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Bearded dragons are one of the perfect reptiles for beginner keepers. But they still require some knowledge to ensure they are kept appropriately and are comfortable in their housing. Knowing what they need can significantly increase their welfare and your happiness as a reptile keeper.
Bearded dragons require a vivarium of at least 2ft x 4ft. The appropriate lighting. Adequate nutrition and the correct humidity and heat levels. These are just the basics; enclosures that mimic their natural environment can improve your pet dragons’ quality of life.
Research has to be done to provide an environment for your bearded dragons that mimic their natural habitat. However, before you do that, please stick with me here. I have already completed that research. I have over thirty years of experience in raising and breeding bearded dragons.
Not only will I share that with you here, but I will also go much further. Throughout this guide, you will notice links to other articles I have written that may go into more detail on that particular subject. Be sure to read the entirety of this article. Click through to the others if you think of getting a bearded dragon as an exotic pet.
Where Do Bearded Dragons Originate From?
Before we can understand how to look after bearded dragons, we first need to know where they come from and the type of environment they exist in the wild. This will help us understand what they need to be happy and healthy while in our care.
Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) originate from Australia. Their environment consists mainly of rocky, arid semi-deserts and dry forests. Although these lizards are diurnal (meaning they are active during the daytime), they escape the hottest parts of the day in underground burrows.
In the wild bearded dragons can be seen sitting on top of fence posts, tree stumps, and rocky outcrops. They sit in these areas for several reasons.
The first is to look out for potential predators such as birds of prey, snakes, dingos, foxes, and feral cats. However, it is essential to note that although they have many predators, none are a severe risk to the population.
They would use these areas because bearded dragons are ectothermic (meaning they regulate body temperature by warming up from the sun’s heat). Their natural environment is perfect for this.
You will see bearded dragons withdrawing to their burrows or shaded areas to cool down when they get too hot.
So now we know the type of environment that which bearded dragons live in the wild. It will help us consider what environment we need to create at home. It would be no good adding waterfalls and tropical rainforest feels for bearded dragons. But more on this later.
What Do Bearded Dragons Look Like?
Bearded Dragons are reptiles that grow up to 24 inches in length and 6 inches in height, depending on species. They range in colors from pale yellow right the way through to vibrant reds and even more colors and patterns within the pet industry called MORPHS.
They have small spines around their chins and edges of the abdomen used to put off predators; in reality, these are pretty soft and rarely cause any issues for predators.
They can get to the weight of 530 grams and will reach their sexual maturity within 18 months of age. Males are usually larger than females and have two hemipenal bulges with large femoral pores, and their head is much larger. Females’ base of their tails is much fatter, and they are typically smaller.
Bearded dragons in the wild do not live as long as bearded dragons in captivity. They live for between 5 and 8 years of age in the wild. If you were to see an eight-year-old bearded dragon in the wild, it would be considered a senior citizen.
Although you may here many different names for bearded dragons, such as German Giants or Dunkins, there are only eight recognized species of bearded dragons. The rest are known as morphs. The eight recognized dragons are:-
Eight Recognised Bearded Dragon Species
- Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona Vitticeps)
- Abrolhos Dwarf Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minima)
- Kimberley Bearded Dragon (Pogona microlepidota)
- Rankin’s Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni)
- Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata)
- North-West Bearded Dragon (Pogona mitchelli)
- Nullarbor Bearded Dragon (Pogona nullarbor)
- Dwarf Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minor)
Now we know where bearded dragons come from and what they look like. Maybe you have decided that this is the right lizard for you to keep at home. Before you rush out to buy your new exotic pet, it is essential to recognize that you purchase and set up an appropriate enclosure for your new bearded dragons.
How Many Bearded Dragons To Keep As A Pet?
The first thing to decide before anything else is how many bearded dragons you want to keep. For most, two dragons are a good starting point as this allows for company and breeding if you wish to do so later.
It is important to note that two males should not be kept together unless there are adequate females as they will fight for dominance and could result in the death of one of the dragons. Two females or males and females will happily live together with no issues.
How To Set Up a Vivarium To Keep Bearded Dragons?
The great thing for us, reptile keepers, is an array of equipment available to us to create a perfect environment, from vivariums, lights, heaters, rocks, sand, and plants. These allow you to create a scape of your choice in keeping for your reptile.
As discussed above, I will talk about a minimum setup here to create a great enclosure or vivarium for two adult bearded dragons. You should consider the full-grown size of the dragons as buying juveniles will look small initially but will grow very quickly.
It is a false economy to buy smaller enclosures and upgrade later; not only will this cost more in the long run, but it can stress out your new exotic pets as they do not like being moved into new enclosures.
What Size Of Vivarium do You Need To Keep A Bearded Dragon?
