Australian Water Dragon

a close up of an Australian Water Dragon's head

Australian Water Dragons are large lizards native to Australia. They are one of the largest lizards in the world, growing up to 3 feet . They are somewhat territorial, and will defend their home against intruders. They are not aggressive towards humans, however, and will usually allow you to handle them without fear.

They are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. They are very agile, fast, and will climb trees and even swim underwater.

They are very clean, and enjoy bathing regularly. They are Water Dragons after all. They are very easy-to-care-for, and will thrive in a well designed home environment.

They are omnivores, and will eat almost anything. Their willingness to eat nearly anything is one of the great things about them. There are so many food choices for them. Because they don’t require any one thing, they won’t cost a fortune to feed.

You can purchase an Australian water dragon from a reptile store, or a breeder. The price you can expect to pay varies wildly from seller to seller. The low end is currently around $75. Most seem to cost between $125 and $150, and the high end seems to be over $200 with a few outliers reaching as high as $400 for a single lizard.

Australian Water Dragon Information

  • Average Length: 2 to 3 feet
  • Average Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Scaled
  • Skin Colors: Shades of green with varying colored patches
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate 
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
  • Good Pet: Yes 
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Metabolic Bone Disease, Respiratory Problems and Obesity
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 10 to 15 years


Australian Water Dragons are found in eastern parts of Australia. They live close to water in forests or other wooded areas.

Physical Appearance of Australian Water Dragons

an Australian Water Dragon at the bottom of their enclosure looking up

Australian Water Dragons typically are a greenish color with shades of white and black stripes. Their skin color varies depending on the subspecies.

Eastern Water Dragons skin have a brownish-gray color on their upper body with black stripes running along the side of their body and tail. A black patch runs from the back of their eyes to their neck. The legs of Eastern Water Dragons are black with patches and dots of gray. Their tail has stripes of black and gray. Their belly is yellow to brown. Male adults have bright red skin on the chest and upper part of their stomach.

The Gippsland Water Dragons have olive-green to brown colored skin on their upper body. Vertical black stripes extend along the sides of their body and tail. They don’t have a dark stripe running from the back of their eye like found in the Eastern type. Adult males will have a dark-blue chest with patches of blue and yellow circling their throat and neck.

Female Water Dragons of both subspecies don’t have the bright colors on their chests that the males do. Their heads are also narrower than the much larger male Water Dragons heads.

Apart from the color differences, both sub-species have identical physical features. Male Australian Water Dragons grow up to 3 feet long and females up to 2 feet. Their tail makes up around two-thirds of their length.

Australian Water Dragons have an angular head with similar sized eyes and ears. They have strong muscular legs with large toes on the back legs. They have a powerful tail that helps them swim fast in the water. Australian Water Dragons can regrow their tail if it gets cut or bitten off.

They have prominent crests on their neck and along the top of their back. The neck crest starts from their head and is tall and pointed. The spikes run along their spine to the base of their tail, becoming smaller while moving towards their tail. They have small scales all along the sides of their body.

Temperament of Australian Water Dragons

an Australian Water Dragon on a basketball court looking up at something

Australian Water Dragons are active during the day and spend most of their time climbing, basking or resting on branches.

They are friendly and receptive to human handling but young Australian Water Dragons are known to get jumpy when they’re afraid. Regular human handling should help them get used to being handled and have them be less afraid.

Australian Water Dragons are territorial with other Water Dragons and we recommend keeping them alone. Keeping two males or females together can lead to fighting. A male and female can be kept together but it may lead to them breeding.

If they feel threatened they may use their tails to whip whatever they’re afraid of.

Their Compatibility with Children

Children can be allowed to handle Australian Water Dragons but always have an adult supervise their handling until you know how they will play together.

Anyone handling or touching Australian Water Dragons should always wash their hands after being around them. Most lizards are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should keep your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from your monitor lizard.

Living Space for Australian Water Dragons

They can be kept in large vivariums with wooden sides. A fully transparent enclosure like glass is not recommended because it may make your Water Dragon feel less secure. You’ll want to get an enclosure that is covered or opaque from the sides.

There should be several vents on one side of the enclosure. Having the vents open on the warm side lets the hot basking air bleed over to the warm side and then escape.

Enclosure/Cage Size

an Australian Water Dragon on the ground in nature

A 4Lx3Wx24H’ is the minimum recommended enclosure size for a single Australian Water Dragon. As usual a larger enclosure will be better for them and give them more space to move around. The longer the enclosure is, the easier it will be to create the heat gradient that they need for regulating their body temperature.

Younger Australian Water Dragons may feel insecure in a larger enclosure. You can either keep them in a smaller enclosure or you can add a partition to block off half of their enclosure until they get bigger. Another option is to add lots of decorations to a large aquarium. The decorations will help them feel secure and should be removed as they grow.

Decorations

Because Australian Water Dragons like to climb, several branches should be added inside their enclosure. Chunks of cork wood and climbing branches of different sizes can give them a lot to climb on. Place them in a spaced out way to let your pet climb and bask. It’s important that the branches and wood are strong enough to support your pet’s weight.

One of the branches that they can climb on should be kept close to the heat source to let your Water Dragon bask.

Like most reptiles they like having a few reptile boxes or caves so they have spaces to hide.

