Bearded Dragon General Reptile Care Guide Courtesy of ReptiFiles
|(Pogona vitticeps) Difficulty: Intermediate
Bearded dragons are 18-24” long lizards with spiky grayish, beige, or orange scales (although other colors are available in captivity). They earned their name from their spiky, expandable throat pouch, which can look very much like a beard — especially when it darkens.
These lizards are native to eastern and central Australia. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including desert, scrub, and dry forests. Although they are widely considered terrestrial lizards, bearded dragons are skilled climbers and enthusiastic burrowers in their native habitat.
Bearded dragons are one of the most popular pet lizards in the world, with a calm, personable temperament. They live an average of 10-15 years in captivity with good care, although they can live longer.
- 4'x2'x2' Meridian Wood Panel Reptile Enclosure or 4'x2'x2' Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- dome heat lamp
- 2x 100w halogen flood heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- live or artificial plant(s)
- zip ties
- logs, branches and/or rocks
- plug-in outlet timer
- Zen Cave or Zen Corner Cave
- food and water dishes
Leading modern bearded dragon husbandry experts recommend keeping bearded dragons in no smaller than a 120-gallon (48”L x 24”W x 24”H) enclosure, preferably larger.
The enclosure should be front opening for easy access, with excellent ventilation. Ideally, the top should be mesh rather than solid. And of course, bigger is always better!
Can multiple bearded dragons be housed together in the same enclosure?
Bearded dragons are territorial rather than social, which means that keeping multiple bearded dragons in the same enclosure can lead to fighting and serious (sometimes even fatal) injuries. So, it’s best to keep only one bearded dragon per enclosure.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Bearded Dragons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they are stimulated by the presence of bright white light in their environment, and they require strong, high-quality UVB lighting for survival.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB in a single 48” x 24” x 24” bearded dragon enclosure, you will need a 22” Arcadia Dragon 14% bulb, placed on the warm side of the enclosure.
The basking area should be placed as follows:
- UVB mounted over mesh: basking area 7-11” below UVB lamp
- UVB mounted under mesh: basking area 12-18” below UVB lamp
(These recommendations are approximations based on available data. For best results, use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 4.0-6.0 in the basking area.)
Bright light with a color temperature of 6000-7000K is suggested by experts to be important to bearded dragons’ mental health. Bearded dragons with additional “daylight” lighting in their enclosure seem to be more alert and active than those without, as well as demonstrating better appetite and more natural behaviors.
Full-spectrum lighting is not the same as reptile UVB lighting, so you will need two separate lamps.
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Bearded dragons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. Bearded dragons warm up by basking under the sun in the wild. In captivity, they do best with a halogen heat lamp as a heat source.
- Basking surface temperature: 105-115°F (40-46°C)
- Cool zone temperature: 70-85°F (21-29°C)
Generally speaking, 100w PAR38 halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve those basking temperatures in a 24” tall enclosure. However, if you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer. If your basking area is too cool, you need higher wattage bulbs.
To measure the basking surface temperature, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source.
Bearded dragons should have an average ambient humidity of 30-60%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed on the ground on the cool side of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently higher than 60% can make your bearded dragon sick.
Bearded dragons are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat. In eastern and central Australia, that habitat includes very sandy soil. So, the substrate in your bearded dragon’s enclosure should be fine sand or sandy soil, packed at least 4” deep — preferably deeper, if at all possible.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and the contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. The substrate should be completely replaced once every 4-6 months.
Sick or wounded bearded dragons should not be kept on a loose substrate. Instead, use paper towels or the Zen Mat.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your bearded dragon’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Here are some ideas. You don’t need all of these things, but you do need enough of them to provide plenty of places to hide and opportunities to climb/explore.
- cork hollows
- cork flats
- cholla wood
- ghost wood
- grape wood
- live or artificial plants
- magnetic ledges
Feeding Your Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are omnivores, which means that they need both animal- and plant-based foods to get the nutrition that their bodies need. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your bearded dragon is VARIETY! Here is a quick list of safe, nutritious vegetables to get you started:
- collard greens
- cactus pad
- spring mix
- pea shoots
- bok choy
- carrot greens
- dandelion greens
- hibiscus leaves
- clover sprouts
How often bearded dragons need to eat depends on age:
- Hatchlings (0-6 months old) — Insects 2x/day, vegetables daily
- Juveniles (6-12 months old) — Insects 1x/day, vegetables daily
- Adults (>12 months old) — Insects 2-3x/week, vegetables daily
To ensure that your bearded dragon is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that they need, you will need a calcium powder and a multivitamin powder — or a good all-in-one. For best results, use as directed by the manufacturer.
Since they’re so light, handling bearded dragons is an easy task. Here are some tips to make it a positive experience for both of you.
- Support all four feet. If one foot is left out, s/he will feel off balance and start to thrash to regain it.
- Use slow movements. Large, fast movements remind them of predators. Small, quick movements remind them of prey. Either way, it’s distracting.
- Petting is tolerated and even appreciated but do so gently. Never tug, pull, or tap. Also resist rubbing against his/her scales.
- If your beardie is shedding, resist pulling at the loose skin. You may pull off scales that haven’t completely detached yet.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
Need to rehome your pet?
Don't let it loose! Remember - it is NEVER okay to release animals. Many pets released into the wild are unable to survive. If your pet does survive, it can become an invasive species that can be harmful to native wildlife, the environment, and the economy. If you are no longer able to care for your pet, you can reach out to friends, retirement communities, local shelters, or visit https://www.dontletitloose.com/rehoming-a-pet/ to find a rehoming partner near you.