Eastern Water Dragon Fact File

Intellagama lesueurii


6 kg






Wild - 28 years

Captive - 40 years



Plants, Insects

conservation status


Lest Concern

There be Dragons!

Australians have some weird neighbours. In many cities along the east coast of the country you can find the eastern water dragon living alongside humans in their cities. This species has been one of the few able to adapt to a life alongside humans and exploit the new habitats offered by cities.

Despite their fearsome name the eastern water dragon primarily feeds on vegetation and invertebrates.


What does the Eastern Water Dragon look like?

The body of an eastern water dragon is covered with scales that are typically colored brown in females and juveniles and yellowish-brown in males. On the legs they have black scales with pale spots. These legs are long with claws to assist in climbing. White scales cover the face and cheeks. They have small black lines across the top of the body. The underside is a pale brown in females. Males have a crimson red belly which is most evident during the breeding season. Running back from the eye is a broad black stripe.

Running along the back and the head is a crest of spines. These are tallest on the head getting shorter as they run down the body.

Across the tail are black bands. Their long tail is thin coming to a point at the end. This shape aids in swimming. There tail is able to regenerate if lost or severed.

Their body length may be as much as 1m (3.25ft) and their weight varies between 1 and 1.3kg (2.25 and 2.75lbs). Males are typically larger than females.

They are the largest member of the dragon lizard family found in Australia.


How does the Eastern Water Dragon survive in its habitat?

The long tail of the eastern water dragon is flattened along its edges. This shape helps them to push their body through the water when swimming.

Their nostrils are located at the top of their head. This is used to breathe when sitting below the surface of the water. By being able to fully submerge their body they can regulate the temperature of their body.

Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii)


What does the Eastern Water Dragon eat?

The Eastern water dragon is an omnivore. They eat a wide variety of food including insects, other reptiles, worms, frogs, small mammals, vegetation, flowers, berries and fruit.

Juveniles feed mostly on insects and become increasingly omnivorous as they grow.


Where do you the find the Eastern Water Dragon?

Australia is the native home of the Eastern water dragon. Here they can be found from Victoria in the South up through New South Wales and in to Queensland. An introduced population has been established around Adelaide in South Australia.

Previously they were listed as occurring in New Guinea but this has not been able to be confirmed and it appears this report was an error.


Where can the Eastern Water Dragon survive?

Eastern water dragons make their home in forests and coastal areas. With the expansion of human habitations they are found in urban areas including city parks in the middle of built up areas.

Most of their habitat is found near water.

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How does the Eastern Water Dragon produce its young?

Breeding takes place in spring as warmer weather begins. Typically populations in the north breed earlier than those in the south.

Males will form a territory and prevent other males from entering this. They may compete and attempt to flip the opponent on to their back. Fights may last as long as 10 minutes.

Males will head-bob and tail flick to try and attract a female.

In captivity they may breed twice in a single season though this has not been reported in the wild.

Eggs are laid in a hole in sandy soil. Their clutch of eggs may include 6-18 eggs. Populations which live in cities dig deeper holes. It is thought this may be due to higher temperatures or increased predation.

The eggs are incubated for a period of 3 months. Young are independent from birth with no parental care.

Sexual maturity is tied to size. Males reach maturity at 210mm (8.27in) which is achieved in the wild in 5 years though in captivity may occur as young as two.


What does the Eastern Water Dragon do during its day?

Eastern water dragons are primarily arboreal and spend time sitting in trees. When a predator approaches they will drop in to the water to escape them.

They can remain underwater for as much as 30 minutes.

Typically they walk on all four legs though they can run at high speed on their back legs.

Eastern water dragons primarily communicate through visual cues. These include head bobbing, licking and arm movements.

Like many other dragon lizards the eastern water dragon is equipped with a 'parietal eye.' This is located on top of their head and is sensitive to changes in light. Despite being called an eye it is unable to form images.

As an eastern water dragon grows they will shed their old skin replacing it with new, fresh skin. This occurs at regular intervals throughout their life with the regularity decreasing as they age.

They are active by day and will spend their time basking in the sun. Due to a lower preferred body temperature they can remain in the water or in the shade.

In the north of their range the eastern water dragon is active year round. In the south they will brumate (similar to hibernation) and slow their metabolism in an established burrow or between boulders. They will seal the opening of their burrow with dirt.

Mature males will form a territory which they defend against entry by other individuals through head-bobbing and regular patrols. They may tolerate immature males within their habitat who do not display these behaviours as a mark of respect to the dominant males. The red colored underside of the male is used in displays over territory. A large number of males may have territories in close proximity to one another.

Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii)

Predators and Threats

What stops the Eastern Water Dragon from surviving and thriving?

The main predators of eastern water dragons are reptiles including snakes such the death adder or red bellied black snake and lizards such as the lace monitor. Predatory birds such as kookaburras will also target them. Larger water dragons have been known to cannibalise smaller individuals.

Introduced species such as foxes, cats and dogs include water dragons in their diet. In areas with a population of the introduced cane toad the population density of the eastern water dragon is lower.

Humans pose no major threat to this species. They may be collected in small numbers for the pet trade though this is illegal due to them being protected. These animals breed readily in captive and there should be little need for wild collection to supply the trade.

Quick facts

The Intellagama portion of their scientific name means ‘intelligent lizard.’ The lesueurii portion of the scientific name is in honour of the French naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur.

Previously the species was included in the Physignathus genus alongside the Chinese water dragon. In 2012 research confirmed that the Australia water dragons were distinct enough to warrant the creation of a new genus, Intellagama in which they are now included.

Two subspecies of the Australian water dragon are listed. One is described here, the eastern water dragon, Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii while the second is known as the Gippsland Water Dragon, Intellagama lesueurii howittii. The Gippsland water dragon is similar in appearance to the Eastern water dragon but typically has a blue-green tinge to their back scales. They occur in the south of Australia through Victoria, the ACT and southern NSW with the eastern water dragon ranging North from Sydney in to Queensland.

Fossil evidence suggests that this genus has inhabited Australia for approximately 20 million years.


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