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Chinese Water Dragon Complete Lighting and Heating Guide 

Chinese Water Dragon Complete Lighting and Heating Guide 

What’s The Proper Lighting Setup for Chinese Water Dragons?

Lighting is essential to any reptile habitat. Our complete Chinese Water Dragon lighting and heating guide will help you prepare your setup for your reptile’s home. If you are creating a habitat for your Chinese Water Dragon, we highly recommend setting up your entire enclosure before your pet arrives in its new home. 

The best lighting setup for a Chinese Water Dragon includes three elements of light: heat, UVB, and full spectrum. To achieve this, you will need three separate lights. Heat ensures the Chinese Water Dragon can thermoregulate so that they can properly digest their food. UVB is required for Chinese Water Dragons to synthesize calcium to keep their bones strong. Ideally, UVB should be a linear fixture over coil or LED due to more reliable output. Without UVB, Chinese Water Dragons can develop a disease called metabolic bone disease without proper UVB lighting. Full-spectrum LED lighting promotes plant growth and simulates the full-spectrum wavelength of the sun that Chinese Water Dragons require to promote mental well-being.

Do Chinese Water Dragons Need UVB?

Yes, Chinese Water Dragons require UVB to survive. Chinese Water Dragons require a 12% or 10.0 linear UVB fixture that measures around ½ the length of the enclosure.

Do Chinese Water Dragons Need Heat At Night?

Chinese Water Dragons should have a night-time temperature drop to 75-77ºF using a non-light producing heat source such as a ceramic heat emitter, radiant heat panel, or deep heat projector hooked to a thermostat. Make sure that the heat source you choose does not give off light, as colored bulbs can disrupt the circadian rhythm of your Chinese Water Dragon.

Ming the Chinese Water Dragon in a Zen Habitats 4x2x4 Reptile Enclosure, Zen Habitats reptile enclosure for Chinese Water Dragons

Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity

Chinese Water Dragons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they need exposure to bright light and UVB during the day for the best mental and physical health. Light sources should be turned on for 13 hours/day during summer and 11 hours/day during winter, with gradual adjustments in-between.


UVB lighting can be tricky because, to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), the distance must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB to a Chinese Water Dragon, you will need a 12% or 10.0, half to 2/3 the length of the enclosure, mounted in a reflective T5 HO fixture.

The basking branch should be placed as follows:

  • UVB mounted over mesh: Dragon’s back is 12-15” / 30-38cm below UVB lamp when basking
  • UVB mounted under mesh: Dragon’s back is 16-18” / 40-46cm below UVB lamp when basking

A UVB bulb isn’t bright enough to meet a Chinese Water Dragon’s light needs. So, you will need to supplement with a bright, 6500K T5 HO fluorescent or LED lamp, long enough to span most of the enclosure. This is particularly important if you have live plants in the enclosure, but it is also valuable for providing additional illumination and supporting your Dragon’s general wellbeing.


Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Chinese Water Dragons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, Chinese Water Dragons warm up by basking in a patch of sunlight. In captivity, the warmth of sunlight can be replicated with heat lamps.

  • Basking area temperature: 90-95°F (32-35°C)
  • Cool side temperature: 77-86°F (25-30°C)
  • Nighttime temperature: 75-77°F (24-25°C)

Because Chinese Water Dragons are fairly large lizards, you will need to create a fairly large basking are to facilitate even heating and optimal circulation during basking. If you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial the heat down with plug-in lamp dimmers. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.

The basking area should be sturdy branch directly under the heat lamp, placed in a way that puts the Dragon’s back about 12-18” below the heat lamp, depending on your UVB placement. The warmest temperatures in the enclosure will be at the top (near the heat lamp), and the coolest temperatures will be toward the bottom. You will need to place branches at all levels of the enclosure to allow for proper thermoregulation.

Because recommended nighttime temperatures for Chinese Water Dragons are higher than the average home temperature, you will need a lightless heat source to provide a little extra warmth.

To measure the general temperature of different areas of your terrarium, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe secured on the basking surface under the heat source.

Chinese Water Dragon photo by Alex Myers

Photo Courtesy: Alex’s Agamids @alexsagamids

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To measure the general temperature of different areas of your terrarium, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe secured on the basking surface under the heat source.

To raise the humidity in your Chinese Water Dragon’s enclosure (and provide an extra source of drinking water), use a pump-style pressure sprayer to wet down the enclosure every morning and evening, preferably when it’s dark. If needed, you may mist again (lightly) in the mid-afternoon. Installing an automatic misting system like MistKing is strongly recommended, as it makes misting such a large enclosure much less of an inconvenience.

If you live in an area with a dry climate, it may be beneficial to install a cool mist humidifier or fogger to help with creating a high-humidity environment at night. Program it to turn on and off for a few hours prior to “sunrise”. Humidifiers, foggers, and misters must be used with distilled water and periodically disinfected to prevent illness. Never use a humidifier or fogger during the day, as this increases the potential for illness.

About the author: Maddie Smith Maddie has been keeping reptiles as pets for more than a decade. She has a passion for educating others about animals, and currently works with over 50 different species including reptiles, amphibians, and birds!

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