I presume he came from the Hunter River which is about 100 metres from my home, and I also assume he will head back there as he matures. But for now, I consider myself fortunate to have this juvenile reptile utilise my fern garden and small pond for his home.
Physignathus lesueurii, Eastern Water Dragon, is a common lizard around waterways in eastern Queensland and New South Wales.
Habits and habitat
Water Dragons are often heard but not seen as they drop from overhanging branches, and land with a 'plop' in calm or slow-flowing streams pursuing insects. My garden pond is small, but has two levels, and I often hear my lizard belly-flop into the lower pond, presumably pouncing on a meal.
I've noticed two feeding poses: in the image above, the lizard lays low snapping up small black ants that trail by him, whereas in the picture below the dragon assumes a position of height and makes a dash or pounce at the target when an invertebrate is spotted within striking range. He scurries around the garden amongst the native violets and ferns seeking prey. These terrestrial and semi-arboreal lizards are omnivores.
The Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii) is active from first light, unlike the Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata) which basks for long periods before becoming active. Throughout the day, the Water Dragon will lay in the sun for short periods.
According to one of my reference books 'Australia's Reptiles - A photographic Reference to the Terrestrial Reptiles of Australia' by SK Wilson and DG Knowles, Eastern Water Dragons are able to remain submerged for over an hour.
Notice the pink tongue and mouth interior
These lizards appear comfortable in a variety of habitats, and along with their obvious liking for freshwater waterways, are found in rocky areas adjacent to beaches as well as mangrove environments.
Adult males are known to be territorial, controlling a harem of females, often fighting with other males during breeding season. Clutches of 6 to 18 eggs are laid in summer in a burrow or concealed location and hatch about 80 days later.
Notice the prominent dark band behind the eye, and vertebral ridge of spines
Elaborate displays of social interactions occur between both sexes and all ages. These include head bobbing and licking of substrate. They are extremely agile and swift. I have observed my juvenile Water Dragon leaping from rock to rock and from the ground to vertical brick walls.
Adult males develop bright brick-red bellies and yellow facial markings. I am presuming my resident Dragon to be a male as it has the beginnings of the red under surface.
As its natural habitat is destroyed or degraded by urban and industrial sprawl and pollution, this adaptable lizard will seek a livelihood amongst human habitation and weed infested areas. If you are lucky enough to find one in your garden, ensure its safety by controlling pets, because after all, it is humans that are displacing them from their natural environment.
Framed! Portrait of an Eastern Water Dragon
More observations and photos of my resident Water Dragon, including teeth, prey, hearing, and shedding of skin, can be viewed at my blog entry #34.