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What Is an Australian Water Dragon?

Rebecca Cartwright
Rebecca Cartwright

An Australian water dragon is a lizard native to the extreme eastern coast of Australia. The scientific name of the species is Physignathus lesueurii. Australian water dragon males can reach up to 3 feet (about 0.9 m) long, measured from snout to the tip of the tail, while females are slightly smaller. These colorful lizards are well-suited for climbing and swimming. They are often found near water in both rural and urban areas in their range.

There are two sub-species of the Australian water dragon including the Gippsland water dragon, with the scientific name Physignathus lesueurii howitti; and the eastern water dragon, named Physignathus lesueurii lesueurii. The two are very similar in appearance and behavior. Both are found in north-eastern Australia.


Adult Australian water dragons are light gray to greenish-brown with black bands running down their back, legs and tail. The underside and chest vary from shades of yellow to red. Colors on males tend to be stronger and more varied, with some individuals showing patches or lines of yellow, orange or blue. There are black with orange or yellowish bands on the throats of the Gippsland water dragon, while the eastern variety of the water dragon has black bands on the back of its head.

The tail makes up over half the length of these lizards and is flattened vertically to aid with swimming. Their nostrils are placed on the top of the snout, which allows them to breathe while almost fully submerged. Australian water dragons have powerful forelegs and large claws which facilitate climbing trees and rocks.

Wooded areas and grasslands near water are the usual habitat of the Australian water dragon. It often climbs rocks or trees and basks in the sun over the water. If startled it drops into the water to escape. This reptile has adapted well to living near people and is often found in urban parks.

Breeding season for the Australian water dragon is during the southern hemisphere's spring months. Eggs are usually laid in late September to early October. A breeding female digs a shallow hole for her clutch of six to 18 eggs and buries them there. Females usually choose a sunny place in soft soil or sand. The eggs hatch without any further adult attention.

Australian water dragons have a varied diet including many kinds of insects. Other frequent additions to their diet include fish, small mollusks and fruits. In urban areas they are often seen scavenging near picnic areas.

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