Basic Information Sheet: Chinese or Green Water Dragons

Chinese or Green Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

Water dragon
Download the Water Dragon Client Handout PDF.

Natural history

Green water dragons are native to tropical forests or areas near the river’s edge in southeast Asia.

Pets are primarily wild-caught and wild-caught adults can have a difficult time adjusting to captivity. Water dragons are beautiful lizards that make stunning display animals in naturalistic vivaria, however these lizards are inexpensive and imported in large numbers. These flighty lizards then end up in private homes where they may be housed poorly and rapidly become stressed and ill.


Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Agamidae

Water dragons, bearded dragons, frilled lizards, agamas

Color and Size

  • Variable shades of green or brown with dark tail bands and sometimes light body bands. Coloring is often brightest during the breeding season.
  • Including the tail, adult males may reach 24-30 in (0.6-0.8 m) in length. More than half of this length is tail.
  • Females are somewhat smaller.


  • Feed Water dragons a variety of gut-loaded insects such as crickets, king mealworms, silkworms, and waxworms, as well as grasshoppers, roaches, and earthworms. Pinky mice and small fish may also be fed occasionally. As water dragons age, they become more omnivorous. Offer chopped fruits, greens, and other vegetables.
  • Dust the non-breeding adult’s diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement just prior to feeding once weekly. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. A general vitamin/mineral supplement may be offered once weekly
  • Feed juveniles daily. Feed adults once or twice weekly, more often if they are active and in a large habitat.
  • For more information, download the client handout: Feeding Insect Eating Reptiles.


Temperature Maintain a temperature gradient of 80-86°F (27-30°C) with a basking spot that reaches 95°F (35°C). Provide a 10-15°F (5-8°C) drop in temperature at night to 70-77°F (21-25°C).
Humidity/water Provide a tropical environment with relative humidity ranging from 60-90%. This lizard requires a large bathing area.
Cage size and design Water dragons require large, spacious enclosures. At minimum, provide this active lizard with a 75-gallon (283-L) terrarium. House one to three lizards in an enclosure at least 6 x 3 x 7 ft (1.8 x 1 x 2 m).
Cage furniture/supplies Provide a full-spectrum light source for normal absorption of dietary calcium. This arboreal species requires branches for climbing. Provide hiding places in sufficient numbers and in various locations so that all animals have opportunities to hide from other lizards and humans.
Social structure Water dragons may be housed alone, in pairs, or as trios.


When properly cared for, Water dragons may live 12-15 years. Sexual maturity occurs when dragons exceed 16 in (40 cm) in length when Dragons are usually 2-3 years of age.

Anatomy/ physiology

Respiratory: Lizards have incomplete tracheal rings.
Gastrointestinal: Acrodont dentition: Teeth are not set in sockets, but instead are ankylosed to the jawbone surface.
Miscellaneous: Two or more fat bodies are found in the caudal abdomen.
Sexual dimorphism: Males are somewhat larger than and they posses a hemipenal bulge. The hemipenes are the male copulatory organ. Males also tend to be larger than females with larger heads, jowls, and crest, as well as larger femoral pores. Femoral pores are openings on the ventral thighs where a waxy secretion is produced.
Femoral pores are the opening through which glands produce a thick, waxy secretion. This secretion plays a role in scent marking and other pheromone-based communication.


Never grasp a lizard by the tail. Water dragons utilize tail autotomy, a defense mechanism that utilizes tail loss. A vertical fracture plane of fibroconnective tissue and cartilage runs through the body and part of the neural arch of each caudal vertebrae. Therefore the tail can fall off when grasped sometimes when very little pressure applied. The tail will regrow as a cartilaginous rod.

Ventral tail (coccygeal) vein (see Restraint above)
Ventral abdominal vein

Preventive medicine

  • Regular physical examination
  • Fecal parasite testing
  • Quarantine

Important medical conditions

  • Abscesses
  • Ectoparasites
  • Egg binding
  • Endoparasitism
  • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or metabolic bone disease
  • Obesity
  • Respiratory infection
  • Rostral abrasions (snout rubbing)
  • Stomatitis, gingivitis, periodontal disease

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Bartlett RD, Bartlett PB, Griswold B. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide, 2nd ed. Hauppage, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 2010.

De Vosjoli. Green Water Dragons: Plus Sailfin Lizards & Basilisks. Adv Viv Sys. 2003.

De Vosjoli P. The Lizard Keeper’s Handbook. Adv Viv Sys. 1994.

Hernandez-Divers SJ. The Thai Water Dragon, Physignathus cocincinus. J Herp Med Surg 12(2):41-44, 2002.

Langerwerf B. Water Dragons: A Complete Guide to Physignathus and More. TFH Publ. 2006.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Chinese or green water dragons. July 12, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at