Written by Jeremiah "Podunk" Jaeger in June, 2003
Updated by Deb Buss in May, 2013
These gentle beasts are from Australia but are now readily available due to their willingness to breed in captivity. Bearded Dragons make a wonderful pet for both beginners and advanced reptile keepers. Due to their docile nature and relative small size (usually 16-20 inches) they have become quite popular in recent years. These beautiful creatures are highly recommended for families with small children also due to their seeming love for attention. This article will provide you with information and guidance for your bearded dragon care.
Choosing your Bearded Dragon
When you decide to buy a Bearded Dragon, whether from a breeder or Pet store, look it over carefully. Some things you should notice right away is how alert and active the Dragon is, you don't want a Beardie that can't lift it's head or looks lethargic. When you walk up to the enclosure the Beardies should be watching you with interest and should have bright and alert eyes. You also want to check them for sores, burns, external parasites or any deformities. Make sure there is no pus or other gunk built up in the eyes, nose or mouth area also. Many Beardies will be missing toes or bits of their tail, this will not cause them any discomfort as long as the wound looks healed and shows no sign of infection. One of the most important things in my eyes is to look at the size of the Beardie. I do not recommend Beardies under 6 inches in total length. Baby Beardies can be very fragile and more apt to become ill or overly stressed. It much easier to care for a more developed Bearded Dragon.
Young Beardies under 10 inches in length can be housed in a 20gal long aquarium. This will last them for a few months only though as they grow quickly. Adult Dragons should be housed in nothing smaller than a 40gal breeder tank. I prefer using 55gal aquariums due to the extra length it gives them to run and they are easily found at most Pet stores. Screen lids should be used for the top of any aquarium style cages you use. Do not use glass, Plexiglas or wood to cover your cages. This will not allow enough air circulation and will also trap humidity in the cage. Screen tops allow air flow, allow your lighting and heat sources to work correctly and also allow humidity to escape.
Bearded Dragons require full spectrum lighting for 12-14 hours a day. Reptisun 10.0 or Arcadia 12% tubes are known to provide some of the best full UVB for your dragons. The coils or compacts of the same brand aren't recommended, as they have shown to cause eye problems and reduction of appetite. The Reptiglo brand is also not recommended, tube, coil or compact, as it has been associated with causing eye problems, lethargy and not eating. These fluorescent bulbs should stretch the length of your Beardies enclosure and your B.D. should be able to come within 6-8 inches of the light. The UVB should be mounted inside the tank to allow your dragon 100% of the UVB. On top of the tank can filter out up to 50% of the UVB rays your dragon needs. Mercury vapour bulbs are also a good heat & UVB source, but to allow your dragon full use of the UVB it is best to not use the mesh tank tops. Mounting them on a lampstand with a dome without using a top will allow full use of the UVB. Having the correct type of UVB light is also important to help their bones develop strong and healthy.
Heating and temps
To produce heat and a basking spot in your enclosure you can use any type of bright white light or just a plain household light bulb that will give the proper basking temperatures. The best fixture for any of these choices is a porcelain dome light fixture. The temperature for this basking spot you created should be around 105f to 110f for babies, 105f for juveniles and can be around 95f to 102f for adults. Although I don't recommend any temps above 110f, within a few degrees of these basking temps will be sufficient. The heat from the basking light is to help them digest their food.
The cool side of the enclosure should be around 80f-85f during the day. Once again within a few degrees of this temp is just fine.
Night time temperatures can fall as low as 65f. It is fairly easy to keep your night temps above this even in the winter. If you can't keep your temps above this you may want to consider buying a ceramic heat emitter, which gives off heat & no light. Colored heat lights are not recommended as they interrupt beardies sleep patterns. DO NOT use heat rocks as these can cause serious burns on your animals underside.
A digital thermometer with a probe or a temp gun are the best to use to measure temperatures to ensure the proper basking temperatures area achieved.
For baby to juvenile Bearded Dragons I prefer and recommend either newspaper, paper towels, butcher paper or reptile carpet. These choices are cheap, easy to clean and hold no health risks to your animal. If using reptile carpet the stuff that looks and feels like grass is the best. The felt kind has little loops of fabric that may catch the nails of your Dragon and cause injury. DO NOT use sand, shavings or any other loose substrate for baby to juvenile beardies. They can be very clumsy eaters and they are also very curious and like to taste everything. Any kind of loose substrate holds serious health risks to your Beardie. If they eat a loose substrate they can become impacted, which is a blocking of the intestines, and die.
Crushed walnut shell is dangerous and should only be used to clean up oil spills. This substrate is NOT digestable and if too much of it is eaten it will cause impaction. I have seen this occur first hand with reptiles ranging from lizards to tortoises. Stay away from this product please.
Feeding and diet
Bearded Dragons are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both animal and plant matter. Any and all food items that your Bearded Dragons eat should be no bigger than the space between their eyes. If the food items are bigger than the space between their eyes it can cause impaction and/or hind leg paralysis. Either way your Beardie will suffer horribly.
Baby and juvenile Beardies should be offered appropriately sized crickets two-three times a day. Offer as many as your Beardie will eat in a 5-10 minute time frame. When your Beardie stops eating, stop offering. Young Bearded Dragons can eat anywhere from 20-60 small crickets a day. Your Beardie should also be given fresh greens daily. Spraying the greens with water will help them last longer and will also help keep your Beardie hydrated.
NOTE: Sand and other particulate substrates can
pose a risk of impaction, especially in
younger bearded dragons. Sub-adult to adult Beardies only need to eat prey items once a day along with fresh greens. Once they are this age you can also offer them Locusts, Cockroaches, Zophobas, Waxworms (treats only), Silkworms, and Butterworms. DO NOT feed your Beardie insects that you have caught in your backyard. These bugs could have parasites that could be passed on to your Beardie or they could have been exposed to poisons that could kill your Beardie. Lightning bugs can also kill your Beardie so it is much safer to stay away from wild caught insects.
For babies and juvies, bugs should be dusted once a day with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement for reptiles, such as the one made by Rep-cal, 5 times per week. All bugs should be dusted twice a week with a multivitamin supplement such as Herptivite, also made by Rep-cal. Flukers and other brands also makes a good multi-vit/mineral supplement.
For adults, reduce the calcium to 3 times a week and the vitamin/mineral once a week.
Any uneaten prey items should be removed from your Dragons enclosure.