This section discusses the basic information and facts regarding Bearded Dragons.
- Common name: Bearded Dragon
- Scientific name: Pogona vitticeps
- Place of origin: Australia
- Lifespan: 5-12 years based on care
- Active: Throughout the day (diurnal)
- Max length: Around 24 inches
- Diet: Omnivorous
- Human interaction: Docile
- Social group: 1 (solitary)
What is a Bearded Dragon?
A Bearded Dragon is a reptile (lizard) that originates from Australia. In brief, there are more than several different species of Bearded Dragons, but it is the Central/Inland Bearded Dragon that is most common within the pet industry.
Where Can I Buy a Bearded Dragon?
From breeders - You can find Bearded Dragons for sale from breeders that specialize in raising and selling Bearded Dragons. Where can you find Bearded Dragon breeders? You can find them on Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Basically, all you have to do is search for the term "Bearded Dragon breeder" and do some research on which breeder is reputable.
From pet stores - You can find Bearded Dragons for sale from pet stores, such as Petco or Petsmart (or any other local reptile store that might be within your community).
From people (rescues) - If you know of a person who owns a Bearded Dragon that he or she can no longer take care of, then you can consider adopting the reptile from that person. However, if this reptile was neglected and is in poor health, then this option might be best left for more experienced Bearded Dragon owners.
This section discusses the housing (enclosure) requirements for these reptiles.
Types of Enclosures
Glass terrariums - Glass terrariums are a common choice for these reptiles; glass terrariums can be found online on websites like Amazon or at local pet stores such as Petco or Petsmart. If you decide to get a glass terrarium, then I recommend buying one that has doors in the front.
Custom - Custom built enclosures are the best choice for housing your Bearded Dragon. Overall, custom built enclosures offer many benefits, such as build quality, being stackable, holding in heat well, proper light exposure, etc; custom enclosures are also known as PVC cages, melamine cages, ABS cages, or vision cages.
What Enclosure Size Should I Get?
20 gallon terrarium - Ideal for baby Bearded Dragons (dragons that are under two months old). In summary, a smaller enclosure will make it easier for young dragons to catch their food. Please note, you will have to upgrade the enclosure size within a few months.
40 gallon terrarium or larger - Ideal for juvenile or adult Bearded Dragons. Of course, the larger the enclosure the better for your Bearded Dragon.
4x2x2 Custom - If you decide to get a custom built enclosure, then aim for dimensions of at least 4 feet wide, 2 feet deep, and 2 feet tall. Again, the larger the better.
I do not recommend cohabitation, you should only have one Bearded Dragon per enclosure by the time they are juveniles. Although, I would recommend to only have one Bearded Dragon per enclosure as soon as possible to avoid any risks. Unfortunately, these reptiles live in solitary in the wild and they do not get along well with their own kind. In fact, they only pair up to fight over territory or to mate. With this in mind, it is very dangerous and irresponsible to house Bearded Dragons together. Even if fighting does not occur, there are still issues. For example, housing Bearded Dragons together can cause stress and stress can lead to issues such as a lack of appetite. In addition, cohabitation creates a competitive environment. For instance, these reptiles will have to compete for the better basking spot, space, food, etc.
This section discusses the lighting requirements for these reptiles.
During the Day
Your Bearded Dragon will require a heat bulb and a UVB/UVA bulb during the day, as well as the appropriate fixtures for them depending on your type of enclosure. Overall, proper lighting is extremely important to the overall health of a Bearded Dragon.
Heat bulb - For the heat bulb, you will need to get a wattage that is hot enough to generate a basking spot of 95-110F and a cool side of 80F. For the fixture, a dome will do if you are using a glass terrarium.
Fluorescent UVB/UVA bulb - For the fluorescent UVB/UVA bulb, I highly recommend buying the Reptisun 10.0 T5 High Output bulb by Zoo Med. If not that, then the Arcadia 12% is another good choice. For the fixture, Zoo Med has their own fixtures for their bulbs. Otherwise, you can use an under the cabinet fixture.
Lighting Schedule - Both bulbs should remain on for 12 to 14 hours per day, then turn them off for the rest of the night.
During the Night
At night, all lights should be off. However, if you live in an area where it gets lower than 65F at night, then you will need to provide some heat for the reptile.
Ceramic heat emitter - If your Bearded Dragon's enclosure is lower than 65F at night, then use a ceramic heat emitter to provide heat. In summary, a ceramic heat emitter is best because it will only output heat (not light). Please note, these bulbs get very hot, so make sure you have an appropriate fixture for it. Moving on, the night temperature should be in the range of 70-79F.
Going outside - I would like to take a moment to mention that natural sunlight is good for a Bearded Dragon. In other words, if you live in a hot or warm area (such as the desert), then taking your reptile outside to bask under the sun (natural UVB/UVA), can be very healthy for it. However, some Bearded Dragons love outside time while others hate it. If you are not sure how your reptile will behave for the first time outside, then use a proper outdoor enclosure or a reptile leash.
For heat or UVB/UVA, I do not recommend any of the products seen within the image above.
- Heat rocks & U.T.H. - Can cause severe burns to your Bearded Dragon's underside, because these reptiles do not sense heat well on their bellies.
- Colored bulbs - Can disturb your Bearded Dragons sleep if used at night and it is often said that the colored bulbs are not good for their eyes.
- Compact/coil bulbs - These type of bulbs are not as effective in terms of outputting UVB/UVA. Furthermore, they do not span two-thirds of the enclosure as it was recommended to do so earlier.
