Australian water dragons are a neat looking reptile that can make great pets in the right environment. These lizards are smart, fairly low-maintenance, and fun to handle!
But it’s crucial to know what their care requirements are before you rush out and get one. There are a few things you’ll need to know about this species if you want to keep them happy and healthy.
In this guide, we take a deep look at everything you need to know about Australian water dragon care. You’ll learn how to set up their enclosure, what to feed them, and plenty of other useful facts!
Table of Contents
The Australian water dragon (Intellagama lesueurii) is a reptile that easily adapts to the presence of humans. Docile and easy to tame, these lizards make excellent pets for even novice enthusiasts.
As their name would suggest, the Australian water dragon is native to Eastern Australia. There, you can often see them living amongst humans in parks or gardens. In more rural areas, the lizards inhabit forests around bodies of water.
This species is very adaptable and will take advantage of many different environments to feel safe. They can live in tall trees or rest at the bottom of a riverbed to escape predators! In captivity, however, these lizards are just fine in the safety of a well-maintained enclosure.
The average Australian water dragon lifespan is between 10 and 15 years. But obviously, there’s never a guarantee when it comes to life expectancy.
Like any other captive reptile, the lifespan of this species is dependent on the quality of care you provide. If kept in dirty conditions or fed an inadequate diet, your lizard could suffer from disease and die prematurely.
Appearance & Colors
The Australian water dragon has many physical features that reflect its lifestyle. For climbing, the lizard uses its long and powerful legs. Each leg has lengthy toes and sharp claws as well to grab onto trees and other structures.
For swimming, the water dragon uses its muscular tail. Making up about two-thirds of its entire length, the tail is one of the lizard’s most important features. It’s laterally compressed, which helps the lizard zip through the water with ease.
Expert Tip: When threatened, Australian water dragons can also use its tail to whip predators!
This species is also defined by its prominent nuchal and vertebral crests. The nuchal crests start at the base of the head. They’re tall and spiky but gradually get smaller near the tail.
There are a couple of different subspecies that are quite similar overall. However, subtle color variations make the two subspecies easy to distinguish.
All Australian water dragons feature greyish brown coloration. Typically, the base color is accompanied by white and black markings around the face.
The Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii subspecies has hues of yellow and red on the throat. They’re also sporting a black band behind the eye.
Meanwhile, the Intellagama lesueurii howittii has dark bands on both sides of the throat. You might also see blotches of yellow, orange, and blue.
The average size of Australian water dragons is up to 36 inches in length for males, and 24 inches for females. This is primarily due to their long tail, which makes up roughly two-thirds of their body length.
The factors that influence their size most are breeding practices, genetics, and early care. If you want your lizard to be big and strong, make sure to do your homework before purchasing!
Australian Water Dragon Care
As a whole, Australian water dragon care is considered to be a relatively easy task. Due to their hardiness and adaptability, these reptiles usually have no problem living long and happy lives as pets.
That said, you still have to follow some established guidelines. In the wild, these lizards live in a wide range of environments. It’s your job as an owner to replicate those environments as closely as possible while providing the lizard with all the essentials.
The first thing you need to do is find an appropriately sized enclosure.
Australian water dragons do best in vivariums with a swinging front door and adjustable air vents. Opaque sides are best. A fully transparent enclosure could make the lizard feel open to threats.
You’ll also need to make sure the size of the enclosure is rather large.
At the very least, we recommend keeping a single Australian water dragon in an enclosure that’s 48 inches long, 24 inches deep, and about 36 inches wide. If possible, bump up the length of the enclosure to about 60 inches.
Expert Tip: The length of the enclosure is very important. A longer enclosure will make it easy to create an appropriate temperature gradient.
Here’s where you can get creative. These lizards often inhabit forests that are close to rivers or streams. Thus, they’re used to vegetation and lots of humidity.
Start with a moisture-absorbing substrate at the bottom. You can use coarse wood chips or a fertilizer-free mix of soil and peat moss. Both substrate options will hold onto moisture to keep humidity levels high. You can even use paper towels if you’re on a budget!
Next, you will need to provide some climbing surfaces.
Use large tree branches, chunks of cork wood, and climbing branches. Arrange them delicately so that they’re not touching. Create a network of paths so that your lizard has plenty of options to explore.
Once that’s done, you’ll need to create some shelter. You can do this by using a reptile hide box.
However, many owners prefer to keep things natural in the habitat by utilizing plants as well. Both live and artificial plants work well. Live plants are great for humidity, but plastic ones are better for maintenance and overall cleanliness.
You should also add some resting rocks made of natural stone. Materials like slate are perfect because they retain heat for some belly warmth.
Temperature & Lighting
Replicating the intense Australian heat is no easy task, but it’s very important for the health of this species.
Like other reptiles, Australian water dragons thermoregulate by moving to different parts of the enclosure. You must create a temperature gradient where one side of the tank is hotter than the other.
