Water Dragon Taxonomy

Water Dragons belong to:

World-wide, around 350 species are recognised currently in the family Agamidae. Of these, 72 species in 14 genera occur in Australia. Australian agamids are small to moderate-sized lizards. The Water Dragon is Australia's largest agamid lizard.

Water Dragons were previously considered to belong to a single genus of two species, Physignathus. However, recent DNA studies have indicated that the species are not as closely related as previously thought. The two species have thus been divided into two genera — Physignathus and Intellagama, each with only a single species world-wide.

The Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) occurs throughout South-east Asia: eastern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and southern parts of China.

The Water Dragon species found in Australia is divided into two subspecies; the Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii, previously known as Physignathus lesueurii lesueurii) and the Gippsland Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii howitti, previously known as Physignathus lesueurii howitti).

Subspecies differences:

The Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii) has a dark stripe from ear to eye, that the Gippsland Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii howitti) lacks. The Eastern Water Dragon male has a red flush on its chest and darker bands. The Gippsland Water Dragon male has an olive-grey chest, and is distinguished with a colourful throat that is blotched or striped with various colours; orange, blue and yellow.

Chinese Water Dragon
© Klaus Dræby
Chinese Water Dragon
Eastern Water Dragon
© Danny Yee
Eastern Water Dragon
Gippsland Water Dragon
© Robyn Lawrence
Gippsland Water Dragon


Fossil and biochemical records of Intellagama in Australia show that they have existed here for the past 20 million years and are quite an ancient lineage of reptile.

J.E. Gray in 1831 first described the Water Dragon species in Australia. The original specimen was taken from Parramatta, NSW and is stored in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.


ABRS Taxonomic website reference link

Amey, A.P., Couper, P.J. & Shea, G.M. (2012). Intellagama lesueurii (Gray, 1831), the correct binomial combination for the Australian Eastern Water Dragon (Sauria, Agamidae). Zootaxa 3390: 65–67

Lophura lesueurii Gray, J.E. (1831). A synopsis of the species of the class Reptilia. pp. 1-110 IN Griffith, E. (ed.) The Animal Kingdom Arranged in Conformity with its Organization by the Baron Cuvier. London: Whittaker, Treacher & Co. Vol. 9 481+110 pp. [60].

Prepared by Robyn Lawrence, Updated 27 May, 2013 , webmaster, ANBG (anbg-info@anbg.gov.au)