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Sailfin Dragon Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Sailfin Dragon, the Philippine Sailfin Dragon
Scientific Name:Hydrosaurus pustulatus
Life Span:8-12 years
Size:3 to 4 feet
Habitat:rainforests
Country of Origin:Philippines, New Guinea, and Indonesia

Physical Description

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The sailfin lizards are known not just for their remarkable size, but also for their extraordinary appearance. The colors of these lizards may vary based on their gender. The males might be in the shade of violet while females tend to be less colorful. Nonetheless, the sailfin lizards are often slimmer and lightweight. Their tails are long. 

When it comes to size, some sailfin lizards tend to be bigger while others are not. Some of them reached a length of 6 to 7 centimeters. They have eye-catchy patterns all over their bodies. Their patterns are the blotchy colors of brown and dark olive green. Also, they often have some yellow-colored patches on their flanks. 

Adult sailfin lizards look great with their spotted greenish-grey skin and the well-developed crest of teeth-like scales that run from their napes down to their backs. But, the erected skin “sail” at the bottom of their tails is considered as the most distinctive feature available in adult male sailfin lizards. Their tails are flattened sideways to give more propulsion over the water. 

This erected “sail” of their skin can be up to 8 centimeters tall. It helps them be great swimmers as they can easily move under the water. This physical feature of these lizards is perhaps playing a crucial role in thermoregulation and territorial display. 

Habitat

The sailfin lizards are ecologically equivalent to Australian water dragons. They love to spend their days in the plants near the streams and rivers located at the tropical forests in the Philippines, New Guinea, and Indonesia. These lizards often stay near the water and will immediately drop into the water and swim downward to keep themselves safe when there’s a threat. 

Sub-Species

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The sailfin lizards exist into 3 sub-species: 

  • H. pustulates – they are more common in the Philippines
  • H. amboinensis – they can be found in New Guinea
  • H. weberi – they exist in the Moluccas. Some people consider them to be H. amboinensis

Size

The sailfin lizards need more space inside their enclosures due to their size. Many of them living in captivity measure 3 ft. in length. The males are normally bigger than females as they can be as much as 4 feet long. Females are a bit smaller than males. 

The average adult male lizards are 3.5 ft in length and weigh around 3-5 lbs. The sub-species H. weberi is usually lighter and slimmer and with a bit longer tail. 

Life Span

According to most resources available online, these lizards can live for as long as 25 years. However, many of them live for 8 to 12 years. 

Behavior

The sailfin dragons are timid, skittish lizards with incredible abilities to escape and hide as soon as they feel they’re in danger. They often jump into the water as they believe it is the safest place for them. 

These lizards will always search for water whenever they feel threatened. They’ll swim and go deep down the water where they search for a rock or driftwood, which they use in hiding. The sailfin dragons can stay under the water for up to 15 minutes or even longer until they are sure the threat is no longer there. 

Taking care of sailfin dragons can be challenging, especially for the wildly caught species. However, with gentle handling and daily interaction, these lizards will become quite friendly and submissive to people. In taming sailfin dragons, socialization should begin when these lizards are 4 weeks old. It should be done every day for the best results. With no proper socialization, these lizards can be too wild and much more prone to stress when interacting with humans. 

The sailfin dragons are not nocturnal. They love to sleep in the evening and will be active for the rest of the day. These territorial lizards may go fighting against each other if you keep 2 or 3 of them in just one enclosure. In the woods, these lizards to be on their own and will look for peers only when the mating season kicks in. 

The sailfin dragons are great reptile pets for experienced keepers out there. Unfortunately, they are not good pets for the kids. 

Reproduction

The female sailfin dragons can lay more clutches of eggs every year. Each clutch may contain 2 up to 8 eggs, which they will lay in the shallow holes they made by burrowing through the soil. These hollows are typically adjacent to waterside houses but usually on top of the flood line. The hatchlings are agile and swift, so they can quickly get rid of the predators on their own. They are the favorites of birds, fish, and snakes. All these predators will take the hatchlings if they can. Good thing, hatchlings are also good swimmers like their older peers and parents. They just need to dive into the water to run away from danger. 

Diet

The sailfin dragons are omnivores, which means they can eat just anything edible and good for their health. The feeding routine for your pet will depend on its age. If you’re keeping a baby sailfin dragon, then you should feed it as often as possible. Feed it whenever it shows it wants to eat.

