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Predation on the Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus) in South Florida
James P. Flaherty and Joshua Friers

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 13, Issue 4 (2014): N57–N58

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N57 2014 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 13, No. 4 J.P. Flaherty and J. Friers Predation on the Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus) in South Florida James P. Flaherty1 and Joshua Friers2,* Abstract - Although native to Central and South American, Basiliscus vittatus (Brown Basilisk) is now firmly established in South Florida. Birds, lizards, and large crustaceans prey upon the Brown Basilisk throughout its native range, but snakes had been the only documented predators of this species in Florida. Here we document predation on Florida Brown Basilisks by the wading bird Ardea alba (Great Egret) and two different species of large, predatory fish—Micropterus salmoides (Largemouth Bass) and Centropomus undecimalis (Common Snook). Non-native reptiles and amphibians have become diverse and numerous in Florida—for example, 38 lizard species had become established as of 2011 (Meshaka 2011). Currently, however, Basiliscus vittatus Wiegmann (Brown Basilisk) is the sole member of the family Corytophanidae established in Florida. The Brown Basilisk is a medium-sized lizard with the unique ability to run on the water’s surface (Laerm 1974). In its native range of Central America and northeastern South America (Savage 2002), Brown Basilisk is typically associated with forested riparian habitat, although adults are frequently observed far from water (Hirth 1963, Maturana 1962). The Brown Basilisk was first documented in Dade County (now Miami-Dade), FL in 1976, where its introduction was likely the result of escape and/or intentional releases from pet owners and dealers (Wilson and Porras 1983). Populations have since been found in 6 other counties throughout southern Florida (Krysko et al. 2011). In Florida, Brown Basilisks are usually found near thick vegetation at the edge of canals or borrow pits and can often be observed basking on branches overhanging water (Krysko et al. 2006, Meshaka et al. 2004). Dietary preferences are not well known in Florida, but individuals have been documented eating insects (Coleoptera, Dictyoptera, Hymenoptera), true bugs (Hemiptera), arachnids, Ficus spp. (figs), and lizards (Krysko et al. 2006, Meshaka et al. 2004). In its native range, Brown Basilisk is preyed upon by a wide variety of species (Savage 2002). Hirth (1963) mentioned that snakes were likely the major predators of Brown Basilisks, but also observed a juvenile being consumed by an Ocypode quadrata Fabricius (Atlantic Ghost Crab). Birds of prey are also significant predators, and Brown Basilisks make up a substantial portion of the overall diet in certain species (Gerhardt et al. 1993). In Florida, snakes had been the only documented predator of Brown Basilisks. Known snake predators include Pantherophis guttatus L. (Red Cornsnake), Coluber constrictor L. (North American Racer), and Drymarchon couperi Holbrook (Eastern Indigo Snake) (Meshaka et al. 2004). Here we document 3 novel instances of predation events involving the Brown Basilisk in Florida. On 19 September 2012, at approximately 15:00, we observed an Ardea alba L. (Great Egret) foraging along a heavily vegetated canal bank, dominated by Neyraudia reynaudiana (Kunth) Keng ex Hitchc. (Burma Reed) at Homestead Air Reserve Base (ARB) in Miami-Dade County, FL (25°29'20.83"N, 80°22'16.46"W; datum WGS 84). After 5 minutes of observation, we saw the Great Egret spear an adult male Brown Basilisk of ~38 cm total length (TL). Following a brief struggle, the bird proceeded to manipulate the Brown 1Center of Excellence for Field Biology and Department of Biology, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN 37040. 2US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Homestead, FL 33030. *Corresponding author - Manuscript Editor: John Placyk Notes of the Southeastern Naturalist, Issue 13/4, 2014 2014 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 13, No. 4 N58 J.P. Flaherty and J. Friers Basilisk and swallow it headfirst. After quickly swallowing the prey, the Great Egret resumed foraging along the canal bank and we saw it spear and consume several small fish and Lithobates spp. (frogs). In July 2011, during a routine canal survey at Homestead ARB (25°29'21.60"N, 80°22'18.87"W; datum WGS 84), we flushed a medium-sized Brown Basilisk (~20 cm TL) out of the vegetation along the canal edge, and it proceeded to run across open water. When the lizard was ~1.5 m from shore, a Micropterus salmoides Lacépède (Largemouth Bass), quickly swam from under a nearby mat of aquatic vegetation and grasped the Brown Basilisk in its mouth. As the Largemouth Bass swam away, the lizard’s legs and tail were visibly protruding out of the fish’s mouth. On 27 June 2013, we witnessed a second predatory event involving large fish. During another canal survey at Homestead ARB (25°29'20.82"N, 80°22'19.20"W; datum WGS 84), a large Brown Basilisk (~30 cm TL) dropped from a low-hanging Chrysobalanus icaco L. (Cocoplum) branch into the canal and began running across the water. Almost immediately, we observed a Centropomus undecimalis Bloch (Common Snook) grasp the Brown Basilisk in its mouth and swallo w it whole. To the best of our knowledge, these are the first documented cases of Brown Basilisks being consumed by Great Egrets, Largemouth Bass, or Common Snook. It is likely that in southern Florida, Brown Basilisks are frequently preyed upon by wading birds, due to their mutual association with riparian areas. The Brown Basilisk’s unique behavior of running on the water’s surface may also render them especially vulnerable to large predatory fish, which are known to feed upon other vertebrates moving across the top of the water column (Hodgson and Hansen 2005). Acknowledgments. We thank Michael C. Fulbright and Dr. Michael Andrejko for reviewing the manuscript. We would also like to thank Dr. Glenn Johnson for advice regarding the biota of South Florida. Literature Cited Gerhardt, R.P., P.M. Harris, and M.A. Vasques-Marroquin. 1993. Food habits of nesting Great Black Hawks in Tikal National Park, Guatemala. Biotropica 25:349–352. Hirth, H. 1963. The ecology of two lizards on a tropical beach. Ecological Mono graphs 33:83–112. Hodgson, J.R., and E.M. Hansen. 2005. Terrestrial prey items in the diet of Largemouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides, in a small north-temperate lake. Journal of Freshwater Ecology 20:793–794. Krysko, K.L., J.C. Seitz, J.H. Townsend, and K.M. Enge. 2006. The introduced Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus) in Florida. Iguana 13:25–30. Krysko, K.L., K.M. Enge, and P.E. Moler. 2011. Atlas of amphibians and reptiles in Florida. Final Report, Project Agreement 08013, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL. 524 pp. Laerm, J. 1974. A functional analysis of morphological variation and dif ferential niche-utilization in basilisk lizards. Ecology 55:404–411. Maturana, H.R. 1962. A study of the species of the genus Basiliscus. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 128:1–34. Meshaka, W.E. 2011. A runaway train in the making: The exotic amphibians, reptiles, turtles, and crocodilians of Florida. Monograph 1. Herpetological Conservati on and Biology 6:1–101. Meshaka, W.E., B.P. Butterfield, and J.B. Hauge. 2004. The Exotic Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, FL. 155 pp. Savage, J.M. 2002. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica: A Herpetofauna Between Two Continents, Between Two Seas. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 934 pp. Wilson, L.D., and L. Porras. 1983. The Ecological impact of man on the South Florida herpetofauna. Special Publication No. 9, University of Kansas Museum of Natural History and World Wildlife Fund-US, Lawrence, KS. 89 pp.