I have been working with the genus Hydrosaurus since 1990 when I first acquired a young male H. pustulatus, a Philippine sailfin dragon. These were commonly exported into the United States until 1994 when the Philippines stopped exporting animals to the States and soon after the rest of the world. At that time, there was really no info available on them, and it wasn't until AVS produced a small handbook entitled "The General Care and Maintenance of Green Water Dragons, Sailfin Lizards, and Basilisks" that I had ever read anything dedicated to these lizards. I soon learned that almost all the information about these lizards was paraphrased book after book with nothing new to add to the mix, and quickly learned to not believe everything I read(anyone can publish a book or webpage without ever having any hands on experience).
I also learned there were other types of sailfin dragons from Indonesia known as H. "weberi" and H. amboinensis, these were quite difficult to come by when the Philippines were heavily exporting the H. pustulatus, now obviously the roles have reversed and the Indonesian types are the primary species imported for the pet trade. The confusion about these lizards really made me want to dig as deeply as possible to try and figure out the differences between these mysterious dragons. Some researchers say they may all be one species and some may break them down into 3 or 4 species with possible subspecies. I dont know if I'll be alive long enough to find out these answers. The lack of research done on these lizards truly amazes me, as they are without a doubt, the most interesting and beautiful lizard to be studied, and also the largest lizard in the Agamid family.
On the pages that follow you will get a chance to see what I believe are the 3-4 most common types of sailfin dragons, whether you want to call them different species, subspecies, or variants doesn't matter all that much. The 3-4 major types are very different from each other and I will proceed to label them as H. pustulatus the Philippine Sailfin, H. amboinensis and H. amboinensis("microlophus") of Indonesian origin (possibly also southern Philippines) and H. "weberi" which I have been asked to keep in quotes as its not a valid species name, but truly something we can label as different from the aforementioned species. There are a few other types that I cannot label, and therefore be known as either an intergrade (an animal that occurs in a zone between 2 species habitats and share those characteristics of both) or an "unknown" variety from who knows where...
Sailfin Dragons are not the easiest of lizards to find at your local petshop, and they aren’t commonly imported these days either.. Luckily this website may help you locate your desired lizard/s, as I will have hatchlings available from time to time, and will occasionally import them when scouting out some other varieties. So hopefully you may not have to go very far to get what you are looking for.
If you are planning on purchasing your dragon from a petshop or online dealer, there are some things to look out for to ensure you are getting a dragon that will live past the first month. You can tell a lot from a lizard, by looking at the eyes, they should not be sunken in (sign of dehydration and possible kidney damage), this is common in lizards that either have just been imported or are not properly taken care of at the facility they are being held at. Also look for sores on the body, some of these sores can really turn out to be a preliminary bacterial infection that will be difficult to fight, especially in the creases of the hind legs. Of course look for a clean mouth, very important that it’s not full of sores or “cheese”. Rostral abrasions are common among sailfins and really shouldn’t be a turn off when purchasing a lizard unless it is really bad. Obviously, no abrasions would be the way to go, but it only takes one good run into a hard surface to start up these abrasions. Look for toes to be in good condition, many a times they can get infected toes (skin will appear twice as thick in spots), which may in turn lose circulation and fall off. Other than that, a few minor battle wounds can be fixed with application of a good topical antibiotic such as Neosporin. One more thing of importance to look out for would be, at the vent of the lizard, make sure it looks relatively clean - bloody stools would stain the area and be a sure sign of an endoparasitic infection. Very rarely will imported sailfins have any ectoparasites such as mites or ticks, in fact I’ve never seen mites on a sailfin, but have seen a few ticks usually posterior to the vent on larger imported dragons, they are easily removed with tweezers if a gentle tug is applied as close as possible to the head of the tick.
Now that you have a Sailfin Dragon in your possession, it is EXTREMELY important to properly acclimate your lizard to its new surroundings. Keeping stress to a minimal, hydration and food are key in helping your new lizard make it through the quarantine process and hopefully live a very long time in your care, possibly up to 25 years!
When your new lizard comes home, a good warm shower in your bathtub is a great idea, let it run for a half hour and keep the drain open(as long as the lizard can’t fit down the drain), close the door and leave the lizard in peace. There’s an excellent chance your lizard will drink and defecate during this important step. After you’ve shut the water off, I usually close the drain and throw in just a few dusted crickets per lizard. I then leave for a half hour and come back to see if the crickets have been eaten, many a times the crickets will be devoured right away. New sailfin dragons are quite shy and flighty and some will eat in front of you, while others need time to build trust that you are not going to eat them (as so often is the case in their native homelands). I recommend leaving them in peace and keep the handling down to a minimum (only when necessary) for the first few months. No need to add stress to a lizard that is trying to adjust to its new surroundings. Sailfin Dragons usually take 1-6 months to settle in and trust their owners. Of course there are always exceptions to the rules, but usually younger lizards are more wary and need to gain some size before being able to stand their ground.
