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The diet of
Chinese water dragons

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Diet: How often to feed your dragon

      Dragons at different stages of maturity get fed differently.

     A hatchling or juvenile needs to be fed daily; an adult- gets fed about every 2 to 3 days, although many people like myself do feed their adult dragons on a daily basis. Feed smaller portions if you would like to feed an adult dragon on a daily basis to prevent them from becoming overweight.

      However, whatever size the dragon is disregard this feeding schedule if the dragon is skinny as you need to get some weight on this little guy!

      If your dragon is underweight or recovering from an illness (and interested in eating) feed every day, offering food 2 or three times a day. Your dragon may only eat a bit in one sitting but be hungry later, and if you don't offer more food your dragon will take longer to get back in shape!

Food Items to offer:

      Crickets, mealworms (normal size, jumbo and super), waxworms, and earthworms, grasshoppers, butterworms, locusts, some people try small feeder fish like goldfish, and you may also want to offer a little bit of finely shredded veggies and fruit ( if your dragon will eat veggies this should make up about 10% to 15% of their diet) ( if you're going to try feeding them veggies and fruit, look for Melissa Kaplan's "ig salad diet" in her Iguana Care FAQ you can find the FAQ at:, you may also be interested in viewing this page in order to select fruit and veggies with a good calcium to phosphorous ratio.

      Adult dragons should be offered all of the above plus King mealworms (Zophobas). Supervise these feedings though, these worms bite back, some people squash their heads before feeding them to their lizards!), pinkies ( newborn hairless mice ) and Fuzzies ( slightly older baby mice, just starting to get hair).


      INSECTS are fairly high in phosphorus and low in calcium, but do have nutritious value if not fed in abundance or as the soul diet. Most insects also have a hard indigestible exoskeleton that could cause a bowel impaction if fed in large quantities. All insects should be gut loaded with well balanced offerings of veggies and perhaps even some calcium and vitamins before being offered to reptiles. (See fruit and veggies below for some gut loading ideas)

      Insects that are fairly easy to purchase: crickets, mealworms (tenibrio), Super worms (tenibrio mealworms on steroids- I don't recommend these!), King mealworms (zophobas), and wax worms (very high in fat and very low in calcium- use only as a treat!), and earthworms.

      Insects that can occasionally be found locally or may be purchased by mail order: butterworms, grasshoppers, locusts, Hissing Roaches, cicadas, and silkworms ... (I'm sure there are many others!)

     If you would like to keep and breed your own insects to cut the cost of keeping your water dragon or other reptiles please see:

Keeping and breeding crickets,
Keeping and breeding Mealworms, and
Keeping and breeding waxworms.

      Many people write to me asking if it is okay to feed their dragons insects that they have found in their yard. My answer is always "No". These insects may be contaminated by pesticides and or herbicides used in the area. Please do not risk your dragons life by feeding him wild caught crickets or other insects. :( Even if you don't use pesticides, someone in your neighbourhood might, and therefore the insects will likely be affected. There have been a number of studies done to see just how far chemical contaminants can travel, and it has been shown that almost every place in the world has been touched by chemical contaminants of some kind or another.

      It is not advisable to use insects that are not mentioned on this list as they may be toxic to your dragon. Over the summer a number of people were catching fireflies and feeding them to their herps- a number of these herps died. It seems that fireflies have some chemicals in them that are extremely poisonous. :(

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      EARTHWORMS are fairly high in calcium, and are fairly well balanced nutritionally. They are also soft so the risk of impaction is lessened.

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      WHOLE PREY food items are generally high in calcium and protein, and due to the calcium content should be included as part of the diet. Mader states in his Reptile Medicine and Surgery " Carnivorous lizards should be fed pre-killed whole prey. Rodents are preferable to chicks, and chicks are preferable to fish." he also goes to state " If mice, rats, rodents, rabbits and chicks make up the bulk of the diet, vitamin and mineral supplementation should not be necessary. It should be noted that newborn pinkie mice have less total calcium than do adult mice, and a calcium should be supplemented if these are used."

      A selection of whole prey food items would range from pinkie, fuzzie and adult mice, rat pups, some people have offered gerbil fuzzies?, young chicks (Mader himself used to feed his dragons chicks), and feeder fish such as minnows. Some people also offer small lizards such as anoles to their dragons as a food source.