On one end, use a basking lamp to raise temperatures between 95 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep an eye out on your lizard to see what temperatures they prefer. If they aren’t spending a ton of time in the basking area, you may want to dial back the heat a bit to the lower side of that range.
Expert Tip: Make sure that your basking lamp is inaccessible. There should be ample space and some protective mesh that keeps your lizard from burning itself.
On the opposite side of the enclosure, temperatures should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t let temperatures drop lower than 80 degrees at night when you turn the lamps off. If they do, you might want to invest in a heat emitter to ensure that your lizard is comfortable at night.
Australian water dragons need a standard day and night cycle. They will also need some UVB exposure. Utilize a 10-percent UVB lamp to cover most of the enclosure during the day.
High humidity levels are a must with Australian water dragons. This species will need around 70 percent humidity levels at all times. They can tolerate levels as low as 40 percent, but they could start to experience health issues outside of that range.
To maintain this, you’ll have to mist the environment regularly. You can use an automatic dripper as well if you prefer.
Invest in a reliable hygrometer to test humidity levels regularly. If you need to raise the humidity, simply mist the substrate and plants. To lower it, open up some vents to let the moisture evaporate.
Australian water dragons love to spend time in the water. When escaping predators in the wild, they can actually dart through the water and hold their breath for up to 90 minutes!
Providing a sizable swimmable space in your enclosure probably isn’t viable, but you need to add a large container that they can get into. The container should be no smaller than about three-quarters of the length of your pet lizard. It must be deep enough for full submersion too.
It’s very important to change this water regularly. Your lizard will likely defecate in it, so you have to stay on top of cleanliness to keep bacteria under control.
Australian Water Dragon Diet
In the wild, Australian water dragons are very opportunistic eaters with a flexible diet. They will often snack on mice, bugs, and even birds.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go to those extremes to keep your pet healthy in captivity. These lizards are omnivores and willingly accept most foods.
A good diet will mainly consist of insects.
Brown crickets, black crickets, and locusts are good diet staples. For the occasional snack, you can provide mealworms, beetle grubs, cockroaches, and waxworms. These goods are high in fat, so don’t feed them to your lizard too often. Also, make sure to gut-load insects before providing them as food.
For plant-based foods, you can offer up some dandelion greens, clover leaves, green beans, yellow squash, and sweet potato. Australian water dragons are pretty split when it comes to fruit. They may enjoy sweets like bananas and strawberries, but some won’t eat them at all.
For improved health, you can provide supplements. Just dip the foods in the powdered supplement. Many owners will alternate between a calcium supplement and a multivitamin supplement for each feeding.
Expert Tip: Younger lizards will need to eat every day. But once they reach about three years old, you can limit feedings to three times a week.
Potential Health Issues
Australian water dragons are very hardy, and encountering serious diseases is rare. The most common issue you’ll likely encounter is the occasional respiratory problem. Those are typically caused by inadequate humidity levels, which are easy to fix.
However, bacterial problems can occur too. This is why it’s important for you to spot clean the enclosure every day. About once a month, a deep cleaning is required. When you do this, use a reptile-safe disinfectant to clean off every surface.
One of the more serious health problems these lizards can suffer from is metabolic bone disease. This occurs when the reptile doesn’t get enough UVB exposure.
UVB rays are critical for calcium metabolism. When they don’t have that exposure, the bones can become brittle, weak, and deformed. This opens up a host of developmental issues and a high risk of bone fractures.
Behavior & Temperament
Australian water dragons are perfectly friendly to humans if you’re gentle. However, that docile behavior isn’t extended towards other water dragons.
These creatures are known to be a bit territorial (this is especially true with males). Fighting is very common, so most owners will not house males in the same enclosure. If multiple males are housed together, you’ll have to deal with constant chasing and fighting, which could lead to lost limbs or broken tails.
In general, it’s best to keep Australian water dragons on their own. You can house males and females together, but they will often breed and raise your lizard population!
When young, Australian water dragons tend to be a bit skittish and jumpy. However, they get used to human interaction very quickly.
As they get older, these lizards should have no problem being handled (assuming you’ve spent time getting them used to the process). You might even see them clawing at the glass because they want to get out and explore with you!
Once they have a good level of trust with you, they will stick by your side. Many owners even report letting the lizard sit on their shoulders for hours.
As long as you don’t make any sudden movements and provide plenty of support, these lizards will stay calm.
When you handle them, support the underside of the body and let the tail hang down. Always pay attention to their behavior when handling them. If they’re feeling a bit fussy and don’t want to be handled, give them a break!
Australian water dragon care is pretty simple once you get everything in place. As long as you have them in a properly sized enclosure and meet their habitat needs, this species can be fairly low-maintenance.
We hope you learned a lot about this reptile and feel prepared to own one yourself. If you still have questions, our (digital) door is always open!