You can feed a baby sailfin dragon with insects like super worms, crickets, Phoenix Worms, and cockroaches in the morning. You can also introduce those insects that are rich in vitamin D3 and calcium in the evening. 

Leave it with a bowl full of sliced veggies and fruits. Your 4-legged pet will surely love it. You may introduce a variety of fruits and veggies, including bananas, cantaloupe, collard greens, berries, carrots, mustard greens, edible flowers, and beans. 

You can also feed your pet with commercial pellets made for bearded dragons. In the evening, try feeding your sailfin dragon with more gut-loaded, dusted insects. 

As your pet grows, it is important to stick with the usual diet and supplements you have been giving to the lizards. Don’t forget the calcium dusted insects. However, there should be a variety. For older sailfin lizards, feeding them with a small mouse, clean fish, ground turkey, shrimp, crustaceans, and crawfish will be okay. 

When breeding sailfin dragons, you must increase the calcium of your pet to help females ovulate. Vitamins must be added to their diet twice every week. 

To keep your pet healthy and active, its diet should be a 70% green, vegetable, or fruit diet. The remaining 30% is for protein. Always try feeding your pet with a variety as much as possible. Some foods can be a favorite of your pet, but it will change constantly. Thus, giving it the same food over and over again will eventually make the lizard feel very bored. Your pet may refuse to eat if you keep providing it with the same foods. 

Try including a minimum of 10 types of foods in every meal. Some of the main ingredients you can offer are mustard greens, dandelion, watercress, collard greens, kale, wild rocket, and water spinach. 

Other food groups like sweet potato, parsnip, butternut squash, sunflower, elderflower, bell peppers, sprouts, apple, strawberries, lavender, hibiscus, alfalfa, pea shoots, basil, cantaloupe, blackberries, carrot, grapes, carrot, blueberries, banana, and rose. Your choices are not limited to these food items. 

Always feed your pet inside the enclosure. It is a normal type of improvement for them. For instance, you can hang the lamb lettuce or iceberg lettuce inside the enclosure. While iceberg lettuce is not a good part of its diet, it’s a great type of hydration for your pet. You can even dust the food items with a multivitamin supplement. Dust them as well with a calcium supplement 5x a week.

For the protein needs of your pet, you can feed it with a range of crustaceans and insects. Adult sailfin dragons can take various kinds of small fish. Guppies and minnows are quite popular among these lizards. Likewise, different kinds of shellfish go down well. 

Young sailfin dragons are best to be fed with insects. They will require extra proteins to accelerate their growth, helping them to grow into strong and healthy adult sailfin dragons. Younger sailfin dragons seem to be uninterested in greens, but they will at the age of 6 months. It is best to keep a stable supply of fresh green vegetables and give them to your pet together with insects. Do it every day to keep your sailfin dragon healthy and active.

Water

Sailfin dragons have been living for a long time with a strong connection for water, mainly for survival. Therefore, if you choose to keep one, make sure its enclosure is 75% water. Increased humidity levels inside the enclosure are important. Daily misting with spray bottles is also advisable as it can aid in ensuring proper and successful shedding of the lizard’s spikes and skin. 

A big water pan that is deep enough for a lizard to immerse is somewhat important as well for your pet’s enclosure. Also, always make sure your pet has easy access to fresh and clean water. Change the water every day as your sailfin dragon may defecate in its water bowl and drink the dirty water in it. That is the only necessary maintenance procedure that you need to do for the cage of your pet. It seems sailfin dragons are genetically potty-trained.

Temperament and Handling

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Sailfin dragons are a bit jumpy. They normally have that wild side, and this behavior shows up every time these lizards feel something bad is going to happen on them even when raised in captivity. While your pet is new and is not getting used to your presence yet, it will normally tend to be defensive and nervous at the same time. 

However, you can help it learn that you are not a threat with confident, calm, and gentle handling. Later on, your sailfin dragon will understand that it’s safe to be with you. Aside from proper handling, giving your pet a secure enclosure is also a must. Workaround it slowly and never forces your pet to be good to you. 

It’s normal for the sailfin dragon to act differently when you try to pet it. The animal may not be okay with your touch in the first few days of its life with you. Gradually, your pet will get used to seeing you approaching its tank. Don’t be discouraged when your pet is acting rudely. Just give it time, and you will see in the end.

