Chinese Water Dragon/Green Water Dragon Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name: Chinese water dragon, Asian water dragon, Thai water dragon, green water dragon
Scientific Name: Physignathus cocincinus
Life Span: 10 to 15 years, some live  more than 20 years
Size: Males up to 3 feet, females up to 2 feet long
Habitat: Banks of freshwater streams and lakes
Country of Origin: Forests of southern China and southeastern Asia (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam)

Physical Description

Image Source

The Chinese water dragon is known by many names. It is also called green water dragon, Thai water dragon and Asian water dragon to name a few. This is a lizard belonging to the agamid lizard species which originated from China and Southeast Asia. 

This colorful lizard grows up to a meter long with the most prominent part of the lizard’s length is its lovely tail. The body is built for crawling, jumping and holding onto things with its slim and agile body.

The color of a Chinese water dragon varies but usually, the body is dark to light green and sometimes with a striking purple color with an orange stomach. You can see prominent diagonal green or turquoise stripes found all over the body. The tail has bands from the middle to the tip and is usually colored white and green.

Flip the Chinese water dragon and you’ll find its underside color white, off-white and pale green or yellow. This lizard’s throat is known as the most interesting and the most attractive in the lizard’s body. The throat may have blue, purple or peach color, some lizards have a solid color or a combination of colors.

Adult male Chinese water dragons have a larger, triangular-shaped head. Males have larger crests on their heads, tail, and neck. These are also larger than females. The lizard’s tail is not just for show but is also used to enhance balance, to swim better and as a weapon when it feels threatened.   

There is a small, photosensitive area between their eyes known as the pineal eye or the parietal eye.  This unique structure is said to help regulate a lizard’s temperature. The pineal eye can sense the difference in light to help lizards bask and to find shelter before the sun sets. The difference also allows the lizard to avoid predators and from other threats from the air. With the pineal eye, the lizard can quickly awaken from sleep because of slight light changes.

Life Span

Chinese water dragons can live up to 15 years with the oldest known up to 20 years. When in the wild, this lizard will likely live less than 10 years of age because of poaching and because of predators. Chinese water dragons are classified as a vulnerable species and are protected by several animal protection groups.

This lizard was once indigenous in the tropical forests near the rivers and streams in southeast Asia but lately, there is a large population of Chinese water dragons in unlikely areas like Hong Kong where it’s now considered an invasive species. Experts say that this may be due to irresponsible pet owners releasing them in the wild. 

Captive Chinese water dragons may live longer when kept inside tanks and cages. This is because pet owners and collectors are likely to care for them the best way they can. Also, careful breeding may give hope to the declining population of Chinese water dragons.

Chinese water dragons have three life stages, similar to most lizard species:


Hatchlings are very small with a very large mouth, long tail, and huge eyes. The color is mainly green. The gender of hatchlings depends on where the lizard lays her eggs. Females are produced when the eggs are incubated at 28 degrees Celsius and above. Males are produced when the eggs are incubated in nests at 26 to 28 degrees Celsius.

Hatchlings start their lives very curious, eager to bite anything and are hungry as well. Usually, these hatches late summer to early autumn.


Juvenile Chinese water dragons start to grow larger and longer, especially its tail and head. The different colors start to develop at this stage and their appetites increase as well. Soon, it will develop sexual maturity and will be ready to mate with a suitable female.


Adult Chinese water dragons are sexually active by the time these are 5 years old. Males develop a good size for dominating females at 210 mm from the lizard’s snout to its vent. Adult males that are ready to mate can reach up to 400 grams or more in weight.

Sexually mature males may be smaller than these estimates if their testosterone levels are lower. You can also tell that the males are ready to mate with their brighter throat coloring. Instead of a plain color, these will become orange, blue or yellow.

Males will also exhibit a dominant behavior towards other males which will be discussed in detail later. Females remain the same size and color even during the mating season. 

Eating Habits

Chinese water dragons are omnivores which means these can eat animals as well as fruits and vegetables. In the wild, these lizards spend their time in the forest floor or trees in search of food. They may readily consume fruits that are found on the ground and on trees but they won’t resist snacking on insects, worms, and fish. After all, it can be seen in clean streams and river banks.

In captivity, feed your Chinese water dragon a variety of food. It needs protein and this is available in in the insects and small animals they eat. These lizards can eat crickets. Grasshoppers, butter worms, waxworms, earthworms, and small fishes.

