The Ultimate Chinese Water Dragon Care Sheet
Have you ever thought of getting a pet that is different from a normal cat or dog? You do not hold any grudges against dogs and cats. They are very cute and fun, but they are also too mainstream. You are looking for something different, something that wows your guests when they visit your house or surprises your friends when they know you own one. If you are looking for something like that, look into amphibians and lizards.
They are becoming more and more popular among the pet community in the recent years and they become popular for good reasons. Furthermore, if you look for a fun, vibrant looking lizard in particular, like something you would see in a rainforest documentary since you were a kid, then you may like a Chinese Water Dragon. What is a Chinese water dragon? Are Chinese Water Dragons good pets? Green, vibrant color looking and not too tricky to take care of, the Chinese water dragon has captured many pet owners’ hearts and become increasingly popular over the years. If you are looking for one for a pet, this Chinese water dragon care sheet will help you with the first steps of the journey.
What is a Chinese Water Dragon?
Chinese water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus) or also often called Asian Water Dragon originate from the Southeast Asian area (Thailand, southern China, Vietnam, and Cambodia). They are largely diurnal, arboreal lizards, living mainly in tree and bushes branches. Sometimes they are also found in burrows in sandy places. They are semi-aquatic. Thanks to their tail, they can swim well on the water surface.
Many of the Chinese water dragons are still exported to Western countries directly from the Asian countries. A few years ago, it was difficult to find locally bred Asian water dragons and you could only go with the imported one. But that number is fast decreasing due to the increase in captive breeding by private owners, reptile-related businesses and pet shops in America and Europe. If you are not an experienced lizard owner, I would suggest going with the captive bred dragons since they are more likely to be healthier and less stressed from being removed from the wild and the long way of shipment.
Chinese Water Dragon Description And Appearance
Chinese Water Dragon hatchlings are not very big. They are 1-inch snout to vent and 5 to 6 inches in total length. Their bodies often have two shades of colors. The upper half of their body is often brownish green in color while the lower abdominal area is ranging from pale green to white. There are white or beige color stripes running vertically on either size of their bodies. The tail is banded and brown and green in color. They also have very large eyes and a short snout make up the rest of their features. They will constantly keep this color scheme until they grow approximately 10 inches. After a few times of shedding skins, the upper body that used to be brownish green will become bright green, ranging from aqua to a mint color of green. It is difficult to tell the sex when they are hatchlings.
Starting off small in size as hatchlings, the dragons can grow quite large when becoming an adult. Adult males can grow up to 3 feet in length and the adult females go up to 2 feet. Most of the length of the body is made up of the tail of the lizard. The tail is laterally flattened, banded in brown and green and ends in a fine point. The length of the tail makes up to at least 70% of the whole body length.
Being an adult, Chinese water dragons become even more colorful than when they are just hatchlings. The upper section of their bodies ranges from a dark forest green to a light mint green. The lower body color does not change much, ranging from white to very light yellow. The white or beige vertical stripes are now pale green, mint green, aqua or turquoise in color. The throat of juvenile and adult water dragons is the place that changes the most in color. It can be a wide colorful range of very pale yellow, orange, peach, fuchsia, dark purple or even bright pink.
The head is triangular. A male's head will become particularly large and wide. Large, rounded, white scales cover the area just below the mouth and all the way to the larger pointed scales where the head and neck meet. There is a dark stripe running from the lower corner of the eye toward the ear. The dragon's tongue is thick and wide and ends in very small forks, with a sticky surface so it can hold prey. Together with the tongue, the teeth are small and pointed so they can maintain their omnivorous diet, drawing blood from its prey or holding them tight. Luckily, the Chinese water dragons are even-tempered and rarely bite. Throughout this Chinese water dragon care sheet, you will see that they are not at all aggressive towards their human keepers.
