Chinese Water Dragon
No, its not an iguana?
This was my first large reptile pet. I previously had fence lizards, anoles & a leopard gecko, among others. I was fascinated by this very cute green lizard when I first spotted one in our local pet store. They showed so much personality and were quite docile. After some research and some handling experience from working part time at a pet store, I decided I could take on the responsibility in caring for one. So many people buy exotic pets for the wrong reasons, are unprepared and the animal suffers. Our store used to have large sales on baby iguanas and sold them for $4.99 a piece, I absolutely hated this. Most of these buyers had no clue how to take care of them and most died sadly.
First off, the chinese water dragon is not an iguana and the only similarity is that they are both large green lizards. Besides that they are complete opposites. Iguanas are plant & vegetarian eaters while water dragons are mostly "meat eaters", although they occasionally will consume plant matter. Water dragons are 5-6" from head to tail as hatchlings and quickly grow to 2-3 ft as adults, the males being the larger. They have large triangular heads with big expressive eyes, green bodies with thin black stripes, large feet & claws and a crest on the head with spikes down their head and back. The males are more pronounced. Their throats are colorful, ranging from white, pink, orange or yellow. Their long tails are 3/4 of their total length and are used for swimming, striking & balance.
Their enclosure needs to be at least equal to a 55gal tank or larger with equal land and water because water dragons love to swim. I had a tank set up with a vivarium kit I had bought that separated the tank into two sections, It has reptile bedding on one side with a small stream of water that lead to a waterfall that went to the 6 inches of water on the other side. I had a large wooden log coming up out of the water at an angle and she would love to sit there with her tail in the water, occasionally jumping in for a quick dip. I started out with a simpler set up of reptile bedding and a very large water bowl. This set up is sufficient, I just wanted something more exotic looking. The water must be changed regularly because they will deficate and drink from the same water. I tried using two size bowls but she ended up always using the same one. I put an undertank heating pad on the side opposite the water and a heat lamp over the water area. This kept the tank at 80 degrees with some humidity as well. Heat rocks tend to burn the lizard if they lay on them too long so I always favored the pads instead. A standard locking screen lid for the top worked well.
Water dragons are mostly meat eaters. As babies and youngsters they will eat smaller crickets & mealworms. These must be "dusted" with a reptile calcium powder to avoid bone problems later. As they grow, you can use larger crickets and even a "pinky" mouse or two. Once they are adults a small adult mouse can be fed but mine always preferred mostly crickets, I think a mouse nipped her on the nose once and she was nervous after that. I tried putting small fish into the tank as well but she didn't care too much about them.
The secret to handling any reptile pet is to start as young as you can. The animal may be a little jumpy or aggressive at first but will settle down the more they know you won't hurt them, it is a way of testing your dominance, you have to earn their respect and show no fear. Ellie, who was my adult female dragon calmed down really fast and loved being held and out of her tank. I would let her roam in our living room and she would always go straight for the curtains, climb to the top and sit on the rod looking down on us. I bought one of the reptile harnesses that she tolerated so I could take her outside and to see visitors etc. Mostly she would be content to sit on my shoulder but when she was started she attempted to jump down, the harness kept her from harms way. They fit more like a vest so there was no strangling the animal. Ellie used to love having her neck crest stroked, she would shut her eyes and relax.
The main concerns with a water dragon is their snouts. They have a bad habit of running their noses into the sides of their tanks or rubbing them to try to get out. I put in a lot a logs and fake plants to cut down on a lot of bare glass area. Mouth rot is an infection that they will get from this if it is not stopped and treated quickly. Their nose area will be flattened, brown and black with tinges of blood. If untreated it will spread to the entire mouth area and eventually kill the animal. A healthy taken care of dragon will live up to 15 yrs. Ellie succombed to disease after only 5 yrs. She was ill when I got her, I nursed her back to health but I guess ultimately the damage was done, I'm not sure?? The best way to tell if a water dragon is happy or ill is their color. A happy healthy animal will be bright green, almost flourescent, while an ill or unhappy one will be dark green and sometimes almost black.
Water dragons make great pets and are very entertaining to watch. I would let Ellie take a long swim in the bathtub at least once a week and she loved it. She would swim back in forth for 15-20 min before I got her out because of the water getting colder. They are excellent swimmers. Sexing them is difficult but males tend to be larger with more pronounced crests and spines. My dragon was even "probed' by a vet at an early age and said to be a male. His name was Elliott until she started laying eggs in the tank and then she was confirmed as Ellie instead.
In my opinion, water dragons are easier and more rewarding to take care of than the more popular iguana. Iguanas become very aggressive as adults and will grow 6-8 feet so a monstrous enclosure is needed. The Australian water dragon, which is similar in appearance except for brownish instead of green is taken care of the same way. I've only seen one in a pet store so I imagine they are harder to come by.