For a pair of adult bearded dragons, a vivarium of minimum dimensions should be 4ft x 2ft x 2ft. It will allow plenty of room for the dragons to roam around and chase down their food, but not be too massive that you never see your pet dragons.
Many types of vivarium can be used for bearded dragons, From fish tanks with a mesh roof to a proper Vivarium explicitly built for reptiles. Some owners even make their enclosures from scratch or adapt old cupboards and sideboards.
If you want an easy life purchasing a vivarium is perfect as they come flat packed, and you have to put it together. At the same time, building something yourself can be months in the making, such as mine, where I made a massive enclosure for some of my dragons. Check out the video below.
The critical thing to remember is to find the right size for your dragons. Bigger vivariums will allow you to do much more with the habitat inside and provide a much better quality of life for your bearded pet dragons.
How To Heat A Beaded Dragon Tank
When you are looking to add heat to your bearded dragon’s tank you should consider a variation in temperatures. A gradient is important so that your pet dragon can choose the ideal temperature to be able to warm up or cool down.
There are many ways to heat your dragon home. Spot bulbs, heat mats, hot rocks, and ambient heating can all play a part in heating your bearded dragon home.
It is important when setting up your bearded dragon’s environment to consider what you will need in way of heating. Consider a heat mat or ceramic heating bulb to maintain nighttime temps, which spot bulbs and heat rocks are ideal for daytime temps.
When deciding what you require ensure to buy a thermostatic switch that will control the temps and ensure they do not get any hotter than the desired temperature that you set. An ideal overall temp is about 65˚F at the cool end and up to 105˚F for the basking spot.
You can change the basking area temps by either changing the wattage of the spot bulb or by changing the distance from the basking location. Another source of light to consider is UVB
Lighting A Bearded Dragon Vivarium
There are various lighting setups required for bearded dragons. At the very least you need a basking bulb and a UVB bulb, but more on UVB in a moment.
Let’s look at basking spot bulbs. Bulbs for basking tend to be incandescent types of bulbs that emit heat. this is required to help create warmth in the cage during the daytime. It also provides lighting if the environment for your reptiles.
The issue I have with a home setup is that the thermostat that you have to control the lighting with tends to work with an off-on switch based on heat. This switches off the light should the temps get too warm.
However, In the natural environment dragons are not plunged into darkness in the hottest part of the day. As Exotic pet keepers, we want to try and design our enclosures to mimic natural conditions, so the light turning off when it gets too hot is counterproductive.
I decided to have a set of lights and rather than stat all the lights to hot temps I bought a cool stat and designed the vivarium (Viv), as a whole which cooled the Viv down when it got too hot. You can see how I did this in the video above.
What is UVB light and why do dragons need it?
UVB or ultraviolet light is required for bearded dragons to produce vitamin D, The heat created by the spot bulbs turns the Vitamin D into D3 and this helps to maintain good liver and other organ health. It also helps to keep your exotic pet dragon healthy and aids in shedding and preventing metabolic bone disease by increasing calcium levels. UVB light is extremely important for your pet dragon.
So as you can see the lighting in your bearded dragons home is very important
The Best Substrates For Bearded Dragon Vivariums
When you consider the natural environment of bearded dragons you will see desert-style conditions. Sand and gravel are primarily used as a substrate as this is what is found where they naturally live. Playpen sand is therefore perfect for use in your enclosure. You can even buy colored sands that are ideal and mimic the red colors of the home.
A word of warning here, Juvenile dragons can swallow this sand, this is why you should not use sand for juvenile dragons as it has the ability to cause compaction which can become fatal if not dealt with. If you have a juvenile dragon consider using kitchen paper towels as a substrate at least until the dragon is a young adult.
Please note, The likelihood of adults getting compacted from sand is very rare and always because if a dragon is sick or ill with some other illness and the body is unable to move the sand through their system.
Adding Rocks And Plants To A Bearded Dragon Vivarium
When scaping your cage you can choose any form of rock you wish. If they are heavy I would consider silicon them together to prevent these rocks from falling onto and trapping or even killing your pet dragon if it is heavy.
Faux rocks can be used to grate effect. You can see that from mine in the above video where I carved rocks out of the insulation board, then grouted and painted it with a low VOC paint.
You may consider buying a hot rock to add to your enclosure, this will help provide heat throughout nighttime to help regulate their temps if it gets cold. Esp in winter.
Designing The Habitat For Your Bearded Dragons
When designing your bearded dragon habitat it is important to first take all the basics, lighting, heating hides, and basking rocks, and then build the enclosure around these. Only your imagination can stop your enclosure from becoming a masterpiece.
It can be basic with just these items which some keepers prefer to ensure good husbandry, It is usually what breeders will use as this makes cleaning out multiple cages quicker and easier. It also gives fewer places for insects to hide.
But if you only have a few dragons and want your setup to look like its natural environment then you can go the full hog like I did when I built one of my vivariums which you saw in the video above.
