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Experts in reptiles and aquatics

Chinese Water Dragon

The Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) is a diurnal, arboreal, agamid species of lizard native to Southeast Asia and China. They have also established themselves in Hong-Kong probably due to escaped or released animals from the pet trade.

Growing up to an average of 3ft long including its long tail, this is a fairly large lizard with the females being smaller than the males. A communal species, they live in groups within an established territory – mostly with a single male, multiple females and a number of juveniles.

Mostly dark and light green in colour, the Chinese Water Dragon has prominent spikes running from the base of their skull, right the way down to the top section of their tail. From where these spikes end on the tail, the tail then displays a banded pattern running down through to the tip of the tail, with black, green, and white colourations on the bands.

These patterns and colourations can be found across the body also.

The Water Dragon’s tail is a vital limb for overall balance when climbing and traversing its habitat. The strong tail also aids with swimming, and can even be used as a weapon in a 'whip' like motion against would-be predators.

Preyed upon by various regional snakes and birds of prey, the Water Dragon’s green colouration offers a decent camouflage against any foliage. Domesticated animals such as dogs and cats will also prey on the Chinese Water Dragon.

The Chinese Water Dragon has a parietal eye on the top of the head like many other lizard species, such as the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps). This eye is not an eye as we know it; it detects changes in light overhead, and acts as a safety system from potential attacks from above.

As the Water Dragon spends the majority of its time up off the ground, potential attacks would more likely come from above. This works best when their eyes are actually closed and shadows overhead are more easily detected, and it can even snap them out of a deep sleep should a threat be seen.

When a threat is detected, more often than not the Water Dragon would drop to the floor or a body of water and use its speed on either surface to get away to the safety. If a predator was already in range, this is where the large tail would be used as a ‘whip’ to give distance in order to get away.

The species can live upwards of 15 to 20 years in a captive environment but shorter in the wild due to predation and illness.

Over the past 10 years this species has become far more popular in exotic keeping hobby, partly due to the increased availability of suitably-sized enclosures.


Natively found in both low and highland tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, their range is from China, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, as well as a substantial population in Hong-Kong.

Being active during the day, they will spend the majority of the time up in trees and large plants, climbing amongst the branches alongside the banks of lakes and streams.

Overnight, they will stay hidden amongst dense foliage and sleep; they have even been seen sleeping in burrows that they have dug themselves.

The temperature ranges the species encounters will vary across their habitation range, with the warmer months being from April through to September, where average temperatures can see daytime highs of 28⁰C to 32⁰C, and night lows of 20⁰C to 22⁰C.

The cooler months run from October through to March where average highs can be from 18⁰C and 28⁰C during the daytime, with overnight temperatures between 10⁰C to 19⁰C.

Humidity across their habitation range rarely drops below 70%, and often reaches highs of 85% at certain times of the year.


Being an omnivorous species they will eat both vegetation and insects but prefer insects.

Their natural diet consist of various flying insects, such as bees, wasps, moth and butterfly, as well as various larvae, beetles, roaches and spiders. Water Dragons are even known to eat small fish and other suitably sized reptiles that they can overpower; small vertebrates like mice, rats and birds also make the menu should the opportunity present itself.

In captivity, a good diet should be based on popular insects, such as crickets, locust and mealworms - quantities given would be based on the age of the Water Dragon. Offering greens, plants, fruit and vegetables as a small portion of their diet would also be beneficial.


The males of the species become sexually mature at around 4 or 5 years old, with the females starting to lay eggs from around 3 or 4 years old producing 2 clutches of eggs a year.

Like many lizard species, it all starts with a courtship physical display. This would see the males head-bobbing and often circling the female until it’s all decided to start the mating process.

During the mating process the male will latch on to the female's head crest, often until the process is complete. The females will dig a burrow in order to lay their eggs when its ready to do so. This will be at least several inches in depth, and a clutch of around 5 to 20 eggs will be laid within. The eggs will incubate underground for a period of 60 to 80 days – once this period is over and the baby Water Dragons hatch, they are deemed fully independent at birth, with no interaction of a parental kind from any adult of the species.

Suggested Equipment


The Chinese Water Dragon is an arboreal species and therefore requires a large enclosure due to its long length. The enclosure should be at least 5 ft in length, 2/3 ft in width, and 5ft in height - the bigger the better.

Young/Juvenile Water Dragons:

  • Monkfield Vivarium 24x18x36” (DVF2436BL)

  • HabiStat Glass Terrarium 60x45x90” (HGT6090)


  • Large enclosure at least 6ft in length and height and 2-3 ft wide

Contact us for a quote to build you an enclosure.

Placing a large container of water on the bottom, cooler side of the enclosure would be extremely beneficial, allowing the Chinese Water Dragon to submerge up to 50% of its body in, and to enter and exit without tipping over. Every couple of days clean this container and replace with fresh water.

Regular misting combined with the container of water will help keep the enclosure at the required humidity range of around 70-80%. The 100%-night humidity can be achieved via the use of a HabiStat Humidifier (HDH01) running after the lights are off for an hour.


A diurnal species, they will be exposed to high levels of UV and warm temperatures in their natural habitat.

For the heat, a 100W heat-bulb running through a HabiStat Digital Dimming Thermostat should be ample enough to provide a basking area of 32⁰C (89⁰F) towards the top area of the enclosure, leaving the bottom half of the enclosure a cooler 24⁰C (75⁰F).

For the UV needs, considering that such a large enclosure is needed, the Arcadia Pro T5 UVB Kit 54W 12% at the recommended distances attached to the roof of the enclosure will offer a good top to bottom light gradient - the top section provides optimal exposure, and the bottom provides lower exposure options.


It is recommended to use a substrate that will help keep humidity at around 80%. HabiStat Jungle Bio (HSJB25) or Arcadia EarthMix (RARE10) are both great options as they absorb any spillages from the Water Dragon getting in and out of the provided water container. They also allow any surface water to dissipate naturally, which in-turn will raise the humidity.


Provide plenty of long branches, cork tubes, bamboo and strong sturdy plants to give climbing options as well as areas to hide while sleeping.

A sturdy shelf halfway up the enclosure is an ideal location for a water or food bowl.


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