The Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii) is one of two sub-species of Water Dragon found in Australia. In Sydney, they are commonly seen in Sydney Harbour National Park particularly in areas with lush vegetation close to running water, such as at Bradleys Head.

Male Water Dragons vary in length from 80cm to 90cm, whilst females are a shorter 60cm. The lizards are grey-brown to olive green in colour with a creamy-white to creamy-brown underside. Dragons are semi-aquatic and diurnal (active during the day), venturing out to dry grounds during the day to feed and bask, and returning to the water at night to sleep
(mostly adults). Their long, sharp claws and powerful limbs make them excellent swimmers and climbers.

Eastern Water Dragons sometimes form social groups comprised of several females, juveniles and a dominant male. Interestingly, these dragon groups are not necessarily based on family relationships. Some individuals have been seen to actively avoid other dragons that are not in the same social group.

Habitat

Areas with clean flowing water and ample vegetation make for ideal dragon habitat. You will therefore often spot them near rivers, lakes, creeks and other water bodies such as stormwater drains in urban areas.

Like other cold blooded animals, Eastern Water Dragons require the warmth of the sunlight to raise their body temperature and stimulate their metabolism. An increased body temperature also serves to make their muscles limber which enables them to run from predators and to hunt.

Rocks, tree branches or pathways with breaks in the canopy are normally used as sun basking sites as they provide a warm surface on which the dragons can stretch out. When threatened, the lizards often drop off the tree branches or rocks on which they are sitting into the water below to hide. There, they can remain fully submerged for up to 60 to 90 minutes. Good vegetation cover is also important as it provides areas in which the dragons can retreat and hide.

Apart from Sydney Harbour, Water Dragons can also be found in urban areas in Canberra and Brisbane.

Breeding and reproduction

Water Dragon courtship and mating takes place during the warmer months of Spring – September in Sydney. During the breeding season, the dominant male Dragon mates with all of the females in his territory. Eggs are laid in a 10-15cm deep hole dug by the female in a patch of exposed soft or sandy ground. Each clutch contains 6 to 18 eggs. Once the eggs have been laid, the females covers the hole with soil and scatters debris over the top.

The offspring’s sex is determined by the temperature of the nest site. Temperatures below 26º C and above 28ºC tend to yield more female offspring, whilst temperatures between 26-28ºC increase likelihood of male offspring. After hatching, the young remain close to the nest site and group together away from the adults.

Diet

Dragons are omnivorous consuming both plant and animal matter such as berries, flowers, fruits (e.g. lilly pilly fruits), small frogs, insects (e.g. mosquitoes, cicadas), yabbies, small fish and worms.

Identifying Water Dragons

Eastern Water Dragons have large angular heads with nuchal and vertebral crests running down the back of their bodies. Nuchal crests are spines centrally located at the base of the head which decrease in size as they continue down the dragon’s back (vertebral crests) until the end of its tail.

Identifying a Dragon
Identifying a Dragon

Male, female or juvenile – How to tell the difference?

Male Eastern Water Dragon
Male Water Dragon with a red chest, extending under their armpits. Sub-adult males and females sometimes spot a pale red colouration on their chest.
Female Eastern Water Dragon
Females and juveniles tend to be less colourful than the males.