The Bearded Dragon

By Snaketracks / September 10, 2019
Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon Care Sheet

This bearded dragon care sheet covers all you need to know to properly care for this hardy, tame and sociable lizard. The qualities mentioned make the bearded dragon one of the most loved lizard pets you can find.

Their social interaction and feeding frenzy is fun to watch. Captive breeds are usually tame and don’t mind being handled although they are a few exceptions. Regardless, they are delightful display reptiles.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Agamidae
  • Scientific Name: Pogona vitticeps
  • Average Adult Size: 13 – 24 inches (330 – 610 mm)
  • Lifespan: 3 to 10 years
  • Clutch Size: 24 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 55 – 75 days
  • Food: Mealworms/crickets & vegetables
  • Tank Size: 50 – 120 gallons (depending on size)
  • Average Temperature: 100°H/80°L
  • Humidity: 35 – 40%
  • UVB Lighting: Needed
  • Average Price Range: $30 to $100
  • Conservation Status: Not Evaluated on IUCN Redlist

Facts and Information

Bearded Dragon wearing a boa

These lizards are quite large and generally grow to between 12 to 25 inches in length from head to the tip of the tail. They are called bearded dragons because of their spiky expandable throat pouches (beards). They have triangular heads and round bodies with stout limbs a full-bodied tail.

They came in a range from tan to dull brown with gold or red highlights. Depending on the morph different colors exist. Popular morphs include Hypomelanistic, Leatherback, Silkback, Translucent, German Giant, Dunner, Zero, Witblits, Wero, and Paradox.

The Pogona vitticeps is known as the inland bearded dragon or the central bearded dragon. While this is the species commonly referred to as the bearded dragon, the Pogona vitticeps isn’t the only bearded dragon species.

In fact, all species belonging to the genus Pogona are collectively called bearded dragons. They all have the same needs and more or less occupy overlapping geographical ranges within Australia. The geographical range of each species generally gives the species its names.

For instance, the central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) are native to Central Australia where they live in semiarid & arid woodlands and rocky deserts. As excellent climbers, they are often found on tree branches, fences, and outdoor tables.

Bearded Dragon Habitat

Central Bearded Dragon

In their native habitat, they generally prefer dry forests, deserts, and scrublands. They spend most of their morning and late evenings basking in the sun; retreating into burrows and other shaded places during the scorching afternoon. They can even be found on picnic tables and fence posts in areas where they live in close proximity to humans.

Enclosure

The best type of indoor enclosure is a large reptile terrarium. Unlike other reptiles such as snakes, bearded dragon prefers large spaces where they can explore. Failure to provide this can lead to stress and subsequently growth issues.

They can also be housed in outdoor enclosures in places where the weather is warm or during the warm seasons such as spring and summer. When the weather gets cold, you can then move them indoors. The outdoor enclosure must have a shaded area, a shelter from rain and an area with direct sunlight and basking rocks.

Indoor enclosures must be well ventilated and have a secure screen to prevent the lizard from escaping as well as to keep out other predatory pets. For babies, a 20-gallon terrarium is suitable. Though, as they grow, they will need a larger enclosure.

However, since they grow rather quickly, you can create temporary plastic enclosures for them until they are adults. This is more affordable than acquiring multiple terrariums/aquariums for the bearded dragon over its lifespan.

Bearded dragons with lengths of 10 to 16 inches require a 40-gallon or larger enclosure.

Bearded dragons with lengths of 16 to 20 inches require an enclosure with a capacity of 50 gallons minimum, while bearded dragons with lengths more than 20 inches need an enclosure with capacity of 75 gallons minimum. The Carolina Custom Cages Terrarium is a great enclosure for adult bearded dragons, while the Exo Terra Terrarium is an excellent enclosure for juveniles.

Substrate

Bearded Dragon on Sand

Sand is the most used substrate for this reptile. While sand is satisfactory, it comes with a variety of concerns such as the presence of parasites and the risk of intestinal impaction (which occurs when the lizard ingests a large among of sand).

To prevent this, many breeders and pet keepers prefer bedding which is difficult to ingest. This is particularly recommended when it comes to babies and younglings. For juveniles, paper towels or old newspapers are the best.

