TAMPA, Fla. - A lizard with a unique nickname could be harmful to Florida's environment and possibly harmful to people, according to biologists.
Some people refer to it as the "Jesus Christ Lizard," because the creature can walk on water. More accurately, it runs atop the water.
The actual name of the animal is the Brown Basilisk lizard. It’s native to parts of Mexico, Central America and South America. University of Florida IFAS Extension Agent Ken Gioeli said they’re now living in the wild in South and Central Florida, because people have bought them as pets, and they’ve escaped or have been released.
He said they tend to live along fresh water canals.
Gioeli said brown Basilisks are carnivores, and they feed on insects, including invasive mosquitos, which also bite the lizards.
"There is ongoing research on the potential for basilisks to be hosts for these mosquito-borne diseases, so there’s a possible human health impact there," Gioeli said.
The Basilisks may also be eating native butterflies and native lizards, which could negatively impact the Florida environment.
Online videos from National Geographic and other sources show "Jesus Christ Lizards" running atop the water. Scientists said the size and shape of their feet allow this "miracle" of nature.
Gioeli and other scientists are calling on Floridians who see the lizards to snap photos and upload them on a state app called "IveGot1."
He said the app also provides biologists with the location of the lizards so that they can chart the spread of the invaders and recommend further action.