This detailed, comprehensive guide on Sailfin Dragon care will teach you about their enclosure, health, diet, behavior, and more!
The Sailfin dragon, also known as Soa Soa lizard, Sailfin Lizard, Philippines water dragon and Sailfin water lizard, is a medium-sized reptile native to the Philippines. They are similar in appearance to iguanas, but with a longer and more rounded snout.
There are 3 distinct subspecies; H. pustulatus which is native to Philippines, H. weberi found in Indonesia and H. amboinensis native to the islands of New Guinea.
With flat, webbed feet, they are able to run across the surface of water like a speed skater and they are excellent swimmers.
Sailfin Dragon Availability
Sailfins are not easy lizards to come by. The imports of these lizards from the Philippines to the USA was stopped in 1994, so the Sailfins available today come from reptile stores or private breeders.
The average lifespan of these dragons is 8-12 years; however, they are capable of living as long as 25 years if conditions are perfect. There are other factors to consider such as genetics and overall health.
Sailfin Dragon Appearance
Size: Hatchlings bought from a pet store or breeders generally measure 6-7cm/2-3in in length. Adults can grow as long as 3ft, with some males having been recorded at almost 4ft.
As the name suggests, Sailfins have a fin along their tail that looks like the sail of a boat. This fin can be up to 8cm tall!
Color: Most Sailfins are a mottled green or greenish grey, but males also have patches of bright blue or purple around their mouth, throat, legs and along their tail fin.
Morphs: There are no distinct recognized morphs for Sailfin dragons, but breeders do try to create a line of dragons that will display a certain color or a deeper, more vivid color.
Sailfin Dragon Terrarium Requirements
Terrariums and enclosures for sailfin dragon care have some specific requirements in order to mimic their natural habitat.
Hatchlings and juveniles can be kept in smaller terrariums or aquariums, but as they grow you will need to move them to a larger enclosure. For adults, a minimum of 5ft in length and 4 feet in height is required, but your enclosure should be custom built for the size of your dragon. Naturally, a larger dragon will require a longer, taller enclosure.
If you plan on keeping a breeding pair, you will need to increase the enclosure size considerably. Your enclosure needs to be deep enough to fill with swimmable water or you will need to include a large water basin for them to bathe in. You also need an above water area where your dragon can bask.
Heating and Lighting
Your heating choice is important because you need to create a temperature gradient in your dragon enclosure. You can do this with a UV bulb controlled by a thermostat to prevent temperature crashes. You could also use MVB bulbs, but they cannot be controlled by thermostats, so you would need to monitor the temperature carefully.
Your ambient temperature within the enclosure should be 78-89°F/26-32°C and your basking spot should be 10-118°F/43-48°C. It is a good idea to locate your basking bulb in an area that your dragon likes to spend most of their time.
Turning the lighting and heating down or off at night will help to mimic a day/night cycle. The temperature at night should fall to 69-77°F/21-25°C.
Sailfins require a humidity of around 80%. This is vital for healthy shedding and hydration. You can boost the humidity of the enclosure by daily misting with a spray bottle or by hooking up a mister/fog machine if you have the budget. A large water basin for swimming/bathing should also be provided.
To main the humidity of the enclosure, you should use a substrate that retains moisture. Good options are Cypress mulch mixed with moss or a soil, sand and moss mix. Putting a sheet of pond liner below the substrate will help to prevent the enclosure material from rotting due to the high humidity.
Plants and Decorations
Branches and ledges of various heights and widths are essential, as these lizards are semi-arboreal. The branches should not be narrower than the width of the dragon’s body. Set them diagonally and horizontally throughout the enclosure to create several connected perching areas.
You can also include vines or plants to add shaded areas or hiding spots and to create a barrier against the glass, which will help prevent injury from the lizard bumping into the enclosure walls. If you are using a nutrient rich substrate, you will be able to use live plants to create a microclimate within the enclosure.
The enclosure should be checked daily for waste and any uneaten food. Sheds should also be removed and drinking water changed daily. You will also need to mist the enclosure twice a day to keep the humidity around 80%.
To prevent bacterial or mold growth due to the high humidity, you may want to add additional ventilation.
How to keep Sailfin Dragons as pets
If you have a juvenile dragon, handling must be done carefully as youngsters are easily startled. You should introduce them to human contact slowly and allow them to become comfortable with being handled.
If you are purchasing an adult dragon, most likely they will already be well handled, so you shouldn’t need to do much taming with them. It is important to remember that they can give a nasty bite if they feel threatened.
Sailfin Dragon Health
Infections, shedding issues and kidney damage are all common conditions to look out for in captive dragons, however, a well-kept Sailfin should not have to worry about ill health.
Common Health Issues: Parasitic infections are fairly common and are most likely introduced from live foods. You should have a fecal test done every 6 months or so to check for parasites.
Shedding issues and kidney damage are caused by low humidity levels. Maintaining the humidity at 80% or more will prevent such issues. If you notice that your dragon is having a difficult shed, place them in a warm water bath to help remove the excess.
Healthy Signs: the eyes are the best indicator of health. They should be bright and appear wet. Healthy dragons will also be eager feeders and look to spend a good amount of time in water.
Sailfin Dragon Food & Diet
Sailfins are omnivorous, meaning they need both plant matter and live foods. Not much is known about their natural diet, but most dragon keepers maintain a diet of 60/40 or 70/30 of fruit and vegetables against protein sources.
For instance, 60-70% of a dragon’s diet can be made up of greens and veggies, while the remaining 30-40% should be protein-rich insects or small fish. Good options include dandelion, kale, rocket and spinach, apple, grapes, banana and berries. Some Sailfin keepers have also had success with bell peppers, carrots and sweet potato.
For protein, look to live foods like crickets, locusts, roaches, mealworms and waxworms. Juveniles will require more insects than veggies to support proper growth, but adult dragons will also enjoy small fish and crustaceans such as sprats, minnows and prawns. As with most lizards, it is important to dust the food with calcium powder.
Sailfin Dragon Behavior & Temperament
Young dragons are skittish little creatures, and this is a natural behavior as they would have a lot of predators in the wild. They tend to mellow as they age and will enoy human interaction if handled correctly.
With other dragons, breeding pairs will cohabit well together, but males should never be housed with other males. They are territorial and will fight for any nearby females.
If you have the time and space to commit to a Sailfin, they are definitely a wonderful pet to have. They are full of character and a joy to watch, whether it be climbing their enclosure and swimming in a water basin. Many owners will fill their bath tub so their dragon can have a good swim!
Remember, always do you research as these guys can grow up to 4ft and require a lot of careful management.