How do I take care of a Bearded Dragon?

 

Bearded Dragons make great pet lizards. These moderately sized, personable pet reptiles are easy to care for, readily available as captive bred animals, and tame very easily.

Trade Name(s)

Bearded Dragons are commonly called Beardies in the pet trade.

Family & Scientific Name

Agamidae; Pogona vitticeps

Range & Origin

Australia, from the central deserts of the country.

Adult Size

Adult bearded dragons can range from 18”-24”, with larger individuals popping up occasionally. Females are typically a bit larger than males.

Life Span

Captive life span of bearded dragons is generally cited at about 10-12 years, but there are records of bearded dragons living well into their late teens.

Enclosure

When it comes to selecting an enclosure, bearded dragons are not too picky. Basically, you want an enclosure that retains heat well, does not hold in humidity, and allows for easy viewing of and access to your pet bearded dragon. Standard glass aquariums or Exo Terra Glass Terrariumswork well for young bearded dragons. If a standard aquarium is used, make sure to use an appropriately sized screen top. A standard 20L glass aquarium (30”x12”) will work well for a bearded dragon up to 10”. After your pet bearded dragon is longer than that, a 40B (36”x18”) aquarium would be considered bare minimum, while an enclosure of at least 48”x24” being ideal.

Exo Terra Glass Terrariums are suitable for smaller bearded dragons, but your pet lizard will quickly outgrow it.

Substrate

Opinions about bearded dragon substrates vary widely. Acceptable substrates run the gamut from clay tile to reptile carpet. Personally, I prefer to keep bearded dragons under 12” on paper towel that is changed daily. For larger bearded dragons, sand works well. Spot clean the sand every day, and sift it at least once a week. Sand substrates should be changed at least every 1 to 2 months.

Sand is a good substrate choice for bearded dragons over 12 inches in length.

Temperature

Temperatures for bearded dragons are quite easy to maintain with basking lights. Aim for a basking spot of approximately 105-110F, and a cool end in the high 70s/low 80s. There are several varieties of basking bulbs available to create a hot spot for your pet bearded dragon.

At night, the temperature can drop into the high to mid 60s without issue. If the temperature is too low, a heat mat or night time heat bulb can be use to raise the temperature.

All temperatures should be routinely monitored to insure your pet bearded dragon is getting the heat it needs. Many such products exist on the market for this purpose, including temp guns and digital thermometers.

Temperatures should be carefully monitored in your pet bearded dragon’s enclosure.

Lighting

Being diurnal desert animals, bearded dragons are exposed to large amounts of natural sunlight in the wild. When kept in captivity, it is very important to provide a source of UVB lighting for your pet bearded dragon. UV light allows your pet bearded dragon to utilize calcium from it’s diet. 10.0 UVB bulbs are appropriate, either in linear fluorescent or compact fluorescent form. When using these types of UVB bulbs, make sure that your pet bearded dragon can bask within 18” of the bulb, and insure that the UVB bulb is replaced once every six months.

Another great alternative to provide UVB lighting to your pet bearded dragon is a Mercury Vapor UVB light. Mercury Vapor UVB lights not only produce very high quality UVB, but also provide heat, eliminating the need for an additional basking bulb for your pet bearded dragon. When using a Mercury Vapor bulb, make sure to use a wire clamp lamp to provide additional air flow around the UVB bulb. This is extend the life of the Mercury Vapor bulb, which should be replaced every year.

Bearded dragons must be provided with a UV source in captivity.

Social Structure

Generally, Bearded Dragons are best housed alone. Lizards can be raised in large groups when young, but fair best when raised singly. When adults, only one male should be kept per enclosure. Multiple females can be housed with the male and a pecking order will be formed. Care must be taken to insure that the male does not harass the females to the point of it being an issue, and to insure that females lower in the pecking order are getting enough food and not being stressed. Many keepers opt to house their dragons individually, only introducing them together for mating.

Diet
The dietary needs of a bearded dragon changes drastically over it’s lifetime. A young bearded dragon’s diet will consist mostly of high quality feeder insects, including phoenix worms andcricketsWaxwormsmealworms, and superworms make good treats. Leafy green vegetables, such as collard greens, should be offered regularly. All feeder insects should be dusted with a quality vitamin/mineral supplement. When choosing the correctly sized insect for your pet, make sure the insect is not longer than the distance between the eyes of the bearded dragon.

As they age, bearded dragons will consume more and more vegetation, and become less dependent on animal protein. At 2-3 years of age, a bearded dragon’s diet should consist of 80% or so vegetation, such as collard greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens. Avoid spinach and lettuce. Other fruits and vegetables can be fed sparingly. All vegetation should be dusted with a quality vitamin/mineral supplement.

Bearded Dragons typically get the majority of their food in the wild from their diet. Bearded Dragons can be provided with a water dish, but it is my experience that they will typically ignore it, and instead use it as a toilet. In captivity, young bearded dragons should be soaked in shallow, lukewarm water once a day. Juveniles should be soaked 3 times a week, and adults can be soaked 1-2 times a week. This will insure that your pet bearded dragon stays hydrated. Occasionally, a light misting of your bearded dragon’s enclosure will allow them to lap up the droplets. All tap water used should be treated with a water dechlorinator.

All foods fed to your pet bearded dragon should be dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement.

Cleaning
Bearded Dragon enclosures should be cleaned frequently with a 5% bleach solution, then be allowed to air dry. If kept on paper towels, they should be changed daily. If kept on sand or a similar substrate, the substrate should be spot cleaned daily and thoroughly sifted with a sand scoop at least once a week. Sand should be completely changed every 2 months or more frequently when needed.

Handling
Bearded Dragons are very easy to handle, and make great pet lizards for those wanting a pet they can hold and even carry around frequently. Bearded Dragons will generally adapt to handling very quickly, and seem to enjoy time spent out of their enclosure.

Additional Reading

This care sheet is by no means intended to be the sole source of information concerning bearded dragons. Josh’s Frogs greatly recommended additional research via literature and online forums. Some great books for information include Bearded Dragons in Captivity by Allen Repashy and Bearded Dragons by Phillip Purser.

It’s always a good idea to do as much research as you can, prior to bringing your new pet home.

Conclusion
Bearded Dragons make great reptile pets for beginner, intermediate, or advanced hobbyists. Already desirable for their easy manner, simple care, and personable nature, bearded dragons are now available in a wide variety of color morphs, making them even more desirable.

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