A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Eastern water dragon
Also called
creek water dragon and Australian water dragon

Physignathus lesueurii
Family: Agamidae
Suborder: Sauria
Order: Squamata
Class: Reptilia

Australian water dragons are water-loving, tree-dwelling lizards native to eastern Australia. Adults are large, brown-grey lizards with a black horizontal stripe from the bottom of the eye to their ear. They have a row of spikes from the back of their head down their back, and banding around their body, tail, and legs.

There is only one water dragon species in Australia, although a subspecies, Physignathus lesueurii howitti, lives in South Australia. One other species, Physignathus cocincinus, lives in south-east Asia.

Male eastern water dragons have red chests and larger heads than females. Males have brighter coloration, heavier jowls, and stronger crests. These features are not as prominent on juveniles and females.

Adult females grow to about 65 centimetres (just over two feet long), and males can grow to a metre (just over three feet long).

Skittish unless the colony gets used to people. Usually they jump into the water or run away quickly before you get a good look at them. They are curious, and will watch you from a distance either from the water or another safe area.

Using our photos

Photos on this website are copyright. If you want to use any, email us at: creeklife@gmail.com

Whispa's photos

Whispa was a very young eastern water dragon that our photographer found sitting on a rock.

The photographer said:
“It's always a thrill to get a good photo of a water dragon around the creek.

“They are hard to photograph because they nearly always know I'm coming before I see them. But I hear them splash in the water as they drop from overhanging branches or rocks.

“They have a few favourite spots around the creek that I visit occasionally. Usually all I hear is a splash as I approach, or air bubbles as they dive underwater. But they often then pop their head out of the water and watch me. Like this:

eastern_water_dragon_head (6K)

“One Saturday afternoon I startled a large water dragon that was crossing a track. It was right at my feet and darted into the undergrowth before I realized it was there.

“The day I found little Whispa sitting on a rock, there was a large water skink on the same rock. Whispa was only about 15 centimetres (6 inches) long. Then another baby dragon popped its head up from behind the rock, so I got photographs of the three of them.

“Whispa was curious, as most water dragons at the creek are, and seemed to puzzle over what I was doing (see the second-from-bottom photo on this page showing that special quizzical dragon look).

“But the young dragons don't have the fear that the adults at the creek have, and I can usually photograph them easily.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Whispa the baby eastern water dragon

Also called:
Australian water dragon, creek water dragon, or water dragon.

Physignathus lesueurii

eastern_water_dragon_1 (22K)Hey there dragon lovers.

I'm little Whispa, an eastern water dragon at Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.

I'm a new arrival at the creek, having only recently been born. (I can't tell you how many weeks ago I was born, because I haven't learned to count yet.)

Our lifestyle

eastern_water_dragons_skink_2 (27K)

A large number of us water dragon babies were born last summer. Some mothers have a weyr (a group of dragons) of up to 18 kids. (Weyr rhymes with cheer.) Some of the kids from our weyr moved down to the southern end of the creek, but Willy and I always play together around the rocks on the water near Dragonfly Cove.

You can see Willy and me in the photo above (we are at the end of the red arrows — Willy is just peering over the top of the rock). There is a close-up of us further down this page.

Behind us on the same rock is Mr Skink (yellow arrow). He's an eastern water skink, and he is 30 centimetres long (12 inches), which is twice my size at present. Some of the Skink family enjoy this rock as much as we do, as it gets filtered sun, but is protected a little from kookaburras and butcherbirds who may think we look like a nutritious meal.

Other young dragons

water_dragon_baby_shimmy2 (17K)At right and below is my cousin Shimmy, who every morniing likes to be the first in our group to get to our play rock. The older dragons call us “the Rock Group”, because we are always playing on this rock.

Shimmy is now 25 centimetres long (10 inches) from mouth to tail.

Shimmy invented a great game called “Plop”. When people walk toward us, we all jump in the water, belly first, and make a “plop” sound. It's so funny when the people look at each other and ask “What was that?”

Here's a picture of Shimmy climbing up to dry off after playing “Plop” for some council workers.

water_dragon_baby_shimmy1 (22K)

Sun, rocks and water

eastern_water_dragons_3 (27K)You can see Willy and me in the picture at left. Willy spends more time down at the water, while I like the sun and fresh breeze at the top of the rocks.

Our tails are flattened at each side to help us swim. My mother told me this is a great asset when I want to escape danger. We can swim very well, for our tails act like an oar, and the older dragons sometimes float just below the water's surface for more than an hour with only their nostrils sticking out of the water. We sometimes even eat underwater.

We are curious, but shy

eastern_water_dragons_4 (11K)All the adult water dragons around our creek are shy. You are more likely to hear them than see them, because they will make a quick getaway as soon as they see or hear you coming.

But we are curious creatures. See the photo at left of one of the older dragons who jumped into the water when the photographer approached. But the dragon popped up to keep an eye on what was going on. The water had been churned up by heavy rain, and was looking muddy. But the adults like that, because it makes them less visible.

What do I eat?

eastern_water_dragon_5 (14K)Because I am still small, I like to eat small insects, small berries and fruit, and the tiny fish in the creek.

When I grow up I will learn to like a much wider array of food, such as crustaceans, molluscs, hatchling turtles, and mice.

I can catch some insects in mid-air if they come close enough, and if I dangle the end of my tail in the water it attracts schools of little fish that I can then dive in and eat.

The adult dragons tell me to watch out for the kookaburras and butcherbirds, who look out for tasty little morsels like me for their lunch.

eastern_water_dragon_6 (34K)

Other water dragon info

eastern_water_dragon_7 (24K)My tail is two-thirds of my total length (I posed for the photo at right so you could see). Remember, I am only 15 centimetres (6 inches) long, so my head and body are only 5 centimetres (2 inches) and my tail is 10 centimetres (4 inches).

When eastern water dragons walk or go for a slow run, we get around on all four legs. But if we have to run fast, we often use only our two back legs. They are stronger, and really help us move!

We have strong claws that allow us to climb trees and dig holes for nesting and hibernation. We hibernate over winter, and the older females at the creek usually start nesting in early October.

Mother water dragon digs a shallow nest about 10 to 15 centimetres (4-6 inches) deep, and lays from six to 18 eggs in a sunny spot in soft ground. Then she backfills the burrow and presses it down with her nose. When summer comes, the babies hatch out and there are more cute little dragons like me around the creek.

— Whispa the eastern water dragon