I also highly recommend taking a fresh stool sample or two to a qualified reptile veterinarian to rule out any endoparasitic infection, especially on wild caught lizards. If you can gather up a few fresh stools and place them in a Ziploc bag and put in your refrigerator as close as possible to the day you have your appointment, that will be a good indicator if your lizard needs further treatment. I don’t really feel the need to stress out your lizard by taking to the vet if it appears visually quite healthy. Sailfin dragons prefer to stay in familiar surroundings. There's also a great safe herbal product out on the market PARAZAP, that is designed to safely rid your reptile of dangerous parasite levels and act as an appetite stimulant! I too use this product with great results, don't stay home without it.
Young Hydrosaurs can be kept in aquarium type terraria, but make sure you have at least a 30-40 gal aquarium for this, a 40 wide breeder will work fine for a lizard up to ~20” or 6 months old, the bigger the enclosure the better for a larger sailfin after the baby stage has passed. I really don’t recommend putting a baby sailfin in a huge cage as it may have a hard time finding its food and water and heating/lighting. A smaller type cage will force the food to wander by, and the heat will be more stable throughout the cage. For regular aquarium setups I recommend putting a visual barrier on all sides of the tank except for your viewing side and even then a 4-6” barrier across the front wouldn’t hurt, we are trying to eliminate rostral damage here, these guys don’t understand the concept of not being able to pass through the glass!
Hydrosaurus over 20” and throughout adulthood should be kept in custom enclosures built to their specific requirements, remember these lizards can get quite large, the largest I’ve seen so far have been 45”. Either the cage should be somewhat tall or kept off the ground, on a stand or stacked on top of another cage. Once again the importance of having all sides visually blocked and a 12” barrier across the front is highly recommended, the lizard will feel more secure and the cage will hold higher humidity levels and heat, which is also very important for proper shedding to occur. I like using branches of various diameters nothing less than the girth of their body, horizontally and diagonally fashioned throughout the enclosure. Shelves built into the walls are also used quite extensively. Make sure you leave some room on the ground for a large water basin, food bowl, possible egg laying site, etc…
Substrates can make a whole world of difference on the well being of your dragon. I’ve personally been using cypress mulch for over 15 years with never a problem. The bark substrates designed for reptiles would also be good, as well as a clean sand/soil mixture. All these substrates hold in moisture which will in turn create a more humid environment, which is extremely necessary for proper shedding, without proper shedding we will lose fingers, tips of the tail and the spikes will have “steps” in them each time they shed due to the constriction of old skin that wont shed off. Other substrates can be used, but usually without such great results.
We can’t take it for granted that a tropical lizard will just figure out a water bowl and that’s that. Many will die over time due to improper hydration leading to kidney disease. It is very important, I’d say for baby sailfins to get twice a day misting at least, this is very natural for them, they supposedly hatch out in the rainy season and probably get a lot of their moisture intake from the rains and dew that settles on the ground and plants.. Whenever I mist my babies, they usually start lapping up the water and scratch their heads with their oversized duck feet, very fun to watch and essential for proper hydration. For my year on up to adult lizards, I mist them daily, if they drink I continue to mist them, if not, I will just mist the whole area and try to hit all parts of the lizard, therefore increasing overall humidity and keeping the lizard in top notch shape for perfect shedding. Bathing your lizard once a week in a warm bath can be fun too, its nice to see them happy go lucky in a large area of water, just fill the tub to where one side is a beach and the other a few inches of water, and watch them swim around, it’s kind of like playing with toys in the bathtub as a kid, I don’t recommend taking a bath with your lizard, but if you feel the need to do so, please seek some professional help!!!
Lighting and Heating
Its is imperative to have a temperature gradient for most lizards and with Hydrosaurus a good night time temp would be anywhere from 70F-80F with daytime temps between 80F-90F, this is basically ambient cage temperature we are not talking about basking temps which should average somewhere between 110F-120F right under the basking light, this way the lizard can move from one area to the next and have the ability to heat up and cool off as need be, giving the lizard the choice and not guessing what they so desire to function properly. A good way to set your heat light is to have it mounted as to where the lizard can not burn itself, yet be close enough to a high flat branch or shelf within the enclosure, I like to have my 50w halogen floodlights ~12” from a good basking area. These lizards usually like to take the highest most comfortable spots in the cage, so why not put your heat light up that way? For UV bulbs there are many to choose from, I like the idea of separate heat and UV bulbs as it is cheaper and I constantly hear how fast these new combination bulbs can burn out, and man they are expensive when you are talking over 200 heat lights! I’ve been using ZooMed 10.0 flourescents. I do recommend purchasing the highest quality UVB output bulbs designed for lizards and keeping your lights on 12-14 hrs a day, a simple appliance timer will keep the lighting schedule consistent and no worries about turning on and off the lights if you are not home.
