Erik Paterson

The House Snake Guy

*Note: The information in these guides has not been updated in some time. Whilst care was made to ensure accuracy when written, these care sheets should now serve only as a starting point for further reading.*

Chinese Water Dragons
Latin Name: Physignathus cocincinus
Length: Water Dragons are sexually dimorphic, males larger attaining lengths of between 2.5 and 3 feet (75-90cm) females rarely attaining more than 2.5 feet (75cm).
Ease of Care: Beginners upwards, maintaining heat & humidity for this species can be difficult and wild caught animals often need heavy parasite treatment, Mouth Rot is prevalent.
Distribution:  The water dragon inhabits tropical rainforests of South-East Asia including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and extending in to Malaysia.
General notes:  Water dragons can be excellent pets, sociable and attractive animals, these lizards make excellent, smaller equivalents to the similar looking green iguana, care must be taken to ensure that the environment the lizards are kept in is suitable however.

Housing

Chinese water dragons grow large and need equally large vivaria these should be at least 4 feet long x 4 feet tall x 2 feet deep at the bare minimum for one male and one female, never house two males together as they will fight to the death.  I have also found that females will fight over nesting space but this is not nearly as violent as when males fight and rarely seems to lead to a notable increase in stress levels.  As the name suggests there is a requirement for large water containers, a cat litter tray is what I used for my group.  For one animal a bare minimum viv 4 ft tall x 3 ft long x 2 ft deep should be suitable for its whole life, but in my experience they fare better when housed in small groups in much larger vivs.  If you have more than one group with a male, I would suggest you not place these in viw of one another as this is very stressful for the dragons.

Heating & Lighting

For water dragons a daytime temp of 30°C in the hot side and 20-25°C in the cold side is sufficient, this can be achieved by providing a heat mat in the viv and a spot lamp on one half of the vivarium. A UV lamp is required for these wonderful animals as without it they can develop metabolic bone disease and other deformities which will eventually kill the animal. Photoperiod should be around 12 hours day/night. Temperatures should be monitored with a thermometer and the use of a thermostat is essential as there is a risk of burns and overheating when these are not in place.

Choosing Your Animal

Water dragons are surrounded by horror stories such as: 'they are all wild caught and die in captivity' - a good keeper can sometimes 'save' a WC dragon but it is not recommended you buy a dark, brown emaciated lizard, the first sign of illness are that it's head 'caves in' behind the eyes, these are warnings that you should check out, don't choose an animal that has shed skin still trapped on its body, always choose specimens that are alert and active these have a better chance of remaining healthy as they grow older. Check the area around the vent, it should not have excrement caked around it, this is a sign of diarrhoea which will quickly dehydrate the animal, also gently touch its nose, it should open its mouth, if it has a sort of 'cheesy' looking substance inside, it likely has mouth rot, don't buy it, mouth rot or 'Infectious Stomatitis' requires veterinary attention which is often very expensive. Gently push your finger to its lips, if its head 'bends' then it likely has Metabolic Bone Disease, a deadly illness, again - don't buy it. As I have previously mentioned, never choose more than one male for a single enclosure.

Feeding

Water dragons are generally not especially fussy when it comes to feeding, earthworms, locust, pinkie mice, crickets, spiders, woodlice, moths, grasshoppers and just about anything they can find!  Also, some vegetables should be provided such as curly kale, savoy cabbage and carrot is also a good choice along with other dark green vegetables but never provide lettuce, your lizards will likely become addicted to it due to the high volume of sweet-tasting sugars they contain.  Greens are to be provided as 25% of the diet however it should be noted that not all water dragons will eat greens and this should not be a problem with a varied insect diet. Bugs should be gut-loaded with fish food and orange as well as other fresh vegetables for at least 24 hours prior to being fed to your dragons.

Juveniles should be fed some small bugs every day, younger animals are in my experience less likely to eat greens than adults but they should still be offered. In growing animals, every feed should be dusted with a suitable vitamin & mineral supplement.  Adults should be offered food every two or three days and every second feed should be dusted with vitamin supplements.


Illness & Common Ailments
If you suspect that your lizards are ill, see a qualified veterinary practitioner experienced with the treatment of exotic pets as soon as possible.
  • Mouth rot or "Infectious Stomatitis" which makes itself shown by a "cheesy" looking substance within the mouth this is caused by snout damage trhat has become infected, you should treat this with betadine solution regularly after showing the lizard to the vet, It is always recommended that if you have any other doubts about your lizards health see your local reptile vet.
  • Metabolic bone disease or MBD is caused by lack of vitamin D3 (UV light) and calcium it can be prevented by providing different food stuffs and by providing your lizard(s) with UV lighting.  It can be spotted by simply gently pressing your finger into the lips of your lizard if its head 'bends' then its bones are not solid enough. This disease can kill your lizard or leave it badly deformed.  It is not easy to sort out, your lizard will likely need veterinary attention if it is too serious, you will need to provide lots of UV and calcium but not too much calcium too soon as it may not be able to break it down as it hasn't previously had enough UV to process the calcium to bone.
  • Respiratory infections are usually noticed at the later stages of illness, Birds and Reptiles are good at hiding illnesses, symptoms usually include loss of appetite; swollen appearence of body and gaping of the mouth which in the later stages turns to gasping for breath, this will sound like your lizard is 'barking'. Treatment includes moving the infected animal(s) to a dry vivarium with only a small water dish maintained at 84-88°F, the lizard should always be taken to a vet for proper treatment.

I hope you don't need the above information, but if you do, don't feel bad, it happens to the best of us, in fact I have dealt with both Mouth Rot and Respiratory Infections in my earlier days caring for Water dragons.

Handling

Water dragons are usually OK with handling but don't handle them too regularly, these encounters can be stressful for the lizard, adults are generally better for handling as they are less skittish, juveniles usually stress more and don't "like" being handled. It would be advisable not to handle your lizard outside as this runs a very high risk for escapes. You can purchase a suitable mesh enclosure and put your lizards outside on warm days, make sure they have access to shade and water though!  You may find that your lizard has razor-sharp claws, this is often not good for you, you may want to clip it's nails, only the sharp ends though, avoid the black vein that runs through its claw, I don't do this as I feel that you are taking away the lizards freedom, which is in my opinion, cruel but - each to their own.

Breeding

The temptation as with any enthusiast is there to breed your lizards.

If kept in a mixed-sex enclosure, the male will bob his head with his dewlap extended, chase his female(s) in an attempt to mate and when they do he will grab her by the neck crest with his mouth and twist their bodies into position for copulation, this may last up to 30 mins or so.

The female will be gravid for two months and near the end of this period she will eat smaller food items or none at all, you should heavily dust her food to provide nutrients to embryos and for egg formation.  You should provide a deep layer of sphagnum moss, fertilizer & pesticide free soil or sand with a piece of wood on top so that the female can lay her eggs here she may dig up to 7 days before egg-laying.  She may lay her eggs there and you should regularly check the egg site.

The eggs may be between 4 and 12 in number but fewer or more can be seen. they should be incubated at 85°F for about 2 months and young should be moved to a viv and further care from then on.