They are easy to clean/change and are very affordable. Even, if you acquire your bearded dragon as an adult, use paper towels as bedding for a while before you move on to a different substrate. Paper towels make it easier to detect runny stools, diarrhea, and intestinal parasites.

Other bedding choices include reptile carpets such as the Emours Moisturizing Reptile Carpet, bark mixes such as Zoo Med Repti Bark, coconut fiber substrates such as Reptile Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding, and cypress shavings such as Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding.

Remember that, loose substrates such as sand, and shavings can lead to intestinal impaction. If you must go with sand, then ensure the sand doesn’t contain pesticides or fertilizers. Playground sand such as Pure Organic Play Sand is a brilliant choice.

Temperature

As desert lizards, bearded dragons need high temperatures to live comfortably. The basking area of the enclosure needs to reach temperatures of 100 F. This can be achieved with the help of a spotlight such as a mercury vapor bulb.

The spotlight has to be at one end of the enclosure. This creates a temperature gradient where the temperature gradually falls as the lizard moves away from the spotlight. The cool end of the terrariums must have a temperature of about 80 F.

As reptiles are cold blooded, bearded dragons thermoregulate by moving between the warm and cool parts of the enclosure. An excellent spotlight to use is the Evergreen Mercury Vapor Bulb. An under tank heating pad is not advisable as these lizards are semi-arboreal.

Lighting

The bearded dragon needs full-spectrum UVB light. This light must cover the rest of the enclosure not covered by the spotlight. A UVB light such as the Zoo Med Reptisun allows the bearded dragon to synthesize vitamin D3.

Installing light fixtures isn’t difficult and can be done with little to no fuss. Commercially made terrarium have instructions on how to fix the ideal lights for the enclosure. If you having problems, consult an experienced reptile keeper or a reptile pet shop employee.

Lastly, you need to maintain a day-night cycle. The lights need to be on during the day and off during the night. This is absolutely essential.

Humidity

As already mentioned, the bearded dragon doesn’t require high humidity levels. It is advisable to keep the enclosure dry with humidity levels between 35 and 40 percent. This is similar to the humidity level found in their native habitat.

Misting the bearded dragon with a spray bottle is a good way to ensure the humidity level is right. Don’t overdo it as it can lead to a humid environment. Use a humidity gauge such as the ThermoPro TP50 Digital Hygrometer to track humidity levels in the enclosure.

Additionally, provide a water dish. This dish has to be shallow and sturdy so the lizard doesn’t tip it over. The bearded dragon may soak in the water so it needs to be changed regularly. Bearded dragons also lick the water droplets left on rocks, terrarium walls and themselves.

Accessories

Decorate the bearded dragon’s enclosure with branches and rocks wide enough for the reptile to comfortably lounge on. Since the bearded dragons like to climb, they appreciate such accessories. A reptile hammock is a wonderful accessory to have in the enclosure. Bearded dragons love these.

The Penn Plax Reptology Lizard Lounger is an excellent choice.

A hide box or two is important as it allows the reptile to hide from light and perceived threats such as people looking at them. Hiding reduces stress. Additionally, a brumating bearded dragon can sleep in the hide boxes for weeks on end. Hides underneath spotlights can even double as basking platforms.

The basking rock/platform such as the Zilla Herp Hotel should be about 6 to 8 inches from the basking light so the reptile can feel the warmth.

Feeding the Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon Eating Larva

As they are omnivorous, feeding them is not difficult. The bearded dragon will eat pretty much any food provided. They eat pinky mice, insects, vegetables, and fruits. It is up to you to feed the lizard with foods with high nutritional content.

Feeder insects include crickets, and mealworms (gut-loaded for at least 48 hours before being fed to the reptiles). Suitable vegetables include carrots, zucchini, romaine lettuce, dandelion, mustard, and collard greens. You can also feed them fruits such as banana, kiwi, and mango.

Ensure the food fed the reptile is at most as wide as the gap between the eyes. Chop the veggies and fruits up when necessary. Adults can be fed pinky mice as well.

