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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 5    
March, 2006
Australian Water Dragon Care
In this Issue

Common Name:
Water Dragon - Australian

Scientific Name:
Physignathus lesueurii

This Australian Water Dragon lizard is a shy and docile pet for those who take the time to treat him properly.

With its ferocious name and fairly large body, the Australian Water Dragon is an impressive lizard. Australian Water Dragons are generally not nervous like some other lizards. It is rare that Water Dragons bite; more often, they will flee if they feel threatened. It is important to handle your Australian Water Dragon with caution and patience until he is used to you. With the right treatment and care, you will have an impressive-looking pet that makes a sweet companion.

Origin or Range:
This species lives only in the far eastern part of Australia from Eastern Victoria in the South to Cairns, Queensland, in the North. The range of this lizard is limited by several factors:

1. There must be water basins (called billabong in Australia) or rivers very nearby.

2. There must be a period of at least six months in which daytime maxima are 240C or over.

Therefore this lizard is lacking in Cape York or Arnhemland. This species definitely does not occur in New Guinea, as some importers have you believe. Within the range of this species night frost may occur or even occur regularly (like in Bourse, NSW).

Males reach a total length of 2 ½ to 3 feet, and females reach 2 to 2 ½ feet in total length. The males are very beautifully colored. Males get a crest in the neck region and they get a blood red color on their belly and upper forelimbs They have larger heads than females and the black/white design on the male’s head is very strongly expressed: white lips and a deep black band behind their eyes. Females have smaller heads, dull white lips, a gray-black band behind the eye and white to pinkish bellies.

The cage size for one pair of adult water dragons should be between 4 feet long by 2 feet high by 2 feet wide (4'x2'x2') and even up to 3 feet high. A warm basking spot is also needed. In the terrarium you can place a tree branch or tree trunk on which they can climb and sit. They will probably like to bask on this so it is a good place to put the basking light and UV light nearby.

Remember that the UV lights need to be fairly close to the lizards basking spot to get the maximum absorption of UV light. If it is too far away the UV light’s potency or strength is reduced quite dramatically.

They also like a place where they can both sleep and hide. The water bowl needs to be situated so that it can be cleaned easily, as they can get pretty smelly. The lizards should be able to get in and out off the water easily. Although not very elegant, we have heard of people often use new paint-roller dishes as they have a sloped "beach" area and allow the lizard to get in and out of easily.

The water bowl must be in a position where it can be cleaned very easily, as they defecate in the water. This may sound like a problem, but in fact it makes things easier for you as now the whole terrarium stays clean. Be sure the lizards can get in and out of the water easily.

The water in the enclosure should be changed daily. A 5% bleach solution is an excellent disinfectant for cleaning the cage. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the enclosure before placing the water dragon back.

It is rather easy to keep them outdoors in unheated terraria in the southern USA as the temperature range is similar to the Eastern part of Australia. They occur only in regions where there is enough winter to trigger their reproduction. In many parts of their range there is night frost in winter. These animals are able to survive quite cool temperatures and they will hide in burrows during winter.

Temperatures should be kept at 84° - 88° F during the day with a basking temperature of 90° to 95° F. Night-time temperatures should be kept at 75° - 80° F but they will tolerate temperatures a lot lower, particularly during winter months.

Water dragons require UVA and UVB light. If you keep your water dragon inside you need a UVB lamp to provide ultraviolet radiation to the reptile. Please read and follow the instructions that accompany the lamp. It is always important to place the lamp at the correct height (as listed on the lamp's instructions) above the lizard basking spot. Just 2 inches higher or lower will greatly change the amount of ultraviolet radiation that the lizard will absorb.

They are known to eat crickets, cockroaches, earthworms, meal worms and grubs. Shredded greens such as mustard, dandelion and collard and other vegetables such as yellow squash, sweet potato, parsnips, green beans and carrots can also be given. Some fruit such as strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, banana, and various melons can also be provided. Although some will not eat all these foods that are offered, however by giving your lizard a variety of food you will have a healthier and happier lizard. Adults may also eat pinkie rats and pinkie mice. Superworms and Deadheadroaches are also good and relatively easy to breed.