Both males and females have well-developed nuchal crests above the neck, but the males tend to have higher and longer spiked crests. Besides, the male in particular also has what is called the parietal or ‘third eye', which is a prominent mid-sagittal crest, a small round shiny scale on top of the head, between the two eyes. It is believed that this third eye is to help water dragons to sense the differences in light. This ability lets them decide upon a good basking spot or they can sense the decreasing light level at nights so they can start finding overnight shelter. It is still a wonder why such necessary adapting feature only exists in the male but not both male and female water dragons.
Water dragons have well-developed and uneven legs. Generally, the back legs are much bigger and more developed than the front legs. The front legs climb and grasp branches so they need to be flexible rather than strong. Meanwhile, the back legs are muscular because of its usage in climbing, swimming, jumping and leaping. They can also run with their back legs alone. And we all know how fast lizards can be. That speed is all thanks to the strong hind legs. The front and hind feet are five-toed. In the hind feet, the middle toes are the longest.
As said earlier, when the water dragons are still hatchlings, it is difficult to determine their sex. They will appear to be female until they grow to at least 14 to 16 inches in length. The development makes their sex easier to recognize to us human keepers because of the developing of larger heads, jowls, and higher nuchal crests. The femoral pores of adult female are smaller than males. You can start telling the dragon's sex when they are about 14 to 16 inches long, and they will not be mature enough to breed until they are about 2 years old and at least 2 feet long.
Chinese Water Dragon Life Span - Wow!
Different from what you may expect, Chinese Water Dragon can live from 10 to 20 years. They are qualified for being a very long term pet.
Where To Buy Chinese Water Dragons?
Most of the time, there are 3 places you can purchase a Chinese Water dragon from. A pet store, a supplier and a breeder.
Pet Store: Pet store is the easiest option for first-time buyers and inexperienced pet owners to look for a Chinese Water Dragon to purchase. Not all pet stores will have Water Dragons but they are likely to have them. You can call beforehand to check with the store. The bad thing about pet stores is that most pet stores do not take care of the water dragons properly. Mostly because they are not experts in these lizards and they don't know how to take care of a chinese water dragon properly. The bad treatment often results in injuries, stress, and ill health. Sometimes, it is not even the pet stores' fault. Most of the available dragons they receive at their stores are wild caught so when they purchased them, they might already be in poor health. Of course, there are two sides of a coin. There are pet stores that don't know how to take care of the dragons. There will be other pet stores that take excellent care of the dragons. I show you how to choose a healthy water dragon below.
Supplier: Suppliers can be a person or a large company that sells and trade water dragons. Many of them often claim that they sell captive bred dragons, and some really do. But you will not be able to know for sure. You must be careful when buying your dragon. Ask many informed questions then make your decision based on the answers and guarantees that you get.
Private breeder: In my opinion this is the best option to get a healthy water dragon. However, it is not as accessible as the other two options. Still, I would recommend you try your hardest to find a private breeder in the area you live so you can buy directly from them. Check online or ask around to see if there are any known breeders in your local area. You don’t have to worry about whether or not your dragons were shipped, and you will be able to see how they are cared for by the breeders and ask all kind of questions you want.
How To Choose A Healthy Water Dragon?
- Look for an active dragon whose eyes are bright and alert. Chinese water dragons, similar to many other lizards and dragons, are pretty territorial so they are always highly alert of their surroundings. Make sure you choose one that looks and act alert.
- Body and tail of the dragon should be slightly rounded and filed out.
- Watch out for wounds, damages, or swelling of their arms, feet, digits or anywhere in their bodies. Use your hand to feel along the dragon's body and tail to check for swellings and unusual lumps.
- Check the snout! It is normal if the area has some kind of markings on it since the Chinese water dragons often bump their heads against the glass but those marks should not appear too swollen or badly damaged.
- Tap on the snout gently and you will see the dragon opens its mouth for you. Check along the gum line, see if there is any sign of swelling, bubbly mucus or caseous deposits. Those signs are often indicators of some common Chinese water dragon illnesses.
