The green water dragon is a forest green, moderately sized aquatic and arboreal lizard from Southeast Asia. Although their nervous habits and somewhat complicated housing and feeding needs make them more of a lizard for the advanced or intermediate hobbyist, these are beautiful lizards whose natural grace and agility make them fascinating creatures to watch.
Water dragons are members of a very large lizard family, the Agamidae. At maturity, green water dragons can measure just less than 36 inches long (most are 24 to 30 inches). Two-thirds of that length is the tail. These are active lizards, needing large caging and swimming pools. If properly cared for, green water dragons can be bred in captivity and can live up from 10 to 15 years.
The dorsal or topside of the lizard is forest green in coloration, darkening a bit on the head and on the joints of the limbs. Younger lizards may have three to five diagonal, lighter bands on each side of the body that frequently are almost turquoise in color. The tail is green for the first half, and banded brown and pale green to white distally. The lizard’s lips are white, with darker green lines or sutures between the scales.
A crest runs the length of the body and diminishes along the tail. Just behind the head, the crest from head to shoulders is raised in an arch. The crest is a clue to sexing a green water dragon; males have a larger, more pronounced crest than the females.
Green water dragons are nervous lizards that are quick to try to flee a perceived predator. They will run headlong into the sides of their cage in an effort to escape. They do not understand glass and will repeatedly bloody and damage their noses in an effort to go through what is to them an invisible barrier. Adult males are especially persistent in their efforts to escape.
To help guard against such damage, tape paper over the lower half of the front and sides of the glass or use wire mesh caging. The lizards will perceive the solid surface as a barrier and will be less likely to run into it.
Your actions will help diminish the lizard’s efforts to flee. Move slowly when you’re in the region of their cage, and especially when you open the cage to feed them or to clean the cage. Put your motions in a waltz mode. When you come into the room where their cage is kept, pause a moment by the doorway before proceeding to their cage. Open the cage door slowly and reach in slowly.
Not only do you want to protect your water dragon’s nose from any further damage, but also you want to protect yourself. These lizards have strong tails and their long legs end in claws. Although the legs and tail evolved for escape, either by running or by swimming, the lizards are quick to use the tail and claws in defense if picked up. They have strong jaws, and although their teeth are small, they are very effective in discouraging contact. However, with persistence and gentleness on your part, some of these lizards do tame well and can be handled. As you may have gathered, these are lizards more to be watched and admired than to be handled.
Green water dragons are active, agile lizards that usually don’t enjoy being handled. Handle only as needed to move them to clean their cage or to check them over for damaged areas to the nose or body.
Picking a water dragon up will take two hands. One hand grasps the lizard’s body in the region of the front legs, in effect holding the legs against the body so the hand cannot be clawed, while the other hand grasps the lizard’s body at the rear legs. As you lift the lizard, shift the hand holding the rear legs to hold the legs straight against the lizard’s body. The lizard may wriggle and undulate its body to escape, so hold it gently but firmly. Make your inspection or transfer the lizard to a holding area while you clean its cage.
Green water dragons need large cages. While a 10-inch hatchling will do fine in a 29-gallon tank, that lizard is going to grow and its caging must grow along with it. Ultimately, a full grown, yard-long green water dragon is going to need a tank that’s at least 55 gallons in size. Preferably, the cage will be at least 4 to 6 feet long, 2 to 3 feet deep and 4 to 6 feet high. All the cages for green water dragons should include a sunning area with a bright light for sunning and thermoregulation, a horizontal perching branch and a dish of water large enough for drinking and bathing. The dish should be easy to lift out and clean, or the caging needs to be designed so the fixed watering dish has a plug or a siphon system or easy draining.
The branches in the water dragon’s cage should be at least the diameter of the lizard’s body, in order to provide enough grasping area. Other branches and vines, either real or artificial, will provide visual barriers to make the lizard feel secure. An elevated hide box may be used, but remember to make it larger as your lizard grows.
Provide a food dish near but not directly under the sunning area. The dish can be high enough to prevent crickets from escaping, but most hobbyists just let the crickets wander the cage. The lid from a large margarine dish works well as a food dish and is easily cleaned.
Offer fresh food daily, and remove any uneaten food. If there are crickets in the cage, provide a little moistened chicken starter mash each night, both to keep the crickets alive and to ensure that they in turn still offer nutrition to your lizard.
You may add plants to your terrarium. As your lizard grows larger, resign yourself to the fact that it may damage the plants, simply by crawling over or through them. Plan to replace them as needed. Use larger plants when space permits.
Although a green water dragon kept in an outside cage can regulate its body temperature by moving from the warmer to the cooler parts of the cage (and vice versa), for indoor caging you’ll need to be a little more careful. Position the sunning light at one of the tank, so as your lizard heats up it can adjust its position in the tank accordingly. You want to provide temperatures in the high 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Cage temperature can drop to the high 60s at night, although the 70s are better. The temperature under the basking or sunning light should be about 95 F. The basking light should be turned on during daylight hours.
Green water dragons are omnivores, meaning they’ll select their diet from a wide variety of foods. Typical food items for the green water dragon include crickets, canned dog food, the commercial canned monitor food, chopped fruits and dark green lettuces, dandelion flowers and greens, grated vegetables like squash and carrots.
Green water dragons also eat mealworms, waxworms, silkworms, trevoworms and an occasional pre-killed pinkie or subadult mouse (an adult is large enough to handle a small or subadult mouse as a food item). Offer high fat food like mice and wax worms as a treat rather than as a steady diet. Even with reptiles, a diet high in fat has been implicated in long-range health problems. Lipid build-up in the corneas of the eyes prevents the passage of light; the result is blindness.