Jump to content

Australian/Eastern water dragon care sheet


Recommended Posts

Thanks to all the people who helped me and anyone who suggested things to also go in. :hail:

I thought I would do my best to do a write up on how to care for Australian or Eastern water dragons as there don't seem to be many out there. As they become more and more popular as pets here in New Zealand, and being the cheapest dragon in NZ, they are often being bought by people who haven't gone and done the research before hand and then ask why they are having problems with their dragons and it turns out they have no UVB light and other basic requirements. Also i'd like to say that I am by no means an expert on these animals but I am using information I have gained through keeping mine, things I have learnt from other more experienced keepers and research I have gathered through many different books and articles on the internet.

Australian or Eastern water dragons

Physignathus lesueurii, lesueurii


Eastern water dragons are stunning, prehistoric looking lizards that make great pets. They have lots of personality and are very active lizards. They don't take much effort to care for and are easy to set up.


The EWD is a large lizard with males reaching up to 2 1/2 - 3 ft and females reaching 2 - 2 1/2 ft. Adult EWDs can be sexed by the males being larger than females, having a much thicker and shorter head, a much more dominant crest to that of the females and a red underside. Females occasionally have a red underside but males tend to be much more vivid in colour. Females have a much longer and skinnier head, and tend to have much duller colouration, for example the black/grey bar behind their eyes is usually more pale than the male's.


They have been recorded to live up to 28+ years but a common age for captive lizards is 15 years.

Indoor housing

Enclosure size

- Hatchlings (pair) an enclosure measuring 900mm by 450mm by 450mm (L,W,H)

- Yearlings from 1-2 years (pair) an enclosure measuring 1200mm by 600mm by 600mm (L,W,H)

- Adults 3 years plus (pair) an enclosure measuring 1800mm by 600mm by 800mm (L,W,H)

Water dragons being active lizards need lots of room to run around so these dimensions should ideally be the minimum. As they say, the bigger, the better.



Water dragons weren't given their names for nothing! They require a large pool of water to swim and soak in - the water should be deep enough for them to fully submerge themselves in as they retreat to the water if they feel threatened or scared. They may stay under the water for several minutes and adults even sometimes over an hour! Make sure they can get out of the water with ease if they need to, a piece of wood or a rock emerging from the water is perfect - its also somewhere were they can cool of without actually entering the water. Make sure to either provide a filter for the water or regularly change the water as they defecate in it. It is important to not heat the water as if the water is too warm, you may find your dragon will spend too much time in there and may not hop out to bask. If they stay in the water too long they run the risk of fungal infections. It needs to be kept cool as the water are is their main way to thermoregulate, they will use it to cool off. The water area should be at least 1/4 of the enclosure floor. Adding an air stone or pump to the water may encourage them to enter the water if you find they don't like to go into the water.


There are many substrates you can use in your vivarium.

Outdoor turf - This is a very common substrate used by many hobbyists. It is easy to clean, many different colours available, safe for your lizard, and its also quite appealing to the eye. Paper towels are also used but a bit of an eye sore. Tip: purchase two pieces that cover the entire floor so you can wash one while you use the other one.

Sand - This is okay but can be very messy. You also run the risk of impaction if you feed on the substrate. If you use sand I would highly recommend you feed in either a large dish or separate feeding enclosure.

Bark/mulch/aspen - This looks quite effective and is cheap but can also be quite messy. Avoid products made of pine or cedar as it has a very strong smell which is not liked by the dragons at all!

Stones/pebbles - I would stay away from these as small pebbles can be ingested and can cause impaction. They are also very cold and hard.

Sterile potting soil - This can look really nice and you can grow live plants in it but is also very messy, you will be constantly changing the water dish and wiping the front glass etc

These are the most popular substrates but there are more being used. My favourite is outdoor turf because of the above reasons.


