Australian Water Dragon

By Snaketracks / October 15, 2019
Australian water dragon

Australian Water Dragon Care Sheet

The Australian Water Dragon includes two popular subspecies, namely, the eastern water dragon and the Gippsland water dragon. As water dragons, they are semi-aquatic and can be found near lakes and other water bodies.

These colorful and active lizards can grow to be 3½ feet. They require attention and as such may not be the best pet lizard species for beginners. However, they are excellent for intermediate to advanced reptile keepers.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Agamidae
  • Scientific Name: Intellagama lesueurii, previously Physignathus lesueurii
  • Average Adult Size: 24 – 42 inches (610 – 1066 mm)
  • Lifespan: 12 – 20 years
  • Clutch Size: 6 – 18 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 65 – 90 days
  • Food: Live insects
  • Tank Size: 4 (L) x 2 (W) x 3(H) feet
  • Average Temperature: 100°H/80°L
  • Humidity: 50 – 80%
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $350
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern on IUCN Redlist

Facts and Information

Eastern Water Dragon

The Australian water dragon is a large lizard native to eastern Australia from Queensland through New South Wales all the way to Victoria. Additionally, a small population may be thriving in the south-east of Australia (around Adelaide, and Melbourne).

The scientific name of the species is Intellagama lesueurii, although they are still referred to as Physignathus lesueurii (based on an old classification when they were placed in the same genus as the Asian water dragon) in some literature.

The two subspecies of this lizard include the I. l. howitti (Gippsland water dragon) and the I. l. lesueurii (the nominate subspecies also known as the eastern water dragon).

This colorful lizard has spikes that run down its back giving them a prehistoric look.  Additionally, they can grow to be over 3 feet (specifically the males). The females generally grow to about 2 feet. They have long tails which makes up about two-thirds of their body length. Males are more brightly colored than females.

Australian Water Dragon Habitat

The natural habitat of this species includes riparian areas. They prefer areas close to waterways even in urban settings. As a semi-aquatic arboreal dragon, the Australian water dragon can often be found on tree branches close to water or suspended over water. When threatened, the lizard can quickly escape into the water.

Enclosure

This species requires a warm and large enclosure. Without adequate heating, they struggle. While a wooden vivarium is best, a glass terrarium also works. Wood is a better insulator and helps keep the heat produced by the basking lamps within the enclosure.

The minimal length of the enclosure must be 46 inches, and the enclosure needs to be about 24 inches tall. A width of about 12 inches is acceptable. As you can see this is a large enclosure.

Enclosures of this size are usually hard to come by and may need to be custom-built. The Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium, Extra-Long Deep is a good choice if you wish to go with a prebuilt enclosure.

Additionally, you need to have water features such as a waterfall/fountain, or even an aquarium within the enclosure. This aquarium or pool needs to be large enough for the lizard to swim in comfortably. Decorate the enclosure with artificial plants, hides, branches, and logs. This gives the dragon places to hide and objects to climb.

Substrate

The Australian water dragon has to be kept on slightly moist bedding. The substrate needs to be one that holds moisture well such as Coco Coir, Sphagnum Peat Moss, and Exo Terra Plantation Soil.

Since these are loose substrates, you should try to feed the lizard with a plate so it does accidentally ingest the substrate. You can also opt for Repti Bark which is more difficult to swallow.

For hatchlings and newly acquired lizards, I recommend the use of paper towels. This is hardly ingested and is also easy to change. They may not be the best looking bedding choice but they are easily accessible and help you easily spot parasites.

Once the lizard is bigger or better acclimatized to the environment, you can use natural-looking substrates such as the ones already mentioned.

Temperature

This reptile spends a lot of its time basking. The basking spot needs to be very warm with temperatures of 100 to 110 F during the day. The basking light should provide heat to about a third of the enclosure.

The far end of the enclosure should have temperatures of about 75 to 80 F. The basking lamp needs to be turned on for about 10 to 12 hours every day.

While the basking lamp may also produce light, you can use ceramic heating lamps. Some wonderful basking lamps include the OMAYKEY 100W Ceramic Heat Lamp and the Evergreen Mercury Vapor Bulb. Regulate the heat lamp with thermostats such as the WILLHI Thermostat.

Night temperatures should be in the region of 75 to 80 F.

Humidity

Humidity is key to this semi-aquatic lizard. While you can house them in an enclosure with no pool, I recommend the opposite. Their enclosure can have an aquarium they can easily enter and exit or at least a large container filled with water such as the extra-large Zoo Med Reptile Rock Corner Water Dish.

This large water dish helps ensure the humidity levels are high. Additionally, they provide the lizard with a pool to swim in. Change the water in the dish daily.

Also, you should mist the enclosure daily or have a running waterfall feature. This increases humidity and provides a source of drinking water. A hygrometer can help you measure the humidity level of the enclosure at all times.

Lighting

These diurnal dragons require a lot of UV light (both UVA and UVB). If you can provide sunlight, that would be excellent. However, providing sunlight while ensuring that the enclosure doesn’t get overheated can be a tricky prospect.

Since glass terrariums heat up rather quickly, the terrariums must not receive direct sunlight. Instead place the enclosure out of the path of the sun while ensuring it receives a lot of indirect sunlight. This should provide the dragon with a lot of quality UV light.

