Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Gippsland Water Dragon, Physignathus lesueurii howittii

Image Details
  • Plate Number: 81
  • Media: Drawing - Pencil, watercolour and ink on paper
  • Lithographer: Arthur Bartholomew
  • Artist: Arthur Bartholomew
  • Location: Australia, Victoria, Buchan River
  • Primary inscriptions: A Bartholomew / June 22/82 / Drawing 629
  • Secondary inscriptions: Front view. / of snout. ns / nostril / back of ear
Transcript from the Prodromus of Zoology

Plate 81. Gippsland Water Lizard, Physignathus lesueri var howitti (now known as Gippsland Water Dragon, Physignathus lesuerii howittii)

The only difference I observe between this and the typical P. Lesueri of Queensland is the greater width in proportion to the height of the rostral plate in the Queensland one...As it is improbable such creatures would have so great a geographical range as to be common to Gippsland and Queensland, with such an enormous space between the rivers, I name the variety or probable species after that excellent geologist, magistrate, and bushman, my accomplished friend Mr. A. Howitt, who, with his multifarious and laborious duties, in so difficult a country to traverse, is always ready and willing to aid in any scientific investigation of the natural products of Gippsland, and who with infinite difficulty succeeded in procuring three specimens for me of this River-Lizard. The proverb that "Cows far off have long horns" is ludicrously exemplified in the case of this Lizard, which has apparently given rise to the rumors of Crocodiles having been seen in Gippsland; a country so rugged and overgrown with forests and almost impenetrable scrub that it is an extremely rare occurrence for a white man to reach the habitat in which the Physignathus is found, in the upper reaches of the Buchan River.

Current Scientific Information

Gippsland Water Dragon, Physignathus lesuerii howittii


Large lizard, up to 250 mm long (snout-vent). Laterally compressed tail, distinct crest on neck, and a series of ridged scales along the body. Throats of breeding males brightly banded with blue and lemon.When approached, will often flee into the water.

Habitat and range

Perched on logs and fallen branches close to the Yarra River.


This species was introduced into the Melbourne area, and a viable population has become established on the Yarra River. It is active during the day, feeding on a wide range of both vegetable and animal material. Clutch of 6-17 eggs.