Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Chinese Water Dragon

Order: Squamata
Family: Agamidae
Genus/species: Physignatus cocincinus

Typically male Chinese water dragons reach lengths of three feet (.9 m), females are somewhat smaller. Almost 70 percent of the length is the tail. The tail is laterally flattened, banded brown and green, and ends in a fine point.

Dragons use their tails for balance and forleverage when climbing and also use them to whip potential predators. Males develop larger heads, jowls, and crests on the back and the neck, and their femoral pores are somewhat larger than those of females. The basic color of the animals is a bright dark green with males have the more vivid coloring. Males have an area under the throat that is intensely orange to yellow in color. Pink tones can be found in the lower jaw area. The tail has green and brown stripes. Head, back, and tail base are filled with high horn scales. Water dragons do not have a typical dewlap or throat pouch.

Water dragons have well developed legs. The front legs are generally much more slender than the back legs. The front legs, and strong five-toed front claws, are used to climb and grasp branches. The muscular back legs are used to climb and swim, as well as jump or leap from object to object. Water dragons can run bipedally. Their hind feet are five toed as well, with the middle toe being the longest toe. Their claws are long and thick and end in sharp needle-like points.

The tongue has a sticky surface that helps them to catch and hold their prey. Their teeth are small and pointed.

When nervous or frightened, water dragons take refuge in the water. They are strong swimmers and, if necessary, can remain submerged for long periods of time, sometimes as long as 25 minutes. Both males and females , occasionally express aggressive behavior toward each other in the form of arm waving, puffing up of the throat, head bobbing, and sometimes chasing.

Distribution and Habitat
The Chinese water dragon lives within Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and in southern China.

As their name suggests, water dragons are generally found around permanent standing water. They live on banks of rivers in rainforests and swamps. They are good climbers and can drop from tree branches into the water if threatened or startled. Water dragons live in areas with an average humidity level from 80 percent in the morning and 60 percent in the evening. The temperatures average from 75 to 85° F.

Diet in the Wild
Water dragons are carnivorous and insectivorous.

Zoo Diet
They are fed cockroaches and crickets.

Hatchlings are about one inch (2.54 cm) from snout to vent, and five to six inches (13 to 15 cm) in total length. They are often a brownish-green dorsally and a pale green to white ventrally, light-colored stripes run vertically across each side of the body. Their tails have brown and green bands. They have very large eyes and short snouts.

Life Span
Water dragons may live from ten to 15 years.

There is currently no special status for the Chinese water dragon.

Fun Facts
A very small (1-2mm), round, shiny spot located at the top of the head, between their eyes, is known as the pineal body or the third eye. The pineal is thought to help water dragons, as well as a number of other reptiles, sense differences in light. It is believed that they use their third eye to help them thermoregulate. For example, it may help them to decide upon a good basking spot, or it may help them sense that light levels are decreasing and that they had better find shelter for the night.