Alternatively and additionally, you can install UVA and UVB lights such as the Zoo Med Repti Sun.  Since glass and even wire mesh can filter out a large amount of the UV light produced by the light, ensure the interior of the enclosure receives direct light from the bulbs with the help of light fixtures such as the Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp with Switch.

Feeding the Australian Water Dragon

In the wild, the Australian water dragon is generally carnivorous, feeding on small mammals, frogs, fishes, and invertebrates. However, in captivity, it is best to feed them insects. You can call them insectivores.

They may accept plant matter but the main ingredients of their diet are insect proteins. Feed them crickets, locusts, mealworms, dubia roaches, calciworms, and even wax worms. As lizards that can reach 3.5 feet, they eat a lot of insects. This can be costly if you don’t breed the insects yourself.

All live insects must be gut loaded and dusted with vitamin D3 and calcium supplements such as the Repashy Calcium Plus. This ensures the dragons get all the needed nutrients.

Gut loading involves providing feeder insects with high-quality foods for a duration of 48 to 72 hours before feeding them to the lizard. There are specially made commercial cricket diets designed to gut load the cricket before being fed to the lizard. These include Fluker’s High Calcium Cricket Feed, Nature Zone Feeder Insects Total Bites, DUBIA KING Chow, Fluker’s Cricket Quencher Original Formula, and many others.

While they hardly ever drink, it is a good idea to have a water bowl in the enclosure. However, if you place a large enough water container in the enclosure, the lizard will swim in it.

Australian Water Dragon’s Temperament

While the Australian water dragon makes an amazing and gorgeous display pet. Additionally, they are also very tame. They are as tame as a lizard can be. They rarely ever bite, and they allow holding and handling. Because they are arboreal lizards, they have sharp claws that they use to hold on to branches as they climb.

These claws can cause scratches when handled. Even this is not common and shouldn’t be an issue for most Australian water dragon keepers. While hatchlings and juveniles are feistier than the adults, they quickly grow out of this disposition.

Australian Water Dragon’s Lifespan

These dragons can live to be 20 years in captivity. In order for the dragon to obtain its maximum lifespan, the keeper needs to properly care for it. With proper care, expect the dragon to live to between 12 and 20 years.

Common Health Concerns

Captive-bred water dragons are generally healthier than wild-caught dragons. Wild dragons usually have internal and external parasites.

Additionally, wild specimens may not adapt well to captivity. Even with a captive-born and bred dragon, health problems can occur. Here are some of the commonest health issues to expect. Remember, with proper husbandry, health issues are usually nonexistent.  

Some common health conditions include

Parasites

Internal and external parasites are common among wild-caught specimens. External parasites such as mites are easy to notice. As semi-aquatic reptiles, mites do not survive long on the lizard since the lizard spends a lot of time in water. Internal parasite infestations are more problematic.  

With internal infestations, you may notice worms in the stools. Symptoms of internal parasites include weight loss, dull eyes, loss of appetite, loose stools, and lethargy. It is best to pay a visit to a herp vet if you suspect internal parasite infestation.

Metabolic bone disease (MBD)

This is probably the commonest disease that afflicts pet reptiles. The lack of calcium and vitamin D3 is usually detrimental and is the cause of MBD. As species that prefer to feed on insects such as mealworms, crickets, and roaches, it is important to gut-loaded their food properly.

Also, dust the food with vitamin D3 and calcium supplements. This helps prevent MBD. Symptoms of MBD include lethargy, twitching, deformities, bumpy joints, and fractured bones. With MBD, prevention is the best course of action. Increase UV exposure and vitamin D3/calcium supplements if you suspect MBD. Also, contact a herp vet.

Mouth Rot

This occurs when the dragon bands its head against the enclosure walls. This can lead to sores, which can then lead to mouth rot. To prevent this, get the lizard a large enclosure with plants, branches and other decorations it can climb. S

ymptoms of mouth rot include sores on the mouth, swelling around the mouth, and white secretions around the mouth. Since the sores need to be treated, visiting a herp vet is the best course of action.

Other health concerns to expect include bacterial and fungal infections, and dystocia in females.

Pricing and Availability

While they are common in their native Eastern Australia, the Australian water dragon is still quite a rare pet species. They can be difficult to come by, and when they are available, they are usually quite pricey.

They may be found at reptile expos and trade shows every now and then. However, the best way to obtain this lizard is through a breeder. The average price of an Intellagama lesueurii specimen is $350.

Some online sites where you can find the Australian water dragon include Snakes at Sunset and Reptiles N Critters.

Conservation/Threats

The species Intellagama lesueurii has been evaluated by the IUCN and has been given the category and criteria – Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

The wild populations are stable, and there are no apparent threats to the species. As they occur in large numbers in several protected areas of Australia, there are no species-specific conservation measures protecting the species.

Conclusion

Since Australian water dragons are large semi-aquatic lizards, they require attention and expert care. This may make them a challenging species for beginners, but if you get the care needs of this reptile right, they are wonderful pets to have.

They may be feisty when young but are very tame as adults. Their vivid coloration, spiny back, and large size make them an excellent display pet and allows them to stand out. If you have any comments about this amazing agamid species, we would love to hear them.

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