Why the Basilisk Is Actually a Legless Lizard
By all accounts, the Basilisk is identified as a snake. It’s Slytherin’s monster, and Slytherin’s House symbol is a snake. Harry is able to speak to it in Parseltongue, which is the language of snakes. However, the design of the Basilisk in the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie actually resembles a legless lizard much more than a snake. And yes, to all those wondering, legless lizards are real animals. They very much resemble snakes except for a handful of key differences, all of which the Basilisk shows.
1. Visible Eyelids
It’s a simple fact that snakes don’t have eyelids, ever. If you look at the eyes of snakes, they seem almost bulging, since they’re not surrounded by the folds of skin that help make up the eyelid. However, looking at the Basilisk, it has a clearly visible eyelid, allowing it to shut and open its eyes at will, much like a lizard. Personally, I think a basilisk that can’t shut its eyes would actually be more terrifying, as its deadly gaze couldn’t be turned off aside from completely blinding it.
2. Solid One-Piece Lower Jaw
It can often seem like snakes are dislocating their jaw as they grab and swallow their prey, but that’s not what happens. Snakes actually have a jaw made up of two bones called mandibles. These mandibles, unlike in humans, are not fused together. Instead, the two bones can move independently of each other, allowing the snake to consume such proportionally large prey. However, legless lizards have a solid one-piece lower jaw that is less maneuverable, and thus they mostly go after smaller prey. Maybe that’s why the Basilisk goes after humans in Harry Potter. It literally can’t eat larger prey.
If you’ve ever had the chance to pet a snake, you’ll know that they have smooth scales that lie flat against their bodies. To contrast, lizards have more beaded and pebbled skin. Looking at the Basilisk’s scales, it’s clear that its skin is rough and bumpy, not smooth. While there are some smoother scales on its underbelly, that’s not uncommon for lizards, either.
While Parseltongue is a really cool concept, in theory, it actually could never work. Snakes are deaf. They use vibrations to make up for their lack of hearing, allowing them to sense incoming creatures. I would be willing to give a pass to Parseltongue, as it is a magical language. However, the Basilisk in the movie has visible earholes, something no snake has. Legless lizards do have earholes, though.
5. Head Shape
When examining the Basilisk’s head, two things stood out to me. One was its nostrils, as snake nostrils tend to be less obtrusive, and they’re usually on each side of the head. However, the nostrils on the Basilisk are much more forward-facing, and the general shape of its snout is more lizard-like. The second thing I noticed was its horns. As a general rule, most snakes don’t have horns, and the species that do have them poking out directly above the eyes, not on the back of the head.
6. Lack of Forked Tongue
First of all, I will admit that we barely see the Basilisk’s tongue in the movie. That in and of itself is unusual since snakes use their tongues to scent the air and find prey, so the Basilisk definitely would have done that if it were a snake – especially after it went blind and was relying on other senses. However, examining the pictures available of its open mouth, it looks like it doesn’t have a forked tongue. Snakes always have forked tongues; lizards do not.
I won’t deny it: The Basilisk’s teeth looked really cool and scary in the movie. It definitely made for a dramatic image when Harry had that giant fang sticking out of his arm. However, no snake actually has teeth like that. Snake teeth tend to be much thinner and more needle-like. Furthermore, the Basilisk has a full mouth of teeth, top and bottom row. Snakes actually don’t have that many teeth. Some don’t even have any teeth on the bottom row, and most of the teeth aside from the main two fangs aren’t that prominent. As such, while the Basilisk is a terrifying reptilian monster, it’s not actually a snake. Or at the very least, the film version isn’t.