Green Water Dragon

Green Water Dragon

Physignathus cocincinus

Natural History Green water dragons, also known as Chinese water dragons, are beautiful lizards hailing from the lush rainforests of southeast Asia. These agile lizards are often found in trees and shrubs near bodies of water where they can quickly take refuge should they feel threatened.

Both males and females of this species are a gorgeous emerald green color, which in addition to being easily tamed, makes them an ideal alternative to the less suited green iguana. These are active lizards that will require a large amount of space, but those individuals willing to provide proper care will be rewarded with a stunning display of nature’s beauty.

Most larger specimens offered for sale in the United States are still of wild caught origin. However, as their popularity has continued to climb, so has the availability of captive hatched babies. Captive hatched babies are ideal, although with patience and hard work, even imported animals can adjust to captivity and make rewarding pets.

Size and Longevity

Males of this species are typically larger and have more intense coloration. Depending on the sex of the animal, average adult length is between 24 and 30 inches, with occasional specimens being slightly larger or smaller.

When provided with ample space, a varied diet, and proper lighting, green water dragons can easily live over a decade in captivity, with life spans approaching 15 years becoming more and more common.


When it comes to housing this species, cage size is the main factor to contend with. These lizards are very active and easily startled. As a result it is unfortunately quite common for this species to run repeatedly into the cage walls, resulting in sometimes severe injuries. Therefore, the rule of thumb for housing these animals to give them as much space as possible. No enclosure is too big for adult green water dragons.

A single hatchling may do alright in a 20 gallon terrarium for a short while, but a larger enclosure should be provided at the first signs of the animals seeming cramped. A single adult should be maintained in an enclosure with a footprint of no less than 4 feet by 2 feet, and at least 3 feet tall. Enclosures twice this size are more appropriate, and will certainly provide a happier existence for your lizard.

Glass enclosures can be used, as can commercially produced reptile cages or custom enclosures. Opaque walls are preferred over glass, as these lizards are less likely to run into the walls if they cannot see through them. In any case, choose a cage built to withstand high humidity and one that is properly ventilated to avoid stagnation of the air.

Heating and Lighting

Water dragons are tropical, and should be kept warm all year long. Daytime ambient temperatures should be in the mid 80's with access to both warmer and cooler zones. A localized, elevated basking spot should be provided and should reach 95 to 100 degrees during the hottest part of the day. Nighttime temperatures can safely drop into the upper 70's.

Heat may be provided with heat bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, heating pads, or infrared bulbs. While heat pads, red bulbs, and ceramic heating can be utilized 24 hours a day, traditional heat lights must be shut off at night to provide a healthy day/night cycle.

In addition to ample heat, water dragons require good lighting to thrive. The lights you use should not only keep the enclosure very bright during the day, but should also provide necessary full spectrum light. Fluorescent bulbs designed specifically for reptile use are highly recommended. These bulbs will provide your lizards with the vital ultra violet light they need in order to metabolize calcium and properly grow.

Substrate and Furnishings

The substrate used in the green water dragon habitat should be one that will encourage the high humidity levels that these lizards prefer. Reptile (orchid) bark, cypress mulch, or any number of coconut husk products are ideal choices. Avoid using any type of overly drying substrate such as sand or paper based products.

In addition to the primary substrate selected, green sphagnum moss is highly recommended as well. Adding this moss to portions of the enclosure will not only add to the naturalistic appearance of the enclosure, but will also serve as valuable source of humidity when misted regularly.

Multiple perches of varying diameters and heights should be provided for these agile climbers. In addition to branches, large amounts of live and artificial plants are highly recommended to recreate the feel of a lush forest. As mentioned before, these animals can startle easily, and will feel much more secure and less stressed if they have ample foliage to hide within.

Water and Humidity

As their common name suggests, these lizards love water. They should have access to a large pool that is plenty big enough for them to soak in completely. They will not only drink from and swim in this water source, but it will also aid greatly in raising the humidity levels in the cage.

The entire enclosure should be kept at a constantly high level of humidity. Use of proper substrates, large water receptacle, and green moss will help, but regular misting with water will be required. The cage should never become soggy, rather it should be nearly dry before misting again. Typically two heavy sprays per day will suffice, but this frequency may be higher or lower depending on ambient humidity in your home, temperature, and ventilation of the enclosure.

Automated misting systems are available for use in reptile habitats and these are highly recommended if you are not around during the day to spray the enclosure by hand. These devices are equipped with timers so that you can have your enclosure misted regularly throughout the day with no work on your part.


Water dragons are primarily insectivorous, and the majority of their diet should consist of appropriately sized crickets, mealworms, wax worms, and roaches. Feeder fish and small mice can be offered as well, but the emphasis should be on variety. In addition to live prey, many water dragons will readily consume fruit flavored baby food or over-ripened fruits such as banana and papaya.

These fast growing lizards will require dietary supplements to prevent metabolic disorders or stunted growth. Choose a supplement that contains calcium and vitamin D3, in addition to a reptile multivitamin. For baby and juvenile lizards, lightly dust all food items at every feeding. Larger animals that have passed their rapid growth phase can be supplemented less often, perhaps once or twice a week.

Green water dragons are active lizards with an equally active metabolism. As such, they should be offered food daily (or every second day for adults). A general rule of thumb is to put as much food into the enclosure as will be consumed in a few hours. Avoid allowing your enclosure to become overrun with uneaten feeder insects.


Once your lizards have been given time to adjust to their new environment, one can begin brief handling sessions with water dragons in an effort to desensitize them to human contact. While these animals are rarely aggressive, they will be jumpy and nervous at first. Gentle and consistent handling is required, but within a few months your water dragon should begin to calm down noticeably.

Slow, confident movements will be less threatening to these lizards, and the goal is to make handling them a positive experience for both the keeper and the animal itself. Short, frequent handling sessions are ideal, as they are less stressful for the animal, and more likely to reinforce good behavior in this species.

© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2007