Proper nutrition is another key to good Hydrosaurus keeping. They have an extremely varied diet in the wild, matter of fact there’s not much known about what exactly they eat. They are omnivorous lizards and should be fed a wide pallet of food, keeping in mind that young growing specimens should have a higher degree of protein in the diet, and although they say adults are primarily vegetarian, I do not exactly agree with that, and still offer plenty of choice protein foods along with lizard salads. Part of my reasoning for not agreeing with the primarily vegetarian idea, is of the accuracy of which these adult bulky lizards can still pounce on live food. I’ve seen my adults dive across the enclosure down to the bottom and end up with a cockroach in the mouth that happened to wander into the cage, I’ve also seen them snatch up in one swoop, our native Night Huntsman spiders that are big, gangly and really really fast. So I’m quite convinced they take what they can get in the wild and really love the variety, as they can get bored of their favorite foods if you feed them the same thing day in and day out..
For the vegetarian in them, it’s a good idea to work with a salad similar to an iguana salad. Mostly healthy greens including collard, mustard, turnip, or one of the commercial bags of salad that do NOT contain iceburg lettuce, like a spring salad or Italian mix. Greens should constitute approximately 70% of the sailfin salad. Greens are typically higher in the calcium:phosphorous ratio and offer some protein, vitamins A and C and other important minerals and nutrients. 20% of the salad should contain some vegetables such as raw grated carrots, yellow squash, zucchini squash. You can also use cooked squash, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans, the list goes on. And finally 10% fruit which they really love of course and are also usually high in phosphorous. Bananas, strawberries, kiwi, grapes, melons, papaya(actually has a high calcium/phosphorous ratio), mango, berries are all eagerly eaten. It’s a good idea to bury them somewhat in the salad so they just don’t take the fruit off the top and fulfill their initial hunger.
For the animal matter part which I would say 50% as an adult and probably 75% as a growing lizard, can contain many foods, live, dead, cooked etc…
Good healthy clean crickets are relished even by adult sailfin lizards, they will chase them all over scooping them up! Baby sailfin lizards should be fed crickets that can easily fit into their big mouth, and then fed 2-3 times per day, don’t just throw in a whole load of crickets and expect the lizard to eat every single one, more than likely your lizard will be overwhelmed or stressed by the amount and might not eat any after the first few. I tend to supplement the insect matter with a good calcium d3 supplement such as Rep-Cal indoor calcium with D3 on every single feeding for the first year, also once or twice a week replacing the calcium supplementation with a good reptile vitamin supplement such as Rep-Cal’s Herptivite, I’ve had excellent results using these 2 brands of supplementaion. It is much harder to overdose supplements when they are adhered to the insects as opposed to sprinkling them all over the salad.
Superworms, roaches, grasshoppers, spiders, mice, pinkies, fuzzies, clean fish and crustaceans(crayfish and shrimp) are all prey items that are not uncommon and much appreciated by sailfin dragons. Just make sure when feeding larval or newborn stages of insects and mice, to give sparingly as these items are quite fatty, and we don’t want to raise a lizard that looks far off from their wild counterparts and end up with fatty liver disease. Some other foods that are not live but eagerly taken by sailfins that can also be used to mix things up a bit, would be a good quality soaked dry dog food, scrambled eggs, pieces of lean meat, cooked ground turkey, turkey, chicken, steak, beef hearts, organ meats, supermarket fish, shrimp, crayfish, some rice and grains can be added here and there. I highly recommend using Rep-Cal bearded dragon pellets, they are designed for omnivorous lizards and provide a good balanced nutritional addition to their diet, simply soak and dish out, the lizards love them. Newborn sailfins can eat the juvenile bearded dragon pellets while somewhat larger lizards will take down the adult pellets.
If you live in a pesticide/herbicide free zone, I recommend doing a bit of research and providing some wild plant and animal foods into the diet. I specifically grow plants that I know I can add to the sailfin diet, I just don’t think that our fruits and vegetables in the market really provide the kind of nutrition they’d be receiving in the wild. There are lots of foods that non mammalian species eat that can be toxic to us, but may provide some antiparasitic properties, or help fight disease or aid in coloration etc…So if you can do your research and find out what turtles and tortoises are eating around your area you’ll have a good idea what to feed your sailfin. Some basic examples of safe to grow foods are hibiscus, fuscia, rose, nasturtiums, marigolds, dandelions, all these flowers are edible and quite nutritious. Chick weed grows in many lawns, mulberry leaves and fruit, ficus leaves, pothos vine, there are many grasses(alfalfa) and weeds that can be added to the diet, so please if you are experimenting just make sure they are not known toxic plants and don’t go overboard with any one of these items, they are additions to a typical diet. I’ve heard azalea flowers are toxic, and the feeding of fireflies can lead to death in bearded dragons, so keep away. I’m also not fond of feeding large hard bodied insects such as large beetles, they are tougher to digest and also can have some serious spinous legs that could possibly create some internal damage to your lizard. Other than that, its kinda fun seeing what all your dragon will eat, just because it doesn’t eat something the first time around, doesn’t mean they don’t like it.
I can pretty much get a dragon to eat anything edible over time. It may take a little patience, but weaning them onto a foreign food by waving it around excidetly in front of them, or catching them when they are really hungry, or even sometimes just a different time of year when they might be in a specific mode to accept other food items. It’s all part of the fun of keeping these lizards.