Dust the food with supplements such as the HERPTIVITE Multivitamin for Reptiles and Amphibians. In addition to the multivitamin, supplement meals with calcium and vitamin D3. If the reptile has adequate exposure to full-spectrum light reduce the following dosage by half.

Babies need calcium and vitamin D3 supplements with meals every day. Juveniles need calcium and vitamin D3 supplements with meals three to four times a week.

Finally, adults need calcium and vitamin D3 supplements with meals once a week. The Zoo Med Reptile Calcium with Vitamin D3 is an excellent calcium and vitamin D3 supplement to use. Dust the food with the supplements.

Additionally, you can also feed bearded dragons commercially made reptile food such as Zoo Med Gourmet Bearded Dragon Food, Fluker Labs Bearded Dragon Medley Treat Food, and Zilla Reptile Munchies Mix Treat.

Feed bearded dragons as much as they can eat within 10 to 15 minutes. Feed baby bearded dragons three times every day. Adults need to eat less. Feed them just once a day. Avoid overfeeding your bearded dragon as they can become overweight. Remove all uneaten food once feeding time is over.

Do not place the bearded dragon’s food on loose substrate such as sand. This can lead to intestinal impaction. To avoid this, feed the lizards in a separate container. Alternatively, you can offer food on a shallow dish.

Bearded Dragon’s Temperament

Bearded Dragon being held

These reptiles are docile and generally gentle. If they are captive bred, they tolerate being handled very well. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Bearded dragons wave one of their limbs as a sign of species recognition or as an act of submission.

Bearded dragons may also try to dig and move things around when they need to brumate or create a basking area. Similarly, a gravid female usually digs around as she attempts to create a hole to lay her eggs in.

Bearded Dragon’s Lifespan

While not as long-lived as some other reptile pets, bearded dragons can easily grow to be over 10 years. With proper husbandry, they can live to be 12 years. It is not uncommon for them to live to be 14 years.

Common Health Concerns

With good care, this reptile species hardly ever develops any health complications. They are known for being hardy. However, here are the most common health concerns of the Pogona vitticeps.

Metabolic Bone Disease

This is usually down to calcium and vitamin D3 deficiency. This disease weakens the bones of the lizard. Superficial cases of MBD can be treated through proper diet, calcium and vitamin supplements and exposure to UVB light.

Symptoms include bumps on the limbs & the vertical columns of the back and tail, tremors, spasms, tics, twitches, jerky movements, and swollen jaws. Contact the herp vet, if you suspect that your pet has this disease.

Mouth Rot

With this disease, you will notice a yellowish-white substance in and around the mouth of the lizard. The mouth will also be swollen and the beardie will experience diminished appetite. If you suspect that your beardie has mouth rot, contact the vet for treatment.

Respiratory Infections

This occurs when the enclosure is humid, or temperatures are not high enough. Symptoms include excess mucus around the nostrils and mouth, difficulty breathing, wide-open mouth, and a puffy throat. Treat/prevent respiratory infections by providing adequate warmth and keeping the enclosure dry.

Malnutrition

When the dragon doesn’t acquire the recommended amount of nutrients, it can suffer in many ways. Supplementing the diets with the needed nutrients as well as feeding them a variety of healthy food can help prevent and curb malnutrition.

Pricing and Availability

These reptiles are readily available and are not difficult to find. Due to their popularity, they can be founded in most reptile pet shops, at most reptile expos and online (on sites such as Underground Reptiles, Petco, and Backwater Reptiles). There are also several morphs and variations available. They are also quite inexpensive and generally cost between $30 and $100.

Conservation/Threats

The Bearded Dragon (Pogona spp) has not been evaluated by the IUCN and has no special status according to the CITES. While they are strictly prohibited for export by the Australian government, captive-bred colonies thrive all over the world.

Conclusion

What makes bearded dragons excellent pets? Well, they are hardy and active. Additionally, they generally don’t mind being touched and held. However, unlike snakes, the species needs to be fed often. Babies need to be fed daily while adults need to be fed once a week.

Most keepers find the feeding process enjoyable as bearded dragons are enthusiastic eaters. I think the bearded dragon is properly the best lizard to have as a pet. if you have any comments on this fascinating reptile, kindly leave a comment.

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