Eastern Water Dragon

Part of the Lizards and Snakes: Alive! exhibition.

An Eastern Water Dragon perched on a branch.
Eastern Water Dragon
© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Water Dragon exit strategy
 1. Always perch above water.
 2. When danger threatens, let go.
 3. Swim away--or submerge--for an hour or more!


Side-to-side movement of its muscular tail propels this lizard through the water.


When swimming, the Water Dragon tucks its limbs close to its body, creating a streamlined form.


Most lizards lose and replace teeth throughout life, but the teeth of Water Dragons and their relatives are permanent and are fused to their jaws. This gives these animals a precise bite, more like that of mammals than of other squamates.

A panel in a traveling exhibition with images and text about the Eastern Water Dragon.
© AMNH / Roderick Mickens


The crest and spines are larger in males than in females. Bigger spines make the body look larger from the side and may help males attract mates.


The heart of this lizard beats very, very slowly while the animal is submerged, hiding from predators. This means the lizard needs less oxygen, which is why it can stay under water so long.

Meet the Family

The large family to which the Water Dragon belongs--Agamidae--is a group of 420 species sometimes called the chisel-toothed lizards. Unlike human teeth, "chisel teeth" are fused to the jawbones and may last a lifetime. Chisel teeth appear in 80-million-year-old Mongolian fossil lizards.

Shown in midair, a Draco Volans, the common flying dragon, a lizard endemic to Southeast Asia and Southern India, glides between trees by extending modified skin-covered ribs.
Common flying dragon (Draco volans)
© Tim MacMillan & John Downer Pro/naturepl.com

Common Flying Dragon

Draco volans

This Southeast Asian lizard glides between trees by extending modified skin-covered ribs and steering with its tail.







A Moloch, or Thorny Devil lizard, perched on a rock
Moloch or Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)
© Bill Bachman/Photo Researchers

Moloch or Thorny Devil

Moloch horridus

No, that's not an acorn. When threatened, a Moloch tucks its head between its legs and presents this large knob to predators.

Fast Facts

Name: Eastern Water Dragon; Physignathus lesueurii
Size: 0.8 to 1 meter (2.5 to 3 feet)
Range: Eastern Australia
Diet: Aquatic insects, small vertebrates, fruits and berries