KEEPING YOUR PET BEARDED DRAGON
The bearded dragon came by his name because of the darkened patch under his chin, resembling a beard. When puffed out, the beard is quite a unique feature, with his appearance bearing a striking resemblance to prehistoric dinosaurs. These reptiles are hardy, resilient and have an even temperament, making them a favourite among reptile lovers. The bearded dragon has an exceptional personality and will happily greet their owner each time they enter the room. Unlike many other reptiles, they love to be handled, which is ideal, even for the beginning reptile enthusiast.
One, Two or More?
Bearded dragons enjoy company; it is not uncommon to find them piled one on top of each other. Caution should be taken when housing unsexed bearded dragons together, since males may become very territorial and will spar if kept in the same enclosure. Sexed pairs and colonies (with only one mature male) may be kept together, provided the enclosure is large enough.
As in many reptile species, males have an elongated bulge, at the base of the tail, displaying two bumps. There are few secondary characteristics, so males and females know “who’s who” from a distance. Male bearded dragons have a darker beard. Most of the time they are also larger, have a more triangular head shape and prominent pre-anal pores. The size of the bearded dragon’s beard may also indicate it is a male.
The life expectancy of a bearded dragon can range between five and eight years. Captive bred pets live longer than wild specimens, since they do not have any natural predators. The unauthenticated record for the longest lived bearded dragon is 12 years.
Bearded dragons are from the family Agamidae. The bearded dragon, most commonly kept as a pet, is the Inland Bearded Dragon. All bearded dragons originate from Australia. It is no wonder that your bearded dragon requires a warm, dry enclosure that resembles native Australia. Bearded dragons are desert dwellers that typically reach lengths of 18 – 23 inches (46 – 58 cm). With this information, we can conclude that the bearded dragon will require a roomy, dry land enclosure, which is no smaller than 4 feet (1.2 m) long. They will also need many climbing and hiding areas to be completely comfortable.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your new pet, Petland recommends the following necessary accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Environmental, Behavioural, Nutritional and Maintenance. If these needs are met and a loving environment is provided by you, your bearded dragon can live a long and healthy life.
Housing – Consider the amount of space needed for the size of your bearded dragon. Generally, the enclosure should be three to four times the total length of the bearded dragon. They like to climb and bask, so some vertical height should be offered. The height should be a minimum of twice the total length of the bearded dragon. An aquarium with a secure screen lid works well to maintain appropriate humidity and temperature requirements. A mature bearded dragon should be kept in a tank that is at least 40 – 50 gallons (151 – 189 L) in capacity. Whatever size enclosure you chose, including the following environmental elements is essential for your bearded dragon’s health.
Decorations/Plants – A bearded dragon’s enclosure should resemble a landscape that mimics the area they originate from. This means small brush, with plenty of grapevine and basking areas, lots and lots of rocks and large aquarium ornaments and/or driftwood. This will provide your bearded dragon with some of the environmental and behavioural elements he needs. Live plants aerate the enclosure (allow for refuge), provide shade from basking areas and the leaves make perfect drinking areas. Although live plants may provide benefits for your bearded dragon, he may ingest them, so choose your foliage wisely. Ask your pet counsellor for a list of safe plants for your bearded dragon.
Substrate – With the exception of very young bearded dragons, which should be kept on paper towels, bearded dragons should be housed on reptile carpet. Substrates, such as corncob, walnut shell, calci-sand and repti bark should be avoided as they may pose a danger to your bearded dragon’s health, with impaction being the primary concern. Spot clean the enclosure daily.
Relative Humidity – As previously mentioned, bearded dragons originated from Australia; therefore, they do not require a high humidity level. However, a misting bottle and a humidity gauge are helpful in monitoring and sustaining the relative humidity at any given time. The enclosure should always have good ventilation.
Temperature – A bearded dragon is an ectotherm, which means he depends on the temperature in his environment to regulate his body temperature. The natural habitat must be laid out wisely in order to achieve the optimum temperature ranges for his health. Temperatures should reach approximately 98°F – 102°F (37°C – 39°C) at the basking end of his enclosure. The opposite cooler end should be maintained at approximately 80°F – 82°F (26.7°C – 28°C). To simulate the bearded dragon’s natural environment, evening temperatures should drop right down to 68°F (20°C). An under-the-tank heater is useful to ensure the substrate is warm and dry at all times. See spotlights, for other required heating fixtures.
Thermometer – The use of a thermometer is the only way to know if the enclosure and basking sites are maintained at the correct temperature. Stick-on thermometers are useful, although for accuracy a digital electronic thermometer is better. Place one thermometer by the basking area and one at the cooler, shaded end of the enclosure.
