Caring for Your Water Dragon
The water dragon is a diurnal, semi-aquatic, arboreal, tropical lizard of Asia and Australia. If you’re considering buying a water dragon, here are some facts about this lizard.
The Asian water dragon is mainly green, with darker areas on the head and joints. The chin and throat are white to light yellow, and the underside is white to pale green. Water dragons do not have a dewlap, but possess large skin folds. A prominent dorsal crest runs from the neck to the tail. Juveniles are typically diagonally banded with 3 to 5 light stripes, usually pale blue to green in color, that disappear with age.
The eastern water dragon, from Australia, resembles the Asian water dragon in size and shape but is brown, with a gray to gray-brown underside. Broad black and narrow white crossbars run through the back and the tail of the animal. A prominent dark horizontal stripe may be visible on each side of the head, starting from the eye toward the neck. Like the Asian species, a dorsal crest runs from the head to the tail.
Size and Longevity
Most adults usually reach 16 inches in length – the tail counting for half to two-thirds of the length – but some can reach up to a meter in length. They can live up to 11 years.
Water dragons are less aggressive and more placid than green iguanas, although they are prone to intense spurts of speed. They also are smaller and more manageable than green iguanas, but like most diurnal lizards they require a spacious vivarium with high quality lighting and heating. All lizards can excrete Salmonella, so it’s important to be careful about personal hygiene and supervise children around these creatures.
This species is active but usually timid. They may attempt to flee when disturbed. Water dragons can sometimes be intolerant to other animals, so it’s recommended to keep either a pair (male and female) or a maximum of a male and two females, together in a single vivarium.
Housing and Environment
In the wild, water dragons live in humid, sub-tropical to tropical forests, wooded streams and rocky littoral.
One to two water dragons can be kept in a 5 1/2-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot vivarium, but larger enclosures permit landscaping, a bigger water pool and overall better aesthetics of the setup. The vivarium should be high enough to install branches so the lizard can bask under a heat lamp or spotlight during the day.
These lizards are semi-aquatic and need a large water area in their enclosure, covering preferably at least a third of the floor. The water should be maintained at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. In most cases general vivarium heating will be sufficient, but an aquarium heater or a heat mat placed under the water container, can be used. The pool of water also will provide high humidity, which is essential for these lizards.
For hygienic reasons, line the floor with newspaper, granulated bark, artificial turf or alfalfa pellets. Replace the floor covering daily or weekly, depending on contamination. In addition to the branches, provide boxes, pieces of bark or hollow tree parts for hideouts.
Water dragons will try to escape from an unsuitable environment or evade dominant cage-mates. They do not seem to perceive glass, screen, or other clear material as a barrier and might hurt their nose by attempting to escape through these surfaces. Creating a visual barrier – putting tape across the glass – might help them see these obstacles and avoid injury.
Water dragons are mainly carnivorous, feeding on a variety of invertebrates, small mammals, birds, lizards, frogs, and on rare occasions, fruits and plant matter. In captivity they should be fed insects – crickets, locusts and wax worms – and the occasional pinky mice.
All insects should be nutrient “gut loaded” by feeding a commercial insect food or a mix of crushed fish pellets and calcium supplement, with a slice of potato for moisture. In addition, insects should be thoroughly dusted with a high calcium supplement immediately prior to feeding. It is wise to vary the food items to avoid potential nutrient excesses or deficiencies and multivitamins can be added to the dusting formula once or twice a week.
Juveniles should be fed the same diet as the adults, making sure smaller food items are used. As they grow they may accept some fruits, as well as pink mice. Juveniles should be fed every day, while adults can be fed every other day or two to three times a week.
Temperature and Humidity
Heat should be provided by a background heater (tubular heater, infrared through heaters, heat mats, etc.) and a radiant daytime heater (infrared ceramic bulbs, incandescent spotlights). These should be screened in order to prevent any contact burns with the water dragon.
The diurnal temperature variation is vital for proper digestion and assimilation of food and general health. A daytime temperature gradient of 77 to 86 F, with a basking area of 90 to 95 F, should be lowered to 72 to 77 F at night. Use a digital in/out thermometer with maximum/minimum memory to record the day and night thermal gradients within the vivarium.
Humidity of 80 to 100 percent is required for at least part of the day. If the large water area does not create enough humidity in the vivarium, regular spraying can help. Never reduce ventilation to increase humidity.
The recommended photoperiod is 12 to 14 hours of light and 10 to 12 hours of darkness. Ideally, provide access to unfiltered sunlight, but if this is not possible, provide a full spectrum light source, which must be placed within 12 inches of the basking sites and replaced every six months for juveniles or 12 months for adults.
Males are larger than the females, and their dorsal crest is more developed. Although both sexes possess pre-femoral pores, they are much more developed in the mature male. A hemipenal bulge also can be seen at the base of the tail in mature males.
Sexual maturity can be reached at one year of age. Breeding usually occurs during the winter and early spring. Males in breeding condition will become brightly colored from golden-yellow to deep orange on the chin, chest and side of the head. The female water dragon can lay up to five clutches of eggs in one season, each clutch containing 10 to 15 eggs.
An egg-laying container should be placed in a remote area of the vivarium for egg laying. The eggs are best incubated on damp vermiculite at 82 to 86 F and the babies should hatch between 60 and 101 days. Neonates measure around 6 inches in length at birth. Their care is similar to the adults. They should be raised in groups and fed on insects dusted with mineral supplements and given access to unfiltered sunlight or broad-spectrum, artificial lighting.