Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Basilisk, any lizard of the genus Basiliscus, differing from the Iguanas in having no throat ponch or thigh pores, in the presence of a dilatable membranous sac on the top of the head, a continuous fin-like crest, capable of elevation or depression, along the back, and a similar one along the tail. They are lively, active animals, partly arboreal and partly aquatic, only resembling the mythic basilisk in their strange form, to which they owe their name. The Hooded Basilisk (B. mitratus) from Central America is about two feet long, inclusive of the tail, which is considerably longer than the body. The general hue is brown, marked with dark zigzag bands, and fading into white beneath. B. amboinensis, upwards of three feet long, found in the islands of the Indian Archipelago, is green, marked with white lines on the head, brown on the back and tail, and silvery white beneath.

The story of the mythic basilisk probably originated in some highly-coloured account of an African serpent (possibly Naja haje, see Cobra). Pliny describes it as "of the greatness of not more than three fingers, and remarkable for a white spot like a diadem on its head. It drives away all other serpents by its hissing. . . It kills the shrubs, scorches up the green herb, and splits the rocks." It was believed that if speared by a horseman its poison passed through the weapon and killed the horse and its rider. But Lucan (Pharsalia, ix. 828) says that the horseman might escape death by promptly cutting off his right hand. Its blood was reputed efficacious against sorcery, and the only animal against which it was powerless was the weasel. Basilisks were said to be produced from the eggs of old cocks hatched under serpents or toads. In the middle ages the ideas of authors about the basilisk were modified somewhat, for Aldrovandus figures it as having an almost human head crowned, wattled, and with a recurved beak, a stout body, eight legs, and a snake-like tail. Specimens were exhibited "contrived out of the skins of thornbacks, skaits, and maids," and Sir Thomas Browne tells us that he "caused some to be thus contrived out of the same fishes."