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Chinese Water Dragon Care Sheet

Scientific Name: Physignathus cocincinus

Country of Origin: Southeast Asia

Potential Adult Size: 100cm (36 inches)

Average Life Span: 10-15 years

Dietary Requirements: Omnivorous (mostly insects)

Other Names: Asian water dragon, Thai water dragon, Green water dragon

Natural History

The Chinese water dragon is a lizard native to China and Southeast Asia. This green lizard generally has stark white markings along the lower jaw and dark lines running in bands along the tail.They normally have large spines running along the crest of their head, spine and tail.2/3 to 1/2 of the length of the animal will be tail.

They are most frequently found in the forest near creeks, rivers, lakes or other water bodies with basking areas. They are active in the day time, spending most of their time in trees or plants when not hunting. The dragon can be very quick when treatened and is able to both dive and swim in water when attempting to evade predators.

The Chinese water dragon can eat vegatation but will mostly hunt for insects, small mammals or even small fish.

Chinese Forest
The Asian Forest

Popular Products

Popular Products

Housing

The Chinese water dragons come from a very warm environment so they struggle with the cold of the UK. To insulate against this we recommend keeping the dragon in a wooden vivarium. Due to the temperature gradient required we would normally select an enclosure as close to 4 x 2 x 3ft as possible with large vents and glass sliding front doors.

All of this ventilation should ensure that heat is lost from one side of the enclosure to the other while keeping the basking spot itself at a consistent temperature.

To make sure there is not too much open space for a juvenile we provide a lot more decorations to begin with and slowly remove them as the dragon grows.

Heating

Naturally, water dragons spend a long time basking. Even with the partial cover from the tree tops or plants they would still be sitting in a good amount of heat. As such they require a very warm basking area of 90 to 95of during the day. We try to provide this heat over 1/3 of the enclosure while letting the rest of the enclosure cool to room temperature on the opposite side. To achieve this we attach a strong basking lamp to the ceiling of the enclosure on one side. This is controlled by a dimming thermostat to make sure that the temperature is kept correct throughout the day. The basking lamp is left on for 10-12 hours per day.

At night, all of the lights should go off and the enclosure should be completely dark. This should make sure that the water dragon has a clear day night cycle.

Though at this point the sun has gone down, they would not normally get any cooler than around 80of at night. To provide this warmth throughout the night without introducing light to the enclosure we attach a ceramic lamp to the ceiling in the back corner of the enclosure. This is kept on the warm end, surrounded by a guard and controlled by a pulse thermostat to make sure that it stays at the correct temperature throughout the night. Ideally we would like 1/3 of the enclosure to remain 80of, allowing the rest of the enclosure to drop down to room temperature.

During the day your basking temperatures will be much too warm and the ceramic lamps thermostat should keep it off automatically. The ceramic will only begin to heat the enclosure once the temperatures have dropped below 80of at night time.

Though the thermostats we sell are very reliable it is always best practice to monitor your temperatures with a thermometer. A 5of variance on the basking spot is nothing to worry about as long as your cool side is still cool. A simple dial thermometer on each side should be sufficient but digital probe thermometers are much more accurate.

Juvenile water dragon
Juvenile Chinese Water Dragon
Adult water dragon
Adult Chinese Water Dragon

UVB Lighting

Chinese water dragons are a basking species by nature but they do get partial cover from the canopy and jungle plants so they need an semi-intense UVB source. We recommend a 6% UV tube running at least 2/3 of the length of the enclosure. In some cases we may increase the strength of the lamp depending on how tall the enclosure is however, in a normal 4 x 2 x 3ft vivarium the 6% should be suitable.

UV tubes are currently available in 2 sizes, T8 and T5. The T8 lamps are around 1 inch in diameter, they must be replaced every 6 months or so and they have an effective range of 9-12 inches. T5 lamps are the newer iteration. They are around half an inch in diameter, last 12 months and have an effective range of 18-24 inches.

For these taller enclosures we would always recommend a T5 unit. This unit should be mounted to the ceiling and close to the back wall. This configuration will provide a nice UV gradient from the back of the enclosure towards the front and top to bottom. With the UV and basking lamp set up this way we achieve a temperature gradient along the length and a UV gradient along the width of the enclosure. This means that whatever the dragon's requirements they can find the perfect position within the enclosure.

Though this water dragon is a basking species it may desire some time in an area with no light. To achieve this we would provide partial and full hiding spots throughout the enclosure.

Decoration

Chinese water dragons thrive in a mid to high humidity environment with absorbent decorations to climb over and bask on. When selecting a bedding we try to ensure that the pieces will absorb the moisture from the morning spray and release it throughout the day. In our store we normally use a coarse bark woodchip as it is clean, cheap, easy to spot clean and dust free. If you prefer a more natural looking decoration a soil / moss mix would be perfect. If you plan to keep the dragon in a bio-active enclosure a nutrient rich soil mix with a drainage layer below it.