You have the option of live or fake plants, fake plants can be easily cleaned and now look very realistic, they can be pricey though however once you have them they can be used for years. Live plants are more aesthetically pleasing but quite a few are toxic to reptiles and it can be hard to know which ones are and which aren't. Usually ferns are okay, Bromeliads are also fine, there are many more but i wont go into that.

Other decor

You want to have branches in your enclosure! You want different sized branches and rocks so your lizard has many places to run around while being off the substrate. Water dragons are semi arboreal and spend a fair bit of time perched up on branches and logs, a branch over hanging the water is also good.

Lighting and heating

This is a fairly simple aspect to the care of EWDs but many people are often confused about this topic. Water dragons are diurnal lizards so they need UVB/UVA light. A 10.0 UVB bulb is recommended but a 5.0 will do if there are branches close to the light. Tubes are usually preferred over compact bulbs but both do the job - make sure you follow the manufacturers directions as there is a fine line between too much UV and not enough! REMEMBER TO REPLACE THE UVB BULB EACH YEAR!

A basking spot is also required to keep the enclosure at a stable temperature and to create hot and cold ends withing the enclosure. There are many types of lighting to create basking spots. For example; basic spot lights, ceramic heat emitters, infrared bulbs, metal halide bulbs and many more. I prefer just basic spot lights as they are cheap and do the job while still providing light. Stay away from bulbs which claim to provide both heat and UVB as usually this is not the case. Using these bulbs by themselves can lead to lack in calcium absorption which can cause MBD or metabolic bone disease which can permanently damage your lizard and can leave it with major back problems and weak bones. Always purchase a safety cage to cover the bulbs as water dragons are excellent jumpers and can get burned if they touch the bulb. Heat mats are not needed as water dragons in the wild get all their heat from above. Don't use heat rocks! these have been know to cause serious burns to your reptiles. Temperatures in the enclosure should be: cool end - 20-25C, hot end 25-30C and basking spot 35-40C.

Outdoor housing

Water dragons can be kept outside all year round in most places in New Zealand. An outdoor enclosure provides many advantages and you will probably get to see more of their natural behavior. You are also usually able to build a much larger enclosure which makes a happier lizard.

It is usually advised that you keep your dragon indoors for the first and maybe second winter depending on size. Many experienced keepers keep them outside from the beginning as this can help with fertility and makes a much hardier lizard however it is good practice to leave your dragon inside for the first year or so. If you don’t, you may find he will freeze during the winter and not come back out of hibernation and ultimately die.

Enclosure size

The size of an outdoor enclosure should ideally be a minimum of a 2m by 2m by 2m. This could happily house a small group and gives you lots of room to build ponds, plant shrubs etc. I won’t go into how to build enclosures but there are a few threads on here showing other peoples enclosures.


Set up


An outdoor enclosure enables you to build or purchase a much larger pond or similar. Just like the indoor enclosures you want to keep the water clean. Investing in a pond filter will save a lot of time cleaning.


For substrate there are the indoor options or you could do a mixture of substrates to mimic their natural habitat. In an outdoor set up I would use bark or mulch as you don’t need to worry so much about the mess and it looks very natural.


There are many types of plants you can use. A few examples are; bromeliads, types of ferns, grass, small shrubs and a heap more. These can be planted straight into the ground. It’s also beneficial to grow edible plants in the enclosure. You can grow strawberries, blue berries, dandelion etc., all parts of the dandelion and they are easy to grow.

Squash of all kinds makes an easy and excellent additional staple veg. grated or cut up. Carrots also but as an occasional treat.

Other décor

You want to still have many branches and hollow logs etc. You can create waterfalls and place large rocks here and there to help mimic their natural environment. Remember water dragons like to rest on high branches and bask.

Lighting and heating

Lighting and heating is not needed in an outdoor set up. A basking bulb can be used but not necessary. You may want to fix a UVB tube to the roof of the enclosure as if you have used clearlite or something that will reduce the amount of UVB rays that get in.