In some cases, the sailfin dragons chill out for a minute or longer after being captured. These animals wiggle and may scratch a little when captured, but that does not mean they are mean. All you need is to be patient to get your pet used to care. You need to be patient when feeding it. Feed your sailfin dragon with your hand because it’s one way of catching your pet’s attention and trust. 

Likewise, scooping your pet from the cage, as contrary to running after them when they escaped, can also effectively alleviate the stressful feeling of your pet. It will also help you get rid of those pesky scratches. 

Whatever you do, whether petting or feeding your sailfin dragon, always don’t put too much pressure on your pet. When possible, just limit the handling time and frequency. Remember, the sailfin dragons are impressive animals. Hence, it is right to treat them the way they deserve. Never forget to treat your pet with respect at all times. Give your pet some space and privacy to keep it happy under your care. 

If you like to work on making your sailfin dragon more tolerant to you, then use tongs in feeding it with insects. If not, you may hold its food bowl while the lizard is eating. These are two simple but effective ways of making your pet docile and friendly. Also, you must learn how to get the lizard out of its enclosure calmly and swiftly. 

Avoid chasing your sailfin dragon inside the enclosure as it can make the animal more skittish. It can also harm your relationship with your pet. Keep in mind that sailfin dragons normally become docile and calm when they grow into adults. Young lizards will need your patience. Don’t worry because these animals will eventually repay you for all your efforts. 

Potential Health Problems Among Sailfin Dragons

Unhealthy sailfin dragons are so vulnerable to many common health issues among lizards. Some of them frequently carry parasites. Therefore, it is so important to get a fecal test done right away. 

Sailfin lizards, like other lizards, are quite susceptible to kidney failure and respiratory infections when the temperature and humidity levels inside the enclosure are not within the ideal range. Fecal tests should be done to your sailfin dragon every six months. This way, it is easier to know if your pet is carrying parasites which it may acquire from live foods. 

Caging

A 30-40 gallon aquarium will be enough for single young lizards that are up to 16” long. There should be visual barriers on all the sides of the enclosure, excluding the viewing section. You can even put a tall barrier measuring 4 to 6 inches on the front. It won’t hurt. These barriers will help prevent the common-nose rubbing, which takes place with sailfin dragons. 

When your pet is no longer a juvenile, then it’s time to switch to a bigger enclosure. Again, sailfin dragons need space, so their enclosure should be as big as possible. Good thing, custom-made enclosures are widely available. These special enclosures are best to use in keeping juvenile and adult sailfin dragons. Adult sailfin dragons must be provided with enclosures that measure 5 ft. long, 2.5 ft. wide, and 5 ft. tall. Trios or pairs must have enclosures that are a bit bigger than the one having those dimensions. The flooring of the enclosure must not rot in higher humidity levels. 

When providing your pet with a new enclosure, always keep in mind that all the sides must be visually blocked, and a one-foot barrier must be on the front. Big branches of different diameters, which is nothing slimmer than the sizes of their bodies, must be positioned diagonally and horizontally across the cage. 

Shelves constructed into the walls make huge additions. Be sure to leave some space on the soil for the food bowl, food bowl, and a possible egg-laying site when keeping females. 

Temperature and Lighting

A good source of UVB is so important. The same is the case for the basking bulb for the heat. Keep in mind that sailfin dragons originated from tropical settings. Hence, the temperature within the basking spot must be between 115 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Put the basking bulbs on top of your pet’s high shelf or favorite branch. Ambient temperatures must be 85 and 90 degrees across the enclosure. The temperature at night inside the cage must drop between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In the colder climates or throughout the winter, the heat tape can help in keeping the enclosure warm on one side. You can put the heat tape on the bottom of the cage. Ceramic heat emitters can be helpful as well. They may help a lot in keeping your sailfin dragon healthy and happy. just follow carefully the instructions give for the installation of ceramic heat emitters. This is important for the prevention of house fires and lizard burns. 

Substrate

The sailfin dragons also require organic substrates, which can effectively maintain higher humidity levels. A substrate made of cypress mulch is an excellent choice. It is a cheap option. However, be sure that the substrate is made of pure cypress mulch, not a mixture. Other bark substances intended for these humidity-loving reptiles are acceptable. A substrate mix that contains equal parts of potting soil without additives moistened coconut fibers, and play sand is also an effective substrate to use for sailfin dragons. 

