Added 12 June 2022.

A look at the Family Agamidae


Australian Water Dragons


Water dragons are among the better known and more popular of the agamid lizards, and have been kept in captivity fairly regularly since the 1990s. At the same time they do have certain requirements which must be met if they are to thrive, mainly a reasonably large vivarium with access to a body of water. The Australian Water Dragon is unavailable as an import due to Australia's wildlife laws but has been bred in captivity and, for an Australian lizard, is relatively obtainable.

Boulenger listed the characteristics of the genus as follows: tympanum distinct; body more or less compressed; nuchal and dorsal crests present; no gular sac; strong transverse gular fold; tail round or more or less compressed; toes not lobate; femoral pores present, at least in the male. Both species are good swimmers. Originally the genus Physignathus contained both Chinese and Australian Water Dragons, but molecular studies determined that the genus was non-monophyletic, and so Australian Water Dragons ended up being assigned to Intellagama.

Husbandry details are available in deVosjoli, Manthey and Schuster and Rogner. See also the index of agamid-related articles under Intellagama, as the species has been covered several times over the past 10 years or so.

Species Name

Common Name





I. lesuerii

Brown Water Dragon, Australian Water Dragon

Australia (E Queensland, E NSW and E Victoria), S New Guinea

8"/20cm SVL, tail about 2½ x SVL

Similar in habitat to P. cocincinnus, being found on the banks of watercourses and also banks of lakes and in some coastal areas where it forages among rocks. Diet includes insects but also frogs, fish, crabs and flowers, fruit and berries, and according to Manthey and Schuster, sometimes young individuals, who therefore avoid adult hunting areas. Wilson and Swann state that this species thrives in urban areas, including Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. Scalation details: canthus rostralis, supraciliary and supraorbital borders form slight ridges; dorsal head scales very small, very strongly keeled; occiput and temple with numerous conical and compressed tubercles; gular scales subimbricate, indistinctly keeled, intermixed laterally with enlarged suboval tubercles forming irregular longitudinal series; some of the hindermost of these tubercles are conical; row of slightly enlarged shields on each side, parallel with infralabials. Dorsal scalation: nuchal crest composed of a few triangular compressed spines; dorsal crest a serrated ridge; dorsal scales roundish, keeled tubercles forming irregular transverse series. Ventral scalation: scales larger than dorsals, imbricate, keeled. Tail: strongly compressed, crested like the back, dorsolateral scales very small and intermixed at base of tail with enlarged tubercles; ventral scales larger. Other: head moderately elongate, large and thick in the male; snout slightly longer than the diameter of the orbit; tympanum half diameter of the orbit; limbs long, scaled like the back; 12-22 femoral pores on each side. Coloration: overall grey to grey-brown (“dark olive” per Boulenger), with darker and lighter transverse bands that become rings or transverse bands on the tail; often a broad black band from eye to above the shoulder, involving the tympanum; belly pale olive, dotted with black; throat with black longitudinal lines in young, according to Boulenger; . Some populations have chest and anterior abdomen flushed with dark red, or chest, head and throat flushed with green, or (in south, presumably the Gippsland Water Dragon) throat marked or striped with orange, red, blue, green and yellow [Cogger]: Manthey and Schuster state that the ventral area is yellowish to brown in females and reddish in males, which would perhaps tally with the northernmost subspecies the Eastern Water Dragon. Reproduction: a clutch of 6-20 eggs is laid at some distance from the territory in spring [Manthey and Schuster], which might have ramifications for breeding in captivity; incubation time is 70-120 days. Manthey and Schuster also suggest that more than 2 clutches per season may be possible and give breeding suggestions [SOURCES: Boulenger, Cogger, Manthey and Schuster, Wilson and Swan]

I. l. lesuerii

Eastern Water Dragon

Australia (C NSW to Cape York Peninsula, Qld)

Coloration: as per species description, with red flush on chest [SOURCE: Wilson and Swan].

I. l. howittii

Gippsland Water Dragon

Australia (E Victoria to SE NSW)

Coloration: generally lacking stripe behind eye; dark body bands reduced; dark olive green on chest; mature males have black throat blotched with yellow, orange and sometimes blue [SOURCE: Wilson and Swan].



The Australian Museum offers a set of husbandry guidelines for the Australian Water Dragon.

See also the index of agamid-related articles, which has several listed for the two species.