Chinese Water Dragon Care Sheet provided by Reptifiles
Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)
Chinese water dragons are an arboreal lizard native to tropical broadleaf forests near freshwater lakes and streams. They are known for their stunning green color, and males are particularly striking, with a large crested head and spikes down the length of their spine.
Chinese water dragons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. They are primarily insectivorous, which means that they eat bugs. However, they are well known to supplement this diet with small animals, fruits, and vegetation, which technically makes them omnivorous.
Chinese water dragons are fairly large lizards, and can grow up to 36” long from snout to tail, with females being significantly smaller. They typically have a 10-15 year lifespan with good care.
- 4' x 2' x 4' Zen Habitats Enclosure (for juveniles)
- 6’ x 3’ x 6’ front-opening enclosure (create larger enclosures with extension kits by Zen Habitats)
- 5” dome heat lamp with ceramic socket, x3
- 90w PAR38 halogen flood heat bulb, x3
- 120w radiant heat panel
- Proportional thermostat
- 46” T5 HO forest UVB bulb
- 48” T5 HO fixture with reflector
- 48” 6500K fluorescent bulb or LED
- Power strip with programmable digital timer
- 2 gallon pressure sprayer
- 65 gallon Christmas tree storage bin
- Sphagnum moss
- Sturdy live or artificial plants and foliage
- Temperature gun
- Digital thermometer/hygrometer, x2
- Calcium supplement w/o vitamin D3
- Live feeder insects
- Soft-tipped feeding tweezers
Chinese water dragons are fairly large lizards that need a lot of space, which is why they should be kept in no smaller than a 6’ x 3’ x 6’ enclosure (unless they are juveniles) However, keep in mind that larger is ALWAYS better!
For the lizard’s mental health and ease of access, it is best to use an enclosure that is front-opening and opaque on all sides but the front. Ideally there should also be ventilation on the top, sides, and front.
Can multiple Chinese water dragons be kept together?
No. Although breeders have been known to successfully keep them in small groups of one male and two or more females, this arrangement requires a much larger enclosure and is not practical for anyone not interested in breeding. Fortunately, Chinese water dragons are not social, and are perfectly fine when housed alone.
Chinese water dragons are diurnal, which means that they are active during the day. In other words, they absolutely MUST have lighting that mimics the beneficial effects of the sun, or else they will get sick and die. This includes both UVB and full-spectrum lighting for best results.
For a Chinese water dragon in a 6’ long enclosure, you will need a 46” Arcadia T5 HO 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0 in a reflective T5 HO fixture. The basking branch should be placed as follows:
- UVB mounted over mesh: dragon’s back is 7-9” below UVB lamp when basking
- UVB mounted under mesh: dragon’s back is 12-15” below UVB lamp when basking
(These recommendations are approximations. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of around 3.0 – 4.0 in the basking area.)
It’s also a good idea to install a nice bright full-spectrum light fixture or two across the length of the enclosure — look for 6500K fluorescent or LED. The Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar and Bio Dude Glow & Grow are both good choices.
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day. All lights must be turned off at night.
Unlike humans, Chinese water dragons are cold-blooded, which means that they need external heat for their bodies to work properly. This external heat should mimic the temperatures they receive in their natural habitat:
- Basking area temperature: 90-95°F (32-35°C)
- Daytime air temperature: 77-86°F (25-30°C)
- Nighttime temperature: 75-77°F (24-25°C)
Your water dragon will need a sturdy uncovered horizontal branch for basking under the heat lamp. Because Chinese water dragons are fairly large lizards, you will need multiple heat lamps to create a large enough basking area to provide even heating. The wattage it will take to accomplish this varies according to room temperature and distance between the lamp and the basking spot, but 90w PAR38 halogen flood bulbs like the Philips 90w Halogen Flood Bulb should do the trick. If they get too hot, use a plug-in lamp dimmer to reduce the bulbs’ output. If it they’re too cool, try higher wattage bulbs.
Chinese water dragons need fairly warm nighttime temps, so unless your home tends to be 75-77°F at night, you’ll need a lightless heat source to make things comfortable for your pet. The Vivarium Electronics 120w radiant heat panel connected to a Herpstat 1 proportional thermostat is a great solution to this problem. Secure the thermostat probe to the basking branch with a zip tie for best results.
Track your temperature gradient with a temperature gun like the Etekcity 774.
Humidity and Water
Chinese water dragons need high humidity levels in their enclosure. Average daytime humidity should be 60-80%, and higher at night.
How do you do this? You will need a pump-style pressure sprayer and, if you live in a dry area, a cool mist humidifier/fogger. Use the sprayer to heavily mist the entire enclosure in the early morning before the lights turn on, and again at night after the lights turn off. If you need the fogger, set it to turn on and off several times in the 5-6 hours before the lights turn on.
