Philippine Sailfin Lizard Fact File

Hydrosaurus pustulatus

Credit: Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons








Wild 10 years

Captive 20 years



Leave, Fruit, Insects

Conservation Status



The Philippine sailfin lizard is named for the large sail like crest which is present along the back of these reptiles. It is thought that this is used to increase surface area when basking in the sun. On the tail it helps them to swim.

These lizards are adept swimmers and when threatened will leap towards the water. They can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes as they wait for the threat to pass.

This species is omnivorous. Juveniles tend to focus on animal prey while adults eat a range of leaves, fruit, insects, fish and more.

Unfortunately these animals are increasingly threatened by habitat loss, pollution and collection for the pet trade.

Read more about these remarkable reptiles below.


What does the Philippine Sailfin Lizard look like?

Across their body these lizards are covered by grey-green scales. Some yellowish patches are present on the sides and throat.

Their name is taken from the crest which resembles a fin. This runs down the back and then on to the tail which is larger than the back. It may reach up to 8cm (2in) high on their tail. The fins are an adaptation to help them swim.

The sail may play a role in helping them to heat up by expanding their surface area.

On top of the head is a smaller crest of tooth-like scales.

The toes of this lizard are flattened and can allow them to move across the water.

These lizards are equipped with a parietal or pineal eye. This sits on top of the scull and helps the lizard to identify the angle of the sun's rays.

Much of their length is made up of the tail at the end of the body. This is an adaptation which helps to push them through the water when swimming. To assist this it is flattened.

An average Philippine sailfin lizard will measure 80-100cm (32-39in) long with a weight between 2.3 and 3kg (5-6.5lbs). Males tend to have a larger fin on their back and a bigger head.


What does the Philippine Sailfin Lizard eat?

This species is omnivorous. Juveniles tend to feed on more animal prey and transition to greater amounts of plant matter as they grow. As adults they primarily eat leaves and fruit with insects, fish and frogs taken opportunistically.

Philippine Sailfin Lizard

Credit: Copyright. The Animal Facts.


Where can you find the Philippine Sailfin Lizard?

Asia is the native home of the Philippine sailfin lizard. As suggested by their name this species is restricted to the Philippines.


What kind of environment does the Philippine Sailfin Lizard live in?

This species is semi-aquatic. It is found near water in areas of moist forest. They will live near humans in open cultivated areas.

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How does the Philippine Sailfin Lizard produce its young?

During the breeding season the males head will take on violet coloration. Breeding takes place from February to July.

Females will burrow their eggs in a riverbank. Each clutch includes 2-8 eggs with females only producing one clutch each year.

The eggs undergo incubation for two months. Hatching tends to occur during the rainy season.

At birth the young are responsible for their own care. They are agile and can swim from birth.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 3.5 years old.


What does the Philippine Sailfin Lizard do with its day?

Part of their day is spent basking. This is mostly undertaken on a branch overhanging in the water. If disturbed they can drop in to the water to escape predators.

These lizards are able to remain submerged underwater for up to 15 minutes.

Philippine Sailfin Lizard

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Philippine Sailfin Lizard?

Natural predators of this species include birds of prey, snakes and fish.

When threatened this species will dive in to water in an attempt to escape a predator. The speed of juveniles will also help them to escape predators.

Populations of this species are considered to be declining across their range.

These animals are threatened through habitat loss for conversion to agriculture and logging operations. Across their range their is also water pollution from chemicals and increases in sedimentation.

Large numbers of this species are collected for the pet trade both locally and overseas. Some are also collected for use as food.

Quick facts

The Hydrosaurus portion of their scientific name roughly translates as water lizard.

These lizards may also be known simply as the sailfin lizard or as the soa-soa water lizard.

Philippine Sailfin Lizard

Credit: Tim Strater from Rotterdam, Nederland, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Verhoef-Verhallen, E., 2006. The complete encyclopedia of wild animals. Netherlands: Rebo International.

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Ledesma, M., Brown, R., Sy, E. & Rico, E.L. 2009. Hydrosaurus pustulatusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T10335A3194587. Downloaded on 16 November 2021.

Oregon Zoo. 2021. Philippine sailfin lizard. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 November 2021]. 2021. Lizard (Philippine Sail-Fin) – Dudley Zoo and Castle. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 November 2021].

Tim Faulkner. 2021. Philippine Sailfin Lizard. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 November 2021].

Louisville Zoo. 2021. Lizard, Philippine Sailfin. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 November 2021].

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