Marianne Moore: Poetry

March 21, 2011

“The Plumet Basilisk” and Other Lizards

The Plumet Basilisk,” Hound & Horn, October/December 1933, pp. 29-34.

In ‘The Plumet Basilisk,”  Moore compares and contrasts several lizards. The title lizard appeared in an article she saw in the New York Herald Tribune for January 26, 1930 (See Vision into Verse, Rosenbach, 1987, p. 48 for a copy of her clipping, now at Rosenbach). The Malay dragon (Draco volans) she sketched in a notebook (Ibid.) from an article by W. P. Pycraft in The Illustrated London News, February 6, 1932. Had she lived in the age of the internet, she would surely have gone there to consult experts about descriptions and photographs, perhaps as follows:

Plumet Basilisk

Basiliscus plumifrons

Basiliscus plumifrons

The Plumet or Plumed Basilisk ranges from Mexico to Ecuador. It is also called green basilisk while In Costa Rica, because of its ability to run on water, it is known as the Jesus Christ lizard. The male has three plumes over its head and back, the female one; the male can grow to three feet.

Plumet Basilisk on Water

Photograph by Joe MacDonald

This Plumet is shown running on water and displaying it’s striped tail. As Pycraft says, “it does not run on all fours after the manner of the lizard tribe but rears up on its hind legslike a hundred yards sprinter.” –W. F. Pycraft, “The Frilled Lizard,” Illustrated London News, February 6, 1932, p.

Click to enlarge this photograph of the Plumet Basilisk running on water.


Sphenodon punctatum
“The Tuataras live in holes in the ground, generally in company with a Petrel of some kind, and can be got out only by digging.” –Frederick Wollaston Hutton, and James Drummond, The Animals of New Zealand: An Account of the Colony’s Air-breathing Vertebrates, London: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1905, p. 349.

The Tuatara, a reptile but not a lizard,  is found on islands in the Bay of Plenty off the New Zealand’s North Island.  Its name comes from the Maori for “spiny back.” An adult male grows to 24 inches.

The tuataras mate when they are about fifteen to twenty years old. The female will lay and bury six to ten eggs in a sunny place for 11 to 16 months.  The warmer the soil around the eggs, the greater the chance that they will hatch out males; the cooler, the greater the chance of females. At 18 C, all the tuatara hatched were female.

Frilled Lizard

Chlamydosaurus kingie

The arboreal frilled lizard comes from Australia and New Guinea. The frill around its neckPhoto by National Geographic usually lies flat until the animal is frightened or courting.  The largest specimens are about 36 inches long. Like the plumet basilisk, the frilled lizard runs on its hind legs. Their colors vary greatly and some scientists think there may be subspecies as yet undescribed. Fortuanately, they are in no danger of extinction and are often kept as pets.

Photograph by Belinda Wright. For further information, go to the following address:

Three-horned Chameleon

Chameleo Oweni

“Fernando Po is the home of the Three-Horned Chameleon (Chamceleo Oweni), which has a long conical horn over each eye, and another at the extremity of the muzzle.” –Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. 5, Maxwell Sommerville, 1894, p. 322. Fernando Po, named for its Portugese discoverer,  known also as Bioko, lies in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Camaroon. The chameleon changes its color when its eyes prompt its brain to manipulate colors in the cells of its skin.

Malay Dragon

Draco volans

“. . . known as the flying dragon (Draco volans) of the Malayan region. They are enabled to Plane through the air by means of enormously elongated ribs which, in the course of their evolution, as they thrust outwards from the body, carry with them a great fold of skin to form a sort of parachute. And those ribs are freely moveable, so that when pressed close to the sides of the body,  thus closing the “wings,” they look at first sight like ordinary lizards.  –W. P. Pycraft. Illustrated London News, February 6, 1932, p. 210.

The Dragons at Copenhagen’s Bourse

Blog at