- Along the dragon’s vent, there should not be any smeared or caked diarrhea or swelling.
Size and age: For wild caught water dragons, young ones, about 10 to 16 inches in length are the best choice. Wild caught adult dragons don't adapt to captivity well and they are often pretty damaged once they arrive in their new home. The young adults do not often have many problems adjusting to captivity. For captive dragons, any size will be fine. They are usually not skittish, eat well with provided food and have fewer health problems due to stresses and change in habitat. They also tend to have less tendency to bang their snouts against the glass tank, which an adult wild caught does quite often.
Color: The benefit of Chinese water dragon having bright skin color is that those color can be a good indicator of the dragon's health status. If the dragon has a nice green then it is relaxed, happy and healthy. If the color is dark brownish color then it is probably stressed, cold or ill. Always pay close attention to the skin color as well so you can catch any distress and illness of your dragon early.
Reptile Vet: You may think finding a vet the moment you bought a water dragon is too early, but that is not true. Most water dragons from pet stores are wild caught, which make the chance you need to bring them to a vet not long after purchase is very likely. Also, even if your dragon is not wild caught when bringing your dragon home, you are changing its living environment which can cause stress. Water dragons, when stressed, can stay stressed for a while. In serious cases, they may need medical attention from the vet.
Chinese Water Dragon Tank Size
Taking care for these reptiles is not tricky, and pretty straight forward. However, their needs are all very specific. In the wild, water dragons are arboreal lizards, which mean they are climbers. So unlike other lizards who mostly run on the surfaces and climb rocks, therefore, need a shallow tank, the Chinese water dragon needs height in their tank.
Water Dragons need a space that is at least two times their total length in order to live comfortably. That means for an adult male, for example, the enclosure should be at least 6 feet long (from side to side) and since they need height, the tank needs to be about 2 to 3 feet deep and 4 to 6 feet high. For example, as said earlier, the best size for newly purchased water dragon is 10 to 16 inches. With a size like that, they will live very comfortably in this tank on the right.
Water dragons are very territorial. So you need to think carefully before deciding to keep multiple dragons together. They can be kept together, just be very careful. Adult male water dragons are especially territorial, which means they can fight each other to injuries or death inside the same tank. Female water dragons are less territorial, but that does not mean they are completely non-territorial. Some of them are domineering and do not want any other females around. If there are new dragons around, the Chinese water dragon behavior can become aggressive towards the new comers. Some can cohabit with 3 or 4 other female without blood shed, others don´t.
It is important to keep in mind that when you put the water dragons together inside the tank if they haven't fought immediately, that does not mean they won't fight or are not territorial. You must monitor to assure all dragons in the tank are eating and basking properly. Even though they do not fight directly, intimidation can still happen. If that happens, you need to create more feeding spots or separate them, depending on the situation.
You could also increase the tank size or offer more hiding spots.
Chinese Water Dragon Lighting
Natural is best. Natural sunlight would be best for the water dragons. However it is not that easy for many people to let their dragons have access to natural sunlight. If you can get sunlight for your dragon, that´s awesome. If you can´t you need some UVB lighting. I always say, there are only two things for Chinese Water Dragons and most other reptiles when it comes to UVB lighting. One of them is the sun and if the sun is not an option, then there only is the ReptiSun Lamp, which you can see in the picture above. I would never go with another UVB bulb.
The UVB or the ultraviolet B light, especially the one with full spectrum provide the similar type of light waves to the sun. The UVS needs to be in the form of fluorescent lighting. Incandescent bulbs do not produce UVB rays and the water dragon needs UVB for vitamin D so they can process the calcium in their food. The UVB lights should be set up not more than 10 inches away from the light source when basking. The further the UVB is from the dragon, the less effective it is. You should always place the lighting above the tank on a screencover.
The Right Temperature
Chinese Water Dragons came from tropical climate countries, they would like their surrounding environment to stay warm, about 80 to 90F. You need to get some Chinese Water Dragon accessories and one of them are basking lamps.
