How to Build a Vivarium for a Water Dragon

Updated January 03, 2017

Water Dragons are exceptionally interesting creatures that have become a favourite of reptile owners in recent years. These lizards go from being 5 to 6 inches long to up to 3 feet long by the time they're full grown. For this reason, among others, it is important to construct a good environment for your new pet as soon as you bring him home. You needn't be strong or have tons of money to build such a habitat, but you certainly do need to pay attention to get it right.

Construct a rectangular-prism shaped cage out of plywood and plexiglass. Plexiglass should be used for the front and bottom, while wood can be used for the other sides. Leave the top open. Secure the sides to one another using nails or screws. The plexiglass bottom and front may be attached using glue, but you must allow the glue to dry completely and make sure that the lizard cannot accidentally eat any glue residue. The minimum cage size for one animal should be 6 feet long by 3 feet deep by 4 feet high. If you want to waterproof the wood, use a water-based polyurethane sealant, and allow the wood to cure and air out completely.

Create or purchase a lid made from wire mesh for the top of the cage. Do not use glass, as this will prevent essential air circulation. The lid should cover the entire top of the enclosure. Cut a piece of wire mesh the size of the top of the cage. Weight the edges with pieces of metal or wood, if necessary.

Test the tank for strength by pushing against the sides from inside and outside of the tank to make sure that the animal won't accidentally break or move part of the enclosure enough to escape.

Place a large plastic tray, such as a cat litter pan, on one side of the tank and fill with water. The water should be deep enough to submerge at least half of the reptile. Make sure to change this water daily once in use.

Fill the other side with substrate, at least to the same level as the water. Acceptable substrate materials include sterile top soil, paper and play sand. Do not use top soil that has fertilisers or plant food; these are toxic to the Dragon.

Plant live plants in your vivarium to give the Dragon more hiding places and environmental variation throughout his enclosure. Use only nontoxic, reptile safe plants in this process.

Place large branches or driftwood upright along the cage to give the Dragon something to climb on. In the wild, Water Dragons spend a lot of time in the trees, and you will find that they climb a lot. Make sure the branches are hardy enough to support your pet.

Decorate the remainder of the tank as desired. Some possible additions are small pump waterfalls into your water tray or hollowed out logs for the lizard to crawl through or hide under. Don't forget to add a large, flat rock for the lizard to bask on.

Add heating lamps to the top of the cage. Do not allow the lizard to get too close to them, as she may burn herself. Generally, focus the heat towards one end of the enclosure, but do not neglect to heat the other. Under-tank heating systems and lights are good ways to heat, but do not use heating rocks, as these have been linked to burnt pets and even house fires.

Place two thermometers in the cage, one at each end to monitor temperature. Having one side warmer than the other gives the lizard the ability to warm up or cool down by moving around. Day temperatures should be between 28.9 and 31.1 degrees Celsius. Night temperatures should rest between 75 and 80 degrees.

Add a humidity gauge to the vivarium. As tropical animals, Water Dragons require a humidity of about 80 per cent to stay healthy. If humidity drops, you can mist the cage more often or place a piece of cloth or cling film over some of the mesh lid.

Place a UVB light 10 inches above the lizard's basking space. UVB is necessary for the proper care and survival of the Dragon. Remember, UVB is filtered out by glass and even some thicker mesh.

Change the substrate as necessary for the hygiene of the cage. Do not allow mould to accrue on the inside of your vivarium, as this can cause grave illness for the Water Dragon. Have your lights set on 12 hour cycles to ensure that the lizard gets proper photo and rest periods.


In lieu of building your own vivarium, a large aquarium can serve the purpose as well. Additional care must be taken in heating such a tank, as glass is not as insulating as wood.


Only use nontoxic materials while building the cage, and remove the animal before using any type of chemical to clean the inside of the vivarium. Immediately contact your veterinarian or a reptile expert if you suspect that your enclosure is causing your pet problems.

Things You'll Need

  • 3/4 inch plywood
  • Water-based polyurethane waterproofing solution
  • Plexiglass (size depending on overall cage size)
  • Wire or mesh lid
  • Plastic tray (e.g. cat litter pan)
  • Sterile top soil or other substrate
  • Non-toxic live plants
  • Large branches or driftwood
  • Cage decor
  • 2 thermometers
  • Humidity gauge
  • UVB-emitting light
  • Heating lamps
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author