The choice is yours, you can buy a full-blown kit including backgrounds or build your own.
Cleaning A Bearded Dragon Vivarium
Husbandry is so important when it comes to your Exotic pet dragon. You can strip down the entire enclosure and you a branded cleaner or even a mild bleach solution. But not only does this cleaning need to be done there are also tasks to do each and every day.
- Remove uneaten food
- Change water daily
- Remove the faces using a sand scoop
- Remove damp patches of sand where dragons urinated
- Remove live insects as these can die and rot
- Disinfect food and water bowls daily
- Wipe down glass
- Hover out sand from the glass runner rails
- Remove any dust from bulbs, esp the UVB
Performing these daily tasks makes the weekly cleaning much easier, Your dragons will have a cleaner environment and no smells will be associated with your new pet.
Buying Your New Exotic Pet Bearded Dragon
There are various ways to buy a new exotic pet bearded dragon, Firstly you need to decide what dragon you want. What morphs, more on this in the next chapter. But consider where to buy. But before all that you need to decide if a bearded dragon is right for you!
It would be my suggestion to contact a dedicated breeder, they will be able to advise you of the breed and the requirements that they were kept in. It is also someone you can have on hand should you need advice.
A dedicated reptile store might be the next good choice for much of the same reasons above. Then a pet store, but consider these factors when buying your dragon no matter where you buy from
- Does the dragon appear to be healthy?
- Does it have bright eyes?
- Is it alert and avoids being picked up?
- Avoid dragons that just lie there and are lethargic?
- Ask to see the dragon eating?
- Does It chase down insects as soon as they are put in the tank?
- Does it bask in the spot lamps?
- Does it have signs of damage to its body?
- Does it have all its toes and tail?
- Are the conditions it is kept clean?
If you can answer favorably to all the questions above then it’s a good bet that it is healthy and a good choice and also the cost can play a part in the type of dragon you want to keep.
You may consider how you will transport your dragon to your home. How will you do this safely? can you provide heat if it’s cold outside?
When you get your dragon home, put it in its tank with the lights off for the first few hours, give it time to adjust to its new surroundings bt ensure it has some form of heat.
What Is a Bearded Dragon Morph And What Do They Look Like?
Bearded dragon morphs are dragons that have been selectively bred for a certain characteristic in their looks. They range from color to skin type and there are hundreds of different morphs available in the exotic pet industry with new ones being created each year.
I won’t go into it too much here as this article is more on the care of bearded dragons and they all require pretty much the same thing, however, I have an article all about bearded dragon morphs and what are their differences so that you can delve deeper into this topic.
How To Tell The Sex Of Your Bearded Dragons
There are many ways in which to tell dragons apart from one another as far as the sex comes. It is harder with juveniles but as they get 8 to 12 weeks old the first signs appear.
Hemipeni bulge is one of the first telltale signs you will notice. If there are two bulges at the base of the tail you have a male, if there is a single central bulge you have a female.
As the dragons reach young adult stages the male’s head appears larger and the joules are more pronounced. Males will also have a much blacker beard when they are showing off trying to attract a female. This article will show you many more signs on how to tell if you have a male or female bearded dragon.
Bearded Dragon Behaviour and Gestures
There are many gestures that your pet dragon might perform. Most dragons at some stage will perform some or all of the following.
- Head bobbing
- Arm waving
- Glass Surfing
- Mouth gaping
- Tail Twitching
- Black beards
There is a lot to learn from each of these behaviors that your dragon might perform. Arm waving for instance is a submissive trait, whereas head bobbing and black beards tend to be a more dominant traits. Black beards also tend to be the way that males try to attract their mates.
Understanding How To Feed Bearded Dragons
The bearded dragon is an omnivorous animal that can eat a variety of foods. Its diet includes; insects, vegetables, and at times some non-citrus fruits. You should feed baby bearded dragons 3-5 times a day, while for adult ones you can feed them once a day.
Providing a healthy and proper diet is vital in having a happy bearded dragon. I hope that this blog post will answer any questions you may have regarding how often you want to feed your bearded dragon, regardless of how old it is.
This is a huge subject on its own when keeping bearded dragons so I created an article dedicated to feeding your bearded dragons and what and how much you should feed. Including timescales, But the chart below may also help you.
Do Bearded Dragons Need Food Supplements?
It is wise to dust your dragon’s food with a calcium supplement as the metabolic bone disease is a real issue if calcium becomes in low supply. Gut loading insects to feed is also a great way to add this supplement/
Where Do Bearded Dragons Get Their Hydration?
Your pet dragon will get most of its moisture from the fruits and vegetables it will eat. However, they will also take water from a bowl so it should still be offered. Do not be alarmed though if you do not see your pet dragon drinking
Why Is Your Bearded Dragons Shedding Its Skin?