Unlike the UVB lights, you don't have to be too specific with basking lamps. A regular bulb or incandescent light will work. You will need from one to two for a tank. You can choose the wattage to decide how warm the lights will be, anywhere from 50 watts to 150 watt bulb. Besides, another good heat source is a Zoomed or Pearlco ceramic bulb. The nice thing about these bulbs is that they provide heat only, no light. So at night, they will be perfect for keeping your dragons warm, especially if you live in the colder climate area. These lights produce heat so the bulbs themselves can get very hot. Build a protective wire cage or something similar to prevent the dragon from touching the bulbs. They can be severely burnt if they touch the hot light bulbs. I recommend to place the bulb above the tank and use a screen lid.
Ventilation of the tank is also very important. You should have good ventilation in the cage, you can use some wood to cover 3 out of 4 sides of a tank to trap heat. The temperature should also be gradient: warmer to cooler or dividing the tank vertically with warm and cool side so that the dragon is able to regulate its own temperature in the tank. The dragons like warm temperatures but sometimes when they happen to find the basking lamps too hot, they can have cooler place to go to cool down.
The Right Humidity
Chinese water dragons are from tropical humid climate, they need a humid environment. Humidity inside a tank for Chinese water dragon should be around 80%. This high level of humidity is hard to be contained naturally. There will be water body and plants inside the tank to increase the humidity. But sometimes, that alone is not enough. You may need to mist the enclosure twice a day to keep the humidity up. To be sure you know what the humidity level is, be sure to install a monitor inside the tank. Whenever you see the humidity goes down lower than the desired level, you can mist the enclosure to make the tank more humid. The Thermometer Humidity Gauge on the right works perfect and it is very cheap. Do not waste your money on too expensive accessories.
Chinese Water Dragon Bedding - They Need Water
The Chinese Water Dragon is semi-aquatic so you can line the bottom of the tank with soil, maybe with a little bit of playground sand (not too much) and some water. Try to have about one third of the bottom space filled with water so they have some space to swim. Chinese water dragons love swimming, I mean they are water dragons. 🙂
You can use a large plastic container or make a nice water area using an aquarium. Whatever you use you need the container to be large enough for the dragon to easy to come in and exit out. The water body should be deep enough so the water dragon can immerse at least 50% of its height. The container should also be set so it is easy for removal. You need to be able to clean out the pond as regularly as possible, ideally everyday. Or you can also keep a filter in the water container to keep it clean longer. Remember to also wash the container with soap, not just changing out the water. Besides, have a small ‘pond’ inside the tank is a good way to keep the high required humidity level for the inside.
Besides the pond, for a Chinese water dragon, plants are necessary inside the tank as well. The enclosure is pleasant to look at and the water dragons will have more hiding and climbing spaces. Plants should be repotted in a safe soil mix that does not contain fertilizer so the soil will not negatively affect the dragon’s health. Besides, to be safe, before inserting the plants inside the tank, you can rinse the plant one or a few times in the shower to make sure all the pesticide on the leaves is washed out. Better be safe than sorry. Also when watering the plants, using a mix sprayer will also increase the humidity of the tank.
Chinese Water Dragon Substrate
Substrate is very important to hold and release humidity. Don't go for something too complicated, but do not take sand or something similar. Simple substrates like newspaper and paper towel are easy to clean and replace even though they are not the prettiest materials and I absolutely do not recommend them.
You should go with non-fertilized potting soil, as I already said above, or sphagnum moss. Click here to see which soil is recommended. They are pretty and they will not cause impaction if your dragon eats some of it. However, they take lots of work to clean and replace since you need to clean out and replace these substrates every few months. It is very important that you only use soil on the top of your bedding. If you want to learn more about substrates, click here for my article on substrates for Chinese Water Dragons.