      For more information about whole prey food items and why they are necessary for the general health and well being of our water dragons please see Diet- You need to feed whole prey food items!

      Most people feed these mice and other wholeprey food items dead to their dragons. It's much more humane. Besides if you are buying them live, then they must be eaten within 24 hours or else they will die anyway, plus when you buy frozen you can buy in bulk! (thaw before feeding to your dragon! :)) If you have a large adult dragon you may even feed it adult mice or even new born rat pups. Please see Why you should NOT feed live Rodent prey to your reptiles: for more on the dangers of feeding live prey.

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Why you should NOT feed live Rodent prey to your reptiles:

      Some people offer their reptiles live prey in the form of live pinkies, fuzzies, mice, rats etc. I've always been against this practice because it seems inhumane, and because of the risk of injury to the reptile being fed. It might be natural for the reptile to eat live prey in the wild, but when they are living in the wild they are also not confined to a small area perhaps with prey that they are not yet ready to eat. Live prey will defend itself. Live prey may also decide to bite or prey on the reptile if the animal is not interested in feeding and the rodent is left in the cage unattended.

      The April 1999 issue of Reptiles Magazine, Veterinarian Q&A by Dr. Douglas Mader, M.S., D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P. Page 18 states in reference to bites and injuries inflicted by rodents:

      "Now for the first question. Why is it that this is often a very serious and sometimes fatal wound? There are two reasons. The first is that rodents carry a number of very infectious bacteria on their teeth. Some of these bacteria are associated with rat-bite fever in people. When these bacteria are inoculated into the skin from the bite wound, certain types can produce a toxin that can be lethal to snakes. It doesn't take long for these toxins to be produced, and that is why time is of the essence in getting the snake to the veterinarian for treatment. Even if the offending bacteria are killed with antibiotics, the antibiotics will not kill or remove the toxin that the bacteria have produced. Any toxin that is produced will be absorbed by the host animal. If the bitten animal is strong and healthy, and only a small quantity of toxin has been produced, then there is a chance of recovery."

      "The second reason these wounds are often fatal is due to the actual mechanical nature of the wounds themselves. Rodents have a habit of gnawing when they eat. When they attack the predator, they usually make their first bite over the backbone region and then continue either toward the head or the tail of the snake with each successive bite. These bite wounds will often puncture the spinal cord. If this happens, an often fatal spinal meningitis will occur."

      Mader is discussing the fatal wounds on a correspondents' snake, but I'm 100% sure that the information he has states applies equally well to live rodents being fed to lizards.

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      FRUIT AND VEGGIES: Some dragons will eat fruit and veggies when it's offered, but many dragons will not take fruit and veggies at all! Keepers that have success with this find fruit is preferred. Unfortunately fruit tends to be very high in phosphorus and very low in many other nutrients with the largest benefit being additional fluids and vitamins.

      Fruit that have good calcium content include figs, raspberries, cantaloupe, strawberries and blueberries ... starting to slide now on the amount of calcium ... I think mangos and papaya's are ok too?

      Veggies that have an adequate calcium to phosphorus ratio: Greens such as collards, dandelion (flowers edible too), and mustard greens. (Kale, spinach and other greens of this variety are high in oxalates which bind to calcium making it unusable) leafy veggies of the lettuce family have almost no nutrients thus are very low in value other than for their water content. Yellow squash, sweet potato, parsnips, green beans, and occasionally carrots ... Veggies such as broccoli contain oxalates and as stated above that binds to calcium rendering it unusable.

      Please NOTE that all of the well balanced fruit and veggies listed above can be used when gut loading your insects!

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Content of some common food items:

      Here is the content of some common food items (from Melissa Kaplan's page

mealworm 22.3 14.9 .26 .23 2.74
cricket 55.3 30.2 .23 .74 unk
earthworms 10.39 7.2 1.18 .90 4.71
mouse (1-2 days old) unk unk 1.60 1.80 unk
mouse (7-10 days old) unk unk 1.40 1.30 unk
mouse (adult) 19.8 8.8 .84 .61 2.07
rat 7.6 1.9 .54 1.35 .69

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A healthy Diet Combination- Ratio's

      I believe a healthy diet would be a combination of all of the above diet items, using as wide a variety of each item as possible, in the ratio of:

  • Insects 40% - 50%
  • Earthworms 10% - 20%
  • Whole Prey 40% - 20%
  • Fruit & Veggies 10%
    • (If possible, otherwise increase % of whole prey)

      Insects and earthworms should be gut loaded, and dusted with calcium supplement approximately every second day, dusted with vitamins once a week; It couldn't hurt to add some supplementation to the fruit and veggies if the dragon is eating them; unless it's pinkies that is being offered as the whole prey food item calcium supplementation shouldn't have to be added to these food items.

