Arboreal and native to eastern Australia, the water dragon is the country’s largest dragon lizard and can be found primarily in Victoria and Queensland. These lizards can sometimes look quite similar to the famous and beloved bearded dragon, but are not part of the same family and are considerably bigger in size.
These large dragon lizards are incredibly adept at climbing and swimming, using their powerful tails to guide them in the water and their sharp claws to navigate trees, rocks, and even fences – so you may see one sunning itself in your garden or near your pool!
There are two subspecies of water dragon which differ in appearance. Eastern water dragons are predominantly light greenish-grey, white, and yellow, with red demarcations on their throats and dark bands below their eyes.
Conversely, the Gippsland water dragon is darker in colour, maintaining the green-grey tone but have dark bands on either side of their throat, incorporating blotches of yellow, orange, or blue.
Both subspecies have black bands running down their spiked backs, tails, and legs.
Both the eastern and Gippsland water dragons have been seen to slowly change colour based on their surroundings, equipping them with a useful camouflage out in the wild.
These arboreal lizards have long, powerful tails that make swimming easy. The water dragon also has long limbs and claws for climbing, and can grow to lengths of up to 90cm. Males tend to be more brightly coloured than females, and have larger heads as well.
Australian water dragons of both subspecies can be found in eastern regions of the country; primarily in Victoria and northwards into Queensland. They favour living near creaks, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water that offer them the best basking spots.
These lizards are social creatures and will live in groups within habitable locations. The groups usually only consist of a single dominant male as males tend to be territorial and will exhibit aggressive behaviours toward other males encroaching on their territory, including posturing, chasing, and even fighting.
Active during the day, water dragons can be seen basking in the sun in the morning or foraging for food. Water dragons living in cooler climates of Australia will brumate (hibernate) in burrows, between rocks and logs, or even within dense foliage along riverbanks.
The water dragon is not dangerous to humans and are mostly shy in nature. However, due to the expansion of urban areas, they readily adapt to continual human presence in suburban parks and gardens.
In a fight-or-flight situation, water dragons tend to flee. When facing a potential predator or threat, they have been known to drop from overhanging branches into a water source, completely submerging themselves and staying beneath the surface for up to 90 minutes until the threat passes or to avoid detection entirely. That’s 1.5 hours under water!
When facing off opponent water dragons, these lizards have been observed using a range of body signals, including arm waving and head bobbing.
The water dragon’s diet varies as it ages and grows. Juvenile and yearlings tend to prey on small insects like ants, spiders, crickets, and caterpillars. Adult water dragons prey on larger vertebrates and non-vertebrates, including small rodents, frogs, yabbies and other water-dwelling creatures, and other reptiles, though their dietary standard encompasses insects throughout their lifetime – which can be up to 20 years long!
Water dragons also eat varieties of fruit, berries, and flowers. Due to their unique physical structure, these lizards can eat both on land and while in the water.
Although seeing a lone water dragon near your home or garden is unlikely, it is not impossible as they enjoy sunbathing near water sources and on rocks. Should you find one in your garden, it may leave on its own accord as it is not naturally aggressive to other animals and will usually choose to flee and hide.
However, please contact the Snake Rescue Sunny Coast team for assistance in safely capturing and relocating a water lizard to a more suitable location, if one of these spectacular reptiles does find its way into your garden or home.
Australian water dragons have a long, slender body and a flattened head. They can grow up to 1 meter in length, with males having larger heads than females, as well as being more brightly coloured. They have distinctive markings on their body, including a dark stripe behind the eye and a series of vertical bars on the side of the body.
If you’re trying to identify what you suspect to be a water dragon, these are key characteristics to look out for:
Water dragons are not considered dangerous to humans. They are timid and will often retreat when approached. A frightened or threatened water dragon may completely submerge itself in large enough water sources, remaining beneath the surface for as long as 90 minutes to avoid detection.
Australian water dragons are protected under the Nature Conservation Act in Queensland and the National Parks and Wildlife Act in New South Wales. It is illegal to harm, kill, or capture them without a permit.
Water dragons are known for their timid natures which can make them easy to tame. For this reason, they can make excellent pets – under the proper care! They are active and intelligent animals that need plenty of space to move around and explore. It is important to do thorough research and ensure that you can provide the necessary care and resources before deciding to bring one into your home.
If you’re fortunate enough to encounter a water dragon in the wild, simply keep a safe distance so as not to frighten it and enjoy the simple beauty these creatures offer. If one has wandered into your home or been brought in by a pet and is injured, contact Snake Rescue to safely relocate the lizard to a more suitable place for it to heal or be released from.
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