Physignathus cocincinus, the Chinese water dragon is a lizard species that belongs to the genus Physignathus whose other names include water lizard, water dragon, green water dragon, Asian water dragon, or Thai water dragon.
Although some people confuse it with confused with the Australian water dragon (Eastern and Western), these two lizards are not the same things. Unlike the Australian water dragons that belong to the genus Intellagama, this Chinese water lizard belongs to the genus Physignathus. However, they are both members of the family Agamidae.
- Size and weight: 2-3ft (up to a meter) long and weigh up to 1000g
- Lifespan: 10-15 years. Some can live up to 20 years.
- Natural habitats: Tropical highland and lowland rain forest, near water sources, in china and mainland Southeastern Asia
- Housing: They need a large enclosure, and you can house a male and one or more females.
- Diet: Omnivorous diet made of 85-90 live prey foods, especially feeder insects, small mammals, prey fish and reptiles and 10-15% vegetables and fruit treats
- Optimum conditions: They thrive at 80-90 °F and humidity 40-80%. However, their ideal humidity should be 60-80%.
Chinese water dragon habitat
These water lizards are native to the lowland and highland tropical rainforests in China and southeastern Asia, i.e., Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma with ideal temperature and relative humidity being 80–90 °F and 40-80% respectively.
In these natural habitats, you will find it near stationary or slow-moving freshwater bodies, especially banks or near lakes, streams, rivers, flowing creeks, ponds, swamps, and other freshwater bodies.
Besides its native habitats, this agamid lizard has established itself extensively in Hong Kong, probably from released pets.
The Chinese water dragons are arboreal. Therefore, they spend a lot of time on tree branches. Also, they love climbing on rocks, logs, and so on as they hunt for their food or forage leafy greens.
Finally, they are also excellent swimmers. If attached, these lizards can jump from tree branches into a water source and swim to safety. Furthermore, they can stay underwater for up to 25 minutes as a means of escaping from their predators, notes the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation
Description and appearance
The Chinese water lizards have triangular heads, and a crest of horny scales running from their head laterally towards their tail, terminating at the base of their flat body section. However, they don’t have a dewlap or guttural pouch beneath their neck like bearded dragons.
Besides the above description, let us look at their size, coloration, limbs, tail, eye, third eyes, and more to help you visualize these amazingly beautiful creatures.
Full-grown water dragon size and weight
The size of a fully grown Asian water dragon (adult) ranges from 2-3 feet, with males reaching up to one meter while females are smaller.
Their average weight is about 995 grams, with females weighing less than males since they are also smaller in size.
The water dragon’s coloration often ranges from dark green to light green to near neon green. However, they may have purplish hue while their belly may be pale green, yellowish, whitish, or off white.
Additionally, they feature “diagonal stripes of green or turquoise on the body, while the tail is banded from the middle to the end with green and white,” as Wikipedia notes. At times, these diagonally running strips may be aqua, mint green, or pale green.
Their tail has dark green or brownish banding, while their colorful necks make them very attractive as it may be yellow, blue, purple, peach as a single color, or have a combination of several colors.
Limbs or legs
They have well-developed legs with five long digits with the middle toes being the longest. Their toes have thick claws with needle-like sharp tips that enable them to climb effectively. Therefore, always wear gloves when handling them to avoid scratches as they are painful, and their nails may harbor parasite and germs.
If you compare their fore and hind limbs, the forelimbs are slender, and they mainly help in grasping branches or lifting their body upwards.
On the other hand, their hind legs are muscular and more powerful. They help this lizard in swimming, climbing or leaping on to surfaces or objects.
Finally, while they walk on their fours, they can run bipedally, i.e., while on their two hind legs.
Pineal or parietal eye
Colloquially referred to as to a third eye, like many other reptiles, these water lizards have parietal eyes on top of their skull, and to be specific, between their two eyes.
This pineal eye is both iridescent and photosensitive, and it helps in thermoregulation (detects time to bask or shelter when the sun sets). Also, it detects predators above it even when in a deep sleep by detecting light changes or shadow.
Teeth and tongue
Their mouths have tiny pointed acrodont teeth while their tongues are sticky to help in capturing and directing their prey into their mouth.
These reptiles have bright orange, yellowish or golden brown clear eyes. They should not appear sunken or cloudy.
The Chinese water lizards have long tails that account for slightly over 2/3 of their entire body length, i.e., about 70%. It helps these lizards in swimming and maintaining balance while it climbs in tree branches or when running.
Additionally, this lizard uses its tail to whip its predator. However, more than often, unlike the iguana, these agamid lizards will run away.
Males and female water dragons
These lizards are dimorphic, meaning that females and males have distinctive features, mainly once they have grown to sexual maturity.
The male water dragon’s heads are larger and more triangular. They also have a larger crest on their head, tail, and neck.
Furthermore, males show more coloration, i.e., they have vivid orange to yellow coloration on their neck, and the area near their jaws has pink tones. Sometimes, they may be “bright green with black speckling, along with a throat that is blue, red, orange, yellow, or a combination,” notes Reptile Magazine.
Unlike males whose coloration is entirely something to see, females maybe emerald green with pink throats and bluish stripes across their backs.
Another distinction between male and female Asian water dragon is size. Males grow up to three feet long while most females are about two feet. However, some females may grow beyond two feet.
