Scientific name: Physignathus cocincinus

Size: up to 3ft

Lifespan: 15 years

Wild Population: 4,000+

Primary Colour: Green

Endangerment: Common

Habitat: southern China and southeastern Asia

Difficulty of Keeping: Difficult

Optimum environment Temperature: 85°F hotspot with ambient temp of 80°F

What do they eat? omnivore, Full List Below.

Eggs or Live birth: Egg baring Lizard.

Venomous: None venomous/ None poisonous

Are they kept in captivity? Chinese water dragons are gaining popularity over the years, but the leopard and crested gecko are still the most common

Ease of keeping as a pet: Ideal for experienced keepers due to their strict diet and care requirements.

Cost: Ranges between £30 – £250 colour dependant.

Chinese water dragon size

Chinese water dragons grow to a length of up to 3 feet, this is measure from nose to tail.

Females grow to a slightly smaller size than males approx. 2 feet in length.

Their tail makes up around 70 percent of the animal’s total size.

Why are they called a water dragon?

Chinese water dragons are excellent swimmers and do so frequently.

They have adapted to being great at swimming due to their tail, this is vertically flat which is used to propel themselves at speed through the water.

Secondly, a water dragon will see water as a place of refuge when predators are nearby.

When they hear or see something threatening, they will dive into the water and submerge themselves.

Chinese water dragons can stay under-water for up to 30 minutes at a time.


The lifespan in captivity varies from anywhere between 10 – 20 years of age.

In the wild, Chinese water dragons average age is a little bit lower from 9 – 15 years.


Chinese water dragons growing in popularity due to their similarities to the iguana.

Their body colour ranges from light and dark green with large tails.

Down the body is green or brown banding. Their belly area is lighter and often white, pale green, or yellow.

The throat of a Chinese water dragon is very bright and adds to their beauty.

What is a Chinese water dragon morph?

Simply this is done in captivity, breeders use the different colour variations and mix them creating some weird and wonderful looking lizards and is the same with snakes.

Popular colour phases are Blue and green coming in a variety of different shades. The possible different colours changes or better every year as more colours are added using different genes.

Handling a Chinese Water Dragon

Water dragons are the more friendly of the lizard species, they tolerate handling well, but you must stay consistent to keep it this way.

They will happily climb all over you and in general use you as their personal climbing frame.

Handling should be done at least once a week to keep your lizard as tame as possible.

If left in their cage for weeks or months, they can develop a defensive attitude towards you.

When a dragon gets nervous or defensive, they may bite which can cause mild cuts to you.

Second is tail whipping, this is much more common than biting as it is a warning to stay away from them.

If you are struggling with a aggressive Chinese water dragon, start slow with the handling and get them used to your presents, they are very clever animals and in time become tolerant again.

Can you keep more than one?

Yes, but there are some guidelines to follow.

Females will happily be housed together; they are social lizards in the wild and often hang around in pairs.

Males should never be housed in the same enclosure; this will result in battles of dominance.

Fighting between water dragons can result in serious injury to one or both of your lizards, this should be avoided at all costs.

Males and females, this is generally not an issue, but there have been some cases of excessive breeding from the male, this leaves the female with no place to get way to rest.

Chinese Water Dragon Care

Water dragons are best suited to owners with at least some experience in keeping lizards previously, this is because of some of their care and health requirements can be confusing or stressful for new lizard keepers.

For the most part are friendly, it is a shame that the husbandry restricts us from recommending to new keepers, also if you are going to be getting a Chinese water dragon they do need quite a bit of your time in comparison to other lizards such as leopard geckos or crested geckos.

They live up to 2 decades also, we understand it is impossible to predict that far into the future but be aware the care never stops, and this is a long-term pet.

Vivarium Setup

Chinese water dragons require very large enclosures, as they are highly active lizards, they need room to stretch their legs.

Seconding that, there must be room for an extra-large water dish as water dragons love to swim.

The size of the housing space should be as a minimum of 4ft in length and 4 – 6ft high, this is an enormous size enclosure.

