Friday, May 6, 2011
Species of the Day: Australian Water Dragon
Scientific Name: Physignathus lesueurii
Adult Size: 2 to 3 1/2 feet
Range: The easternmost third of Australia
Habitat: Forested and grassland regions, particularly near a permanent water source
The Australian Water Dragon has roughly the same body shape as its cousin, the Chinese Water Dragon, and is mostly brown in color, with a white head and a dark bar extending behind the eyes, with more lighter colored bands over their bodies. Female Water Dragons have a slightly darker head and lack the contrast of a male dragon's patterns. Male dragons tend to be larger than females, with bigger heads and crests. Their crest runs from the base of the head down to the end of the tail. A male's throat and belly is a rusty red in color while these areas tend to be a creamy white in color in the females. Australian Water Dragons are nervous as babies, but will tame down quite well with age and regular handling. They make great starter lizards, their only real problem being that they require a lot of living space.
Baby Australian Water Dragons can start out in a ten gallon aquarium but will quickly out-grow it, so its usually cheaper to simply start out with the enclosure that they will live in as an adult. An adult enclosure should be 4 feet long and 3 feet wide at the least. Height is also an important feature of any enclosure for an Australian Water Dragon, as they are semi arboreal, spending time in the wild on tree branches overhanging a body of water, where they can beat a hasty retreat by simply dropping into the safety of the water if danger presents itself. A few horizontal branches set up in the enclosure, with one under the basking light will be greatly appreciated. The larger the enclosure the better, since too small an enclosure can stress the animal out and cause it to rub its snout raw against the sides of the enclosure, leading to bacterial infections. As their name suggests, Water Dragons should have access to a pool of water at all times for soaking and swimming. Australian Water Dragons require moderate to high humidity from 60 to 80%, which may require regular misting of the enclosure. Planting non-toxic plants or placing sphagnum moss around the enclosure can also help maintain appropriate humidity levels.
The substrate or bedding you use is one of the most important parts of your Water Dragon's home. Their are many that can be used, the easiest being a type of astro turf used for mini golf courses, cut to fit the enclosure. Be sure to cut two identical pieces so that they can be easily switched out for cleaning. Naturalistic substrates, like potting soil, orchid bark or ground coconut husks and shells can be used, but require more maintenance. Australian Water Dragons require a daytime heat gradient of 84 to 88 degrees F, with a basking area of 90 to 95 degrees F. Ultraviolet lighting providing UVB and UVA is required for proper absorption of calcium and skeletal growth. Australian Water Dragons are true omnivores. They can be fed appropriately sized insects, pinkie mice, feeder fish and day-old quail chicks. In addition to prey items, Water Dragons also require some greens and vegetables such as Romaine lettuce, dandelion, collard and mustard greens, yellow squash, sweet potato, parsnips, green beans and grated carrots. Fruit should also be given and could include grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas and various types of melons. Baby dragons can be a little stubborn when it comes to eating their fruits and veggies. An easy way to remedy this is to dress up the salad with lots of colors such as purple grapes (which are their favorite) and even some live mealworms.