Finally, the presence of more visible femoral pores (for the secretion of pheromone for scent marking and communication) that run ventrally on their hind limbs, hemipenal bulges will confirm you have a male and not female.
These water lizards are diurnal, i.e., these reptiles are active during the day and sleep at night, just like human beings.
Secondly, in the wild, they live in social groups of one male and several females, and both genders have territorial tendencies.
Their temperament is docile, and they are much friendlier than iguanas, they don’t mind being handled, and may participate in various physical interactive activities.
However, they can be aggressive, especially babies or juveniles, or adults that were not socialized well. If not correctly handled or startled, they can open their mouth (gape), whip you with their tail, or on rare occasions, bite you. Some may darken when they are about to be aggressive.
Unless cornered, they are unlikely to bite you. Instead, these reptiles will run and hide, and fights only occur with their kind.
Some typical behaviors they display include chasing, throat puffing, licking, head bobbing, and arm-waving, most of which are a means of communication, especially when about to be aggressive or territorial.
Finally, if well socialized when young, they adapt to human interaction and will be friendlier and allow more handling.
These reptiles shed in pieces. When they are about to slough, their skin will be dull, and they may bulge their eyes, show some behavioral changes, or rub against various things, including terrarium furniture.
However, don’t forcefully peel their skin as it may damage the underneath skin, and it may be painful. Instead, soak and mist these critters, ensure their humidity is optimum, and buy shedding aids if necessary.
Breeding, incubation, and hatchlings
Unless you are an experienced breeder, we don’t recommend you breeding these lizards. Therefore, either have them spayed or keep males and females separately.
Mating and breeding
When living in optimum conditions, these reptiles breed all year round, and you don’t have to encourage them to do so.
Females can lay eggs monthly or after two months. However, doing so will deplete their calcium and other nutrients reserve and risk the chances of them developing a metabolic bone disease or suffer from malnutrition.
Should they get the metabolic bone disease while gravid, they will be egg bound, and they will be unable to walk. Also, frequent mating will damage your female’s crest, cause injuries that may serve as sites for infection, and affect their overall health.
Therefore, after laying eggs, keep males and females separately and give the female time to rejuvenate and gain optimum health.
Finally, just before mating, males my head-bob as part of their courtship ritual before latching the female by their head crest, swirling their tail and injecting their hemipenis into a female’s cloacal vent.
Nesting and egg-laying
After mating, female lizards will lay a clutch of between 6 and 15 eggs that take 60-75 days to hatch. Therefore you need to make them a nesting box or area.
For nesting, humid soil without that is not too wet, or the ProRep spider life will work nicely as a substrate. Fill it in your nesting box to about 6-12 inches in depth of your substrate and maintain an optimum temperature of 84 to 88 °F, just like in their vivarium or tank.
Since females raise their tail while laying eggs, most males will assume it is a sign of submission and want to court and mate with them. This behavior will disturb females. Therefore, give them a separate place with a nesting box.
Finally, when they want to lay eggs, females will sift dirt from the soil for several hours before they can finally lay eggs.
Once they lay eggs, you need to collect them for incubation. Fill the bottom layer of your incubation tray with vermiculite soil. Saturate it with water until it begins to clump together.
Add a top vermiculite layer and mist it before place your eggs and cover it with wet coco fiber or Hatchrite leaving each egg 50% exposed. Coco fiber or Hatchrite will help in trapping moisture and maintaining the correct humidity.
Next, place the tray in your incubator and set temperatures of 85 to 88 °F, while humidity should be between 70 and 80.
Ensure you invest in a good thermometer since temperatures variation will cause egg failure, and hatching may end up deformed, or your hatchling may die shortly afterward. Also, a good hygrometer is a must since low humidity will make these eggs to crumble or collapse.
Our best pick is the IncuTherm Plus Digital Thermometer/Hygrometer, as it will serve both as a thermometer and hygrometer.
After 60-75 days, hatchlings measuring 5-8 inches in length and 2 inches from vent to snout will emerge. Immediately they hatch, these little critters are ready to begin life and can bite or perform alligator roll. However, their bites will be inconsequential.
In terms of appearance, hatchlings will be greenish-brown in color and will have strips across their body, vertically. Their underside is pale green, and they have a green banded tail, large eyes, and a short snout.
Let them remain in the incubator to allow more nutrient soaking for the next hour.
Finally, after three days, you can begin feeding them with pinhead crickets.
Baby and juvenile Chinese water dragons
Baby water dragons will be brownish-green on their upper body while their underside will have colors ranging from bright green to white. Also, their bodies will have beige or white vertically running strips across their body, and their banded tails will be green and brown.
As they grow and shed, by the time they are at least 10 inches, their body coloration changes to bright green.
Furthermore, when they turn into juveniles, males will have a yellowish-orange coloration on their underarms, and their throat area may change from white to orange or blue while the dark streak behind their eyes may darken.
However, juvenile female’s throats will remain white until they are sub-adults, and they will have less prominent and stubbier crests.
Albino, aqua and blue water dragons
While these reptiles may have other cool colors, including bright green, aqua, or blue chines water dragons, these are not morphs as there are no recognized morphs at the moment. There are even albino water dragons due to genetic mutation.
Pet Chinese water dragons
If you can meet their various requirements that include proper housing, feeding, care, handling, you have them as pets. We have a comprehensive pet water dragon care, tank size, food, and much more.