October 2, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
54°F

Little legends

Dragons may be creatures of legend, but Chinese water dragons are quite real and can be kept as pets. Bright green with bluish-green stripes, they develop large crests on the back of the head and neck. A large portion of their overall length is made up of the tail, which provides balance and propels them through the water when they swim. In addition, it may be used as powerful whip to defend against predators.

They need a large enclosure, larger than most people think will be needed by a lizard. Adults can reach a length of 2 to 3 feet and need space at least twice their total length — a 6-foot long cage that should be 2 to 3 feet deep and 4 to 6 feet high.

A dragon kept in an enclosure that’s too small will become stressed and can literally rub their flesh off and break their jaw bones trying to escape. The enclosure should have a tight-fitting lid, smooth sides to avoid abrasions of the nose and a simple design to facilitate cleaning.

The best enclosures have three sides made out of a wood or non-see-through material. If glass is used, it’s a good idea to secure plants along the sides or apply dark colored tape around the outside lower six inches of the cage to show the dragon there’s a barrier. Water dragons don’t recognize glass and are somewhat notorious for injuring their noses and faces while attempting to get through it.

The humidity should be kept at around 80 percent. Misting once or twice a day and nontoxic live plants like dracena, philodendron and ficus all help to keep the humidity up. They’ll also provide a sense of security and add an aesthetic quality to the enclosure, but will need to be replaced as they are shredded or eaten. Branches should be placed diagonally for climbing and horizontally for basking.

Dragons also need appropriate heat measured by a thermometer on each side of the enclosure. Daytime temperatures should be in the range of 84 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking spot on one side of tank of about 90 degrees. At night, the temperature can drop to 75 to 80 degrees.

Temperatures that are too high can cause dehydration, while low temps can cause respiratory infections or bowel obstruction and calcium deficiency due to food not being digested properly. They also must have direct unfiltered sunlight or a UVB-producing fluorescent light for 10 to 12 hours a day to produce vitamin D2 in their skin and digest calcium properly. Lights should be off at night, as water dragons are diurnal (daytime) lizards.

Water dragons need a pool of water large and deep enough so it can submerge at least half its height. A kitty litter pan works nicely. It needs to be cleaned and disinfected daily, especially if it’s been defecated in, since kidney disease can occur if they don’t get enough water. Juveniles should be fed daily, while adults can be fed every two or three days. Crickets, mealworms and earthworms should be gut-loaded and dusted with calcium supplement about every other day and dusted with vitamins once a week. It’s best to avoid wild caught insects due to the risk of pesticides. A small amount of finely chopped vegetables and fruit also can be offered for variety.

Moving into a new environment can be stressful, so the new pet should be allowed a few days to adjust before attempting to handle it. Take it slow and offer food from your hand several times a day. Speak to it quietly and when it accepts food regularly, you can start handling it. Use two hands to pick up the water dragon, supporting its chest and pelvic area. Never pick up a water dragon by the tail. Most don’t like being restrained by two hands, but prefer to rest on a hand, arm, shoulder or lap. Eventually, it can be allowed to roam around in a small escape-proof room while you keep your eye on it.

The cage and food and water bowls should be cleaned routinely with a 1:10 dilution of household bleach and rinsed well. Water dragons can harbor salmonella bacteria, so be sure to wash your hands after handling the dragon. As with any pet, research information on its care and requirements before acquiring the animal.

Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at petlady@roadrunner.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.