      Dragons receiving diets lower in whole prey food items should of course be getting more calcium supplementation than dragons getting higher quantities of whole prey.

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Are you supplementing the dragons diet with calcium and vitamins?

      Crickets, mealworms and waxworms should be dusted with a vitamin supplement (shake and bake method- put crickets in bag, pour in small amount of vit. supplement and shake, then feed to dragon!) supplement approx. once each week. You should also be giving him a calcium supplement at least every second feeding- as metabolic bone disease (MBD) will occur if your dragon does not get enough calcium in his diet, he will also need UVB lighting in order to metabolize the calcium, more on this later. Food sources such as insects should be gut loaded with nutritious food items, vitamins and calcium.

      Many people use commercial calcium products such as repcal as a calcium supplement, human calcium supplements may also be used (grind them to powder in the coffee grinder!), commercial vitamin supplements such as mineral-all and herptivite are also commonly used, again human vitamin supplements (centrum) could also be used after being crushed to powder.

      I give my dragons two or three drops of liquid Calcium-Sandoz once a week, you can buy this in a drug store. I use an eye dropper to drop one drop onto their snouts and they just lick it off. I also use a powdered calcium supplement for every second feeding.

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Commercial Diets- NOT

      Please don't feed your dragon dog food, cat food, monkey chow, or other commercial diets made for lizards that are carnivores or omnivores. There is no proof that they are good for dragons, and may in fact be harmful! They are definitely not as complete as the food items listed above, especially if you are using all of the above food items to vary the dragons diet.

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How much to feed

      How much to feed is a difficult question to answer. The basic answer is as much as they will eat! :) Like I said above if your dragon is thin then it is best to offer food a few times a day for awhile to get it's weight up. For example if it only eats 6 crickets at the first offering try offering him some mealworms, or wax worms a few hours later, I'll bet'cha he'll eat some more! Keep a record of your feedings so you'll know how much he is eating daily, weekly etc., that way you will notice if your dragon is improving or if a problem may be starting to develop. You might also want to keep a record of it's weight, shedding....

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A word about METABOLIC BONE DISEASE (calcium deficiency):

      NOTE: Improper diet, inadequate heat, and or improper lighting can cause a reptile to not digest it's food properly or not use the calcium and other nutrients in it's food properly. Usually, a combination of all three of the above stated improperly performed basic requirements WILL result in calcium deficiency. This is a very serious ailment!

      MBD is made up of a number of disorders. One of the most common of these disorders is an improper balance of calcium and phosphorus in the diet resulting in hyper or hypo calcemia. Mbd can affect the internal organs as well as the bones. When there is an imbalance of calcium in the diet (hypocalcemia or hypercalcemia) bones become weak and spongy. The affected bones will also enlarge, and have irregular outlines i.e. bumps and swellings. These bones will deform easily and may also fracture easily. As the calcium levels in the blood drop muscle tremors, tetany, and or asthenia occur. When the calcium level becomes critically low death from cardiac failure may occur.

      Signs and Symptoms of MBD Signs of metabolic bone disease include hard knobs in the long bones of the legs, bumps along the vertebral column of the back and tail, softening or hard swelling of the jaw, and softening of the plastron or carapace (for turtles and torts). All of these signs may be felt before they can be seen, making a careful physical exam important. Visible signs of moderate to severe MBD include jerky gait when walking, tremors and twitches in the limbs and muscles of the legs and toes when at rest, and shakiness when being held. Advanced cases of MBD include all the above signs plus anorexia and fractured bones. Severely deficient reptiles tend to be lethargic and may only be able to drag themselves along the ground. Arboreal lizards spend all of their time on the ground as they lack the strength to grip and climb.

