Chinese Water Dragon

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Species group:

Other common names: Asian Water Dragon; CWD; Thai Water Dragon; Green Water Dragon

Scientific name: Physignathus cocincinus

The basics:
Much favored by Green Iguana fans who lack the space for a 6-foot-long lizard, the Chinese Water Dragon is among the best of all large lizard pets. They do need a good deal of space, however, and careful attention must be paid to their husbandry, but most keepers find that these impressive beauties are well-worth the efforts involved in their upkeep.

The Chinese Water Dragon’s range extends from southern China through Vietnam and Cambodia to Thailand. They are always found near water, frequenting river and canal edges, swamps, brushy, flooded fields and plantations, and similar habitats. Highly arboreal, startled individuals fall from overhanging branches into water or heavy cover to make their escape.

Appearance / health:
Superficially resembling scaled-down Green Iguanas, Chinese Water Dragons are among the most impressive of Southeast Asia’s lizards. Males, which sport huge heads, sharp claws, and a row of soft spines down the back and tail, may top 3 feet in length. Females have smaller heads and crests, and top out at 2 feet. The attractive light to dark green coloration varies with the ambient temperature. The throat, especially in mature males, may be tinged with pink, orange or yellow. Stripes, ranging from off-white to brown and green, decorate the tail and, to a lesser degree, the sides of the body.

With proper care, Water Dragons can reach 10-15 years of age. However, they are alert and high-strung, and will flee from noises, cats, and other threats. Injuries during such escape attempts are common, as they drop from branches when startled. Individuals housed in cramped quarters will run along the glass and are prone to snout and jaw abrasions and other injuries. Fine/gritty substrate may lodge along the gums and in the eyes of animals constantly seeking to escape their enclosure. Un-mated females and those kept without a suitable nest site often retain their eggs; unmated females should be spayed. Some Water Dragons in the trade are wild-caught and may be afflicted with various parasites. A veterinarian can run fecal tests and treat parasites.

Respiratory diseases can take hold if your pet is kept at sub-optimal temperatures, and intestinal blockages caused by ingested substrate are sometimes a concern. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure.

Behavior / temperament:
Water Dragons are ever-alert for danger, and even long-term pets are easily startled. They will resist being grabbed or otherwise restrained…best to allow the animal to walk onto a forearm or to treat as a “hands-off” pet. Water Dragons can inflict severe injuries with their teeth, tails, and nails; the mouth and tail should never be allowed near one’s face. Large Water Dragons are not suitable pets for children.

Water Dragons forage on the ground but are otherwise arboreal, and will be stressed if kept in enclosures that do not allow climbing opportunities. Youngsters may be raised in 30 gallon terrariums, while a single adult will need a home measuring approximately 6 x 4 x 5-6 feet (l x w x h). In suitable climates, predator-proof outdoor enclosures are ideal options. Numerous stout branches should be provided. Sturdy live plants (Pothos, Philodendron, Spider Plants) or artificial plants should be added. Water Dragons always live near heavy cover and will be ill-at-ease in bare terrariums. Never position rocks below braches, as startled Water Dragons may jump to the floor and be injured. A water bowl large enough for bathing must be provided.

The substrate should be capable of holding moisture and soft enough to cushion falls. Cypress mulch is ideal; avoid fine substrates such as peat and coconut husk, which tend to lodge around the eyes and jaws.

Water Dragons will not thrive without daily exposure to ample UVB. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances than do florescent models, and also provide beneficial UVA. They require a temperature gradient of 82-88 F and a basking temperature of 95-100 F. Large enclosures will allow your pet to thermo-regulate by moving from hot to cooler areas. This behavior is important to long-term health, and is usually not possible in small cages. Humidity should be kept at 75-85%, but there must be dry basking areas available as well.

Males are territorial and will fight savagely. Females often co-exist, but may also battle for dominance.

Water Dragons need a varied diet. Crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with vitamin/mineral preparations, are not an adequate diet. Earthworms, roaches, locusts, crayfish, crickets, butterworms, silkworms, and other commercially-available invertebrates should be offered regularly. Insects should themselves be provided with a nutritious diet for 1-3 days before being offered to your pets. Whole vertebrates such as minnows, shiners and pink mice represent the best means of meeting their high calcium requirements. Pink mice should be used less often than fishes (once each 7-14 days), and furred rodents are best avoided. A steady diet of goldfishes may lead to health problems.

Wild Water Dragons consume some vegetation, but captives often reject non-living foods. Adding live insects to a bowl of kale, dandelion, apples, peaches and other produce may encourage them to sample the salad.

Depending upon the type of food, Water Dragons can be fed daily, every-other-day or thrice weekly; young fare best when fed frequently. Food (other than vertebrates) should be powdered with a calcium supplement. Vitamin/mineral supplements should be used 2-3 times each week. While ingested substrate is usually passed, food is best offered in bowls to limit potential problems.

Mature males exhibit larger heads and jowls than females, and exceed them in length and weight. Breeders should be at least 2 years of age and 2 feet in length. Your pets may reproduce without temperature manipulation, but more consistent results will be had by subjecting them to 4-6 week period of cooler temperatures (72 F by night, 75-78 F, with a basking site of 83 F, by day) and a reduced day length of 10 hours.

Females housed in large enclosures may use a large plastic contained filled with 12-16 inches of moist sphagnum moss and sand. Otherwise, they may be removed to a large plastic garbage can or similar container when digging is observed. Clutches may contain 6-20+ eggs. The eggs can be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 84-86 F for 50-75 days. The hatchlings measure 6 inches in length (with tail).

Written by Frank Indiviglio


great temperment, BEAUTIFUL animals, cute personalities, friendliest reptiles, fantastic pets


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