The Hydrosaurus weberi is an interesting lizard with an unusual appearance; some have described it as always looking like it’s about to sail off into the sunset.

Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim

So why do some people think it’s “cheap”? Lendl Lin shared his experiences in raising this creature with Animal Scene and addresses several misconceptions about it.

Q: Can you give us a basic introduction to the Hydrosaurus weberi, and how it came to be in the Philippines? How big can you expect it to grow, how long is its lifespan, and what other basics should those interested in it know?

A: Our Hydrosaurus available in the reptile-keeping scene are already captive-bred and if memory serves me right, my oldest Hydrosaur has already been with me for 13 years. Biggest I’ve seen is around 2.5 feet. A common problem is that these reptiles, if not used to their enclosures and handlers, will often rub their snouts against it and this sometimes causes permanent damage or wounds that could affect their well being. They usually eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and insects.

Q: What for you are the defining characteristics of Hydrosaurus weberi, the thing or things that make them special and/or distinguishes them from other, similar creatures?

A: For me, weberis are smaller and more brightly colored. Like other hydrosaurs, they have a sail in their tail, hence the name “Sailfin Lizard.”

Q: Was it difficult for you to raise a Hydrosaurus weberi? What are the best things you’ve learned about keeping it, in your experience? What challenges did you face in its care, and how did you overcome these?

A: It was kind of challenging for me to raise the babies because with the incorrect substrate and temperature in the enclosure, they get uncomfortable and sometimes turn sick. Some keepers put them in cocopeat which, in my observation, irritates their eyes. And sometimes the enclosure becomes too humid, which could lead to respiratory infections. They also need lots of calcium and vitamins and UV exposure.

I have kept an intergrade sailfin before and didn’t gave it ample calcium and UV exposure, which led to a slight metabolic bone disorder, but then we got to correct the problem by using more ReptiCalcium from Zoo Med and adding a decent Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 UV light.

Q: Do their care requirements vary from other, similar creatures? Do they need a lot of attention? Do they need a special diet? What do they eat? What kind of exercise do they require? Will they need a special habitat?

A: Yes, they do need a lot of attention. You have to check if their eyes are fully opened, that they are breathing well, their limbs are functioning well, and their whole bodies shouldn’t have any deformities. As for the diet, I give them a wide variety of fruits like grapes, melon, and papayas, and greens like mustard greens, water cabbage, and other leafy greens. Of course they also need insects like roaches and worms. I regularly feed them these dusted with Reptile calcium with D3 from Zoo Med and give them Reptile Vitamins (also from Zoo Med), once a week.

Sailfin Lizards are generally active lizards and they tend to be arboreal. So giving them a wide and tall enclosure should be ideal. They also enjoy soaking in the water.

Q: What are the characteristics of a healthy Hydrosaurus weberi? Conversely, what signs should keepers look out for that indicate when it is sick? What are its common health problems that keepers should watch out for?

A: Signs of a healthy Hydrosaurus are:- Active- Feeding- Limbs and toes are functioning well- Alert- Open eyes Signs of a sick/unhealthy Hydrosaur:- Watery eyes- Sleepy- Inactive- Limbs not functioning well- Deformed backbone or tail

Q: Are there misconceptions about Hydrosaurus weberi that you would like to correct among those who have heard of it but who do not know it well?

A: Well, in the Philippines, when you say “Sailfin Lizards,” oftentimes people will lose interest because of its behavior of being too skittish, to the point that it destroys its snout and sometimes fingers. Another fault when it comes to them is that people don’t really take care and invest in addressing their needs because people find them “cheap.” This is because other Hydrosaurus, like the Pustulatus, are locally caught and are often sold cheap. But they don’t know how beautiful the Hydrosaurus species are. Just invest in their cage, lighting, supplements, and other needs; they can be very beautiful to keep.

Q: For someone who is interested in keeping a Hydrosaurus weberi for a pet, can you give them things to consider before taking the plunge? Who would they make ideal pets for? Or are they better suited to aficionados who want to study them?

A: They need a big space, money to invest in a nice UVB, enclosure, supplements and other caging needs. They need time and proper husbandry and understanding of this animal. People tend to force the hydrosaurus to be submissive and to be “tamed” but they have to understand that this is very unnatural for the animal and it is not nice to force something on the animals. We should understand our reptiles rather than the reptile understanding us. For me it is more for the serious reptile keeper.

Q: How much of a commitment does it take to keep Hydrosaurus weberi, and what advice would you have for someone who is keeping them for the first time? Were there any mistakes that you made as a beginner that you feel other beginners should learn from?

A: As a beginner with Hydros, which was like 10 years ago, I was told that they feed mainly on veggies and that they are iguanas. Thus the growth was bad and slow. But upon researching more and at length about the sailfin lizards, I learned that they need protein too. Another thing people should know is not to keep them in small enclosures.

Q: Are there any risks involved in keeping Hydrosaurus weberi? If so then what is your advice on how to best avoid or lessen these risks?

A: They aren’t venomous, and I keep my sailfins in a community without any issues; the only issue that I could think of is the space.

Q: What, in your experience, are the best tips for taking care of Hydrosaurus weberi? Are there any unique situations you’ve encountered and solved?

A: They are very smart. They know when you’re around and they tend to recognize things like their feeding tongs, cups, and even their water bowls.

Q: How does Hydrosaurus weberi interact with humans? Can they show affection the way traditional pets do, or do they express themselves another way?

A: Well in general, reptiles don’t show affection too much, not unless you have food around. But nevertheless, hydrosaurus species are very smart and curious. You look at them in the eye and you know that they are there looking back at you and trying to understand why you’re there.

This appeared as “Colorful and Smart: The Hydrosaurus weberi” in Animal Scene’s May 2016 issue.