My first time posting on this forum. Thought I'd share my new Eastern Water Dragon, and ask a couple of questions of those who might have more experience with these guys. I'm posting both to share and solicit advice, so if you have any constructive advice, please post and let me know!
I got him from an exotic pet shop in Phoenix AZ, I'm guesstimating his age to be ~6-8 months. snout to vent length ~ 4.25-4.5". Perhaps someone with more experience has other ideas? Hard to say though, since he is significantly larger than his brother - my little guy was clearly the dominant male, and I've named him "Jefe". He has a severe injury on the last 1" of his tail, which has healed over. This apparently happened before the breeder sold him to the exotics shop. The rest of his body is in excellent condition, he's alert, active, and intelligent (for a reptile xD), so I'm not too bothered by it. I'm going to point it out to a vet at his first checkup just in case.
Picture: Lil' Jefe sacked out on what seems to be his favorite sleeping spot.
I had the enclosure built before I purchased Jefe by a gentleman in the Phoenix area. If anyone here in the Phoenix area would like his contact information, send me a PM. The enclosure is 6' long, 3.5' tall, and 2.5' deep. The shelf you see in the pic is about in the middle. There's a 4' long UVB 5.0 at the top, and a 4' long UVB 5.0 in the middle under that shelf. Pool is temporarily a kitty litter pan with a ramp built of river rocks, and a TetraFauna filter/pump. In the near future I'm looking at getting a 23"x29"x6" pool built for him. Ceramic heater for overall temperature stability is controlled by a digital thermostat.
Picture: Jefe's enclosure as it stood before he came home.
He has a warm hide up top, and a "cold" hide down below, and as you can see a climb to his shelf and a branch running over his water. I designed the basking shelf so that the hottest temps would be on the upper right (the hottest basking spot is ~105f, there's a non-powered rock there for his convenience), and the gradient wraps around to the left and back under the shelf to the right. So he's got a gradient from a ~105f spot, 90-95f ambient, down to 75-80F under the shelf. The air around his water is around 80-85f.
As I said, I'm working on a better (larger) pool setup for him. I'm also looking for a better solution to carpeting his shelf. It's ugly to the human eye right now so I'm trying to figure out what to do there... but he loves his shelf, so it's ok for the very short term.
Of course I understand that this enclosure will not be adequate in the very long term (ie. when he's 2'+). However, while he grows up a bit it will be ample, and keeping him indoors is absolutely necessary: I currently life in Phoenix AZ. In a couple years I'll be transferring to Fairbanks AK, and then to Washington or Oregon. But by the time I'm in the pacific northwest, I'll be able to dedicate an entire room to reptiles, so I'll be able to have a section of the warm room netted off for Jefe when he's 3' long. But I digress...
I have been feeding him Crickets (vitamin and calcium dusted) and Dubia roaches. Unfortunately I've recently realized that I've been dusting the crickets with calcium+D, so I'm thinking that since I have full-enclosure UVB coverage, he really doesn't need calcium+D. I've offered some mango but he wasn't interested. I plan to offer mango/strawberry/yam every 6 months until he finally starts eating them, then I plan to offer daily. He absolutely LOVES the roaches. He's extremely flighty, I can't pick him up, and while he'll hunt crickets he won't eat them from my hand. But I can place a roach on my forearm or elbow, slowly extend my hand to him, and he'll run up my arm, grab the roach, and then run away. I'm hoping this will be a way for me to "tame" him a bit.
I have a few questions:
1. The majority of my experience with reptiles is Chinese water dragons and bearded dragons. They've all been incredibly docile, non-nervous, and I've enjoyed handling them and playing with them even as hatchlings. 12 years ago I even had an adult female Chinese water dragon that I'd nap with and take walks with on hot days. She appeared extremely affectionate, would jump to and climb on me and was a constant companion (RIP Torgie <3). Naturally, I assumed that Australian water dragons would have similar temperament, but my new little' guy is extremely jumpy and flighty, always running from me and puffing out his throat and bobbing his head at me. As described earlier I've been offering roaches by hand, and trying to slowly approach him with a single hand to just touch him gently a little before slowly withdrawing. More often than not, he runs and hides. He bit me once. If I hang back and just watch him, he's extremely active, climbing all around, bathing, hunting for stray crickets, and sacking out in his basking areas. When I occasionally slowly approach him to try to teach him that hands aren't grabby and scary like they were in the pet shop, he puffs up and runs. I don't pursue, because I don't want to stress him out. But I'm starting to wonder if flighty behavior is natural for Aussie water dragons, and perhaps he won't become more relaxed until he's much bigger? (As a side note, something that's absolutely remarkable is that while direct observation or interaction is met with his disapproval, if I sit near his enclosure and play a game on my PS Vita - ie. my attention absolutely not on him for a long period of time - he'll run over and sit on a branch or shelf near me and watch me for long periods of time. He's an incredibly curious little guy. Even after being "scared", he'll emerge from a hiding spot within minutes to get close and observe what I'm doing.)
2. UVB: As I mentioned, I have the 4' long UVB 5.0 up top center, and the 4' UVB 5.0 back/right under the shelf. Please give your opinions: is the UVB coverage here adequate? Am I correct in my recent conclusion that I SHOULD NOT be dusting with D3+calcium with so much UVB presence? (Ie. calcium without D)...
3. Substrate: This is my biggest worry, here. As I mentioned before, I feed him crickets and dubai roaches. The roaches I give by hand, but crickets I dust, shake a little to daze them, then let them loose near him. Now, with most of my other lizards, this seemed to work fine. Jefe however, is a messy eater and I'm really very scared by how often he misses a cricket and ends up with bits of Eco-Earth on his tongue instead of a cricket. Since I can't pick him up (I don't want to stress him out by chasing him down and grabbing him, it seems cruel), I can't feed him his dusted crickets in an isolated feeding area. I have a feeding dish I could easily leave roaches or fruit in, but the crickets escape easily so I'm back to square 1. What's worse is, sometimes I see him eyeing a little chunk of Eco Earth as if it's a bug. He'll try to strike at it a few times, and usually ends up leaving it alone or pushing it back out of his mouth. So that's good, but all it could take is one swallow and some real bad luck to kill my little guy. So I am feeling very urgent about finding a solution or a new substrate. So a few questions about substrates with messy eaters:
-- a: Nutritionally, is it sound to forgo crickets entirely and stick just with Dubia roaches? I've heard good things about them and he LOVES them... but even so, it doesn't keep him from thinking bits of substrate are bugs.
-- b: I've heard that sterile organic potting soil can be used, but all of the potting soil I've seen has chunks of bark or vermiculite, so I have to think he'll mistake it for bugs as well. Have you found a good fine potting soil without dangerous chunks? I know I could use carpet/AstroTurf/fake grass/newspaper, but I'm assuming these guys like to dig just like my other dragons have. I just don't want him swallowing Eco Earth fibers or chunks. I see the fibers hanging from his mouth sometimes, and it's scaring the heck out of me.
-- c: I know people who SWEAR by Eco Earth. And then I know people who swear it killed their lizard. What are your experiences?
-- d: I've heard that "hard" flooring is bad for developing dragons. Heard that it causes their claws to grow strangely. Is this true? Is "hard" flooring such as large rocks, slate, or astroturf viable? I'd really LIKE the environment to be pretty, but obviously I'll sacrifice eye-candy for his health.
I really have to find a good solution for substrate and feeding with his messy habits. I'm looking for any and all advice that can be provided.
Thanks for reading