The Wonderful World of Water Dragons


Water Dragonsby Michael Spears

In the fall of 1995, I was browsing at a local pet store that had a rather large selection of reptiles (for small town in Mississippi, that is). There were iguanas, bearded dragons, various common geckos, savannah monitors and large constrictors, but one lizard seemed to beg for my attention. It literally came to the front of the enclosure as if to say, "Please buy me." It was an interesting lizard, with a roosterlike crest, half inch spines running from the top of the head to almost the end of the stub tail, big eyes and puffy jowls. This was the first time I'd ever seen the magnificent Asian water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus).

The lizard's color was a light olive green with hints of emerald and blue. It was an adult male that was stunted from being raised in too small an enclosure. I did not purchase the dragon at that time, however; I already had a 3 1/2-foot green iguana that was becoming quite the handful.

Water Dragons Chapter: The First Steps

A couple of months later, while opening Christmas presents, I began to shake a box that I was just handed.

"Don't shake that one!" yelped my mother.

And that was I received my first water dragon. Now named Ziggy, he was the exact dragon that I saw at the pet shop. My mother had been secretly keeping him at her apartment for 2 weeks.

Now I was faced with the task of properly feeding and housing my new friend. I quickly acquired every book I could find and read them from cover to cover, more than once.

Physignathus cocincinus hails from the dense forests of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and South China. Commonly called the Asian water dragon, it's also known as the Chinese or green water dragon (aptly so, as the normally imported specimens are very green indeed).

Asian water dragons can reach a length  of 24 inches in one year when raised properly, to a total length of approximately 36 inches (this being mostly tail). They react to stress and cool temperatures by darkening their colors, and they can turn almost black when seriously stressed. They can live 10 to 12 years.

Crickets, mealworms, super worms, wax worms, earth worms, and high-grade canned chicken cat food (make sure there's real chicken in it) are all relished. My adult lizards love chicken cat food; most juveniles will only eat insects. Recently, I have experienced great success with fruit-flavored dry lizard and bird pellets. I recommend supplementing the diet with either of these. Red and white grapes, soft pears, figs (native fruit for them) and bananas make up the noninsect portion of my dragon's food pyramid.

I alternate these food items to achieve a balanced variety. All foods should be pesticide free. Feed your dragons each day, though missing a day won't cause any harm. Dust crickets two or three times weekly with top-quality vitamin and mineral supplements that are high in calcium. Gut-loading crickets or worms by feeding them a commercial gut-loading formula or a mash of assorted vegetables an hour before offering them to your dragons will ensure happy, healthy dragons.

After 60 to 65 days, you should have 6-inch water dragons hatching out. Place them in their own enclosure and offer them small amounts of quarter-inch crickets twice daily. Place some pelleted lizard food (iguana food works fine) in the enclosure so stray crickets have something to eat, but don't put in so many crickets that many go uneaten. Mist young dragons daily, and provide them with vertical and horizontal climbing perches.

I hope this article helps everyone interested in the care and breeding of these fantastic pet dragons! Good luck if you decide to try breeding them yourself - the results are well worth the effort!

Mike Spears is the owner of Sapphire Dragon Ranch and has kept many different types of herps over the past 25 years. He began working with them professionally in 1995.

A glimpse to the Water Dragons world truly captures the heart.

Care Sheet: Water Dragons



This care sheet is for beginners and covers the basic maintenance of the Eastern Water Dragons (Physignathus leseurii).

You should join your local herpetological society, where you can meet others and obtain more detailed information on keeping these lizards. Water dragons are very hardy animals and one of the best dragons for beginners to keep as long as a few important guidelines are followed. These cover cage size, lighting and diet.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 1: Size

hatchlings measure around 15cm in total length. They can grow up to 90cm long although more usually they range from 60 to 70 centimeters.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 2: Caging

Juveniles: Hatchling Water dragons can be kept in a large plastic tube, approximately 60cm long, 40cm wide and 40cm high. The lid of the tub should be placed outdoors to give the little dragons access to ultra violet light. It is very important not to put them out in the sun during the middle of the day. Glass fish tanks should not be used for this purpose as the temperature inside the tank will very quickly reach a level that will kill the dragons. Shade and water must be provided at all time and the dragons checked regularly.

Adults: To keep adult Water dragons in captivity a large outdoor enclosure is required with access to sunlight. Outdoor enclosures can take two forms -- converted aviary style enclosures, or the more typical reptile pits with walls made of sheet metal. It is essential that the walls of the pit are at least 1 metre high and preferably 1.2 metres, as Water dragons are excellent jumpers and will take advantage of any rock piles or or branches inside the enclosure that are placed too near the walls. The walls should extend at least 30cm underground to prevent the dragons from digging out. Alternatively, weld mesh can be sunk beneath the ground. If an aviary is used, it is important to use sheet metal to a height of 1 metre from the ground to prevent the dragons from rubbing their snouts on the wire. Both types of enclosures can be decorated with plants, logs, rock slabs, etc. A pond must be included to satisfy their semi-aquatic lifestyle. Some of the enclosure should be sheltered from the weather. To keep an adult pair of Water dragons, the enclosure must be at least 1.2 metres long and preferably more than 2 metres, with a width of 1 metre. the floor can be covered with bark chips or leaf litter. A pond or at least a water dish large enough for the dragons to submerge themselves is essential. There must be at least one hiding place for each dragon in the form of logs, sheets of bark pipes. Faeces and uneaten food must be removed promptly.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 3: Lighting and Heating

Water dragons require basking spots with high temperatures (up to 45 degrees Celsius) to be kept successfully. Your enclosure must get plenty of sunlight and be sheltered. It must also provide shady spots that the dragons can move to. Basking spots can be created by installing 100W - 150W floodlights at one end of the enclosure. These lizards need UV light to survive, which is why they are best kept outdoors in natural sunlight. If they are kept indoors special UV type fluorescent tubes need to be installed. Before attempting such a set up, you should discuss the placement of these lights with n experienced keeper.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 4: Feeding

water dragons are omnivorous, making them quite easy to feed. A suitable diet for adult dragons would include twice weekly feeding of canned pet food and mixed, chopped fruits and vegetables. They should also be fed a variety of insects such as crickets, cockroaches, meal worms and earth worms. Small mice can occasionally be offered but they should not form a major part of the diet. Once a week the food should be dusted with a calcium/vitamin D powder such as Rep-Cal®, and a multi-vitamin powder such as Herptivite®. Young dragons should be fed every day with as great a variety of insects as possible. Calcium and vitamin powders should be used every second feeding. In general, Water dragons will not accept pet food, fruit and vegetables until they have reached a total length of about 20cm. At this stage these foods can be gradually introduced into their diet.

Water Dragons Care Sheet 5: Diseases/Illnesses

These are outside the scope of this basic care sheet. Any unusual behaviour or signs of illnesses should be discussed with an experienced keeper or with a veterinary surgeon. If you suspect something is wrong, act immediately, don't leave it. Early diagnosis and treatment is important.

Further Reading on Water Dragons (Weigel, J (1988) Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity, Reptile Keepers)