Temperatures & Humidity
Daytime temperature - During the day, the basking spot should be at least 95F and the cool side should be around 80F. For the basking spot, younger dragons may prefer a higher basking temp closer to 110F while older dragons may prefer a lower basking temp closer to 95F.
Nightime temperature - During the night, the entire enclosure should be in the range of 70-79F. Again, if the night temp is lower than 65F, then use a ceramic heat emitter (not a colored bulb).
Humidity - At all times, you should try to maintain a humidity percentage around 30%, maybe a little higher if the reptile is shedding. The most important thing to know, is that high humidity is not good for Bearded Dragons. In fact, it can cause a respiratory infection. with that in mind, I recommend keeping it around 30%.
Checking the above - It is very important to make sure that the temperatures and humidity are within the correct range. With that said, you should buy something that is reliable, such as a digital thermometer with a probe that is capable of monitoring temps and humidity. In addition, you can consider buying a temperature gun. On a side note, I do not recommend using stick on temperature strips or gauges.
This section discusses safe and dangerous substrate choices for these reptiles.
Safe substrates - For substrate, I suggest using any of the following: non-adhesive shelf liner, paper towels, reptile carpet, or slate tile. In the long run, these substrates will be safer for your Bearded Dragon compared to loose substrates. In addition, these substrates are inexpensive and easy to keep clean.
Dangerous substrates - "Loose substrate" is a term used to describe a type of substrate that isn't solid. In other words, the substrate itself contains many small moving parts or should I say particles for something like sand. Getting to the point, you should consider loose substrates (i.e. sand, small rocks, wood shavings, alfalfa pellets, ground walnut shells, etc) as a dangerous choice for your pet Bearded Dragon for multiple reasons explained below.
I do NOT recommend using loose substrates for your Bearded Dragon. Why? If your Bearded Dragon consumes the loose substrate (such as sand or a piece of wood shaving for example), then this may cause impaction for the reptile (a blockage in the digestive system which can be fatal). In the images below, you will see an x-ray of a Bearded Dragon that had impaction issues with sand. Luckily, after several days, the Vernon Hills Animal Hospital was able to clear the impaction.
Aside from the risk of impaction, loose substrates may cause other issues. Using sand as an example once again, having sand as the only substrate for your Bearded Dragon is kind of like a small litter box that your reptile cannot avoid. To clarify, when your Bearded Dragon poops on sand, the poop will absorb into the substrate which is not very sanitary and I can assure you that these reptiles poop often. Moving on, sand can be a breeding ground for parasites such as mites. Finally, colored sand may stain your Bearded Dragon's scales or sand may get into the eyes of your Bearded Dragon causing irritation or damage. If it is not yet obvious, there are just way too many risks and issues when using loose substrates (espicially sand).
Unfortunately, some people like to make the argument that these reptiles live on sand in the wild which is not entirely true. For instance, wild Bearded Dragons do not live on pure sand such as what you would buy from a pet store. In fact, wild Bearded Dragons have access to not only sand, but hard-packed dirt, plenty of shrubs or trees, rocks, leaf-litter, and so on. Again, they do not live on just sand such as the sand dunes. Ultimately, in the wild, a Bearded Dragon can avoid sand if it irritates them which is not the case for some captive Bearded Dragons that are forced to live on sand in a small 3x2x2 or 4x2x2 enclosure.
This section discusses the diet requirements for these reptiles. In brief, Bearded Dragons are omnivores which means that they eat food of both animal and plant origin.
Daily feeders - Below, is a list of live food that offer great nutrition for your Bearded Dragon, these live food choices can be offered daily.
- Dubia roaches
- Phoenix worms
Treats only - Below, is a list of live food that should only be offered occasionally if not rarely. In other words, imagine them as treats for your Bearded Dragon.
There are reasons for the above feeders being treats only. To clarify, waxworms and butterworms are high in fat. In addition, mealworms and superworms can pose an impaction risk (espicially for baby Bearded Dragons). For hornworms - while good for hydration - are not really nutritous.
Dusting and "Gut-Loading" Live Food
Supplements - It's important to provide your Bearded Dragon with calcium and multivitamin supplements. In the Bearded Dragon community, this is known as dusting live food. For baby dragons, I recommend dusting live food daily, but only once per day. For adult Bearded Dragons, I recommend dusting around five times per week, but again, only once per day. Please remember, dust only in moderation. In other words, too much dusting can be just as bad as not enough dusting.
Gut loading - It is also important to, "gut-load" your Bearded Dragon's live food. In other words, you should properly feed and hydrate your live food so that they remain nutritous and healthy once your Bearded Dragon eats them.
Daily Greens - Below, is a list of greens that offer great nutrition for your Bearded Dragon, these greens can be offered daily.
- Turnip greens
- Mustard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Collard greens
Treats only - Unfortunately, Bearded Dragons do not benefit much from fruits. Thus, fruits should only be offered occasionally if not rarely.
Not all food choices are safe or nutritional for a Bearded Dragon - Below, is a list of some foods that you should always avoid.
- Citrus fruits
- Lighting bugs
- Spinach (calcium binding)
- Kale (calcium binding)
- Lettuce (no nutritional value)
May cause issues
Providing water - There are multiple ways to provide water. Below, is a short list of my favorite methods for providing water.
- Offer misted greens
- Offer hornworms
- Offer water with a syringe/dropper
On a side note, most Bearded Dragons do not drink from still water, which is why I did not suggest a water dish. With that said, the above methods are the easiest and most effective methods for providing water.
To handle a Bearded Dragon, keep your hand lower than its head, approach it from the front of its body, slide your hand under its chest, and lift. Also, make sure you are using your hand to fully support the Bearded Dragon's body. To provide a visual example, please watch the following video.