What Is a Chinese Water Dragon?

L. Whitaker
L. Whitaker

The Chinese water dragon is a type of large Asian lizard that is often kept in captivity as an exotic pet. Its scientific name is Physignathus cocincinus, and it is also known as the Asian water dragon, the Thai water dragon, or the green water dragon. It is sometimes confused with a similar species, Physignathus cocincinus, which is often called the Eastern water dragon or Australian water dragon. The Chinese water dragon's most distinguishing feature is its size of up to 3 feet (92 cm) for adult males. Much of this length is comprised of a pointed tail that is used for balance in swimming, climbing, and running as well as for self-defense.

In the wild, the Chinese water dragon is found near streams and lakes in parts of mainland Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, southern China, and Thailand. This lizard is a diurnal creature, meaning it is active during the daytime and spends much of its time off the ground in plants or trees. If threatened by a predator, the Chinese water dragon can drop into the water and swim away or remain beneath the water's surface for approximately 25 minutes without harm.

While Chinese water dragons tend to be primarily green in color, they sometimes feature colorful markings on the throat that can be orange, pink, peach, or yellow in color. The side of their bodies might contain slanted turquoise or pale green stripes. Their tails are typically partially banded with brown and green vertical stripes. They have strong legs for climbing and jumping, and they can even run in an erect fashion using only the hind legs. These lizards feature thick claws with needle-sharp points.

Males are larger overall than females, and their heads show a more distinctive triangle shape. Both sexes feature a small pineal gland, or photosensitive area between the eyes, which is believed to help regulate body temperature as well as protect them from predators by assessing the nuances of available light. The Chinese water dragon has a sticky forked tongue and small, pointed teeth that aid in dining on insects and other small creatures, such as fish.

Chinese water dragons tend to live between 10 and 20 years in captivity when well cared for. As exotic pets, they are generally docile and appear to enjoy being handled. They might display entertaining behaviors such as climbing on branches or furniture, diving into a pool of water, or puffing their throats.

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