Chinese Water Dragon Diet
What to feed a Chinese water dragon? The answer is many things. Chinese water dragon is omnivorous. Hatchlings eat a LOT. So they will be mostly on a high protein, insect diet. When they grow a bit older, they can decrease the level of protein in their diet. The Chinese water dragon food can include both insects and vegetables.
You can feed a baby water dragon anything that fits into its mouth, including crickets, worms, super worms, goldfish or even small mice. When feeding them, let them eat as much as they want for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove any leftover prey items.
When they are about one year old, their food level can decrease. You only need to feed the adult water dragon about 3 times a week. They now can eat bigger prey like mice, fish, and roaches. They can still consume smaller prey like super worms, crickets, food as they eat when they are younger if you like. Together with insects, you should feed vegetables with the insects every feeding. Chinese water dragons like carrots, sweet potatoes, and especially yellow squash. And do not feed them the whole food. Remember to chop down the vegetables into small cubes that are big enough for the water dragon's mouth. Sometimes, give the water dragons some fruits as sweet treats. They really like strawberry, blueberry, raspberries and bananas. (Pretty much like humans, huh?)
Chinese Water Dragon Illness
Dealing with the Chinese water dragon illnesses, sometimes you need to base on your common sense. There are a few common illnesses that often happen with Chinese water dragon. Use your common sense, care and ability to observe to recognize the symptoms when they appear so if necessary, you can take your dragon to the vet as soon as possible.
- Is you Water Dragon not eating? Most of the dragons' illnesses can be detected through Chinese Water Dragon's behavior. When a water dragon does not eat, it is very likely the dragon is sick. Most often the case, there would be infections in the mouth, snout damage or parasite. The infections can go as light as mouth infection or as bad respiratory infections. The sign of not eating should not be taken lightly. In serious cases, you need to bring your dragon to the vet as soon as possible.
- Listlessness and inactive. If your dragon refuses to eat and become listless, inactive and lethargic, that can be a serious sign of respiratory infection. Respiratory infections are usually caused by inadequate heat and stressful conditions. Water dragons with respiratory infections will not demonstrate obvious signs until the disease has progressed further. So when you catch the signs, you need to bring him/her to the vet as soon as possible.
- Change of skin color. As said earlier, the color of the skin indicates the general status of health of the water dragon. If you catch a change of color of your dragon skin, look closer for any more obvious signs like infections, wounds, or swollen. Feel around the body to see if you can catch anything that might be the source of the bad health status.
- Trust your sense. Water dragons are very good at hiding their illness and usually do not act ill until they are too sick to be helped. Do not hesitate to take it to a reptile vet as soon as possible. You may not have as much time as you think you do.
Why Chinese water dragons are great pets
I often times get asked if chinese water dragons are good pets. My answer is always that they are more than good pets, they are amazing pets. Not only because they look stunning, but also because of their great behaviour towards their owners. After your water dragon really gets used to you, you will have the feeling that you bought a dog instead of a reptile.
It will run around in your room, chew on some stuff it is not allowed to and it will climb on all kinds of stuff. Most Chinese water dragons are tame right from the start, but to make them calm you will have to spent some time with them.
Chinese Water Dragons are vibrantly beautiful. They are large and active lizards that enjoy swimming and climbing. They will live with you for 10 or even 20 years and be your wonderful companion. They have lots of personality. They eat lots of food and need lots of space. Many factors in the tank need to be changed regularly. Taking care of a Chinese Water Dragon is not an easy thing to do. However, it is not tricky either. They have many needs but their needs are specific. They take lots of work but their companionship and beauty make it all worth it. But be sure to do your homework before starting on this journey.
You can also alway ask me in the comment section if you have any problems with your chinese water dragons. I am always happy to help.
About the Author
Hey! I am Pierre. I own bearded dragons and many other reptiles for a very long time. I know from experience that it can be very hard to find the right information about a specific reptile, since there is so much misinformation out there.That´s why I created this website. To help other people to have the best time with their reptiles.