Water dragons should be offered a wide variety of foods for a healthy diet.

Some good foods are;

- Mealworms

- Crickets

- Wax moths

- Locusts

- Occasional pinky mice

- Low fat cat food - the casserole type, not pellets or jelly meat. avoid types with fish.

- Ox heart with fat and sinew removed.

- Shredded greens like dandelion - the whole plant can be used, not just the flowers, rocket and clover

- Fruits like strawberries, grated apple, raspberry, banana, and grated squash - a good and healthy way to bulk up salads

It is important to offer a mixture of fruit/vege and meat/insects at each meal time. A juveniles diet should be 60% meat/insects to 40% fruit/vege. An adults diet should be 60% fruit/vege to 40% meat/insects.

It's a good idea to add vitamins and calcium to their food. You can purchase vitamin and calcium powder from pet stores. This helps them get all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. Make sure you follow the manufacturers directions. Too much can be harmful!

I hope i have covered everything but this pretty sums up the basics of Australian water dragon care. Feel free to add to this or change if necessary:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How do they go with the high vitamin E levals in grated carrot?

I imagine carrots are more of a sometimes/occasional food for them, like it's supposed to be with beardies as well.

Although did you mean vitamin A? As I didn't think carrots had a high concentration of Vit E? :dunno:

But in saying that it's also very hard to get a Vit A toxicity from plant material because of the form the vitamin comes in, would need to be doubled up with an overdose of vitamin powder before it's problem.

Can't say carrot is beneficial at all in the calcium department either for them.

Squash of all kinds makes an easy and excellent additional staple veg. grated or cut up.

Should point out that the whole dandelion plant is a edible and that the leaves can make a great addition to a staple diet. So everyone knows it's not just the flowers :). So many people get the impression the rest of the plant is poisonous...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

people use to feed cat food to turtles not that long ago.

as more appropriate foods become available there is often a shift in the food used.

grated squash, as mentioned above, is excellent for adding bulk to salads.

and dandelion leaves probably more a staple than the flowers ... super easy to grow too :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nothing beats variation, the lizard is only going to have problems if you feed "carrot" for an example all the time. a small amount of it is fine. if you feed your lizard on only one thing, doesn't matter what it is it not going to be good for it. the old 70% greens, 20% veg 10% fruit works well i think. i try to get 10 different things in the bowl. everything in moderation

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

oops this thread seems to have gone off road! probably really important to finish it as w dragons the biggest legal reptile we can keep. enclosure size indoor or out can never be to big for natural behaviour and less stress. if ya gona keep them inside after 2 years old. enclosure should be at least 2m high by 2 m long by 1 m deep for a mature pair or trio,aaaand build a stand for it so dragons can perch above human head hight so they feel safe. also give them hides for the same reason. heavy filteration for water area. dosent have to be expensive,can be a fishtank pump into a fishbin filled with scoria or shellgrit and water cress e.c.t. never keep 2 mature males together in an enclosure less than 3m by 3m by 2m high even then you gona get one intimidated through breeding season. in the wild they seem to defend around 10 to 20 metres of riverbank. the adult males tend to defend the ground in the wild,while the females tend to hang out in the trees and branches depending on the time of day. the males in outside enclosures tend to stay active longer through autum,winter than the females presuming to defend territory . if you cant accommodate waterdragons long term in a decent size enclosure,make shure you have a backup plan as in some one with a large outside enclosure to take them off your hands. otherwise don't go there! they seem to like heavily planted enclosures and tend to do most of there basking morning and arvo,you need to make sure they can hide from the midday sun and add some shade to part of there water area so they can thermoregulate. will rant more later....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
  • 2 months later...

So i will likely be getting a water dragon in a few weeks. it is a hatchling around 1-2 months and really small, do you guys think flies and moths (which i feed my geckos) would be a fine staple for a month or less, until i can get a stable breeding pattern with the locusts i have at the moment?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...