How to Build Habitats for Chinese Water Dragons

Chinese water dragons (Physignathus cocincinus) are a popular, medium-size lizard available from many pet stores. The lizards have an attractive, bright green color and active personalities in captivity. They grow up to 3 feet long, including their long, slender tail that can easily be more than 2 feet long. Chinese water dragons use their long tail when threatened to whip potential predators and for balance when climbing. Multiple Chinese water dragons can be kept in the same enclosure. The basic setup is easy to install and maintain, but needs to be large so the dragons grow healthily in captivity.


Step 1

Place a large aquarium in a quiet location in your home. Chinese water dragons should not be kept in enclosures smaller than 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 5 feet tall. They are highly active reptiles and will continually rub their snout on the glass when kept in small enclosures, a habit that can lead to many health problems.

Step 2

Fill the bottom of the aquarium with a 2- to 3-inch layer of sterile garden soil. Garden soil is a soft substrate that allows dragons to dig around easily and also cushions their landing if they fall off a branch in your tank. The soil also helps maintain humidity in the enclosure.

Step 3

Dig out an area in the soil to accommodate a large, shallow water pan. Ensure the pan is large enough to allow a full-size water dragon to soak in it. Plastic pans are easy to remove when changing water and sterilize when soiled.

Step 4

Put large branches in the aquarium, and make sure they are securely wedged against the glass so they will not shift or fall when the lizards are climbing on them. Chinese water dragons are active climbers and require several horizontal perches in their enclosure to rest on during the day.

Step 5

Add several live plants to the enclosure to help create a natural appearance as well as maintain humidity levels in the tank. You can keep the plants in their potting containers or transplant them into the sterile garden soil.

Step 6

Set up the lighting system over the aquarium. Chinese water dragons need a bright enclosure with plenty of UVB light from reptile bulbs to metabolize calcium and vitamin D3 properly. The heating lamp should be placed over a basking area above the the floor of the enclosure.

Step 7

Place a thermometer under the basking area to monitor the temperature, which should be kept at 95 degrees. Move the thermometer to other locations in the tank to ensure that the ambient temperature remains between 84 to 88 degrees during the day and 75 to 80 degrees at night.

Step 8

Install a hydrometer in the enclosure, and monitor the humidity in the tank daily. Mist the enclosure several times each day to maintain humidity levels around 80 percent. Dry environments may lead to respiratory and skin problems for Chinese water dragons.