Chinese Water Dragon

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  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Family: Agamidae
  • Conservation status: Not Evaluated
  • Habitat: Creeks, rivers and lakes
  • Length: 9 m (3 feet) with tail
  • Weight: 0.5-3kg (1.1-2.2lbs)
  • Food: Carnivore
  • Speed: 18km/h (12mph)
  • Predators: Snakes, Birds, Mammals
  • Sexual Maturity: 2.1 m (6 ft 11 in) and 12–14 years of age
  • Lifespan: 10-20 years
  • Litter size: 6 to 18 eggs
  • Distinctive Feature: Long tail and flattened shaped feet
chinese-water-dragon reptile

Chinese water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus) are arboreal daytime lizards, from the Southeast Asia humid jungles, semi-aquatic, very active, that require a large, tall terrarium with a container of water in which they will bathe often.

Originating in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma; they are also known as: Asian Water Dragon, Thai Water Dragon or Green Water Dragon(Eastern or Australian Water Dragon).

Food Water dragon

The basic diet is insects (crickets) or beetle larvae (superworms, kingworms, mealworms, waxworms), or other insects bred for reptile feeding. Insects captured in nature are not recommended because they can be carriers of diseases or insecticides, pesticides to which they acquired immunity, but lizards could be severely affected. Before feeding, the worms are powdered with mineral supplements (especially Ca) and vitamins.

At maturity they can feed, if accepted, on the following vegetables: peas, green beans (thawed at room temperature or fresh), broccoli, endive, carrots (max. once a week), parsley leaves (small amounts), tomatoes, dandelion leaves, rose petals, flowers, rosehip, apples, berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries)(thawed or fresh), cantaloupe and red grapes (max. once a week), pears, kiwi, mango, papaya, opuntia fruits, strawberries, cherries, apricots, peaches (peeled). The vegetables are finely chopped, not to choke on.

Features Water dragon

They can live 10-20 years if properly cared for. Air humidity should be maintained at 70-80%, and a necessary presence of a water tank big enough for the reptile to fit entirely. Water depth in the basin should be 10-15cm. They can stay under water up to 25 minutes.

Mostly insectivorous, towards maturity they can accept also mice (maximum one a week or two weeks), small fish (rarely) or certain fruits and vegetables (10-15% of the diet). In general they only accept live food, being attracted to the prey’s movement. In stores there are several varieties of insects or larvae also frozen mice of different sizes.

They soften up easily, thus being highly appreciated by this hobby’s enthusiasts. Do not keep two males in the same terrarium because they will fight and seriously injure each other. You can instead keep a pair or more females with one male, but it is good if the animals in the same terrarium aren’t of the same size, to avoid the risk of accidents. Males grow up to about 90cm, females 60-70cm total length. The tail represents approximately 70% of the total length.


They are tropical forests lizards, the terrarium must be warm and humid. The average daytime temperature should be between 28-30 Celsius, with a place for "sunbathing" (under the heating light) where the temperature can reach 35C. At night the temperature can drop to 24-26 C, heat is provided by a type of heater called "heatpad". Humidity should be kept within the limits of 70-80%. You can use an artificial waterfall and/or a mist generator (fogger, mist maker) to keep the moisture in those limits. Humidity below 60% or above 85% may adversely affect lizards.

Recommended terrarium: H 180cm x L 120cm x W100cm. The terrarium will need to have branches at the top because these lizards love to sit up high, will contain a heating bulb and a fluorescent tube providing the necessary UVB rays for 5.0 ultraviolet. Ultraviolet rays help the animals to synthesize vitamin D3, without which the calcium is not fixed in bones, leading to serious disorders (MBD – Metabolic Bone Disease).

Please note, the distance at which the UVB rays retain its effectivenes is within 30cm from the tube, it is necessary to place a branch at the suitable distance. The terrarium should also have a water container, large enough for the lizard to fit completely in, and 10-15cm depth. The water will be changed daily or as often as needed because they tend to defecate in the pool.

For heating during the night, use a rainforest heatpad (Exo-Terra). The suitable substrate is the coconut humus, moistened, because it is quite soft and does not cause damage to lizards which tend to jump from the branches directly in the water basin or soil, and it doesn’t get moldy in a humid environment like other substrates. If it gets moldy , change it as soon as possible, existing molds can make the reptiles very sick. Usually if there is proper ventilation, the substrate won’t mold. Do not use a conifer substrate (pine, cedar etc.) as it emanates toxic substances for reptiles.

Sexual dimorphism

In young lizards sex determination is impossible, but as they grow it can be distinguished easily enough. The male has a highlighted occipital crest, larger head, larger spines on the back, larger femoral pores reddish-yellow colored. It also has a goiter, colored in pink, orange, blue or yellow and it grows larger than in females. Females usually have green goiters, with black spots, small and uncolored femoral pores and the occipital crest and spines on the back are smaller than in males.

Common problems

Since they tend to jump from heights and can not perceive ”transparency”, they can hurt their muzzle pretty bad jumping from the branches directly in the terrarium’s glass. The bottom side of the terrarium shouldn't be transparent (you can cover the glass with paper or other material, over a height of 15cm) because if they see through the glass they will try to cross through it and get hurt in the process. It is even better if the terrarium is not build from glass, it can be made out of chipboard, and then you can insulate from the inside with environmental friendly varnish or aquarium silicone diluted in acetone.

Reproduction Water dragon

Four weeks after mating the female lays the eggs, and after three months of waiting, the young ones take their first steps. The nests in which the eggs are deposited are made along riverbanks, beaches, close to the water for the offsprings to be well protected from attackers. The female uses all her energy to defend her hatchlings. The female lays 30 to 60 eggs, then camouflages the nest. Doesn’t spend much time there to avoid attracting the attention of predators that could eat the eggs.

After 3 months the female checks the nest. The young will hatch. They have between 85 and 115 grams. They are victims of racoons or oter predators who could easily eat them when they hatch. In general only 10%-15% of young survive. When hatching, they have a food reserve that can last 4 months. To protect them, the female will often carry them around in her mouth.

At first the hatchlings are clumsy in the water , but stay close to their mother. Wondering off puts them in jeopardy, making them an easy prey for the animals in the river. They grow slowly, just 25-30 cm per year. At 3 years old they hunt small fish and insects, which become their main source of food.

At the age of 8 they can already reach 2 meters length. They feed on large fish, frogs, birds, snakes and even land animals that cross the rivers. At this age they can attack people too. They immediately attack the prey after it enters the water, following its instinct to attack. The crocodile tears the prey by rolling and swallows the chinks whole. If the river is crossed by a herd of antelopes, the hatchlings have a hard time capturing anything so they depend on the prey obtained by the dominant crocodiles. People fear them , and poachers, unfortunately, look to hunt them.

Did you know that:

It can live up to 20 years.

The basic diet is insects

Chinese water dragons are arboreal daytime lizards.

Pictures Water dragon animal

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