A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Eastern water dragon
Also called
Australian water dragon, creek water dragon, 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, grey banded lizards with a black smudged horizontal stripe from 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.

Their tails are 2-and-a-half times as long as their body (measured from about the back of the neck to back 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 are more brightly coloured, with 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

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Willa's photos

Willa has some favourite tree branches overhanging the water of the creek. Some are perfectly contoured for her body, so she spends much of her non-hunting time on them.

The photographer said:
“I knew for some time where to find Willa before I actually got photos of her. Every time I got within about 15 metres of her I heard a splash as she jumped into the water.

“Several water dragons hang around this area because it is difficult for humans to get close without the dragons seeing or hearing you.

“On a warm day in March I finally got photos of Willa lying on a dead branch. As I approached, I heard the usual splash of a water dragon jumping into the water.

“Also as usual, the tip of the male dragon's head appeared several metres further upstream as the curious dragon came to the surface to watch me.

“While I was watching the dragon in the water, I was suddenly amazed to see Willa still reclining on an overhanging branch.

“She watched me carefully without jumping in the water until I moved one footstep too close. She jumped into the water, and then I saw two heads slightly raised above the surface, watching me.

“Sometimes I unexpectedly come across dragons crossing the track in front of me.

“They scurry quickly — always running in the direction they are facing, either toward the water or to the nearest thick vegetation.

“When I do manage to get close to one, I stay extremely still. Sudden movement seems to send them scurrying.

“I have never seen them turn and run unless I am in their way — usually they go forward to the nearest shelter.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Willa the eastern water dragon

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

Physignathus lesueurii

Hello. I'm Willa, one of the eastern water dragons at Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.

Although I get around all areas of the creek, I have a few favourite branches and rocks that I lie on to rest and sunbake. You can see me basking in the sun in the photo below.

Physignathus_lesueurii_adult_1 (36K)

How I live

water_dragon_adult_3 (19K)Eastern water dragons are the only agamid lizards that centre our lives around the water.

I have sharp claws, which are ideal for climbing trees, and I like to laze safely on branches overhanging the water. That's because I can drop into the water very quickly if someone gets close. I usually know you are coming long before you know I am around.

Males are more colourful

Male eastern water dragons are more brightly coloured than females.

eastern_water_dragon_male_8 (46K) You can see Dazza, another Calamvale Creek dragon, modelling in the photo above to show his brighter red underbelly. Males also have larger heads than females, with stronger jowls and stronger crests.

My babies

This summer I laid a cluster of 10 eggs, and you can see one of my babies, Whispa, in the photo below. She is 15 centimetres (6 inches) long from nostrils to tail.

water_dragon_baby_4 (31K)

I deposit my eggs in a burrow that is like a sort of tunnel on the creek bank. In the first week of October, I dig a nest about 13 centimetres deep (5 inches) in soft soil in a sunny position. I cover it with soil, leaf litter, and twigs. When the babies are born they stay near the entrance of the burrow for some time before venturing out.

When the young ones leave home they usually group together, and the older dragons group together at a completely different place. It gets us away from the kids.

eastern_water_dragon_baby_9 (30K)

Here's another of my babies — Shimmy. Shimmy gets up early and waits on one of the creek rocks for her brothers, sisters and friends to arrive so they can play “Last one in the water is a bald kookaburra”.

By the way, a group of dragons is called a weyr (it rhymes with cheer).


water_dragon_adult_muddy6 (9K)The adult water dragons around our creek are inquisitive. So even if we jump in the water before you reach us, we still like to keep an eye on you to see what you are doing.

So we will pop our heads up after a few seconds just to watch you. Most people hear the splash and think they won't see us after that. But if you look around carefully you may see our little eyes watching you just above the water's surface. Our nostrils are perfectly placed on the top of our snout to allow us to breathe while the rest of our body stays under water.

You can see Shazza in the photo above. She saw a ball in the water and surfaced behind it, statue-still, thinking the photographer wouldn't see her. Instead, the photographer got a photo of her and the ball.

What do I eat?

water_dragon_adult_2 (36K)

I eat worms, insects, berries and fruit, small fish in the creek, some flowers, and various other small nutritious critters and vegetation.

When I walk, I get around on all four legs. But if I have to run fast to get away from you I sometimes skitter on my two back legs. They are stronger, and help me move fast.

— Willa the eastern water dragon