Image Credit : Mickael Leger Photographie
The sailfin lizard is notable not only for its impressive size, but also for its rather spectacular appearance. Adults of this large mottled greenish-grey lizard boast a well-developed crest of tooth-like scales from the nape of the neck down the back . There are three recognized subspecies (H. amboinensis, H. pustulatus, H. weberi).
However, the most distinctive feature of adult males is the erect ‘sail’ of skin at the base of their tail, up to 8 cm high, which provides propulsion for this strong swimmer to move through the water, and probably also plays an important role in territorial display and thermoregulation.
- Scientific name : Hydrosaurus
- Distribution : Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea
- Average Size : 0.8 m (2.5 ft)
- Life Span : 10 years or more
- Difficulty : Intermediate
Adult Pustulatus and Amboinensis need a minimum enclosure size of 6 ft long 5 ft tall and 3ft wide for Weberi id suggest a enclosure of 1.5 meters long 1.2 meters tall and 0.6 meters wide (5 x 4 x 2 feet) like always though the bigger the better!! Its also worth mentioning that whilst its possible to cohabit Sailfins successfully its not always recommended. Males can be incredibly territorial and will fight any animal within their territory. Females can also be incredibly aggressive to enclosure mates during breeding season. If you do choose to cohabit your dragons, NEVER cohabit two males.
For juvenile dragons I use 0.9 meters long 0.9 meters tall and 0.6 meters deep (3 x 3 x 2 feet)enclosures and upgrade when necessary. When it comes to housing younger dragons its recommended to keep the enclosure relatively bare. The reason for this is, young sailfins are very flighty so the less things they can run into in the enclosure the better. I’d recommend just putting in a few branches at different angles, plenty of foliage for them to hide in and a shallow water bowl big enough for them to fit their whole body into.
In the wild Sailfins are often found up in tree canopies above fast moving water so bare this mind when decorating your Sailfins home. Use branches at all different angles throughout the enclosure. If you can incorporate a large area of moving water in the enclosure then id strongly recommend doing it! If not a very large plastic container will do just fine. We would also recommend making full use of the usable surface area in the enclosure (brachylophus.dk), what I mean by this is cover the enclosure walls in trellis or extra branches, doing this helps maximise the area your sailfin has to climb.
On a final note. Make sure your enclosure is well sealed and will not rot in the intense humidity sailfins require. I would suggest lining the bottom of the enclosure with a pond liner. This helps the bottom of the enclosure from not rotting out. I’d also suggest having a decent amount of ventilation in your enclosure. High humidity and high heat make parts of your enclosure very susceptible to mould and bacterial growth. The additional ventilation keeps a nice air flow going throughout the enclosure and helps stop such things from happening.
Provide your sailfin with plenty of foliage throughout the enclosure to hide in. This is extra important for juvenile dragons. In the wild juvenile dragons are often under constant threat from predators, so providing decent hiding spots helps them feel more secure. As your Sailfin gets older they tend not to hide as much, but its still nice to give them the option.
Sailfins require a high humidity percentage (80%+) so you want to use a substrate that retains moisture without rotting. I use a mixture of cypress mulch, sphagnum moss and bark for my sailfins. In the past I have used a mixture of organic top soil, play sand and moss with good results.
Lighting – Heating
Considering the size of the enclosure Sailfins need, I find ceramic heaters are best suited for the large enclosures. I cannot stress enough the importance of having your chosen heater hooked up to a thermostat. Without having the ability to control or check the temperatures in your enclosure, you could potentially not be giving the animal the proper temperature gradient it needs and its health can suffer because of it. MVB bulbs can also be used and are great for combined heat/UV, the only down side is you cant stat them, this can be rectified though by choosing the correct wattage bulb and by having additional controlled bulbs to create a ambient temperature.
With that being said, ambient daytime temperatures of between 26-32 °C (78-89 °F) and a night time drop to around 21-25 °C (69-77 °F) is fine for sailfins. The basking spot should be between 43-48 °C (109-118 °F) and ideally placed directly above your Sailfins favourite hangout spot.
Good UV lighting is essential for all Sailfin Dragons, it helps them absorb vitamin D and make use of the vitamins and minerals they ingest. I provide my sailfins with 12% D3+ T5 Arcadia bulbs or MVB bulbs. Leave your UV lighting on for 12/13 hours a day in order to give your Sailfin a decent day and night cycle.
