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Zen Expert Interviews | Chinese Water Dragon with Em Lock

Zen Expert Interviews | Chinese Water Dragon with Em Lock

Zen Expert Interviews | Chinese Water Dragon with Em Lock

With limited information on Chinese Water Dragon husbandry available online, Zen Habitats set out to get answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. We are thankful to have an experienced Chinese Water Dragon keeper on our team! Em Lock was kind enough to share her knowledge about keeping this incredible species.  

What type of habitat would be best for a Chinese Water Dragon? What kinds of enrichment should be provided for them within their habitat? 

Chinese Water Dragons thrive when they are able to climb, perch, and also dive (or belly-flop) into a body of water to escape predators. I keep my Chinese Water Dragons in a 4’x2’x4’ PVC panel Zen Habitats enclosures, and I’ve chosen to elevate it a further 2ft off the ground, using the Zen Habitats 4’x2’x2’ deluxe cabinet stand. This allows my dragons to be 6ft off the ground, and far enough above my head that they can look down on me, survey the room, and feel safer.  They also have a 20-gallon aquarium with a filter and plants, to enable them to soak, drink, and enjoy as enrichment. Occasionally I will place a mirror in their enclosure. As Chinese Water Dragons are a territorial species, this stimulates my male to be more aware of his enclosure. It also seems to stimulate him to eat more, and to patrol his enclosure more frequently. My female is very food-motivated, so I offer her different types of invertebrates in her enclosure, and I try to place them in areas where she must explore and work for her food, such as in bamboo hollows and in the crevices of rocks. It’s great to see her problem-solving for her food.  


What drew you to Chinese Water Dragons?

I find them to be one of the most attractive display lizards, but they’re also a very manageable size, unlike some of the iguana species which can grow to be very large! I also grew up in Asia, and would frequently encounter this species in the wild on my travels. As a child, I loved catching them, so to be able to keep them now and try my best to replicate their natural habitat is a very fun and rewarding challenge. Once established in captivity, or when captive bred, Chinese Water Dragons can be tamed down to become an easy going, hardy, and handleable species.  

How do Chinese Water Dragons' care differ from other lizards?  

As their name suggests, the Chinese Water Dragon benefits greatly from the presence of water. In order to meet their needs, I would highly suggest that potential keepers invest in an enclosure which can hold the weight of a filtered aquarium that is large enough for a lizard to fully submerge itself in, and deep enough that the dragon won’t injure itself when diving into the water.  

Chinese Water Dragons also seem more prone to nose rub than many other species of lizard. Nose rub can occur when a reptile repeatedly causes trauma to its nose and mouth, usually when frightened by movement or noise. Some Chinese Water Dragons develop nose rub when the enclosure they’re kept in is too small, and this causes them to frequently bump their noses on the side of their enclosure.  

What are some challenges when it comes to keeping Chinese Water Dragons? 

Nose and face rub is a common concern with Chinese Water Dragons. Many of the wild-caught specimens can also carry parasites and arrive severely dehydrated. Acclimating this species can take some time, but once established, they can be quite a hardy species.  

Another challenge with the Chinese Water Dragon is that they can be quite prone to fatty liver disease. This is caused by a diet that is too high in rich protein, such as mice. The occasional pinkie can have benefits to the Chinese Water Dragon, but too many rich snacks, paired with a terrestrial enclosure, will cause a buildup of fat, and also lead to obesity, and atrophy of the muscles.  


Has anything surprised you about keeping Chinese Water Dragons?  

My Chinese Water Dragons have surprised me with how much visual stimulation affects their behavior. In many instances, keepers have opted to use newspaper or other such materials to limit the amount of movement their Chinese Water Dragons see. This can be useful when acclimating a wild-caught lizard that is causing damage to itself (like nose rub), or which is not eating due to being stressed by movement in an unfamiliar environment. However, my dragons show immense curiosity at what’s happening in the room outside of their enclosure, and they seem to enjoy looking and new and exciting things happening in the room, like when my ferrets are playing on the floor. 


Share something you wish you knew about CWD's before you began keeping them : 

I wish I had better educated myself on how prone to nose rub Chinese Water Dragons can be. We typically think of rose rub occurring when an enclosure is too small, or when a reptile is stressed. However, one of my Chinese Water Dragons developed a nose-rub issue when I was out of town. I had left the bin of feeder crickets in a new location in my reptile room, and by the time I returned 3 days later, it was clear that my dragon had spent a considerable amount of time pacing in their spacious enclosure. I could see that my male water dragon was fixated on the cricket tub that I had placed on a far away shelf, and he had rubbed his nose from pacing back and forth, trying to reach the crickets. I felt terrible, and it was a steep learning curve for me. I am now very careful not to leave any live foods in the line of sight for my dragons.  


Who is best suited to keeping Chinese Water Dragons? 

An ideal keeper would be someone who would predominantly like a display lizard. A healthy water dragon can be an extremely impressive animal to look at. The ideal keeper would have a large amount of space to dedicate to an appropriately-sized enclosure. I personally recommend the Zen Habitats 4’x2’x4’ Meridian enclosure, as it has expansion capabilities, meaning the enclosure can grow with your lizard. It would also encourage anyone looking to keep Chinese Water Dragons to find someone who can act as a mentor during your first years, as these will be the most challenging.  


How has the species addition to CITES impacted your thoughts on keeping Chinese Water Dragons?

I believe the responsible keeping and breeding of Chinese Water Dragons in captivity is more important than ever. For many years, Chinese Water Dragons have, sadly, been imported in huge numbers as wild-caught animals. This placed a strain on wild populations and resulted in dehydrated, unhealthy dragons being bought at very low prices. Now that these lizards have become a rarity to see at expos due to their recent CITES status change, we could be in danger of limiting the gene pools of captive specimens, or potentially seeing them disappear from the hobby completely if more hobbyists don’t take an interest in breeding this species.  


 Thank you to Em for sharing her knowledge about Chinese Water Dragons!

To learn more about reptiles and their care, check out our other articles here!

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