How to Build Habitats for Chinese Water Dragons

Chinese water dragons ​are a reptile in the genus ​_Physignathus cocincinus_​. They are common in pet stores because reptiles make great and adorable pets, and the Chinese water dragon is no exception. These lizards are medium-sized and bright green in color. Even in captivity, they have active personalities, and all of these qualities make them an attractive pet. ​

Chinese water dragon
How to Build Habitats for Chinese Water Dragons
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One of the responsibilities of having these pets includes building a habitat that is reminiscent of the way they would normally live in the wild. Setting up a Chinese water dragon habitat is not difficult, but some care needs to be taken to set up the area in the best way. According to ChineseWaterDragon.net, if your habitat is not large enough for your dragon to safely move around, your dragon may damage its nose or even lose its front teeth when it tries to navigate a small enclosure.

Growth of a Chinese water dragon

If you purchase baby Chinese water dragons, keep in mind that they can live for up to 15 years.

Over that decade and a half, they will ultimately grow to be up to 3 feet long, according to PetSmart, and they will develop their attractive crest on the top of their heads.​ Most of their length is the result of their long, slender tail, which can easily be more than 2 feet long. ​When they feel threatened, ​Chinese water dragons use th​is​ long tail​ ​to whip potential predators, and ​they also use it ​for balance when climbing. ​

Origin of the Chinese water dragon

Reptile Magazine reports that Chinese water dragons, also known as the green water dragon or Asian water dragon, originated in southeast Asia, namely Thailand, southern China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Some of the animals that are found in pet stores are still imported from the wild, but there has also been an increase in private breeders that supply the pet stores. Reptile Magazine suggests trying to purchase your lizard from a captive breeder because it will likely be healthier and less stressed than a wild-caught or imported lizard.

Feeding your Chinese water dragon

The Chinese water dragon is an omnivore by nature, meaning that he eats both plants and animals. PetMD reports that they generally prefer meat when given the choice over fruits and vegetables. They like variety, however, so try to find ways to vary the feeding schedule to keep the dragons interested.

PetMD says that your Chinese water dragon's diet should be 85 to 90 percent insects. The remaining 10 to 15 percent can be fruits and vegetables. Within that larger percentage, try a ratio of 50 percent live insects such as crickets, 20 percent worms, and the remaining fruits and vegetables. You can even consider proteins such as baby mice, which should be considered a "treat" and be given no more than twice per week and only if your dragon is large enough to handle them.

Chinese water dragon diet

PetMD lists some foods that Chinese water dragons enjoy and are safe for them to eat.

  • Insects: crickets, wax worms, butter worms, earthworms, silk worms, mealworms, grasshoppers, and locusts
  • Fruits and vegetables: blueberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, figs, collard greens, sweet potato, carrots, and green beans
  • Other treats: small feeder fish, baby mice, or juvenile mice

Reptiles need a mineral supplement to achieve balanced nutrition. Supplement powder is easy to come by and can be purchased in pet stores. Simply dust their food with the supplement twice a week. Feed your Chinese water dragon during the day since the dragons are active during the daytime and sleep at night. Only give them as much food as they will eat at one time and remove the uneaten food after they have had a chance to eat as much as they want.

Feeding a young dragon

According to Reptile Talk, a baby or juvenile dragon should be fed daily. An adult can be fed every day, or every other day, or even every third day, depending on how much food is given. There are differing opinions on this. Some people feel the adults should be fed daily, and some people feel they can be fed less often to prevent them from becoming overweight.

​Water for Chinese water dragons​

As their name suggests, Chinese water dragons ​need and want water. They need an adequate water dish for swimming and splashing. They also soak in water as a necessity to keep their skin moist. ​A baby or smaller dragon can use a shallow water dish, but you need a larger water pan for an adult water dragon.

Chinese water dragon setup

The basic Chinese water dragon setup is easy to install and maintain, but it needs to be large, so the dragons can stay healthy in captivity. Because Chinese water dragons are a tropical animal, they need and want high temperatures. According to ChineseWaterDragon.net, in the wild they live in trees, so when setting up your Chinese water dragon habitat be sure to give them lots of trees to climb on. These lizards like to hide and climb in trees, so they will feel more comfortable and secure when they are high up.

