Gilbert's dragon (Lophognathus gilberti)
|Also known as:||Centralian lashtail, Gilbert's lashtail, Gilbert's water dragon, ta ta lizard|
|Synonyms:||Amphibolurus gilberti, Gemmatophora gilberti, Grammatophora temporalis, Physignathus gilberti, Physignathus incognitus, Redtenbacheria fasciata|
|Size||Total length: c. 47.8 cm (2)|
Snout-vent length: c. 12.8 cm (3)
Tail length: c. 34.5 cm (2)
- Gilbert’s dragon is also commonly known as a ‘ta ta’ lizard because of its habit of waving its forefeet after it runs.
- Gilbert’s dragon is normally grey to reddish-brown or black, but has some ability to change colour, becoming lighter or darker.
- A semi-arboreal species, Gilbert’s dragon is agile in the trees and is also capable of sprinting rapidly on the ground.
- Gilbert’s dragon typically hunts its prey by watching for it from a perch in a tree or other vegetation.
Gilbert’s dragon is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Named after the British naturalist who first collected this species (4), Gilbert’s dragon (Lophognathus gilberti) is a medium-sized Australian lizard with a characteristic upright posture and alert, active behaviour (3) (5) (6). Gilbert’s dragon, together with other members of its genus, is also commonly known as a ‘ta ta’ lizard because of its habit of waving its forefeet after it runs (5) (6).
Like other members of the Agamidae family, Gilbert’s dragon has long, slender, well-developed limbs, rough skin and a long, tapering tail (3) (6). This species has a small, serrated crest on the back of its neck and along its back (2) (3). Gilbert’s dragon is usually grey to olive brown, reddish-brown or black and has a broad light stripe along each side of its back (2) (3), which may sometimes be broken into blotches (3). A light band also runs through the upper and lower lip (2).
Adult male Gilbert’s dragons are reported to be generally darker in colour than females, and are also distinguished by their relatively larger head (5), while juveniles have dark cross bars on the body (2). Gilbert’s dragon may have some ability to change colour, for example becoming lighter in full sun and darker in shade, which may help it to maintain its body temperature (5).
Gilbert’s dragon is found only in Australia, where it occurs in western and central Queensland, the Northern Territory, and northern Western Australia (1) (3) (4). It has also been recorded on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia (7).
Although it occurs in a variety of habitats, from coastal sand dunes to grassland, shrubland, woodland, swamps and mangroves (1), Gilbert’s dragon is particularly abundant along the edges of permanent waterways such as rivers and lakes (1) (5). This species rarely occurs more than five metres away from a tree or other vegetation (1).
Gilbert’s dragon is also common in urban areas (5) (6).
A semi-arboreal species (3), Gilbert’s dragon often perches on the trunks and branches of trees as it watches for prey. This lizard is active during the day, and mainly detects its prey using its acute vision, although it is also likely to use sound. Gilbert’s dragon feeds on a variety of insects and other invertebrates, and once a potential prey item is spotted the dragon will typically dash from its perch at great speed to capture it with a dab of its short, sticky tongue (3) (5) (6).
Like related agamid lizards, Gilbert’s dragon is capable of sprinting extremely quickly over short distances, and may even rise up to run on its hind limbs (3) (6). This species is also fast and agile in the trees, and is a capable swimmer that has been known to dive to the bottom to escape capture. Even when active, Gilbert’s dragon appears to prefer to stay in the shade rather than full sunlight (5).
The function of the forefoot-waving display that characterises this lizard is not fully understood, but may potentially serve to distract predators or be used to communicate with other individuals. In addition to waving its feet, Gilbert’s dragon also commonly bobs its head after each short sprint. Other body postures are used in defensive and aggressive displays, such as arching the back and elevating the chest, while courting males bob the head, press the body up and down and twitch the tail. Male Gilbert’s dragons defend a small area against other males, but both males and females change their daily area of activity each day (5).
Although Gilbert’s dragon is an abundant, readily seen species, many aspects of its biology are not well known (5). This species is thought to breed between about September and February (5), and like other species in the Agamidae family it is likely to lay its eggs in a burrow excavated in an open area (3) (6). As in related species, the gender of Gilbert’s dragon hatchlings is likely to be determined by the temperature at which its eggs were incubated, with high and low temperatures typically producing females while those in between produce varying proportions of males (6).
Gilbert’s dragon is widespread and abundant, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction. This common reptile is not known to be facing any major threats at present (1).
There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for Gilbert’s dragon, although it is likely to occur in a number of protected areas across its range (1).
Find out more about Gilbert’s dragon:
The Reptile Database:
More information on conservation in Australia:
Australian Wildlife Conservancy:
Australian Conservation Foundation:
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- Arboreal: an animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
IUCN Red List (February, 2013)
- Boulenger, G.A. (1885) Catalogue of the Lizards in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume I: Geckonidae, Eublepharidae, Uroplatidae, Pygopodidae, Agamidae. British Museum, London.
- Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. Reed New Holland, Sydney.
The Reptile Database (February, 2013)
- Thompson, G.G. and Thompson, S.A. (2001) Behaviour and spatial ecology of Gilbert’s dragon Lophognathus gilberti (Agamidae: Reptilia). Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 84: 153-158.
- Wilson, S.K. (2012) Australian Lizards: A Natural History. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at: