Water dragons

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Natural History

Water dragons have been kept as terrarium pets for over a century. They were originally exported from Australia, but when Australia discontinued this practice, the captive breeding of these creatures began to grow in popularity. In the wild, these Australian water dragons are generally found near permanent bodies of water surrounded by trees and forests, they can also be found in a variety of other habitats. The temperature in their natural habitat can often soar above 100°F.

Water dragons are generally colored a mix of gray, brown, and beige tones. These colors provide a type of camouflage and protection from predators. The belly of male water dragons often turns red once they reach a length of approximately 1 foot. Males also tend to have larger heads and crests, and they usually have more intense white and black colors on the sides of their head.

Feeding

Water dragons are omnivorous, eating a variety of insects, worms, fish, and other small vertebrates. Insects are especially popular choices for feeding to water dragons. There are a wide variety of insects available for purchase at pet stores or online, or you can attempt to catch your own insects. This practice is good, as it allows you the chance to gather a wide range of different insects for your pet. However, be careful that the area you collect in has not been sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, or fertilizers. In addition, the following species should never be fed to your pet: ants, bees, wasps, hornets, centipedes, fireflies, scorpions. Some insects that make great food for water dragons include black soldier flies, earthworms, crickets, superworms, and six-spotted cockroaches.

Rodents can be a great supplement to your water dragon's diet. Also, he should be given a large amount of plants on a regular basis, particularly leaves, to allow him to get some of the nutrients his body requires that are lacking in insects.

Housing

Water dragons require fairly large enclosures. For example, a pair of adult water dragons would require a terrarium that is at least 4 x 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Adequate vertical space is important, as these lizards love to climb and branches will need to be supplied for this activity.

The sides and back of the terrarium should be made out of opaque materials, such as wood, metal, or fiberglass. The front panel should be made out of glass to allow easy viewing of your pet. The top of the terrarium should be covered by an aluminum ventilation screen that allows air from the bottom to flow up and out. Place a door on one of the front or side panels, making sure to keep the door opening relatively small to avoid escapes.

A water basin should be placed in the bottom of the terrarium. It doesn't need to be gigantic, but only big enough for the water dragon to fit his entire body in, as he will use this container for bathing. Water dragons defecate in water, so you will need to clean the basin daily and replace the dirtied water with fresh water.

Temperature is an important part of providing appropriate living conditions for your pet. In the wild, water dragons bask themselves in the sunlight, so heat lamps are the most natural heating option. You should also provide UVB light (ultraviolet B light waves), which works to form vitamin D3 in the skin. The heat lamps and UVB light should be placed close together at the top of the terrarium, above the aluminum screen. This will create a warm area at the top, with the temperature growing increasingly cooler as you move down into the terrarium, giving your water dragon the ability to regulate his temperature simply by moving throughout the terrarium.

Health Care

Some people consider lizards to be "disposable" pets: when one dies, you buy a new one. While it's certainly fine to buy a new pet if your water dragon dies, there are many things you can do to give your lizard a long and healthy life. Take time to learn about your water dragon and the potential health issues that may affect him, and you and your lizard can enjoy many years together.

While many health issues can be taken care of at home, it is a good idea to find a veterinarian that specialized in reptiles, in case of emergency. In fact, it is best to find a vet as soon as possible (preferably before you even bring your dragon home for the first time) so you won't have to waste any precious time when an emergency arises. Locating a vet that specializes in reptiles can be challenging. If you're having trouble, check with local pet stores, animal shelters, or herpetological societies, and they may be able to help. You can also visit www.arav.org, the site for the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.

Heat Stress

Stress can be a major problem for reptiles. A common form of stress is heat stress, caused by extreme high temperatures in the terrarium. If your water dragon has been affected by this, he will become listless and his muscles will no longer function properly. If you attempt to pick him up, he will likely feel limp and lifeless. Under these circumstances, you should immediately place him under cool, running water.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic bone disease is caused by inadequate exposure to ultraviolet light. This ailment is painful and eventually debilitating for the lizard. Symptoms include soft jaws that are bent outward, difficulty walking, limbs that are crooked or bent, swollen thighs that are hard to the touch, and trembling or convulsing. This disease is easily prevented by allowing your water dragon to soak up enough ultraviolet rays so he can efficiently metabolize calcium and synthesize vitamin D3, which will keep his bones and teeth strong and healthy.

Handling

Like most other lizards, water dragons do not seem to particularly enjoy being handled. Generally, they will tolerate it, but it causes them stress, which can be detrimental to their health by weakening their immune system. If you do decide to handle your water dragon, do so with extreme caution, taking care to provide support for all parts of his body when lifting him. Also, always remember to thoroughly wash your hands both before and after any handling.

Getting Started

In order to provide a good home for your pet water dragon, you will need to purchase certain supplies that will help to keep him comfortable and healthy in captivity. The following are some suggested items:

Cage (preferably a custom cage)
Heat Source (heat lamp)
Lighting (UVB source)
Substrate
Hide Box
Water Basin
Food (variety of insects, plants, and rodents)

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