You can also feed pinkie mice or king worms. You can sneak some supplements inside the body of the mice or sprinkle multivitamins on food as well. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements are the most commonly recommended multivitamins and supplements for water dragons. Give these at least every after feeding. A wild-caught insect is not a good meal for captive lizards because these may have ingested pesticides.

Around 10 to 15% of the diet of Chinese water dragons is obtained from plants. You can feed your lizard some veggies and fruits as long as these are cut into smaller pieces. Some good ideas are collards, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, raspberries, papayas, figs, strawberries, and cantaloupes. 

Hatchlings, as well as juvenile water dragons, must be feed daily to support its growth and development. Meanwhile, adult green water dragons should be fed at least every 2 to 3 days. As a rule, you can base the amount and frequency of your feeding according to the size and the body of your lizards. Skinny Chinese water dragons should be fed more often while fat ones should be fed less.  

Sleeping Habits

Chinese water dragons are nocturnal animals, therefore, these will sleep in the morning and will be active in the evening. With this information, you need to place the lizard tank in a quiet area in your home like your basement perhaps. It needs to sleep all day so it can stay up feeding, playing and mating.

So when preparing your Chinese water dragon tank, create an area where the lizard can sit and sleep. This could be a large, hollow log, a large pot or a covering where it can crawl in and sleep for longer hours.


Chinese water dragons are arboreal lizards which means that these spend their day on plants, rocks, and trees but are also perfect swimmers. Water dragons are happy when they swim and can spend up to 90 minutes underwater. 

Keeping Chinese water dragons in tanks and enclosures is a challenge because you need to provide these with a place where they can swim. A very large tank is needed for large water dragons. You need to maintain the quality of water inside these tanks regularly. Take note that water dragons poop in water so it’s important to clean this as often as possible.

Development and Reproduction

Males show their sign of dominance by their size, color and by a unique behavior known as a head bob. A male will bob his head up and down repeatedly showing that he is control of a territory where several females are found. The male does this unique behavior during spring where the mating season starts. He may also wave his arms, do pushups, or fight other males when necessary.

Males will fight for his harem of females using his tail, the most prominent part of his body and the strongest no doubt. He will use his tail as a whip to unbalance his opponent. He may also use his large, strong mouth to bite his opponent and this does not end well for a smaller male. They also use their sharp claws which can cut skin and draw blood. Usually, defeated or weak dragons lose their tails, claws, and toes because of a fight for territory.

Mating season starts late winter or early springtime. Chinese water dragons are oviparous or females will lay eggs. The eggs are called clutches and a female can lay from 6 to 18 eggs at one time. Each egg can weigh from 4 to 5 grams.  Female dragons will dig nests that are shallow and cozy, ready to accommodate all the eggs she carries. She usually picks a sunny area mostly in sunny soil.

Somehow, female green water dragons know how to position their nests to get the best results. The nest is constructed so as it is a slight angle to the vertical in a depth of up to 16 cm with a chamber created at the end of the nest. She will lie over the burrow and places the eggs to the chamber. If an egg is unable to be deposited to the chamber, the female will try to get the egg in position by rolling it with her snout.

She will scatter loose dirt over the nest. She will check the nest after several days of depositing them. She will also redo the nest in case she finds these disturbed. Unlike other lizard parents, she won’t come back after this visit, therefore, the hatchlings will be left to fend for their own needs when they hatch.

The Chinese water dragon nest is usually found near water such as river, ponds or streams. As mentioned, the area where the nest is located affects the temperature of the eggs. Temperature can affect the gender of the hatchlings.

Males are produced in cooler nests with temperatures from 26 to 28 degrees Celsius. Females are produced when nests are warmer at 28 degrees and above. In a study, a temperature higher than 30 degrees Celsius produced 100% females while low-end temperatures were not able to produce all females.

Female Chinese water dragons will start laying eggs during the early to middle of November to the end of December. There are two clutches of eggs produced in the nesting period about a month apart. The hatchlings will come out of the eggs late summer to early autumn.   

How to Breed

To breed Chinese water dragons in captivity the first thing you need to do is to find a healthy male and female dragon. If you are purchasing a pair, make sure to get a female and male dragon from a reputable breeder. If you’re using your dragons, make sure that you’re pairing a male and a female. Understand the unique appearance of males. 

Males have a rooster comb at the back of the neck. This usually grows high which means that the lizard is about half a year old. Meanwhile, female also grows a rooster comb but this is smaller. This comb is where males hold on to when mating.

If you’re purchasing hatchlings from a pet store, get at least three dragons so you’ll get a male and female. Females may also fight for dominance and this starts when these reach 2 to 4 months old. 

