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Chinese Water Dragon Care - 1

Chinese Water Dragon Care Sheet - Section 1


First of all, Congratulations! I imagine you are either reading this because you are thinking about getting a water dragon, just bought one, or already have one. Water dragons are wonderful lizards! If you get your dragon going properly you will have a fairly tame, non aggressive pet.

I have written this care guide specifically for Chinese water dragons but there are a few other species that are very similar in care. The Australian water dragon, Sailfin lizards, and most species of Basilisks can be kept in a similar fashion as those described in this document.

Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

What Is A Water Dragon

Please note that this document will contain only information pertaining to the keeping of the Chinese water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) from this point onward. The care of the Australian water dragon (Physignathus lesueurii) is apparently similar to that of the Chinese water dragon. There is at least one other species classed in the genus Physignathus, and that is Physignathus temporalis, but I have been told that both lesueurii and temporalis will be re-classed in the near future.

Size - Description

Hatchlings are about 1 inch snout to vent, and 5 to 6 inches (13-15 cm) in total length; are often a brownish green dorsally (upper surface of the body) and a pale green to white ventrically (lower abdominal surface of the body), light colored stripes (usually white or beige) run vertically across each side of the body, with brown and green banded tails, very large eyes and short snouts.

Adult males are approx. 3 feet (92 cm) total length, adult females are approx. 2 feet (61 cm) total length. The tail of these lizards, from my observations, appears to make up approximately 70% - 75% of the water dragons total length. The tail is laterally flattened, banded brown and green, and ends in a fine point. Dragons use their tails for balance and leverage when climbing, and can use them to whip would be attackers, predators, and, or keepers.

Adult water dragons are, of course, green with colors ranging from a dark forest green to a light mint green. The lower body of an adult dragon is generally white or very light yellow. Vertical, slanted stripes, run along the sides of the water dragons body. These stripes can range in color from a pale green , mint green, to an aqua, or turquoise color. The throats of juvenile and adult water dragons can also be quite colorful with throat colors ranging from a very pale yellow, to orange, to peach, and bright pink.

The head has a triangular shape, and on adult male dragons, the head will become quite large and wide. Large, rounded, white scales run just below the mouth area and end in one or two larger pointed scales where the head and neck meet. The tongues of water dragons are similar in shape to our tongues in that they are thick and wide, but their tongues end in a very small fork. The tongue has a sticky surface that helps them to catch and hold their prey. Their teeth are small and pointed- the better to eat a omnivorous diet- and can draw blood if a dragon were to bite their keeper. (Luckily most dragons are even tempered and rarely bite their keepers) A dark stripe runs from the lower corner of the eye and extends out toward the ear.

A very small (1-2mm) round shiny spot located at the top of the head, between their eyes, is known as the parietal eye.(The third eye.) The parietal eye is thought to help water dragons, as well as a number of other reptiles, sense differences in light. It is believed that they use their third eye to help them thermo-regulate. For example, it may help them to decide upon a good basking spot, or it may help them sense that light levels are decreasing and that they had better find shelter for the night.

Water dragons have well developed nuchal crests, but they are often higher, and have longer spikes on male dragons. Males also have prominent mid-sagittal crests.

Water dragons have well developed legs. The front legs are generally much more slender than the back legs. The front legs, and strong 5 toed front claws, are used to climb and grasp branches. The muscular back legs are used to aid in climbing and swimming, as well as jumping or leaping from object to object! Water dragons can run bipedally, that is on their hind legs, and this is quite a sight to see. Their hind feet are 5 toed as well, with the middle toe being the longest . Their claws are long and thick and end in sharp needle like points.

A recent article stated that water dragons are able to change their colors. While that is true to some extent, this article makes water dragons seem almost chameleon like in that ability, and this just isn't so. I have found that a warm, happy and healthy water dragon, will most often be a nice bright shade of green. Tis green will change shades only slightly if the dragon is content. A cold, sick, stressed, or frightened dragon will have a greater color range from almost black to pale green. So if your dragon is in one of the latter color ranges most of the time please take note of it because it is likely to be either cold, ill, or badly stressed.

Native Habitat

From southeast Asian mainland (Thailand, Southern China, Vietnam, and Cambodia). Chinese water dragons are large diurnal, arboreal lizards, living mainly in the branches of trees and bushes. However, they have also been found in burrows in sandy places. These lizards are also known to be semi-aquatic. Their long laterally flattened tail is well utilized when swimming.

Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

Life Span

Anywhere from 10 to 20 years ( from the feed back that I've received, the oldest one that I personally know of is an 11 year old male that one of my email buddies has, and this dragon is going strong, I'm sure he has many years ahead of him!) So be prepared for a long term pet. I have also heard that the two adult Chinese water dragons kept at the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo are 15 and 17 years old. I was told this by a curator who has recently confirmed these ages.


Author: Tricia Power
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