’s working theory is that the lizard species most likely started to migrate towards the south as the temperatures in the US began to cool down.
The importance of the discovery is not to be overlooked, however, as the experts are hopeful that the 48 million year old fossil will help them get a better sense of how tropical species adapt to climate change. This is especially important since the planet is going through a similar change right now.
The paleontologist stresses that we are currently going through a period of climate fluctuation, on a global level. Studying fossil records could inform the scientific community on “what to expect from our dynamic Earth” by giving them a sense of what has been possible in the past.
The Basiliscus unique ability to really walk on water is due to the speed at which the lizard runs. It can reach 65 miles per hour, and has developed a one-of-a-kind slap and stroke gait. The creature slaps down on the water with its forward foot, and applies enough pressure that it creates a force witch keeps it from sinking. At the same time, the animal sweeps backwards in order to provide momentum. The result is that the lizard basically walks on water.
Conrad also shared that the creature is so fast, you can not physically approach it. You can hear it around you, splashing across the surface of the water, but before you can get a sense of where they are, they’ve already moved someplace else.
The main difference between modern-day Basiliscus and the 48 million year old fossil is the size and shape of the animal’s head. The skull of the ancient specimen has a stronger built, which experts say indicates that the lizard used to hunt larger prey like snakes, other lizards, but also fed on fish, insects with hard bodies and plants.