You must start breeding your dragons around late fall and winter where the natural breeding season starts. Provide 12 to 14 hours of light daily. In an enclosure, place one male and two females to make sure that the eggs that each female dragon hatches will be fertile. This also makes sure that the dragons will mate.

You will notice that breeding could be violent between male and female Chinese water dragons. The male will hold on to the closest female and then takes her to where he feels is best to mount. This may happen repeatedly.

After 21 days after mating, the female will scratch the cage to look for a suitable place to lay her eggs. Place a deep container made of plastic about 10 inches wide x 10 inches long x 18 inches tall; this will be the female’s egg-laying box. Place some sphagnum moss inside the box and position this in a cool area away from the feeding and water dishes.

A pregnant female dragon will deposit her eggs in the corner of the box. She will do this in two hours and will lay anywhere from 10 to 15 eggs. She covers these and places dirt and moss using her nose. Some females will even make a fake nest on the other side of the egg-laying box to trick predators.

Some Incubation Tips

Once the female dragon has deposited her eggs, carefully remove these from the nest. Make sure to keep these facing the same side up or the position that you found them. If you overlook this, you may deprive the babies inside the egg from precious oxygen and end up suffocating them before they hatch.

Some females may lay infertile eggs. This may happen even with or without the male inside the enclosure. You see that infertile eggs will turn yellow in just three weeks. Fertile eggs are white and plump. You can use a flashlight to check for the presence of the hatchling inside.

Place the fertile eggs inside a plastic shoebox. Place these in rows of four or five eggs and place an inch of damp perlite or vermiculite. Place breathing holes on the hole of the shoebox. Place the box inside an incubator with the temperature set at 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Open the incubator only to check the eggs every two weeks. Make sure that the eggs are not drying up or turning yellow. Remove any egg that has turned yellow or have developed mold. Small grape-sized eggs will increase in size to about the size of a pecan. The eggs will hatch around 60 days.

Common Health Problems

Chinese water dragons are affected by the following health problems:

Metabolic Bone Disease

MBD is a fatal disease that affects dragons suffering from lack of calcium in their daily diets. This can also affect dragons that don’t get exposed to UVB light. To prevent MBD, feed your dragon food rich in calcium or use calcium supplements.

Skin Infections And Skin Parasites

Skin infections may happen on the surface of the skin and inside the body. The most common reason for having skin infections is a poorly kept cage or enclosure. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi can develop inside dirty cages and may be hard to treat. A vet may prescribe antibiotics and should be given in a certain number of days.

To prevent this from happening, always clean your pet’s tank daily and conduct regular monthly general cleaning.

Mouth Rot

This is a very common condition in Chinese water dragons and usually, this is due to an improperly treated injury or infection near or around the mouth area. A sure sign that your dragon is suffering from mouth rot is when you see it banging or rubbing its head, chin or nose on the wall of the cage or enclosure.

Although this helps soothe the sore for a short while, it can lead to total mouth rot. Check your dragon’s mouth and nose for open sores and check for redness, oozing pus, inflammation and so on. Take your dragon to a vet if you suspect mouth rot.


This is a condition when the females lay eggs despite not mating with a male. The egg or eggs may become stuck inside her body and it may be very difficult to remove. Your female dragon needs to be checked by a vet right away.

Preventing Illness

To prevent illness, you must keep your Chinese water dragon healthy. Provide your dragon healthy food with complete nutrients it needs to grow healthy and strong. Dragons need a fresh supply of water; always change the water in the dish to prevent bacteria accumulation.

Most illnesses of Chinese water dragons are preventable. One way is to clean the tank or enclosure regularly. The lizard’s tank should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week and general cleaning of the tank and its accessories and décor at least once a month. Disinfect everything before you place your dragon back in its home. 

Take your dragon to a vet for regular checkups. Create a growing diary of your pet. Record its length and weight plus special information like when it started growing rooster combs, unique colors on its body and so on. For any medical condition, consult a vet right away and never self-treat a Chinese water dragon.


To understand a Chinese water dragon, you need to learn all about its unique traits and behaviors. The Chinese water dragon has the following characteristics

Nocturnal Pet

Chinese water dragons are nocturnal. These lizards are active at night to mate, to eat and to defend their territory. Therefore, you won’t see your pet lizard get out of its lair in the morning. You must place its tank or cage in an area where it’s quiet inside your home.

Head Bobbing

Head bobbing is seen in mature males especially when mating season nears. Males bob their heads up and down to show signs of dominance. This is a sign that they are willing to defend their territory and gain dominance to a harem of females. Aside from head bobbing, the males may also show arm-waving, may perform push-ups and flick their tails against male dragons. 