Lighting – By far, the best lighting is sunlight! Sunlight raises body temperatures and, as some studies have indicated, it allows bearded dragons to synthesize vitamin D3, which is important in the absorption of calcium. We recommend exposing your bearded dragon to sunshine (in warmer months) for at least one or two hours per week. Never have your bearded dragon sit in front of the window for his sunbath. Glass filters out beneficial UV radiation and can act as a magnifying glass – harming your lizard. In warmer months, open up the window and have him bask through the screen area. Always provide a source of shade, so he can cool off when he needs to. For your bearded dragon’s enclosure, you will require a fluorescent fixture and a high intensity UVB bulb. Your pet counsellor will show you the correct bulbs. You will also need a spotlight for his basking area.
Spotlights/Heating – A spotlight with a ceramic base is the best choice to provide localized heat for the basking area and as a light source. The wattage of the bulb will depend on your enclosure, 60 watts or lower is recommended for small tanks. Situate the light fixture, so that it is far enough away from the basking area that your bearded dragon does not get burned, but close enough to maintain a basking temperature of 98°F – 102°F (37°C – 39°C). Juveniles should have higher temperatures than adults, reaching up to 100°F – 105°F (37.8°C – 40.6°C) for their basking area. Juveniles’ cool side 85°F – 90°F (29.4°C – 32.2°C). Nighttime temperatures 75°F (23.9°C).
Food Sources – Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means they feed on both animal and vegetable substances. Special care must be taken with juveniles. For example, juvenile beardies should not be given mealworms. Crickets (the cricket should not exceed the distance between the eyes of your baby beardie), silk worms and phoenix worms are good choices for small beardies and must be offered daily. As well, 20–30% of your baby beardie’s diet must be made up of dark, leafy vegetables (no iceburg lettuce or spinach and not too much fruit) cut into reasonable, bite-sized pieces. Spraying (not saturating) the veggies will help your juvenile beardie to stay hydrated. Baby beardies need to be fed two to three times per day. As mentioned previously, crickets are a necessary part of your bearded dragon’s diet. For adolescent or adult beardies, waxworms, mealworms, night crawlers, pinkie mice, beetles and roaches are also enjoyed. All bearded dragons require a daily salad of dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, dandelion, bok choy, collards and romaine lettuce. Melons, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, carrots, peas and squash may be offered in smaller quantities. A small portion of their diet may consist of prepared foods for bearded dragons. An adult bearded dragon’s daily diet will be made up mostly of vegetables and fruit with meat protein sources being fed two to three times per week.
Vitamin Supplements – Bearded Dragons are susceptible to metabolic bone disease, especially when dietary calcium, vitamin D3 and/or UVB light levels are inadequate. Some breeders and herp lovers maintain a routine of adding supplements to their bearded dragon’s food source, such as dusting crickets or their salad with vitamins. Others choose to gut-load the food source before it is consumed. Either way, your bearded dragon must have vitamin and mineral supplementation. Ask your pet counsellor how much and how often you should be supplementing your bearded dragon’s diet.
Watering – Much of Australia is hot and dry, which means the animals living there have adapted to their environment. Therefore, bearded dragons do not seem to drink large quantities of water. For this reason, many owners spend a lot of time watching and waiting for their bearded dragon to drink. Dehydration can and does kill bearded dragons. Juveniles, in particular (eight weeks old or 7–8 grams) require a warm bath daily to ensure they are properly hydrated. The bath should be deep enough to just cover half of their body including the vent area. Hot water placed in a spray bottle (when it mists out it is only warm) is the key to getting your bearded dragon to drink. Baby beardies MUST be misted twice a day. Adolescent or adult beardies will benefit from regular daily mistings as well. Once he starts drinking, continue to slowly mist your bearded dragon and the foliage until he stops drinking. The length of time you spend misting is more important than the quantity of water that is sprayed. Misting also will facilitate shedding by softening and loosening dead skin. A large clean ceramic water dish should be available at all times for bathing. For baby bearded dragons, a rock or ceramic ornament placed in the middle of the dish will act as a life preserver, should he fall in and not be able to get out.
Litter Scoop – A litter scoop will make it easier to remove those undesirable droppings your bearded dragon will frequently leave you. Spot clean often to keep his home clean and free from fungus, mould or parasites.
A Book about Bearded Dragons – Petland has many reptile books available. Your pet counsellor can help you select a book that will best suit your needs.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to your pet’s needs.
*Ask about the volunteer programs at your nearest Petland location.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets must be kept in a clean environment to avoid the spread of dirt and contaminants to yourself and others. Always keep your pet’s home clean, and wash your hands before and after handling your pet or cleaning his home.
Please remember that all pets may bite or scratch, and may transmit diseases to humans. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their homes.