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Reptile Rapture,
6308 Monona dr, Monona WI 53516


Common Name: water dragon
Scientific Name: Physignathus cocincinus
Origin: China and Southeast Asia
Size: 3' head to tail (females smaller)
Lifespan: 10 - 15 years

You will find many ways on the internet, on "how to" take care of this animal. This care sheet is showing the way we found works best for us from our many years of experience of caring for this species.

In the wild, water dragons are tree dwellers, spending most of their time above ground. They are very well adapted to living in trees and can climb "like monkeys." They are an intermediate care reptile and will need a very large and tall custom enclosure when they are adults. Young water dragons can be kept in something like an Exo terra 36" x 18" x 24" for about the first 6-8 months of life.

Note: You cannot keep them from growing by housing them in a small cage. That's a myth. It won't make for a happy, well adjusted water dragon.

After your water dragon out grows its starter enclosure, or if you begin with one 6 months or older, you need to have a larger enclosure such as the Exo Terra large xtall (36" x 18" x 36"). We don't recommend screen enclosures for water dragons as it is very difficult to keep the humidity right. These will last you until your dragon is about 2.5' long. (All body measurements include the tail.) Adult dragons need an enclosure of no less than 4' wide 2' deep and 6' high. There are many suggestions online for making an enclosure. Water dragons do not understand glass and therefore they have a tendency to bang their nose on the glass and hurt themselves. A larger enclosure helps prevent this but they still have a tendency to smack themselves into it as they can't figure out what the "invisible barrier" is and why it's keeping them from the nice place beyond it. You can put something that is opaque on the glass, at least on the bottom area,  so that your lizard cannot see through. If you have space, go bigger. Designing an enclosure for your water dragon can be fun. Add branches or structures for climbing on. They will also appreciate horizontal shelves or wide logs. They don't always want to have to cling on to something vertical. 

For substrate, you want something that holds humidity well, like Zilla jungle mix or Zoo med eco earth. Water dragons tend to use their water bowl as a bathroom spot. It's nice to have a water area big enough for them to swim. Remember though, you will need to change the water out everyday. Even if you install a filter.

Water dragons are best on their own. If you want two or more, make sure there is only one male. Multiple males will fight, especially if females are present. The dimensions for enclosures listed above are based on one animal. If you have two, double the size.

Water dragons come from a tropical climate. They need a basking area and a cooler section within the enclosure so they can regulate their body temperature. All the heat elements should be located on one side and the other will be the cooler side.

A basking area of 87-95 degrees should be provided. The rest of the enclosure can be in the 75-80 range. At night, temps can drop to as low as 75 degrees. Use a good quality temperature gauge, like Zoo Meds digital temp gauge or Exo Terras Thermometer.

In addition to heat, dragons need UVB lighting to help absorb calcium and to synthesize vitamin D3. Since they are removed from natural sunlight in our homes, we must provide UVB light in the form of a special fluorescent bulb designed to produce UVB rays. Do not use heat rocks. Water dragons are especially adapted to basking, getting heat from above. They can be burned badly on a heat rock because they don't realize it's too hot until too late.

The best bulbs are the mercury vapors such as Exo Terra's Solar Glo bulbs, ZooMed's Powersun, or Solar bright bulbs. These provide heat and UVB all in one bulb. You can also use separate basking (heat) bulb and UVB bulbs. If you use these you will want the Zoo Med 5.0 or Exo Terra UVB 100 variety.

Always provide a nice sized water dish with fresh water. It's nice to have one large enough for your dragon to swim in. They will also sometimes sleep under the water. When they do this, the animal usually turns a dark green or brown color and can appear dead. Don't freak out. Water dragons have been known to hold their breath for up to 25 minutes. Remember to change the water once a day, especially since your dragon may use it as a bathroom spot. Also scrub the bowl at least once a week to keep bacteria slime from building up.

Maintain humidity around 80%. Unless you are in a very dry area, misting the enclosure a few times a day will usually provide enough moisture. A nice humidity gauge can help you in this area. Hand misters are usually sufficient, but if you don't want to hand mist, an automatic mister like the Exo Terra monsoon or Zoo meds reptifogger are a nice options. Exo terras reptile fountain provides bubbling water which also helps to raise humidity levels. Exo Terra bowls, Flukers rock dish or magnaturals giant 5 gal bowl are nice naturalistic non-porous water bowls. Water dragons are excellent swimmers in the wild. You can put your lizard in the bathtub or kid pool for a soak or swim, if you a acclimate them when they're babies. Most dragons really like the water.

Water dragons are mostly insectivores and should eat everyday. If your adult has good body weight, you can possibly feed every other day. Variety is important. Don't feed them the same things each day. They can get bored and picky if you do. Mix it up. They can eat crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms, hornworms, and other bugs. They will also eat fish and rodents (not more than once a week for these). Some will also eat some greens and fruits.

Make sure to dust your dragon's food with calcium and vitamins such as Repashy calcium plus or Rep-cal calcium with D3

Water dragons are intelligent, and can make great pets. However, they are not for everyone. Baby water dragons usually do not bite, but excessive handling should be avoided until your dragon gets used to you. Your first impulse will be to hold your new dragon and pet it. We strongly suggest you do not do this. It takes time to tame your dragon. The best way is to be patient and proceed slowly.

Place your dragons enclosure in an area where it can see you moving about. Let it watch you put food in the enclosure. Talk to your dragon, let it hear your voice. You can change the water, spot clean the enclosure, do busy work near the dragon. Read, work on computer, etc., but do not pick it up or try to touch it at this time. Why? You are letting the dragon get used to you, your movements and your voice in a nonthreatening manner. Water dragons are curious animals, and once they get used to you,  they will start staying out rather than hiding when you are around. That's the first step.

Water dragons are very food oriented, and if they see you as the food giver, they will start to trust you sooner. Once they get over their nervousness, they will be bolder and soon will start to come to you when you bring food. Eventually, your dragon might jump onto your hand or arm when you are reaching in the enclosure to do something. Success! Now is the time to start interacting more with it. Let it stay on your arm, talk to it, gently try to pet it on the back or side. Remember, let your lizard come to you. Eventually, your dragon will trust you and coming running when you approach to the enclosure. This is the time when you can finally start holding your pet.

Have patience. In some cases, this taming process can take months. Remember, your dragon can live 10-15 years so this part is truly worth the effort. You will be so happy when you are walking around the house with a happy and trusting water dragon riding your shoulder or on top of your head. Think of your adult dragon coming over to you for some petting time. It's up to you to help make this happen. They take some work and are not immediately tame like a bearded dragon, but they are worth the extra effort.