Very Territorial

As mentioned, water dragons are territorial and thus will fight any males, to defend their territory. It can fight hard for a harem of females and mostly, it ends in one male injured and bloodied.

Lizards like the water dragon can fight by flicking its tail like a whip and biting the tail and legs of their enemies.

Don’t Grow Their Tails Back

The strong bites of water dragons can severely injure their opponents to the point that a lizard can lose a tail or a leg. And compared to other lizards, water dragons don’t regrow their tails and legs.

A Chinese water dragon can even remove its tail on purpose when it feels threatened. When grabbed by the tail the wrong way it can drop its tail as self-defense.

Some Water Dragon Species Hibernate

The Chinese water dragon may hibernate depending on the climate of the area where they are located. For instance, dragons found in Canberra, Australia may hibernate around Easter and will remain in hibernation until the late September or early October.

You can tell that your water dragon is hibernating when it is less active than it was before. In a place where there’s cold weather, water dragons may sleep in water overnight before they go into hibernation. It’s because it’s warmer in water rather than outside the water.


Shedding is a normal process that lizards undergo especially when these animals are actively growing. This is more frequent in juvenile water dragons rather than in adult or mature dragons. The shedding process happens for about two weeks. They shed starting from the front legs and then the head. When this is done, the upper body is next and finally, the lower body. The last to shed is the lizard’s long tail.

Try to maintain correct humidity inside the tank to prevent complications when shedding. Improper shedding may happen if the old skin is held in some body areas. This is usually due to poor humidity and may be due to an illness. No matter what happens, you should never try to help your dragon by pulling the skin off. The skin may sometimes become stuck along the legs which can lead to poor blood flow to the area.

If the blood flow is restricted in the leg or feet for a long time this can rot the area and lead to an infection. Your pet lizard can suffer from tissue damage leading to a snapped toe, feet or tail. If you suspect improper shedding and you think your pet is at risk for tissue damage, take your pet to the vet.

To prevent improper shedding, provide the right humidity inside the tank. Add a tub of water so your pet can soak daily. Soaking can help remove any dead skin. Also, your pet may not eat at this time so leave a bowl of fruit or some mealworms inside the tank in case it wants to feed after shedding.


In the wild, Chinese water dragons will live near water where there is abundant food to eat. It will remain on land where it can look for insects and small animals and will also swim in the water to snack on small fish. Water dragons are among the largest species of lizards and therefore may need a huge tank or enclosure.

Inside the cage or tank, place strong branches where your lizard can climb on to and where it can bask. But don’t place these accessories near the edge of the tank because your water dragon may escape. Use potted plants for foliage or you may use plastic plants, it’s up to you.

Lizards love to sleep in crevices, holes and even underwater. You can add logs, tree barks and rocks so your lizard can sleep during the daytime.  The tank or cage should have a strong lid. Chinese water dragons are strong and may open the lid open easily.

An escaped lizard may not go far but it can become stressed as it moves in your home. Therefore, keep the lid of your Tokay tank secure and locked under lock and key.

Lighting and Humidity

You must keep your lizard tank at 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit at night. There’s no need to use a UVB bulb because Chinese water dragons are active at night. Rely on an incandescent bulb for daytime heating and a reptile bulb or a ceramic bulb for nighttime heating.

Use a heating pad to maintain humidity at 70%. Use a water spray bottle to improve humidity inside the tank. Don’t let this drop below 80% or else, your lizard will suffer from skin conditions and may find it hard to shed.

Use the best substrate to maintain tank humidity. Rely on a digital thermometer and hygrometer to precisely monitor the temperature and humidity inside the tank. Correct humidity levels ASAP to prevent dealing with health issues.

Tank Bedding and Accessories

A good type of bedding and substrate is orchid bark or coconut husks. These will retain moisture and will also be soft and comfortable for your Chinese water dragon to stand on. Change the substrate at least once every week depending on how clean or how soiled these are. 

During shedding, place paper towels inside the tank. This is soft and comfortable for your water dragon and will make clean-up fast and easy. If you want to use paper towels, use towels with no designs and have different colors. These may have chemicals that can affect the water dragon’s health.


Keep your lizard tank clean and well sanitized to prevent diseases. Create a cleaning schedule and follow this. Use the best materials and cleaning products to thoroughly clean the tank. Also, cage maintenance should be done daily, weekly and monthly. 