      Please see Calcium Deficiency in herbivore and omnivorous reptiles and the "Metabolic Bone Disease" page for more information about this much too common ailment. :( Please read the sections regarding diet, supplementation, heating and lighting (UVB lighting or direct sunlight is a MUST!) in this FAQ for more information on how to care for your dragon correctly and hopefully prevent this serious ailment from occurring.

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General Rules about Feeding:

      Food items of the appropriate size should be offered to your dragon. The size of the food item should be no longer than the length of the head, and no wider than half the width of the head, and preferably about one third the width of the head. That is the advice in Philippe's book, but for pinkies I don't know, my female eats them and they are longer than her head, and maybe a little wider than half the width, but then again she chews them up, sometimes only eating half at a time! Gross!

      How to feed your dragons?

      Water dragons are considered omnivores. You can offer food items by hand, by holding the food item (fish, pinky, insect ...) in tweezers, or you can drop it in front of the dragon, or you can serve it to him in a bowl. The point is, it doesn't matter how you feed the dragon ... just do whatever works best for the dragon.

      If the dragon isn't eating well, try offering different types of food items, sometimes they get bored, and try offering food in different ways if your dragon doesn't seem too interested with the way you normally offer the food. Throw crickets in the dragons water dish ... sometimes the sight of struggling crickets sparks a non eating dragons interest. Feeding the dragon at slightly different times of day may make the dragon take more interest in the food being offered. Dangle or dragon pre killed food items such as pinky mice in front of the dragon ... this makes the pre killed food item move a bit and seem alive and sometimes that is all that is needed to get the dragon to try the food.

      Do Note that while dragons may go off their food because of boredom with the diet, the most common reason for lessened appetite or on appetite at all is illness, stress or a female dragon being gravid (pregnant) and in it's last couple of weeks of the pregnancy. Lessened appetite may be the first sign that something is wrong with the dragon so do pay attention and take note of this if you notice that your dragon is eating less and less.

      If you are trying to feed your dragon fish for the first time ... especially live fish ... you likely wont have much luck if you just put the fish in the dragons water dish. Try letting the fish flop on the ground in front of the dragon. This usually works well!

      When offering pinkies or feeder fish for the first time you might want to be SURE the dragon is hungry. If the dragon is healthy and is not too thin, you might want to try not feeding it for a day or two, then offering a pinky for the first time. You might have more success this way. A well fed dragon may not be quite as eager to try something new.

An example of what mine eat:

For the week of Dec 17 - 23 1995

  • Female-Rogue- 5" svl 18.5 stl ate 14 large to medium crickets, 27.5 King mealworms and 1/2 a pinky.
  • Male-Knight- 5.25" svl, 20.5" stl ate 14 large to med. crickets, and 26.5 King mealworms.
  • My smallest dragon 2.75" svl, 9.75" stl ate 4 med. crickets, 25 mini mealworms, and 1 waxworm .
  • My larger small dragon 3 1/8" svl, 11 stl ate 6 med crickets, 37 mini mealworms, and 1 wax worm.

      Personally I feel that they should be eating a bit more, especially pinkies but they are gaining weight and growing on this amount, so at least I know that I'm not feeding them too little.

      It would be a good idea to pick up one of those kitchen scales for weighing food to weigh your dragon with now and then. :)

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Water Dragon Books

Green Water Dragons, Sailfin Lizards and Basilisks (General Care and Maintenance of Series) by Philippe De Vosjoli

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      Basic but detailed information about the care, diet, and health of green water dragons, sailfin lizards and basilisks.

Anoles, Basilisks, and Water Dragons Anoles, Basilisks and Water Dragons : A Complete Pet Care Manual (More Complete Pet Owner's Manuals) by Richard D. Bartlett, Patricia P. Bartlett (Contributor)

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     Discussion of the general care of many species of anole, basilisks and water dragons. Excellent information regarding enclosures, cage building, and insect care and breeding.

Eat this Bug Eat This Bug : A Guide to Invertebrate Live Foods for Reptiles and Amphibians by Lynn Davis

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      This book is a guide for owners of reptiles and amphibians who feed insects and other live foods to their pets. Advice is offered for selecting , ordering and raising your own supply of live invertebrate foods. More than a dozen species of live foods are discussed. The book includes instructions on keeping cultures of insects, and recipes & diets for insects.

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April, 10, 2012

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