How to Care for Your Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are moderately large (18-24”), diurnal, terrestrial reptiles native to the woodlands and deserts of interior Australia. Their habitat is generally considered to be arid, and they spend much of their time basking in bushes and on rocks. Wild type bearded dragons are gray to beige with varying, often diamond shaped patterns from shoulder to tail. Their scales are pointed and quite sharp. They are notable for the loose skin in the throat area which they can expand when annoyed. Its black color causes it to resemble a beard, hence its common name. Recent selective breeding has resulted in a wider variety of bearded dragon colors and scale types. Bearded dragons are among the more intelligent reptiles, appear to interact to an extent with their keepers and are popular as beginner pets.
A single bearded dargon may be housed in an enclosure of at least 36”x18”x18”, though this is considered to be a minimum size. Bearded dragons can be kept on repticarpet, newspaper or ceramic tile. Some bearded dragons are kept on sand, though keepers who use particulate substrates often prefer a planted, bioactive substrate composed of a mixture of coco fiber and sand.
Bearded dragons bask during the day and require a structure they can climb on to bring them closer to their basking light source. This can be a branch, rock or even a hammock that attaches to the enclosure with suction cups. They also appreciate a lower hiding area where they can seclude themselves at times. Although bearded dragons are not particularly known for drinking from water bowls, one should be provided just in case, as well as a food bowl for their “salad”.
Heating and Lighting
Since they are moderately large diurnal reptiles, bearded dragons require two kinds of lighting: a source of UVB throughout the cage to provide vitamin D3 for metabolizing calcium, and a focused basking light to provide heat and mimic the desert sun.
The recommended UVB light is a full-spectrum 10.0 florescent bulb that runs most of the length of the enclosure. The fixture can be placed inside the cage underneath the cover or on top of a mesh cover. If the fixture is placed on top of the cage, a glass cage cover should not be used, since the UVB will not penetrate through the glass. Florescent bulbs decrease in the amount of UVB emitted with time. It’s safest to replace the bulb every 6 months, though a more accurate schedule can be determined if a UV meter is purchased and used to check UV levels.
The basking light can be a flood light or LED light and should provide a heat level of approximately 115 degrees F when the dragon is on its perch. Compact florescent bulbs are not recommended, since the light concentration has caused eye problems for dragons. Juvenile bearded dragons may require basking temperatures closer to 130F.
Food and Supplementation
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and eat fruit, vegetables and live prey. Younger bearded dragons require more live prey for increased protein as they grow. Adult bearded dragons should get most of their calories from leafy green vegetables with occasional servings of fruit and some insects.
The bulk of the plant matter fed to bearded dragons should consist of nutritious leafy greens and orange vegetables such as squash or yams. Lettuce, except for romaine, does not contain a significant amount of nutrients and should not be the main component of the vegetable diet. The most nutritious greens include collard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, carrot and beet tops. Spinach, chard and kale should be provided in limited quantities as these tend to reduce the body's absorption of calcium. Tough vegetables such as carrots or yams may need to be lightly steamed to facilitate digestion. Fruit should make up only 10-15% of the dragon's diet and can cause loose stools if provided in excess.
Adult bearded dragons should be fed live prey about twice a week, including roaches, crickets, hornworms, silkworms, superworms or butterworms. Mealworms are generally not recommended due to the amount of difficult to digest chitin in their exoskeletons. Some keepers feed their dragons live pinky mice though this is not required. Needless to day, Dubia Roaches are a wonderful staple food for bearded dragons!
Bearded dragons require calcium to build strong bones, vitamin D3 to metabolize the calcium and a variety of other vitamins and minerals. It’s generally recommended to dust their prey with calcium, vitamin D3 and other vitamins using a commercially available product at every feeding.
Bearded dragons should be bathed at least once a week to assist in their fluid intake.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. If you are new to bearded dragons, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.