With just a quick glance at a sailfin you can see they are built for water. Their long tails, webbed toes and bulky hind legs make them ideal swimmers. So it goes without saying that they need a large source of water. We use large plastic containers that cover at least half of the bottom of the enclosure.
Sailfins need to have their water changed daily. They defecate and drink from the same bowl, so it’s vital that you always keep the water in their enclosure fresh.
Being from a tropical environment, humidity is incredibly important for Sailfins. The humidity in their enclosure should never really fall below 75% we aim for around 80% and higher. Mist twice daily and provide a large water source to aid in keeping it at an acceptable level.
The humidity in the enclosure helps keep them hydrated and helps with shedding so it’s important to provide a decent level of it. If the humidity isn’t correct it can cause all sorts of internal damage to your dragon (kidney failure and respiratory infections being two of the main ones).
Very little is known about the natural diet of Sailfin dragons and its widely debated just how much protein they actually need. This can be pretty frustrating but at the same time pretty fun. I find the ratios stated below to work well for my dragons.
Sailfins are omnivorous so they need a very wide variety diet. I keep my adults on a 70% veg/green/fruit diet and reserve the other 30% for protein. Try feed as much variety as possible, sailfins change their “favourite” food constantly so they will become very bored, very fast if you keep offering them the same foods. I try to include a bare minimum of 10 different food types in each meal. A few of the main greens I offer are dandelion, mustard greens, collard greens, watercress, water spinach, kale and wild rocket. Other foods such as parsnip, sweet potato, butternut squash, elderflower, sunflower sprouts, bell peppers, strawberries, apple, hibiscus, lavender, alfalfa, basil, pea shoots, blackberries, cantaloupe, carrot, blueberries, grapes, rose and banana, usually go down well.
Again though I’ve just scratched the surface of foods you can offer. The list is endless so have fun with it. I’d strongly recommend giving your sailfin the option to forage within it’s enclosure, this is a healthy form of enrichment for them. I do this by hanging iceberg lettuce or lamb lettuce in the enclosure. Now whilst iceberg lettuce is not suitable as a staple part of their diet, it is a incredibly effective form of hydration for your sailfin. I dust all food with a multi-vitamin supplement (arcadia pro earth a) and dust with a calcium supplement 5 times a week.
For protein I use different types of insects and crustaceans. Locusts, waxworms, roaches and crickets are some of the main ones I offer my dragons. For adult sailfins you can offer different types of small fish (minnows and guppies seem to be a firm favourite) also different types of shellfish always go down well.
Younger sailfins are best kept manly on insects. They need the extra protein to help them grow and develop into strong healthy adults. Younger sailfins don’t really show interest in greens until they are around 6 months old. I always have fresh greens available in their enclosures but offer them insects every day.
Sailfins have a reputation of being quite flighty (this is especially the case with much younger sailfins). With calm and confident handling though, there is a good chance they will calm down. Never put too much pressure on them and when possible only handle them on their terms. These are a incredibly impressive animals so treat them with the respect they deserve.
If you want to work on increasing the level of tolerance your dragon has for you, tong feeding them insects or holding their food bowl while they eat can be quite effective. I find its also best that when you’re getting them out of their enclosure do it swiftly and calmly. Chasing them around the enclosure only makes them more skittish and can potentially harm the relationship you have with your dragon. Saying this though, sailfins usually calm down once they are adults. Young sailfins have a lot to look out for in the wild so bare this in mind when you have a young dragon that doesn’t seem to calm down. Give them time.
Spot clean daily and do full substrate changes when needed. I recommend looking into bio active substrates. In a nutshell this is adding a clean up crew of micro fauna into the enclosure to clear up any waste left behind by the enclosures inhabitant. We find this extra handy with big humid enclosures.
If the humidity is adequate you should have no trouble with your Sailfin shedding. Increasing misting around this time can help with any stubborn sheds.
Potential Health Problems
Sailfins have the same health problems as other lizards. WC specimens often carry parasites, so it’s very important to get a faecal done as soon as you can. Sailfins (like most lizards) are fairly prone to respiratory infections and kidney failure if the humidity or heating isn’t correct. I have a faecal test done on my sailfins every 6 months, in order to check to see if they are carrying any parasites they may have acquired from livefoods.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.