Pet Care Guides Reptile

Water Dragon

The Chinese water dragon, Physignathus cocincinus, superficially resembles the green iguana, although the two species are not closely related or even found in the same hemisphere. However, they make an attractive option for iguana fans who don't have the space for a 6 foot lizard. Water dragons are active lizards, and while they still require a sizable enclosure, their smaller size makes them that much more manageable, as they are beautiful lizards that can often be handled.


East and Southeast Asia


lowland and highland forests

Average Size

2-3 feet


10-15 years


Water dragons are alert and high-strung, often running from noises, cats, dogs, large birds, and other threats. Injuries from such escape attempts are common, and often their high activity level may result in abrasions or other small injuries that must be treated and watched closely for signs of infection. Despite this, most water dragons calm down enough to accept gentle handling and can live for 10-15 years.


Setting up the Terrarium

Water dragons forage on the ground but are otherwise arboreal. They will become stressed if kept in cramped or low enclosures that do not allow climbing opportunities.

Juveniles may be raised in large aquariums, but larger individuals of 2-3 feet are best housed in custom cages or homemade enclosures. A single adult will need a cage measuring 4 x 4 x 4 feet, with more height being ideal. Numerous stout branches should be provided, as well as sturdy live or artificial plants. Never position rocks directly below branches, as water dragons may jump to the floor and be injured.

A water bowl large enough for soaking should be provided. Custom cages with filtered pools are ideal.

The substrate should be capable of holding moisture and soft enough to cushion falls. Cypress mulch is ideal, though care should be taken to avoid the lizard ingesting it while eating. If this occurs another substrate can be used, or live insects such as crickets can be offered in a container or in a separate empty cage. Sphagnum moss can be added to provide extra humidity and padding.

Light, Heat and Humidity

Water dragons will not thrive without a source of UVB radiation. Natural sunlight is best when possible, but glass and plastic filter out UVB rays and cages overheat quickly in the sun. Fluorescent lighting, such as high-output reptile fluorescent tubes or mercury vapor bulbs (which also produce heat) can be used for indoor enclosures. A photoperiod of 12:12 hours day/night should be maintained for these tropical lizards.

The ambient air temperature should range from 82-88°F with a basking spot of 95-100°F. Incandescent bulbs should be used to maintain these temperatures in the largest enclosure possible so that a thermal gradient can be provided. At night, temperatures can drop to 75°F. A ceramic heater or red/black reptile night bulb can be used if necessary after dark.

Water dragons require humidity levels of approximately 80%, but must also be able to dry off. The terrarium should be misted twice per day, and large pools of water and automated misting systems or ultrasonic foggers can be used in large enclosures to increase humidity.


Males are territorial and will fight. Females may co-exist, but may also battle for dominance. It is recommended to keep one water dragon per cage. Sex is difficult to determine until the lizards reach 14-18 inches. Maturing males will exhibit wider heads and more prominent crest and jowls.


Water dragons require a varied diet. Whole vertebrates such as small fish and pink mice help in meeting their high calcium requirements. Pink mice should be fed no more often than every 7-14 days. Earthworms, waxworms, crickets, silkworms, superworms, and canned insects can all be offered as well on a regular basis. Wild water dragons eat some vegetation, but captive animals may refuse this type of food. Kale, dandelion, apple, and other vegetables can be offered. Mixing feeder insects into the greens and fruits may encourage feeding.

Water dragons should be fed frequently when young, moving to 3-4 times per week as adults, depending on the type and amount of food items. Invertebrate prey should be dusted with calcium powder. A vitamin and mineral powder should also be used twice a week.

Food should be offered in a food bowl when possible to minimize the risk of impaction caused by swallowing bedding. Usually any foreign material is passed through the body without problem, but it is best to limit the possibility of this occurring.

Daily Care and Maintenance

Check your lizard daily for signs of injury or disease. Daily care includes misting, changing water, removing waste and uneaten food, and feeding.

Health Considerations

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations for additional instructions.

When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1240 or

Recommended Items

Terrarium cleaner
Water dish and food dish
UVB Flourescent bulb and a basking heat bulb with dome
Vitamin powder for crickets and sparce fruit/vegetable diet
Artificial vines, branches and plants to climb and hide in