Water Dragons and Sailfin Lizards as Pets

Bearing fantastic crests and brilliant colors, the large, robust Water Dragons and Sailfin Lizards do indeed put one in mind of dragons…an impression that is reinforced by their explosive movements and ferocious hunting tactics! While they require a good deal of room and careful handling, owners invariably agree that these spectacular creatures are well-worth the efforts needed to maintain them.


The 2 Water Dragon and 3 Sailfin Lizard species are classified in the huge lizard family Agamidae. In early 2014, a new species of Sailfin Lizard was discovered in – of all places – a Manila food market! It has yet to be officially named.

Range and Habitat

The Asian or Chinese Water Dragon, Physignathus cocincinus, is found in southern China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, while the Australian Water Dragon, Intellagama lesueurii, inhabits New Guinea and eastern Australia.

The Philippine Sailfin Lizard, Hydrosaurus pustulatus, found along the coastline of many Philippine Islands, is the most commonly-kept species. The Amboina Sailfin, H. amboinensis, resides in Indonesia and New Guinea while Weber’s Sailfin Lizard, H. weberi, is restricted to the Indonesian islands of Ternate and Halmahera.

Both Water Dragons and Sailfin Lizards favor riverside forests, and rarely venture far from the water’s edge. They forage on the ground and in trees, and bask on limbs overhanging water. When threatened, they drop into the water and, propelled by muscular tails, swim to safety.

Appearance and Temperament

Water Dragons and Sailfin Lizards are strongly-built, alert and active, and sport thick tails and powerful limbs. All bear dragon-like crests to some degree, with the most spectacular being exhibited by male Philippine Sailfin Lizards, Hydrosaurus pustulatus. Reaching over 3 feet in length, these impressive beasts have huge crests along the head, back and tail, and are clad in green, neon purple and red-tinted blue…truly a lizard enthusiast’s dream! Depending upon the species, the background color of the others is emerald green to brown, and they measure 2-3 feet long when fully-grown.

Water Dragon Housing

Water Dragons and Sailfin Lizards need very large enclosures that provide both floor and climbing space, security in the form of real or artificial plants, and a large pool of water. If startled, they will drop from their basking perches, so care must be taken to arrange a soft spot or deep pool below. When kept in close confinement, these active lizards will rub their snouts in escape attempts and become subject to stress-related diseases. Handle-ability varies by individual, but all make spectacular exhibit animals. Both Water Dragon species are bred by hobbyists but nearly all Sailfin Lizards in the trade are wild-caught, and captive breeding remains rare.

Water Dragon Diet

Wild Water Dragons and Sailfin Lizards feed upon insects, spiders, fresh water crabs and other invertebrates, fishes, frogs, tadpoles, lizards and small snakes. Fruit, leaves and seeds have also been reported in the diet, but pets vary in their acceptance of such foods.

As pets, a highly-varied diet, calcium and vitamin supplementation, and exposure to UVB is essential for success with these fascinating lizards. A diet rich in pink mice has been linked to kidney, eye and liver ailments in pet Asian Water Dragons.