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Australian Water Dragon

Nicole Cosgrove

The Australian Water Dragon originates from the forests of Australia where they are typically found near a water source. In captivity, they need to be given plenty of living space that incorporates a basking area and that maintains a suitable humidity level.

The species is omnivorous but prefers insects and even some small mammals and fish.

They do not get along with one another, so they need to be kept individually, but the Australian Water Dragon is usually tolerant of human handling and, with regular handling, can make a good lizard pet.

Read on to find out more about this species of lizard and whether it will make a good pet for you.

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Quick Facts about Australian Water Dragons

Species Name: Intellagama lesueurii
Common Name: Australian Water Dragon
Care Level: Moderate
Lifespan: 10 – 15 years
Adult Size: 24 – 36 inches
Diet: Insects and vegetables
Minimum Tank Size: 48” x 24” x 36”
Temperature & Humidity 80°F – 105°F temperature

60% – 70% humidity

Do Australian Water Dragons Make Good Pets?

This lizard species does require a good amount of room to be happy, and its enclosure must be kept at an appropriate temperature and humidity levels. They are easy to feed but require more food than a typical bearded dragon. However, they do enjoy being handled, often likened to the bearded dragon in this respect, and they are considered a good species of lizard for both new and experienced owners alike. They are hardy and are not overly prone to any illnesses or problems.

australian water dragon close up
Image Credit: Pixabay

Appearance

The water dragon grows to approximately 36 inches in adulthood, and approximately two-thirds of this is its tail. The tail is muscular and thick and it is not only used for balance but swimming and more. It also has long and muscular legs, which enable this breed of lizard to run quickly, which it will do when startled or when giving chase to prey. Crests start at the neck and run right down the spine to the tail. The water dragon is a brownish color and has white and black markings on the tail. There may be some blotches of color.

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How to Take Care of Australian Water Dragons

The species is often considered to be on a par with bearded dragons as being the best species to keep as a pet lizard. While this is true in a lot of respects, what may deter some potential owners from this breed is that it does take more care than a beardie. It needs more space, more attention to temperature, and it eats more.

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup

Of particular importance to the health and happiness of the water dragon is its enclosure.

Tank

The tank itself should measure at least 48 inches long by 24 by 36 inches, but if you can provide additional room it will improve the living conditions for your water dragon. A wooden enclosure is preferred because this enables you to keep a temperature gradient, maintain humidity, and it means that you can keep a clear front and solid sides and back for privacy. Glass enclosures are available but they will require more care to ensure the best conditions for your lizard.

Lighting

Your water dragon will need a day/night cycle and requires some UVB light. A 10% UVB lamp can be left on a 12/12 cycle to replicate a standard day in the wild.

Heating (Temperature & Humidity)

You will need to provide a gradient of heat across the enclosure. Use a basking lamp to provide a basking spot with a temperature of approximately 105°F at one end and measure the temperature at the other and to ensure that it is around 80°F at the cooler end. Humidity can be as high as 70%. Although the water dragon can tolerate levels as low as 40%, they will shed more cleanly at higher levels. Mist regularly and use a hygrometer to ensure that you monitor the current humidity levels.

Substrate

Because the water dragon likes such high humidity, you can use a substrate that absorbs moisture from the surroundings. A combination of soil and moss is beneficial, but even paper towels will do a good job: however, they tear easily, need replacing often, and they don’t look great.

Tank Recommendations
Tank Type 180-gallon wood enclosure
Lighting UVB light for day/night cycle
Heating Basking lamp at one end
Best Substrate Soil and peat mix

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Feeding Your Australian Water Dragon

Your young water dragon will need daily feeding, but from the age of three years, you can reduce this to three feeds a week.

The species is omnivorous which means that it will eat meat and vegetation. They are usually good eaters, and although they would eat mice and fish in the wild, this isn’t necessary in captivity.

Feed crickets, black or brown, as well as locusts, and ensure that they are gut loaded before feeding. Offer a snack of mealworms or waxworms.

