Feeding bearded dragons when you first get them can seem overwhelming because of the different requirements that vary depending on their age and health condition. In today’s article we are going to provide a brief outline to get you started and share some basics about feeding times; feeding habits; and their basic nutrition needs.
So let’s begin.
Best Times for Feeding Bearded Dragons
The first thing we would like to emphasize when it comes to feeding bearded dragons is that in order to properly digest their food their body needs to be warm. Regardless of age, from as soon as you acquire your dragon you want to get into the routine of making sure your first feeding of the day comes 2 hours after their lights first are turned on. And their last feeding of the day should come at least 2 hours before the lights are turned off for the evening.
Bearded dragons are nocturnal creatures so you want to make sure you are turning off their lights every night so that they can get on a regular sleep schedule and be able to sleep through the night. In order to provide heat, you can always use a ceramic light that emits heat but no light.
Secondly, given that you now know the earliest and latest time of the day for feeding bearded dragons, it is also important to establish a routine and habit as well. We recommend setting up regular meal times and using long handled tweezers or dedicated lightweight garden gloves to serve them their live feeder insects. Using gloves and/or tweezers helps to make dragons aware when you are feeding them verses handling them.
While it can seem time-consuming to hand feed flying/jumping insects we find that it makes it less stressful especially for babies. Crickets are noisy and jump everywhere and if you toss a bunch of them in the terrarium they can also bite or nip at the baby. Alternatively, you can dizzy your insects before feeding them. You do this by recycling an old container such as a cardboard tubular oatmeal box or a large zip lock baggie. Toss the live feeder insects in there with a sprinkle of calcium powder and give them a shake for a few seconds. Remember that the insects must be fed live so you don’t want to shake them too much. This helps slow them down once you put them in their tank.
Why Substrates Are Important
Ensure that your dragon is on a proper substrate – such as slate tiles, kitchen cabinet contact paper or something that can be easily cleaned up and replaced such as newspaper or paper towels. Play sand, calci-sand or anything that can be accidentally ingested during feeding times is not recommended. Besides leading to impaction and premature death, substrates that are difficult to spot clean also leads to parasite infections. How is this possible you ask? When a bearded dragon eliminates fecal waste in their tank, it is important to spot clean it right away. Otherwise, they can walk in it and track it around the tank, laying in it month other things.
Starter Meal Plan
The recommended diet for feeding bearded dragons primarily consists of fresh salads and live feeder insects sprinkled with some calcium and a multivitamin. You can also feed them fruit but we recommend this as a treat or for training purposes.
Fresh salads should be offered daily and consists of greens such as collards, dandelions or mustard greens as their staple vegetables (should be included in every salad). We recommend 2 greens for the base.
And then you can add texture or color with fresh chopped green beans, Konnayu (purple yams), red peppers or shaved butternut squash. This helps make their salads more appealing. Sometimes you can add a few worms as well if your dragon is stubborn at first.
#1 Phoenix/Repti Worms – These are our top recommendation for feeder insects. They are Black Soldier Fly larvae and despite their small size, they are packed with beneficial calcium. They’re also soft-shelled, which makes them wonderful worms for baby dragons!
#2 Silk Worms – These worms are high in protein and low in fat and are enticing worms that most dragons love! They also are recommended for gravid (pregnant) females.
However there are some feeder insects that we advise against.
Hornworms – Hornworms are best when given as a treat. Dragon’s DEVOUR these vibrant green worms! How fatty are they? They have the nutritional equivalent of about 20 crickets and are quite fatty.
And bearded dragon mealworms are a popular feeder insect but they are essentially empty calories.
Additionally, they have hard outer shells, making them difficult to digest for young beardies. It is NOT WORTH it to put your bearded dragon’s health in danger.
We cover worms and their nutritional value in this article dedicated to Alternatives to Bearded Dragon Mealworms.
We recommend rotating out your salad vegetables every few weeks to ensure your bearded dragon is receiving all their essential vitamins and nutrients.
New to bearded dragon ownership? Then you will probably find a lot of value in our FREE BEARDED DRAGON FOOD LIST! It offers a comprehensive food chart, as well as supplementation and feeding schedules based on your dragons age.
Feeding frequency is determined by age and sometimes by their health condition and cyclical times of the year. For example, when a bearded dragon is in brumation or shedding they may eat less regardless of their age just because their body is going through natural changes. Bearded Dragons in the wild often store up food and can live off their fat during times of brumation. Captive bred dragons are similar in some regards, meaning they are ok if they go off food and not each as much as they might normally eat.
During times they are shedding you want to give them warm soaks to help keep them hydrated and make their shed easier. But if they are brumating you want to give them droplets of water on their snout through a baby dropper to help keep them hydrated.
But in terms of feeding overall, the main things that change is that babies eat 80% insects and 20% vegetables. And as adults it is inverted so they will eat 80% vegetables and 20% insects. Additionally, when they are babies they are growing so they eat more frequently but as they grow older and move from juvenile to adults, they may only eat every few days. It is fine and perfectly normal.
For female bearded dragons their eating habits and needs changes a little when they are gravid. A fascinating thing about females is they can be pregnant with infertile eggs without having been with a male. They will need to be supported the same as if they were having babies which includes providing them a place to dig (dig box); increasing their warm soaks; increasing their calcium; and moving them to silkworms as their primary feeder insect. She will effectively lay the eggs which will look squished and a yellowish brownish color but they will not hatch since no babies will be in there.
If you do not properly care for a gravid female her eggs can rupture inside her and she could die prematurely as a result. If you see your female dragon digging this could be the first sign, so seek out a vet immediately.
If a bearded dragon is sick, has an infection/parasites or impacted they may not eat as much. Colloidal silver is a homeopathic remedy that is safe and can help rebuild their immune system. Increasing the heat in their terrarium at night helps them sweat out infections. And warm soaks helps increase their circulation and loosen their bowels to help them clear up any impaction. Just remember after their soaks to dry them thoroughly before putting them in their terrarium. Otherwise, a moist dragon will lead to fluctuating humidity in their tank and this commonly leads to more sickness and immune infections.
Well, we hope that you were able to learn something useful or new in this article on the latest in bearded dragon husbandry. Raising Bearded Dragons produces an entire series of specialty bearded dragon care guides if you are interested in more hands-on support.
Learn more about the do’s and don’t of feeding bearded dragons in our Ultimate Bearded Dragon Nutrition System. The guide includes:
- A Pre-Made Reusable Shopping List Template
- Over 100+ Beautiful But Deadly Toxic Household Plants
- The feeding and proper storage of feeder insects
- And More…!