A variety of substrates can be used for water dragons. Sterilized potting soil can make for a very nice naturalistic enclosure but can be messy. Newspaper, paper towels, and indoor-outdoor carpeting can also be used and are easier to maintain. Cedar and pine wood shavings should be avoided due to toxicity concerns.

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Jana does not like snakes

Just recently I bumped into a friend my daughters in the local café bakery. As we started to chat and wander outside the conversation turned to reptiles and she mentioned that I might like to see her cobra bite photos one day.

©Used with permission

Cobra bite? Photos? What photos? What cobra bite? I had to find out more.

This is her story.

Jana and Andrew had just begun a three year contract working in Malaysia. They had rented a vacant house near a river. Being disused for some time the house had to be cleared of any unwelcome residents and to the best of their knowledge this had been done. Unfortunately they missed one of the resident cobras living in the house, probably making a nice living therein on rats, lizards and other sheltering prey during the untenanted time.

There were two small holes in the kickboard under the kitchen cupboards and the cobra had comfortably taken residence in the dead space between the floor and the cupboard base. They couple had just shifted in and Andrew was saying good bye to some friends at the front of the house as Jana went back into the kitchen. In bare feet she padded up to the cupboards. Jana must have startled the cobra, either by the noise of her approach or the vibrations of the floor. Defensively, it shot out from hole and struck her foot. Jana screamed. She told me her biggest fear was that Andrew would not believe she had been bitten by a cobra!

Jana immediately grabbed her leg as tightly as she could with both her hands and attempted to constrict the flow of blood and toxins. Andrew rushed in a bound the leg tightly with some material.

Jana’s pain was deep and intense – being likened to a red hot poker jammed solidly into the top of your foot and held there remorselessly. Jana was rushed to hospital and put under observation until she showed symptoms of a snake bite. Many cobra bites are blanks, but this one, clearly, was not. Starting to shiver and become faint, Jana was finally given anti-venom.

Jana was more fortunate than most. Medical facilities in Malaysia in those days were not of a high standard. She was admitted two days later to a private hospital, paid for at Australian government expense. The pain was still there but now her foot was hypersensitive. The touch of a feather or a sheet was enough to shoot powerful bolts of acute pain into her legs and body. The wound was not able to be touched.

Some time later Jana noticed her ankle and foot were extremely swollen. Jana was initially not concerned, thinking it was just a swelling of the ankle. Unfortunately pus had filled the ankle and now spontaneously began oozing out. Her foot and ankle was turning into a disgusting mess.

As the infection ankle was being treated, the skin around the bite zone blackened and surrounding areas became more and more discoloured. Cobra venom is a necrotoxin and the skin and flesh around the bite site was dying. The necrotic (dead) tissue had to be surgically removed to prevent further spread but at the same time it was not known how much of the tissue surrounding the bite site was affected nor was potentially necrotic. They had to remove large areas of her skin; gangrene too was an ever present danger as the cell and flesh in her foot continued to die.

The bite zone became worse and concern was mounting for her foot as more skin and flesh fell aware or had to be removed. The extent of the affected area continued to grow over the coming weeks. The flesh under the skin was now exposed and had to be continually treated and covered as the necrosis relentlessly continued and the decaying skin left more exposed. It was only after continuous treatment that the necrosis was halted and Jana was able to begin recovery.

In the end Jana was lucky. They removed quite a lot of the skin and flesh around the bite site and the healing process took many, many months. Fortunately Jana did not lose her foot and recovered fully from the cobra bite.

Jana does not like snakes.

Note: The Malaysian cobra was probably Naja sumatrana

Question and Answer

Thank you for responding to my last inquiry so fast. However, I do have another question, or rather, concern I had. I read the extra notes at the bottom of the rock wall creating section and saw that the material seems fragile (tile grout). I was wondering if a type of plaster might not work better. Also, I wanted to put a little fountain spilling over into a basin. Is the grout able to withstand being submerged in water all the time? I would like the basin to also look like rock if that is possible.
Phillip Arpin

Most grouts do not like being permanently immersed in water as they absorb moisture and retain it. They are designed to get wet and dry out repeatedly. Plaster is also not designed to get wet.