Plant-based meals can be made up of dandelions, which are a good source of fiber, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Dip these in a calcium and vitamin supplement to ensure the best ongoing health.

Diet Summary
Vegetables 15% of diet
Insects 85% of diet
Meat 0% of diet
Supplements Required Dust vegetables in calcium and vitamin supplements
australian water dragon inide tank
Image Credit: Pixabay

Keeping Your Australian Water Dragon Healthy

The Australian Water Dragon is a hardy breed. Maintain appropriate temperature and humidity levels, feed a decent meat source, and keep its enclosure clean, and you shouldn’t suffer too many poor health problems. However, there are some illnesses and health issues that you should look out for.

Common Health Issues

  • Respiratory problems – Upper and lower respiratory infections can be caused by poor temperature and humidity problems.
  • Bacterial problems – Bacterial infections are most often caused by a poorly maintained enclosure, so ensure that you spot clean every day and deep clean every four weeks.
  • Metabolic bone diseases – This range of diseases are caused by poor or non-existent UVB exposure and can lead to bone fractures and deformities.

Lifespan

A well cared for water dragon, living in a good enclosure and fed a suitable diet, should live between ten and 15 years. Lifespan can be greatly affected by inappropriate temperature and humidity levels, as well as a poor diet.

Breeding

australian water dragon in the water
Image Credit: Pixabay

You don’t need to do anything special to encourage Australian Water Dragons to breed, other than housing them together, at least short term. Create a nesting box where the female can lay her eggs. This needs to be big enough for her to turn around, but not so large that it doesn’t offer security. Put a soil mix inside the box. Remove eggs once laid and incubate them at around 84°F

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Are Australian Water Dragons Friendly? Our Handling Advice

The Australian Water Dragon is often compared to the Bearded Dragon for its friendliness, and with good reason. Although this species can be a little nervous and jumpy at first, it will quickly become accustomed to being picked up and will enjoy time in the hand.

When you first bring your water dragon home, allow it a week to settle into its new cage and new surroundings, without trying to handle it.

Support the underneath of the body, and allow the large tail to hang down. Start with just a few minutes a day and when first handling yours, ensure that you do so just a short distance above a soft surface. As your water dragon gets used to being handled, you can keep it out of the enclosure for longer.

Eventually, this species will enjoy being taken out. It may scratch at the enclosure for time out, and many owners report that their dragons enjoy spending hours sat on their shoulder or their lap.

Shedding & Brumation: What to Expect

The Australian Water Dragon is a lizard and, as such, it sheds whenever it outgrows its skin. Exactly how often yours sheds depends on its age and size, and how much it has grown. Generally, younger lizards shed more often than older ones because they grow more.

The species is not known to have too many difficulties shedding, but if your lizard is suffering and is not managing to shed its skin thoroughly and properly, check the humidity levels of your tank. You can also soak the skin or offer a humidity bath to help with a difficult shed. Do not pull at the skin, however.

In the wild, those water dragons that live in the cooler areas of Australia would brumate during cold winter months. Their heart rate slows and they become docile. Their feeding requirements are reduced and they remain in this state until the temperatures pick up again. There is no need to force your water dragons to brumate in captivity, and it won’t encourage breeding as it does in some other species.

How Much Do Australian Water Dragons Cost?

Their popularity as a pet and their availability in pet stores mean that the Australian Water Dragon is an inexpensive lizard and you shouldn’t have to pay more than $100 for a young one. The biggest cost will likely be for the enclosure and the rest of the accessories that you need.

Care Guide Summary

Pros
  • Enjoys handling
  • Inexpensive
  • Eats well
Cons
  • Needs space
  • Eats lots

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Conclusion

The Australian Water Dragon is a very popular pet lizard, and it is a good choice for beginners and experienced owners. It is often compared to the Bearded Dragon, which is the most popular lizard pet species by far. The water dragon enjoys being handled, is easy to feed, and is generally hardy, but it does need a lot of space, eats lots, and it takes more care and attention than a beardie. If you are looking for a lizard that eagerly hops out to spend time with you, however, then you need to look no further than this entertaining little reptile.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.