Caring for a Chinese Water Dragon
Origin: Southeast Asia
Size: Females can grow up to 24", while males can grow up to 36". More than 1/3 of this length is going to be tail.
Lifespan: Approximately 18 years
Water Dragons are very social animals, enjoying interaction with their keepers. However, without an appropriately sized enclosure and ample feeding, keeping multiple Dragons at once can be detrimental to the health of the more passive individuals who may not be confident enough to eat with friends around. It's best to give your Dragon a variety of foods to avoid boredom and allow for maximum nutrition. True to their name, Water Dragons love being in water and often enjoy chasing their meals through the water (crickets, worms, feeder fish...).
A juvenile Water Dragon will need at least a 20 gallon (long) glass aquarium, complete with screen cover and under tank heater. Adults are happiest in a 50 gallon aquarium or larger. Juveniles should be kept on reptile carpet, newspaper, or paper towels to avoid ingestion of the substrate during feeding, which can lead to impaction. Adults do best on reptile carpet but can also be kept on humidity-maintaining substrates such as EcoEarth (coconut fiber). Water should be available at all times and freshened daily. The water dish must be large enough for your Dragon to completely submerge its body and even swim in, yet shallow enough that the Dragon will not get stuck in the dish. They should be misted daily and as needed during periods of shedding.
Your Dragon will require a daytime heat bulb, a nighttime heat bulb, and a UVA/UVB bulb. A heat gradient in the tank is necessary, with the warmest side of the tank reaching upwards of 85-90 degrees and the cooler side not dipping below 80 during the day. At night, a stable temperature of 75-80 degrees must be maintained. The UVA/UVB bulb will need to be used in addition to the daytime heat bulb, as it offers the spectrum your Dragon needs (especially as a juvenile) in order to develop properly. This bulb should offer a minimum of 5% UVA/UVB, preferably 10% for juvenile dragons.
Being omnivorous, Chinese Water Dragons eat both meat and plant matter. As a juvenile, your dragon will rely mainly on meat/protein in order to maintain growth and will later in life develop a taste for different vegetables/fruits. Dark, leafy greens are a great supplemental vegetable, being generally high in calcium. Once per week (twice for juveniles), you should dust your Dragon's meals with calcium powder to ensure they are gaining proper nutrition.
The cage substrate should be spot cleaned daily, and the entire cage wiped down once per week with terrarium cleaner. Often times your Dragon will use its water dish as a toilet, which makes for easy cleanup but is the reason water must be freshened daily! Providing two water dishes may help keep things cleaner.
If your Dragon eats something that is too large for it to digest or pass through its system, they could suffer from impaction or hind-leg paralysis. Also, the vitamins and UV lighting are extremely important because as captive animals, they need to be given the proper nutrients to prevent a calcium deficiency and Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).
ALWAYS wash your hands after handling any reptile!