Foggers can get dirty easily, so make sure to use distilled water and to disinfect the unit regularly. Installing an automatic misting system can help make misting more convenient.
Pro tip: Keep track of temperatures and humidity levels with a quality measuring device like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer and Humidity Gauge, with the temperature probe near the basking spot and the humidity probe in the lower regions of the enclosure. Secure the probe to the branch with a zip tie.
Chinese water dragons also need to have a large “pool” of water in their enclosure. They are proficient swimmers, can hold their breath for up to 25 minutes, and are known to sleep in the water. To meet this need, you will need to provide a large, deep basin of water on the floor of the enclosure — a 65 gallon Christmas tree storage bin is an inexpensive way to meet this need.
Change the water in your dragon’s pool once a week or whenever it gets soiled. If soiled, give the basin a good scrub with animal-safe disinfectant before refilling. Using a Python siphon makes emptying easier.
Since Chinese water dragons are arboreal, substrate isn’t as important as it is for terrestrial species. In fact, if you can manage it, it’s best to have a pool of water as the “substrate” in your enclosure. However, if you’re just using the storage bin for a pool, then it’s a good idea to layer a moisture-retentive substrate over the rest of the floor. Several inches of moistened sphagnum moss works well, and provides a cushion in case your dragon falls from its perch.
Change the sphagnum moss at least once a month to prevent mold.
Decorating the Terrarium
Terrarium decorations are more than just pretty — they’re an important part of making it functional and feel like “home” for your pet. Since they’re arboreal, Chinese water dragons need access to lots of sturdy branches and other climbing objects like thick vines, ropes, and even shelves. They also need patches of dense vegetation where they can hide from sight as needed. Live hanging or potted plants are best for this, but you can use artificial plants in a pinch. Appropriate live plants include dracaena, hibiscus, ficus, pothos, philodendron, spider plant, staghorn fern, bromeliad, and air plants.
All climbing objects must be securely attached to the sides of the enclosure to prevent accidents.
Feeding Your Chinese Water Dragon
- 0-3 months old: daily
- <16” long: every other day
- >16” long: every 3-4 days
The dragon should be offered as many insects as it will eat via feeding tweezers in a 5 minute period. Salad should be provided daily. Hard-bodied insects should be no longer than the dragon’s head and no wider than the space between its eyes.
Chinese water dragons are prone to obesity, so keep an eye on your pet’s body condition. If it’s getting too skinny, offer more bugs. If too fat, offer less food. It helps to use photos of wild Chinese water dragons as a reference.
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Discoid roaches
- Dubia roaches
- Snails (captive-bred only!)
- collard greens
- cactus pads
- spring mix
- bok choy
- carrot greens
- dandelion greens/flowers
- hibiscus greens/flowers
Variety is the key to a healthy and happy Chinese water dragon. You can also offer occasional treats like pinkies, fuzzies, live-bearing fish, and pieces of fruit (no citrus).
Most feeder insects have an imbalance in their calcium to phosphorous ratio, which means that you need to coat them in calcium to bring that nutrient ratio into balance. Without dusting, your pet can develop a mineral deficiency and become very sick. Adding a multivitamin helps prevent vitamin deficiencies as well.
All feeder insects should be lightly dusted with a 50/50 mixture of calcium and multivitamin powders to correct the calcium-phosphorus ratio and provide extra nutrition at each feeding. Arcadia Earthpro-A and Repashy Calcium Plus LoD are both excellent all-in-one supplements you can use.
All feeder insects should be gutloaded for at 24-48 hours prior to feeding.
Some Chinese water dragons don’t mind handling, while others would really rather be left alone. Generally speaking, captive-bred water dragons are more likely to be tolerant of human interaction than wild-caught individuals. Here are some ways to build trust with your pet lizard:
First, leave your new pet alone for a 2 weeks after bringing it home. Make sure it’s healthy, eating, and drinking during this time. Feel free to watch and admire, but don’t touch.
Once your dragon is eating regularly and overall seems to have acclimated, introduce yourself with food. Offer an insect or treat with a pair of rubber-tipped tweezers. It may take a while for the dragon to decide to take it — be patient and don’t shove the food in your pet’s face. Offering food earlier in the day rather than later will increase your likelihood of success.
Once your dragon is comfortable with your hands being in its space and it doesn’t run away when you approach, you can try picking it up. Be very gentle and never grab from above. Instead, slide your hand(s) under its belly and support as much of its body as you can to help it feel secure.
Keep in mind that each Chinese water dragon is its own individual, so if you know someone with a super tame and friendly dragon, don’t be surprised if yours isn’t the same way. Tailor your handling schedule to your dragon’s individual tolerance and love it regardless.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.