Humidity 

As natives of a tropical setting, humidity is truly important for the sailfin dragons. The humidity level inside their cage must not be lower than 75%. Instead, aim to keep it at 80% or higher. The higher the humidity level, the safer your pet will be. Mist the enclosure twice every day and give a huge source of water to help in keeping it at the acceptable level. 

The humidity inside the enclosure will help in keeping the enclosure hydrated. At the same time, it makes the shedding process easier and more successful for your pet, so be sure not to fail in checking the humidity level. Do it consistently. 

Too high or too low humidity level, whatever the case is, can be harmful to your pet. If you do nothing about it, then your pet will end up suffering from internal damage. Respiratory infections and kidney failure are two of the most common consequences of incorrect humidity levels associated with sailfin dragons.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Routine cleaning and maintenance are key to keeping your sailfin dragon healthy and happy. Do spot cleaning every day and complete substrate changes if necessary. Consider the bio-active substrates. In using these types of substrates, you’re adding up a cleanup squad of micro creatures that can help in clearing up the wastes left behind by sailfin dragons. It is a good option to consider when dealing with a large humid enclosure. 

Shedding

When the humidity level is enough for your pet’s survival, then there should be no complications if your sailfin dragon starts shedding its skin. Do misting the enclosure this time as it may help your pet if it struggles to shed. 

Venom and Bite

The sailfin dragons do not have those primitive glands that are responsible for the production of deadly venom. They are non-venomous reptiles that can be good pets for experienced reptile keepers out there. These species are not dangerous to humans. Also, you can handle them ease using your bare hands. There are some instructions you need to follow in handling sailfin dragons. 

These lizards are natural and never aggressive in most cases. However, they do have tiny teeth. The only problem is their teeth are not powerful enough to cut the skin of humans. In case your pet bites you, always clean the affected area using a good anti-septic solution. Also, don’t forget to consult your doctor right away after the incident. The sailfin dragons may bite, though it does not occur in most. 

Sailfin Dragons as Pets

These lizard species could be a good choice in keeping it as your pets. However, these species are difficult to find at the local pet stores. The sailfin dragons are popular reptile pets, but they can be so hard to find. 

Availability – Where to Get One?

The sailfin dragons have never been widely available for the commercial pet trade. However, they were widely available in the late 1980s until the early 1990s by the time the Philippines began exporting these lizards. However, the country enlisted the sailfin dragons as endangered species and stopped exporting them. Today, Indonesia has become the main source of these lizards. 

If you’re interested in sailfin dragons and would like to keep one, then do your homework. As said before, these lizards can be difficult to find locally, so try looking for them through the web. Since these lizards are beautiful and interesting reptiles to keep as pets, you should be able to find them easily online. 

How to Care for a Sailfin Dragon?

Taking care of a sailfin dragon should be hassle-free if you have been keeping lizards. The sailfin dragons are not ideal for novices out there because these animals need constant attention can care. These lizards often defecate in their water bowls, so keepers should have time for checking them and cleaning their enclosure. Cleaning the bowl should be done daily. 

Likewise, keepers need to invest in some materials like the ceramic heat emitters and red light to keep one side of the enclosure warm enough for these lizards. Aside from that, constant checking of the humidity levels inside the enclosure is important. 

FAQs

Do sailfin dragons love being handled?

Sailfin dragons, especially the young ones, can be too jumpy as they don’t love to be touched. However, they eventually become tame with regular and proper handling.

Are sailfin dragons easy to take care of?

The sailfin dragons are quite hard to keep as they demand constant attention and care. Their daily habits like pooping in their water bowls mean you have to check them as often as you can. 

What do sailfin dragons eat?

The sailfin dragons are omnivores. Their diet should comprise both insects and plants. 

Do sailfin dragons shed their skin?

Yes, sailfin dragons shed their skin more often at a young age. The shedding process is easier when the humidity level inside the enclosure remains within the ideal range. 

Are sailfin dragons dangerous to humans?

The sailfin dragons are non-venomous lizards, so they don’t bring harm to humans. They may bite, though it is less likely to happen. 

Do sailfin dragons love to be with one another?

If you want to keep two or more sailfin dragons, then you must buy an enclosure for each of them. If you have two lizards, then buy two enclosures. They may fight if you keep them all in just one enclosure.

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