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Chinese Water Dragons

General Info

Water dragons are native to the Southeast Asian mainland and Indo-Australian archipelago. Most imports arrive from Thailand or southern China. Males typically reach 3 feet; females are somewhat smaller. Males develop larger heads, jowls, and crest on the back of the neck, and their femoral pores are somewhat larger than on the female.

Captive Environment

You will need a large enclosure, one larger than most people think will be needed by a lizard of this size. The reason most water dragons are missing much of their faces, rubbed off from the snout back past the front teeth, is that water dragons will literally rub their flesh off and break their jaw bones trying to get out of a too-small enclosure. They need space at least 2x their total length–so you are talking a minimum of 6' long (side to side), at least 2 - 3' deep, and 4 - 6' high to do it right.

Water dragons can be kept together, with one to three males in a room-sized enclosure. Some females can be domineering, and may not want any other females around...others can co-habit with 3 - 4 females. You must monitor them all the time to ensure that all are feeding and basking properly throughout the year. If any aren't, you are most likely seeing the results of intimidation, and will need to increase the number of basking and feeding areas, and/or increase enclosure size, or separate them.

Water dragons are semi-arboreal, but also need enough water to submerge and swim comfortably in, as well as branches for climbing, and plenty of ground area for roosting and feeding. They also need the appropriate thermal gradients, photoperiods, and a UVB light.

Substrate

The best substrate is a mixture of 2/3 peat soil + 1/3 clean playground sand (NOT calcium sand!), with areas of bark. Cypress mulch or utility carpet mats can also be used. Water dragons have very active digestive systems, so be prepared for lots of messy poop if they don't go in their water.

Branches should be placed on the diagonal for climbing, and horizontal for roosting. Suggestions for suitable live plants include dragon plants (Dracaena), pothos (Scindapsus aureus), Ficus benjamina trees, Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa), and staghorn ferns. Plants will need to be replaced as they are shredded by claws or eaten.

Temperature

Water dragons need it warm. They require temps of 84 - 88º F during the daytime, with a drop to 75 - 80º F at night. Also they must have a basking area going up to 90º F during the day, at one side of tank. Use digital thermometers, as the round stick-on ones can be off by as much as 20º in either direction! And avoid dangerous hot rocks--use overhead basking lights and an undertank heat pad, or place a heating pad under the indoor/outdoor carpeting substrate.

UVB Lighting

Water dragons must have direct sun or a suitable UVB-producing fluorescent (ZooMed's PowerSun bulbs are best). "Plant grow" lights do not produce UVB, and most so-called 'full spectrum" lights do not, either. Proper heat lamps must produce wavelengths in the 290-320 nm range.

Water

Fresh, clean water must be available at all times for full body immersions up to at least 1/2 the dragon's height. Since they frequently use their water bowls as toilets, their bowls must be cleaned and disinfected daily. If they dive into their water from a shelf or branch, you need to make the tub deeper so they do not injure themselves.

Feeding

Hatchlings and Juveniles:

Feed your hatchlings and juveniles 2-3 week old crickets which have been previously "gut-loaded" (e.g., fed a mix of calcium-rich foods such as powdered milk, yellow corn meal, and fresh potato wedges for moisture). Also offer finely chopped vegetables and fruits. As the dragons grow, offer slightly bigger crickets, and occasionally a superworm for a treat. Smaller food items are more nutritious, and more efficiently digested, than fewer bigger items.

Adults:

Feed your adult water dragons superworms, 4-week old (large) crickets, and kingworms (Zoophoba), as well as plant matter. Also feed your water dragon plant matter, such as greens and fruits, for variety.

Sources

Mature Chinese Water Dragon basking on rock Very alert Chinese Water Dragon hatchling Very vibrant young Chinese Water Dragon basking on grapevine perch Chinese Water Dragons love to soak in water for hours Very hand-tame Chinese Water Dragon resting on hand
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