​Consider the advice "​t​he bigger, the better​" for the aquarium or tank you use ​for your ​Chinese water dragon setup. ChineseWaterDragon.net says a minimum of six feet should be considered standard for an adult dragon.

Chinese water dragon vivarium build

A vivarium is simply another word for an aquarium or a terrarium that is set up to look like a realistic natural habitat. For a Chinese water dragon vivarium build, consider adding plenty of plants and branches​ and​ ​a source of ​water​. They need lights and dry areas for basking in and warming up. ​According to PetSmart, Chinese water dragons do not want to live with other dragons.

Step 1: Select your enclosure

The aquarium or enclosure for your Chinese water dragons should not be smaller than 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 5 feet tall. An adult Chinese water dragon should live in a terrarium that is at least 55 gallons. The enclosure should have a tightly fitting screened lid so your pet cannot escape.

Step 2: Select your bedding

A young Chinese water dragon that is less than 6 inches in size can be overwhelmed by traditional bedding. Instead, you can use reptile carpet for these younger animals. Once your animal grows, you can line the enclosure with a thicker layer of bedding such as coconut fiber or bark. Clean the bedding by removing droppings on a regular basis, and change the bedding completely every month.

ChineseWaterDragon.net warns against using cedar bark because this is extremely toxic if any of it is accidentally ingested. Large wood chips cannot be ingested. Using a bedding such as gravel, dirt, or potting soil could cause problems because they might accidentally ingest the small particles of this substrate as they are going after their food. Placing food on a dish so the dragon doesn't accidentally eat its bedding can make feeding a safer activity.

Step 3: Prepare a spot for your water

Set aside a spot that is big enough to accommodate a water pan. The pan should be small enough to not overwhelm a younger dragon but should also be large enough to accommodate a full-grown dragon. Consider your overall placement of your water pan, your rocks, branches, plants, and other decor so that the water pan is easy to remove and clean. Reptile Talk says one third of the floor of your tank can be water.

Step 4: Add your branches

Wedge large branches against the glass of the aquarium, so they are secure and will not shift or fall when the lizard climbs on them. Chinese water dragons are active climbers. They appreciate horizontal perches to climb on as well as plants or leaves to hide in.

Step 5: Add your plants

Adding live plants to the enclosure can 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. If you want a more lush look that is easy to take care of, consider mixing in some artificial plants to provide camouflage and give your lizard some extra places to hide. Reptile Talk says a box to hide in that is placed on the floor is not needed, because the dragons rarely use the floor.

Step 6: Add rocks to your enclosure

Add small and large rocks to your Chinese water dragon enclosure. While the placement of rocks can be decorative, they can also be placed to provide perches or hiding spots. Large rocks can be placed near the basking light to give your dragon a place to perch while it warms up.

Step 7: Set up your lighting

The heating lamp should be placed over a basking area above the floor of the enclosure. Like all reptiles, Chinese water dragons are cold-blooded and must access warm light in order to maintain their body temperature. PetSmart says to use a heat bulb on one side of the tank during the day, keeping the enclosure at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 35 Celsius). At night, turn the light off and use a night heat lamp to keep both ends of the habitat between 65 and 75 F (18 to 24 C).

Step 8: Monitor the temperature

During the day, the placement of the lighting should allow the other end of the tank to reach a cooler temperature of about 75 to 85 F (24 to 29 C). Install a thermometer at each end of the tank to monitor the temperature. An enclosure of all glass on all four sides may lose its heat quite rapidly, especially considering the ambient temperature of the room the tank is in. Consider insulating one side of the tank with a piece of wood.

Step 9: Monitor the humidity

Utilize a hydrometer in the enclosure for daily monitoring of the humidity in the tank. Reptile Talk says the humidity should be about 80 percent. Even with a water container and lighting in the cage this can be difficult to maintain, especially when you live in a dry environment. Live plants in the enclosure can also help. Misting the tank throughout the day to maintain the proper humidity might be necessary.

The Chinese water dragon habitat should be humid, to replicate the natural environment they live in in the wild. If the environment is too dry, the dragon can develop respiratory and skin problems.