Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) – the lizard that’s taking the industry by storm! They may look fearsome, but their social, gentle nature and personability has won the hearts of reptile lovers everywhere. These omnivorous lizards generally reach sizes of 18-24”(46-61cm) and have a lifespan of 10-15 years. They’re hailed as one of the best family pets! In this article, we’ll discuss an overview of basic bearded dragon care – from the setup requirements and temperatures, to their diet and maintenance!
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Bearded dragons are naturally solitary creatures so should only be housed individually. Remember, when first setting up a bearded dragon habitat or looking into getting a reptile, do not settle for substandard equipment! It’s always better to make an investment in high quality terrarium products, even if that means waiting and saving more. If you want to keep more than one bearded dragon, you’ll need separate enclosures for each of them.
Adult bearded dragons need a minimum of a 40 gallon terrarium, preferably an enclosure that is at least 4’ x 2’ x 2. Glass aquariums and terrariums are popular choices as they hold in heat and are easy to clean. You can often find them at your local pet store or used, for a cheaper price. Custom wooden/melamine enclosures are some of our favorites, as they can be aesthetically pleasing while retaining functionality! Plastic enclosures (made from high density polyethylene) will also make dandy setups that enable you to care for your bearded dragon fantastically. Prices vary with all of these, as you could potentially purchase an inexpensive used aquarium or get a high-end custom wooden terrarium. It depends on your budget and what you want!
Being diurnal creatures, beardies spend the majority of their days basking underneath the bright Australian sun. This is probably largely because they know that this activity makes them look awesome! However, they also need the warm and UVB in the sun’s rays to generate Vitamin D3 in their skin. With your dragon’s habitat, your goal is to re-create it’s natural environment as much as possible. To do so, you need special reptile UVB bulb to provide light and UVB for 8-12 hours every day. ReptiSun’s T5 HO 10.0 is one of the BEST bulbs on the market and we highly recommend it!
Heat and Thermometers
Along with UVB, we also need to add the element of heat to your dragon’s environment for proper care. You can do this using reptile specific basking lights (75-100 watt bulbs are generally fine) or regular incandescent. Keep your UVB and heat lights next to each other so they can work together. On one end of the enclosure, you’ll position a basking spot with a temperature of 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other end, the temperatures should be in the 80’s.
To measure these temperatures, use digital thermometers or temperature guns. These are essential reptile husbandry tools! It’s NEVER good to guess at your temperatures, so perform regular check ups in your setup.
Substrate is essentially the cage lining or bedding. This should simulate Central Australia’s hard packed, rocky terrain. One of the best, most natural, affordable, easy to clean, and healthy substrates available is regular slate tile! Other options include paper towels, brown butcher paper, or Exo Terra’s Sand Mat.
NEVER use loose substrates like Play/Calcium Sand or ground walnut! These not only pose a gigantic impaction risk for your dragon (among other health issues), but they’re a breeding ground for bad bacteria. A dragon housed on sand is essentially living in a litter box, which is awful at best. With so many superior substrate options available, sand isn’t worth it at all!
Beardies are natural born climbers and love having various structures, such as Grapevine, Mopani, Hammocks, and more! We also highly recommend elevating a platform (you can use wood for this as well) to be a specific basking “spot” for your dragons. They will love you for it!
Bearded Dragon Diet
Bearded Dragons are natural omnivores, which mean that they eat both animal and plant matter. As babies, they need 80% of their diet to consist of insects, such as roaches, worms, and crickets. The other 20% should be devoted to dark, leafy greens and vegetables. As they mature, this ratio gradually flips until adults consume 20% insects to 80% greens and vegetables!
Dubia or Discoid Roaches are the best insects for your dragon, are super simple to keep and breed. A single roach has the nutritional equivalent of about 5 crickets! Plus, they don’t smell, climb, make noise, or chew on dragons, making them a safe and convenient feeder. We highly recommend using Dubia or Discoid roaches for the staple insect of your dragon’s diet. Now, a varied diet is certainly the best diet, so throw some worms into the mix! Phoenix worms (also called calci or repti worms) make phenomenal additions, being high in calcium, low in fat, and soft shelled. As your dragon grows, you can also feed butterworms and horn worms. Super worms make good treats for dragons over 16” long.
All of these insects should be dusted with a vitamin supplement, either calcium or multivitamins. You can find a complete explanation of supplements along with a schedule in the Food List part of RBD: The ULTIMATE Care Guide!
So, we’ve talked about insects but what about greens and veggies? As beardies mature, they often start to adore their salads, which you can also dust with calcium powder. Dark leafy greens like Turnip, Dandelion, Mustard, and Collard are excellent staple foods. You can pair these with green beans, cactus pads, sweet pepper (for color enhancement), butternut squash, and more! Always keep a bowl of fresh salad available. Some beardies love being handfed 🙂
Bearded Dragon Care and Maintenance
Once you have created an amazing and appropriate environment for your bearded dragon, the rest of their care is easy to schedule and create a routine with. When they’re young, you should feed them as many insects as they’ll eat in a 10-15 minute time period, 2-3 times per day. Don’t forget to offer fresh greens! 🙂 Soak them in warm water for 10-15 minutes at least once a week, as this helps keep them hydrated. We recommend spot cleaning their enclosure daily or whenever they poop. Do a full setup cleaning every 1-2 months, using a nontoxic cleaner. Dragons are very easy to handle and bond with because they are naturally laid back. When picking them up, scoop them up from the bottom so they don’t mistake your hand for a bird or other predator. Support their entire body so they feel happy and secure. When your dragon gets older, you can purchase a harness for him or her and take him out for walks!
Don’t forget to provide food and housing for your feeder insects, if you don’t want to go to your local pet store every day.
Remember, the more time you spend with your dragon, observing its behavior and gently interacting with it, the calmer it will be. This has been a basic overview of bearded dragon care, where we’ve talked about their enclosure, diet, and general maintenance! Are you ready to truly delve into the fascinating world of bearded dragons and discover how to raise a loving, healthy, and happy dragon? Then click here and pick up your copy of Raising Bearded Dragons: The ULTIMATE Care Guide, where you’ll learn how to read a dragon’s body language, where to purchase a dragon, how to set up their environment properly, and much, much more!