This large caging needs to be decorated with multiple branches going across, being creative and mimicking their natural habitat will be greatly appreciated by your dragon.

A platform off the ground is required on each side of the terrarium, this allows them to thermoregulate themselves (cool down or warm themselves.)

On each platform put a hide, this must be big enough to allow your Chinese water dragon to be completely hidden, they will use these often to rest.

Enclosure Temperatures

Chinese water dragons are cold-blooded, therefore depend on their environment to warm or cool themselves.

In captivity you must create the ideal temps on either side of the caging, a hot side and a cooler side.

This is essential and if the correct temps are not given, this could prove fatal to your pet.

80 degrees Fahrenheit is the daytime ambient temperature (the average across the cage).

The basking area should be set to 85 degrees.

For the night, never let the temperature go below 75, under this is too cold for a water dragon.

Finally, humidity, you will need a hydrometer to monitor the enclosures humidity levels, this always should be between 70-80.

If for a short time, such as when you are spraying the cage it spikes to 90+, this will not have a negative impact.

Terrarium lighting Requirements

As Chinese water dragons are cold-blooded, staying healthy is determined by their heat & lighting settings.

A UVB bulb must be fitted at the top of the enclosure, this will give basking areas on from the platforms as described earlier.

UVB lights allows your dragon to absorb vitamin D3 which is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The bulb should be set no closer than 1ft above the basking platform, setting this to a consistent 90 degrees F will be perfect.

Do not place the bulb direct facing the down on the eyes as this direct lighting could cause damage to their eyesight, ideal set the bulb level or at a 45-degree angle.

Once setup they are low maintenance, though it is worth noting when you do buy and first use the bulb as every 6-8 months maximum the bulb needs to be replaced.

This is due to losing its ability to produce enough UV for your pet lizard.

Substrate and bedding

Orchid bark & Cypress mulch are by far the best readily available beddings on the market.

They can absorb and aid the humidity levels within the terrarium for a longer period without becoming mouldy.

These are found at an local pet store or if you prefer to buy in bulk which is cheaper, these deals are sourced online and delivered to your door.


Chinese water dragons are “omnivores” this means they will both plants and animals alike.

Their diet should consist of more meat or insects over plant-based foods.

As a guideline, you should be feeding your dragon 10% plant-based fruits or vegetables and 90% made up of insects, worms and baby mice (frozen-thawed ideally).

If you would not be willing to offer insects and bugs, this can severely impact their health and may refuse to feed altogether and become ill.

The reason for this is mostly down to the protein intake is not high enough to keep a healthily water dragon sustained.

Supplements for their diet

The use of supplements should be fed at 2 – 3 times weekly.

A well balance diet will suffice, but if you feel they are not getting enough of a certain nutrient, this can be key to giving this a boost.

Calcium is the most common supplement used, this can be sprinkled on mealworms or any other insect, or even on fruit to enhance their calcium intake.

This is very important to a Chinese water dragon as this keeps their bones healthily and prevents metabolic bone disease.

When and how often should you feed a Chinese water dragon?

Age & Size, yes, size is the biggest factor like with any animal or human. Feeding excessively can cause a whole host of problems for a water dragon.

First starting with age, when younger will eat smaller meal sizes at a large frequency for example:

Feeding once a day when young is good practice, but the portion size stays relatively small in comparison to their size.

When over 2 years old the feeding schedule can be increased to every 2 – 3 days.

If you are unsure if the meals may be on the large size, there are 2 indicators that this may be true.

First your dragon will go off their food and refuse to eat, if so cut down the meal size and do not offer food for 2 days after the last attempt as this will encourage them to get back eating again.

Second is weight, do you have a fat lizard? If so, you need to put him on your own weightwatchers diet.

On a serious note, an overweight water dragon can be dangerous to their health and come with numerous health impacts which can cause early death to them.

Finally, is the water, this MUST be changed daily as the cooler water will increase the humidity instantly within the cage which aids healthy skin and, they regularly drink water to cool themselves down.


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