Some plants should be added to make their enclosure look natural. Plants will help keep the enclosure humid and give your pet some natural hiding spots.

Substrate

You’ll want a substrate that will keep the enclosure humid. Good substrate options include coarse wood chips, peat moss or fertilizer-free soil. Wood chips are good because they are cheap and easy to clean and replace.

Best Climate for Australian Water Dragons

To let Australian Water Dragons regulate their body heat, separate warm and hot areas need to be created using heating equipment.

an Australian Water Dragon basking on a tree branch in their enclosure

Temperature

The warm side of the enclosure should be kept around 80°F. The temperature should be kept between 100 to 110°F in the basking area. The basking area should cover roughly one-third of the tank with no heating equipment on the warm side or the enclosure could get too hot. 

A basking lamp connected to a thermostat can be used as a heating source. The basking lamp should be kept on for 10 to 12 hours a day.

The night-time temperature can be allowed to get down to as low as 80°F. If you have problems keeping the enclosure at 80°F, under tank heaters could be a good way to keep the temperature from getting too low.

Humidity

Australian Water Dragons need a humidity of around 70 percent. The enclosure should be misted regularly to keep the humidity high. If misting the tank is not always possible you may use an automatic dripper. Automatic tank misters are a great way to keep the enclosure humid without having to worry about the health of your Water Dragon.

Lighting

Australian Water Dragons need UVB lighting. A 10-percent UVB lamp should be used in the basking spot and kept on for 10-12 hours a day.

Water Source

Australian Water Dragons like to spend time in the water, they are Water Dragons afterall. A big water container large enough for them to soak should be kept in their enclosure. 

The Attention an Australian Water Dragon Needs

Several thermometers and a hygrometer should be kept inside their enclosure. Keep the thermometers in both the warm and hot sides of the tank. Regularly check the readings and make changes to their enclosure if needed.

While handling your Australian Water Dragons make sure to be slow and calm. Sudden movements can frighten your pet.

Health Issues

Common health issues in Australian Water Dragons are:

Obesity

Water Dragons are not picky eaters and will usually eat whatever you feed them. Overfeeding can cause obesity that can lead to other health issues. If you see your pet gaining weight, scale back the amount that they’re fed to help them lose the extra weight.

Respiratory Problems

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Skin Infections

Australian Water Dragons can have skin infections for a number of reasons. The main reason they’ll usually get an infection is because their enclosure is too humid. Other reasons are that they have skin that they’re unable to shed, their enclosure isn’t well ventilated or that it isn’t cleaned often enough.

Symptoms of a skin infection are:

  • Discolored patches of skin
  • Yellowish blisters
  • Swollen areas of skin

If you suspect your Water Dragon has a skin infection you’ll want to bring them to your vet for a check-up. Your vet will prescribe an antibiotic that will need to be applied to the affected area for 10-14 days. You’ll also want to correct the conditions that lead to the infection.

Metabolic Bone Diseases

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Grooming and Care

Australian Water Dragons need to have a clean enclosure to live in. The substrate should be cleaned every day. The entire enclosure should get a deep cleaning once a month.

Sometimes your Australian Water Dragons may poop in their swimming area. Without proper cleaning it may be difficult to keep bacteria under control, leading to health issues. Their water from their pool should be changed regularly, or filtered with aquarium filters. Aquarium filters will help extend the amount of time between water changes in their pool.

Feeding An Australian Water Dragon

mealworms are a great meal for Australian Water Dragons

Australian Water Dragons are omnivore lizards that can be fed vegetables, fruits and insects.

The majority of their diet should be brown crickets. Crickets are nutritious and available at most pet stores and online. If your Australian Water Dragons doesn’t eat brown crickets, try giving them locust or black crickets. For treats you can feed them calciworms, mealworms, cockroaches or waxworms. These insects are high in fat and shouldn’t be fed to your Water Dragon more than twice a week.

Mealworms and cockroaches can be difficult to eat for young water dragons. Feed these insects only to adult Australian Water Dragons (older than 2 years). Young water dragons can be fed mosquitoes or flies.

Gut-load the feeder insects before feeding them to your Australian Water Dragons. Gut loading involves giving nutritious food to feeder insects before feeding them to your pet. When lizards eat the feeder insects, the nutrition passes on to them.

Pinky mice can be fed occasionally to adult water dragons.

Vegetables like green beans, sweet potato, clover leaves, dandelion leaves and yellow squash can also be fed to them. Finely chop the vegetables before giving them to your Australian Water Dragon. Vegetables should be only a small proportion of their diet.

When it comes to fruits, Australian Water Dragons are picky but not all of them will eat fruits. Try feeding them strawberries or bananas and see if they’ll eat them.

Occasionally dust their food with vitamin and calcium supplements to prevent health problems like MBD.

Related Questions:

Are Australian Water Dragons’ Endangered?

Currently there is some threat to Australian Water Dragons because of climate change as well as invasive species to their habitat. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) currently estimates that 7% (as of 2018) are at risk of extinction.

Can Water Dragons Swim?

Australian Water Dragons can swim and stay submerged for up to an hour. Their tails help them swim fast in the water. They’re able to move faster in the water than on land.

While in the water they’ll usually be hunting for something to eat, like insects, small mammals or even fish. It’s not unusual for them to spend the majority of extremely hot days in the water or shade.