Spot cleaning removes poop and dirt. Clean the substrate as necessary depending on the type of substrate you are currently using. For paper towels, change these once or twice a week. Use warm water and detergent soap and a soft brush. Wash the inside and outside portion of the tank as well as all the accessories inside it.

Your pet’s food and water bowls must be washed at least twice a week. There are a variety of cleaning products you can use to clean a Chinese water dragon’s tank. You can use disinfectants which are antimicrobial products that will clean accessories and the tank.

A disinfectant will also kill viruses, spores, protozoa, and bacteria. Bleach is the most common disinfectant and to use bleach, you must add this with water before use. Sanitizers are also cleaning products that remove microorganisms inside the lizard tank. 

Finally, sterilization is removing microorganisms like fungi and spores. This is done using chemicals, steam or boiling water. You may use boiling water and soap for a thorough clean.

After cleaning and disinfecting the lizard tank, use paper towels to dry it dry before placing the accessories in. Adjust the lighting and humidity first before you place the Chinese water dragon.


Chinese water dragons love to be in the water and will also need adequate water inside its tank. Use a large bowl made of ceramic or clay as his water dish. You need a heavy dish so this is not easily knocked over. Replace the water inside this dish daily and clean the dish at least once a week.

Availability – Where to Get One?

You can get a Chinese water dragon from a local pet store or a reptile or lizard shop. Usually, these exotic pet is pre-ordered from a store or online pet shop. This lizard costs around $40 to $50 depending on the size and maturity of the lizard.

Buying from a local store is cheaper while ordering online especially from pet shops abroad is mostly very expensive. You need to consider shipment of the water dragon which usually costs a lot of money.

A young lizard is more preferred rather than an old one. There are some instances when young pet owners give up their mature pet water dragon and release it in the wild. This causes an increase in the population of domesticated water dragons in the wild.

And since this animal is a protected and vulnerable species, you may find it hard to order this lizard online or offline. If you know a local water dragon breeder, you may ask for a fine specimen to take care of at home.            

How to Care for a Chinese Water Dragon?

Remember the following tips on how to  take care of your Chinese water dragon

  • Always feed your dragons with fresh food and  insects
  • Keep the temperature and humidity in the tank at the ideal low levels. Use a water mister, humidifier or a good substrate to keep humidity at its best.
  • The water inside the tank should be replaced daily because water dragons tend to poop in the water.
  • Clean the tank with strong, natural cleaning solution and warm water. Clean the accessories and replace the tank bedding as well.
  • Choose the ideal tank size to house your lizard. Remember, males can grow very large and thus may require a bigger space to live in.
  • Have an extra tank or enclosure for breeding.
  • Preserve the female’s health by removing males from the tank after the female lays her eggs.
  • Take your Chinese water dragon to the vet for any medical condition. Never self-medicate or treat the injury by yourself.
  • Monitor the growth and development of your water dragon  
  • Handle your Chinese water dragon often starting day one. It will become more social and will be at ease even when handled when you do so. 

FAQ Section

Are Chinese water dragons friendly lizards?

Chinese water dragons are one of the friendliest lizards even friendlier than iguanas. They don’t mind being touched so be sure to interact with your pet often starting from day one.

Will Chinese water dragons make good pets?

Compared to other lizards, water dragons will not bite unless provoked and are social animals. This lizard is a good first-time lizard pet and also works well with beginner handlers.

Are Chinese water dragons aggressive pets?

Chinese water dragons may become aggressive towards males and females especially during mating season. However, they are very friendly with humans, especially with their handlers/owners.

What do baby Chinese water dragons eat?

The diet of a Chinese water dragon depends on its size. Hatchlings and yearlings eat small insects like spiders, ants, crickets and small caterpillars. When these grow bigger, so will their prey.

How long can a Chinese water dragon stay underwater?

A water dragon can stay up to 16 minutes underwater. Some lizard species that live near bodies of water like streams and rivers have developed a natural scuba tank that helps it remain underwater longer.

How many babies will a female water dragon have?

A female Chinese water dragon will lay anywhere from 6 to 20 eggs. These eggs will hatch after 60 days of incubation.

Do Chinese water dragons need a heat lamp?

Yes, Chinese water dragons have a hard time maintaining their body temperatures and will need a heat lamp to do so. At night, use a ceramic heater or a heat lamp made for nighttime use to keep its tank humid and warm.

When is the Chinese water dragon year in the Chinese zodiac?

The year 1952 is the Chinese Water Dragon year and people born on this year are protected by the water dragon. The dragon in the Chinese zodiac symbolizes life, growth, longevity, harmony, and virtue.

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