Eastern water dragons

I suppose most people are frightened of dragons. I certainly am. Recently on a bushwalk I almost trod on one. True it wasn’t the dragon you find in myths or on Welsh rugby shirts: it was slightly less than a metre long – and most of that was tail.

I’m talking about the eastern water dragon, a common lizard around Sydney. There I was ambling along, lost in thought, when this scaly mini-monster dashed from under my feet. It was the sudden movement and the crocodile-like appearance that set my heart racing.

Its skin, or hide, suggested armour plating, and a row of jagged spines led from the head right down the back. A large black stripe on the face and lateral bands on the body were also obvious. It wasn’t pretty.

When I’d recovered from my, admittedly not very terrifying, experience I examined the cause of my discomfort. The creature looked aggressive. It had stopped a short way off and waited, head in the air as if ready for action. We eyed each other, then I took a step too close and the dragon was gone.

Yes, yes, I know dragons are mythical – or are they? In Indonesia there is the next best – or worst – thing. Here can be seen the famous monitor lizards known as Komodo dragons which grow up to three metres in length and can weigh around 80kg. They have been known to attack and kill children. Our eastern water dragon is a much more modest reptile but can still frighten by appearing unexpectedly – as I had just discovered.

Taronga Zoo is a good place to see water dragons. In the warmer months they can be seen stretched out on paths, rocks, or tree branches. If you approach slowly they will remain still, thus affording the zoo visitor almost as good a view as do the elephants.

As I moved off I heard a scurrying among the dead leaves and there was the dragon peeping out from behind a rock: presumably as curious about me as I was about him. Or her.

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