"little desert basilisks that jet blood from their eyes"

The basilisk and the weasel (17th century), by Wenceslas Hollar
Public DomainThe basilisk and the weasel (17th century), by Wenceslas Hollar - Credit: Wenceslas Hollar Digital Collection
The basilisk is a legendary reptile reputed to be king of serpents and said to have the power to cause death with a single glance. One of the earlist accounts of the basilisk comes from Pliny the Elders’s Natural History, written around 79 AD. The basilisk also appears in the Bible in Isaiah 14:29 in the prophet’s exhortation to the Philistines: ‘Do not rejoice, whole country of Philistia, because the rod that beat you has broken, since the serpent's stock can still produce a basilisk, and the offspring of that will be a flying dragon.’

Some believe the legend may have originated from early reports of the cobra since several species of spitting cobras can incapacitate from a distance by spitting venom, most often into the prey’s eyes.