Jacanasa are found worldwide within the tropical zone, inhabiting freshwater ponds, the margins of lakes, swamps and lagoons.
Three species are found in the Americas; 3 species in Africa and 3 species in the Far East down to Australia with 9 subspecies in Central America and 3 subspecies in Australia.
Their most destinctive physical attribute are their their huge feet with unusually long toes and claws which enable them to walk on floating vegetation in the shallow lakes that are their preferred habitat. They resemble the common moorhen and other rails, such as coots and gallinules. Their long toes and claws allow them to run over floating vegetation and lily pads thus accounting for the name lily trotter. As they appear to be walking on water, the Jamaican refer to the Northern Jacanas as the 'Jesus birds.'
The female is larger than the male. In most species both sexes have a dark brown or black plumage, a yellow wattle at the base of the bill and greenish-yellow wing feathers that are conspicuous during flight.
The females are larger than the males; the latter, as in some other wader families like the phalaropes take responsibility for incubation, and some species (notably the Northern Jacana) are polyandrous (meaning they form stable unions with more than one male) . However, adults of both sexes look identical, as with most shorebirds.