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What Does It Mean When Your Water Dragon Has Its Arm Waving at You?

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Water dragons make engaging exotic pets for anybody who loves reptiles in a big way. Reaching up to 3 feet long, water dragons are bright green lizards, among the largest kept in household captivity. In the wild, water dragons tend to stick to themselves. If they're feeling threatened, they may wave their arms to indicate submission.


Circumduction, or arm-waving, is a gesture of appeasement a water dragon uses to communicate with other water dragons. A water dragon will move one of his front legs in a circular motion, with his palm outward, toward another lizard. That's his way of telling the other lizard he knows he's subordinate -- that he accepts his position in the pecking order. Hatchlings, juveniles and subordinate females often engage in arm-waving behavior. If your dragon is waving his arm at you, he may be indicating he knows you're the boss.


Sometimes aggression, not fear, will prompt an arm wave. Other signs of aggression include head-bobbing, throat-puffing and even chasing. When it's time to breed, lizards of all species become more territorial. In his book "Anoles, Basilisks, and Water Dragons," Richard Bartlett wrote that a water dragon in captivity may direct his aggression at his human keeper. Your dragon may also whip his tail or open his mouth toward you.

Handle With Care

The water dragon isn't an instinctively social guy. If you want a more engaged dragon, be patient and deliberate when you approach him; allow him plenty of time to acclimate to you and plenty of opportunities to get used to you. Offering him food from your hand throughout the day will allow him to associate you with good things. When you pick him up, be gentle and consistent; don't use fast, jerky motions. Be supportive in your handling, using two hands to pick him up, ensuring his chest and pelvic area are supported. Never pick him up by his tail.

Happy Dragon Family

You may not want to limit yourself to one dragon, which is fine, provided you provide enough space for more than one. A dragon's habitat should be as long as it is high, and twice the length of the dragon -- something like 6 feet long by 6 feet high by 3 feet wide. An enclosure that size may work well for two dragons; it depends on how well they live together. Don't count on it. Water dragons have definite personality differences, so increasing the width of the enclosure by a couple feet may be necessary for each additional dragon. A male and female will get along better than same-gender roommates -- it's not unusual for one dragon to intimidate another of the same gender by blocking access to food or basking spots. Despite their name, these lizards really like trees, so they should have something to climb on.