Species, Range and Description
P. cocincinus. Eastern and south-eastern Thailand, eastern Indochina, southern China.
P. lesueurii. Eastern/south-eastern Australia (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria)
Water dragons are native to the Southeast Asian mainland and Indo-Australian archipelago. Most imports arrive from Thailand or southern China.
Males typically reach 3 feet; females are somewhat smaller. Males develop larger heads, jowls and crest on the back of the neck, and their femoral pores are somewhat larger than on the female.
Always have new animals checked by a vet for internal and external parasites (take a fresh faecal sample if you can - or get one to the vet at the soonest opportunity), hydration, nutritional status and overall health.
You will need a large vivarium, one larger than most people think will be needed by a lizard of this size. The reason most are missing much of their faces, rubbed off from the snout back past the front teeth, is that water dragons will literally rub their flesh off and break their jaw bones trying to get out of a too small enclosure. They need space at least 2 x their total length - so you are talking min 6 ft long (side to side), at least 2-3 feet deep and 4-6 feet high to do it correctly.
Water dragons can be kept together, with one to three males in a room-sized enclosure. Some females can be domineering and may not want any other females around...others can co-habit with 3-4 females. You must monitor them all the time to assure all are feeding and basking properly throughout the year. If any are not, you are most likely seeing the results of intimidation and will need to increase the number of basking and feeding areas and/or increase vivarium size or separate them.
Water dragons are semi-arboreal but also need enough water to submerge and swim comfortably in, as well as branches for climbing, and plenty of ground area for roosting and feeding. They also need the appropriate thermal gradients, photoperiods, and a UVB light.
Mixture of 2/3 peat soil + 1/3 clean sand with areas of bark. They can also be kept keep on fake Astroturf. They have a very active digestive systems so lots of messy poop if they do not go in their water.
Placed on the diagonal for climbing, horizontal for roosting.
Suggestions for suitable live plants include dragon plants (Dracaena), Pothos (Scindapsus aureus), Ficus benjamina trees, Monstera deliciosa (philodendron) and Staghorn ferns. Plants will need to be replaced or rotated as they are shredded by claws or even eaten.
Day time: 84-88° F with drop to 75-80° F at night. Must have a basking area going up to 90° F during day at one side of vivarium. Use thermometers! No hot rocks - use overhead basking lights and an under-tank heat pad or one under the indoor/outdoor carpeting substrate.
Must have direct sun or a suitable UVB-producing lights.
Must be available at all times for full body immersions up to at least 1/2 their height. Must be cleaned and disinfected daily...two days okay if they do not defecate in it! If they dive into their water from a shelf or branch, you need to make the tub deeper so they do not injure themselves.
Hatchlings and Juveniles:
2-3 week old crickets and or small locusts which have been previously gut-loaded (e.g., not straight from the pet store!) Also offer finely chopped vegetables and fruits (see iguana salad ingredients for a healthy salad). As the dragons grow, offer only slightly bigger crickets, Locusts and add in some mealworms and baby (pink) mice, and occasionally a waxworm for a treat. Smaller food items are more nutritious and more efficiently digested than fewer bigger items. Feed every 2 days - or more often if they look hungry.
Small mice, 4 week old crickets, winged Locusts, Morio (giant mealworms) as well as plant matter. Feed every 2-3 days - or more often if they look hungry. Also feed plant matter, such as greens and fruits (see iguana salad for recipe).
Miscellaneous Care Issues
Claw tips may be clipped.
Water dragons, like sailfin lizards, can be held but they do not like to be clasped. Hold gently with your hand held loosely cupped around them.
Common Ailments in Captivity - caused by captive environment
Abscesses - infections due to injuries or stress
Internal Parasites (filthy import and pet trade conditions) (see below)
Metabolic Bone Disease (Calcium Deficiency due to- poor diet, inadequate UVB and/or heat
Rostral/Snout Damage - too small an enclosure
Stomatitis (Mouth rot) - snout damage, systemic infection due to improper environment or stress
Swollen/Infected Limbs - fractures due to MBD or getting caught in inappropriate tank setups.
Articular/Periarticular/Pseudo Gout - improper foods and insufficient hydration
Respiratory Infection - inadequate heat; stress
Gastroenteritis - protozoan, bacterial or worm infections (see below)
Diet-related Parasitic and Protozoan Infections
Gastrointestinal parasites may inhabit the mouth, coming from infected prey or from regurgitated prey that brings up parasites from lower down in the intestinal tract. The parasites live out parts of their life cycle within the intermediate or primary host, taking up residence in and migrating through different organs and systems. Many such parasites come from fish and amphibians that are used by the parasite as intermediate hosts during their life cycle. Some of these parasites, such as Rhabdias spp. may cause abscesses within the mouth or may migrate to the lungs. These are commonly found in garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.), grass snakes (Natrix spp.), and water snakes (Nerodia spp.), and other reptile species fed primarily on fish. The reptiles themselves may be treated with levamisole at 10 mg/kg sq. Feeder fish may also be treated, left to swim for 24 hours in a gallon of water mixed with 250 mg of levamisole.
A protozoan infection due to amoeba is a problem world-wide and can cause serious health complications and mortality, including in captive reptiles. The cysts are ingested either through eating an infected reptile’s faeces or that of some other infected animal, such as wastes from feeder animals. Once in the gastrointestinal tract, the amoeba becomes active (trophozoites), and start reproducing by binary fusion. They start invading the mucosal lining of the GI tract, get into the blood, and spread through out the body through tissues and organs. Some trophozoitesr are transformed into cysts which are then excreted in the faeces, waiting to be ingested by another host. Faecal smears are required to visualize cysts and trophozoites; cysts can be found using faecal flotation, with faecal samples containing mucous or blood being the most likely to contain the cysts.
An interesting note... The most common - and pathogenic - amoeba in reptiles is Endamoeba invadens. Some reptiles (crocodiles, box turtles, garter snake, Northern black racer) may serve as a reservoir for this protozoan, carrying it and spreading cysts through their faeces but not themselves showing any signs of illness. Certain reptile families seem to be particularly susceptible to dysentery from E. invadens infections (boids, crotalids, elapids, viperids, varanids), with giant tortoises as water snakes being most susceptible. This can be a problem in captive collections where enclosures are set up to house aquatic or terrestrial turtles and semi-aquatic or terrestrial lizards, such as sliders and water dragons. Accurate amoeba identification is essential as other amoebas are not pathogenic in reptiles. If a faecal sample is not available, a colonic wash may be used to acquire a specimen for testing.
Post-mortem exams of reptiles killed by E. invadens and other pathogenic amoebae reveal inflammation, ulceration, or necrosis of the gastrointestinal tract or colon. The intestinal wall may be thickened with necrotic membranes. The bowel may be so involved that it is apparent that ingests was not passed through in some time, which would be consistent with antemortem wasting, anorexia, and bloating. If spread through the blood stream, the liver, kidneys and other organs may contain abscesses, necrotic areas, and evidence general inflammation.
Amoebic infections are treatable once they are identified as such and the infection is detected and treatment started before tissue and organ damage is advanced. Maintaining proper environmental temperatures, exercising proper hygiene and quarantine procedures, and ensuring the infected reptiles are adequately hydrated will help increase survival rates.