Though the water dragon has a temperature gradient running from side to side which we will be keeping at the correct temperatures there are times when the dragon will want to get really hot. To allow this we use hard wood decorations like grapevine or lliana pieces situated near the warm end but far enough from the lamps that the dragon is not at risk of coming into contact with the basking lamp. A network or absorbent oak and troncho branches against grapevine or lliana pieces should be used to allow the dragon to get up and around it's enclosure.

Water dragons love the warmth coming from their basking lamp but they also appreciate secondary belly heat which will radiate from warm objects. Natural rocks like slate are perfect for this, so are heavy artificial ornaments. These decorations can be placed under and around the basking area and should warm up nicely. If the lamp is too low there is a chance that natural rocks could get too hot so you are best to check the surface temperature to avoid burns.

As discussed in the lighting section there will be times when the dragon does not want any UV and needs a bit of shade. To ensure that the dragon can get away from the light whenever necessary we advise spreading full and partial cover throughout the enclosure. Examples of full cover decorations would be caves, flat cork pieces or any other ornament that provides a shady spot to rest. Examples of partial cover would include tall plants, trailing plants and themed ornaments.

Diet & Water

Chinese water dragons are omnivorous meaning that they will eat a varied diet of vegetation and meat. Though they can eat vegetation they would rarely seek it out in the wild and this species is much more focussed on the meat portion of an omnivorous diet. In the wild they would catch a range of small mammals, fish and invertebrates. In captivity we have found that live insects are best for this species.

For the meat part of this omnivorous diet we would recommend brown crickets. They are very nutritious, fairly easy for the dragon to hunt, widely available and great value for money. If your dragon will not take them, black crickets and locust are also a brilliant alternative. Every now and again you might want to provide your dragon a treat, for this purpose you could feed: waxworms, calciworms, cockroaches, mealworms or beetle grubs. The grubs and worms tend to be quite fatty so we normally offer these a maximum of once or twice a week. Mealworms, morio worms and cockroaches can be difficult to digest so we would normally only provide these to mature dragons (18 months or older) and only once or twice a week.

We always include a large sized water bowl in the dragons enclosure. You might never see the dragon drink from it but it should be there as a back-up. You might notice the dragon use it for bathing, this is usually to cool down or to help loosen it's shedding skin. Both the food dish and water bowl should be kept on the cool side of the enclosure to prevent it from evaporating too quickly.

Supplements

Chinese water dragons will get most of what they need from their diet but there are some vitamins and minerals that they require in higher concentrations. These are normally provided in the form of calcium and vitamin powders which are dusted onto the live food.

There are many brands and types of supplement but normally they come down to a pure calcium, calcium and vitamin or vitamin only supplement. Within these groups they will also either include or exclude synthetic vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is produced by the reptile when it is exposed to UVB and among other functions it allows the dragon to use the calcium in their diet. If you are sure that the UVB levels in your enclosure are perfect you can use a supplement without D3, if you are nor sure it would be best to use a supplement with some D3.

In our store we currently use a simple calcium powder with D3 and a balanced multi-vitamin with D3 called nutrobal. For most of the animals we alternate these daily so that they get their vitamins every other day while getting calcium every day.

Breeding

If you keep a male and female together, they may breed. You do not need to do anything to encourage this. As long as they are healthy and the conditions are good, it will happen naturally. You need to consider whether you want this to happen before introducing the pair. What will you do with the babies if you incubate the eggs?

A gravid female should have access to a nesting box to lay her eggs. The box should be large enough that she can fully turn-around inside it. Inside the nesting box we use a soil mix that is kept humid enough to hold its shape but not so wet that it will saturate any eggs. We have found that ProRep spider life is perfect for this.

Once laid, the eggs should be incubated in an incubator at 84oF. We incubate our eggs in sealed boxes on a moisture rich substrate (such as Hatchrite) to trap the humidity around the eggs. After approximately 60 days the eggs will start to hatch, the first babies to emerge will encourage the rest of the eggs to hatch.

Cleaning

Chinese water dragons, as with most pets, require a clean environment to thrive. We recommend a spot clean as often as possible (every day) and a full clean every 4 weeks or so. If you are keeping the dragon in a bio-active enclosure you can spot clean and monitor the enclosure. It may still be a good item to change out the bedding a few times per year.

When cleaning the enclosure you should remove your animal, all decorations and all of the bedding. Once the enclosure is clear you can spray it all over with a reptile friendly disinfectant. These usually work very quickly and only need to be left for around 30 seconds, instructions can normally be found on the disinfectants packaging. Once the disinfectant has done its work it can be wiped away from the surfaces with a paper towel. In some cases you might want to repeat this process a second time to ensure that the enclosure is thoroughly cleaned.

Your decorations can be cleaned in a similar method, simply spray them down with the disinfectant and rinse thoroughly with water before drying them off and putting them back into the enclosure. We recommend this process is done during the day time to make sure that the dragon will be going back to a warm vivarium for at least an hour before the basking lamps are turned off for the night.