Juvenile dragons shed their skin when they grow. This is not the case for older dragons. Although they still do shed, which is called ecdysis it’s not associated with grow any longer but is more of a hormonal and environmental factor.
It is a way for the adult dragon to replace its skin. Under the old skin, a new skin forms, and when it’s complete and ready enzymes are released which helps to separate the old skin from the new, and the old shed off showing a new fresh skin below.
What Is Brumation And Why Do Bearded Dragons Do It?
Bearded dragons are poikilothermic; they derive their heat from the environment. When days are short with low light levels, bearded dragons lack the heat required for proper food digestion. Bearded dragons brumate to preserve energy until spring.
The bearded dragon will react less to your attention. In most cases, it will not respond at all. Most experts will advise people to give a brumating dragon some privacy. Help it relax and feel secure by leaving it alone. You can provide water and food without touching it or interrupting its sleep
A bearded dragon develops a loss of appetite when brumating. Before brumation, they consume a lot of food. Hence, reserved nutrients and fat keep them going until the end of the cold period.
There is also a reduced intake of water while in a hideout. Any healthy bearded dragon of adult age can last a few weeks without drinking water. Brumation is stressful and long for most reptiles; hence, they refuse to consume anything.
There is so much more to look for when beardies brumate and this article will give you more in-depth knowledge about brumation.
How To Tell If Your Bearded Dragon Is Unwell?
As an exotic pet keeper, you should observe your reptiles on a daily basis, and pay attention to what they eat, how much they eat, and how quickly they eat it. You will notice that they have their own distinct personality and these are the things that will help you to notice if something is not quite right.
Are they doing any of the following?
- Is your dragon lethargic?
- Sunken eyes into their head
- Any fluids coming from the eyes
- Clouding over of eyes
- Losing weight
- Unable to pass fluids and feces
- Stools are not normal color or are like liquid
- Skin looking pale
- Unable to finish shedding
- Hiding in the corner of their tank
- Not eating
- Allowing insects to climb over them
If you see any of the symptoms above then you should look at what you can do if your dragon is not well. There are many things you can do at home, Consider if you have given a food type to your dragon that they should not have eaten.
Consider contacting your local vet by phone and ask for advice, they may wish to do a check-up.
Step By Step To Handle Your Bearded Dragons
- Approach from the front or side. This prevents startling your dragons. Never approach from above
- Touch Your dragon so they know you are about to pick them up
- Slide your hand under the chest area and support the weight. Ensure the Bearded Dragon is secure
- Lift the front of the dragon and place a second hand underneath the back legs and tail
- Ensure you have supported the weight of the dragon properly, if it feels unsteady it will struggle
- Raise the dragon but not too high. By keeping the dragon low you prevent injury if it were to struggle free
- Only handle your pet dragon for short periods of time.
- Place the dragon back into its enclosure onto a secure surface, never a branch or rock it could fall from.
- Wash your hands thoroughly
Handling your bearded dragon correctly is important because you will need to move it while cleaning the enclosure. Handling it wrong can cause damage.
How Old Do Bearded Dragons Live In Captivity?
The bearded dragon diet, consisting of insects, fruits, and vegetables, plays a vital role in their lifespan. The average lifespan for a bearded dragon is 8-15 years. The world’s oldest bearded dragon died at 18 years.
The average lifespan of a bearded dragon in the wild or natural setting ranges from 3 to 8 years. In the wild, they have to fend for themselves by hunting and looking for their meals, fighting for their survival, and avoiding the various dangers.
Dealing with the dangers in the wild makes them have relatively short life expectancies. You will find that most will die at the age of 5 to 6 years, and those that manage to live to 8 years are the exception.
However, for bearded dragons kept in captivity, circumstances are quite different. They don’t have to hunt for themselves anymore and are safe from natural predators. The average lifespan of a domesticated bearded dragon ranges from 8 to 15 years.
How Much Does Insurance Cost For Bearded Dragons?
Insurance is important when you own an exotic pet, Things can happen and your pet may require an operation or other care that can run into the thousands of dollars.
Insurance can start as little as $15 and climb from there depending on the policy you take. Contacting your local exotic pet insurance company can provide you with an updated quote.
How To Tell If Your Bearded Dragon Is Dying?
Once your dragon has reached old age you will notice it becoming very lethargic, not moving very much, and generally not being interested in anything. They may find themselves a quiet spot in the tank and hide. They will stop taking water and food, their skin will look pale and their bone structure and eyes will all look sunken.
Conclusion On This Bearded Dragon Care Guide
I hope that this guide has provided you with the information that you needed to purchase and look after your exotic pet dragon. If you want to delve into more details there are links through to other articles within this post to help you, However, search for bearded dragon in the search of this website as there are plenty more articles about dragons not linked.
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