That said there are two or three ways around this.

  1. Buy a plastic faux rock water basin. Some garden or nursery stores and shops sell these as well as some pet supply places. You would have to work out how to run the water down or have two basins - one smaller than the other. They also look like rock pools and you could decorate the areas around them.
  2. Use fibre glass and make water pools. This can be covered with sand while still drying and gives a rough finish. A bit tricky but will definitely be water proof. You can make quite a large area water proof. You need to take care applying fibre glass with the fumes.
  3. Use two pack water proof paint (same as for lining water tanks) It is not cheap and you do need to make sure that there are no cracks in the rock wall area. It does require about 4 coats of the paint and you need to wear a mask when applying it. It is not toxic and is even used in wooden aquariums so it is very waterproof. The current version of the plans has some info on this if you want to download them.
  4. Use external paint designed for water proofing or sealing terracotta pots and fountains. This does not come in two pack versions so you just apply multiple coats. You can usually get it in smaller tins. It does require quite a few coats and is not suitable for keeping fish in the water but it will do the trick. It comes in a variety of colours. The proviso about this material I have is that I am not sure of its toxicity. It may well indeed be toxic so you would need to talk to the manufacturer before you used it.

If you or anyone else has a suggestion or have found a good way of doing this, please feel free to email me so I can publish it for everyone. Ed.

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Green Water Dragon Saves Life

This letter came to me and I was touched by the story and the honesty of the teller. It also prompted this weeks feature alticle, although the Green Water Dragon is found in different parts of Asia and somewhat different needs.

Hi, I’m Tessa.

I have a story about how my waterdragon saved my life.

On March 31 last year my grandma, my best friend, passed away.

That night I went to the pet store. I wanted to buy a pet. I looked around and around. When I looked at the reptiles and saw a waterdragon . It was so cute and I wanted it. I bought him and named him Frankie. Frankie saved my life, from suicide because he needed a good home. Now I love green waterdragons.

A couple of days ago I rescued/bought a baby green waterdragon. Her name is Jade. She’s was in bad condition but now she’s getting better. The whole point of my story is reptiles are good pets and they save lives.

They are also good therapy. Well, that’s all I have so please email me back and tell me what you think. Also please share this with others.

Thank you always.

In the News
Tell Us What You Think!

If you have a story about one of your critters, funny or serious, found a great web site, found a great article or would like to contribute in any way, please contact me. I'm friendly, don't bite and would welcome your contributions.

And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those too!

These could include:
- Great herp web-sites
- A fantastic herp article you know of that should be shared
- Why you pet reptile is fantastic
- A great idea you had
- Funny things that happened
- Dumb**s things that happened
- Images you'd like to share
- Care sheets for your herp

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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Tell Us What You Think!!

Thanks to those who have given me feedback. I always want to
know of your achievements, good and bad.

I've just added a section on making cages waterproof. There
are a number of ways to do this and I have covered some of
those options.

I have also added "How to Make a Reptile Cage Stand in Five
Easy Steps" to the bonuses. Those of you have purchased the plans
are welcome to download it. It is about 25 pages and has detailed
steps. It is aimed people who have not made something like that
before. There is a picture on the website of what a finished
stand would look like.

I am currently finalising a book on making glass vivariums
and should have that available within a month or so.

I have also some plans for a 3'x3'x18'' display type cabinet
with side doors. This should also be available within a month
or two.

Thank you to those people who continue to give me feedback
and help others in their endeavours. You know who you are
so well done!!

I have a few ideas for some other additions to the book and
perhaps some other publications but I would love your input.

These could include:

  • Great herp web-sites
  • Why you pet reptile is fantastic
  • Funny things that happened
  • Dumb**s things that happenedS
  • Images you'd like to share.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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