Imagine being a fly on the wall and listening to two bearded dragon enthusiasts discussing their pet’s care. You’ll undoubtedly hear talk of bearded dragon lighting and UVB requirements. This subject appears in nearly every reptile-related conversation because providing proper lighting is mandatory for the health of your bearded dragon!
Bearded dragons are diurnal creatures, which means they are active during the day and sleeping at night. During the times that they’re awake, the bright Australian sun shines on them, helping them metabolize their food and see properly. In captivity, we replicate that element of nature by providing Ultraviolet B lighting and heat lamps. Have you ever looked in your background or walked down nature paths and observed a lizard regally perched on a sunlit rock? Bearded dragons do this all the time in Australia. Why? Their bodies are created in such a way that they soak up various part of the sunlight, namely the UVB, and use it to generate Vitamin D3 in their skin! These lizards can soak up UVB fairly quickly but they need warm to properly develop it, which is why you’ll sometimes find dragons underneath the sun (or their basking spots) for hours on end.
Essentially, the process goes as follows:
Provitamin D (7DHC) is manufactured by cells within the skin → UVB is absorbed by dragon’s skin → 7DHC converted to Previtamin D3 → Previtamin D3 transformed by warmth to Vitamin D3 → Vitamin D3 eventually carried through the bloodstream to interact with the body and perform its job!
It can be a little bit complex but it’s a fascinating process! Now you might be asking, what is Vitamin D3’s job? It’s used to metabolize various nutrients and regulate the levels of calcium in the dragon’s bloodstream, among other jobs. Without D3 (which comes from UVB and Heat) and calcium, dragons can quickly develop a myriad of diseases. One of the most common is Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), a tragically crippling condition that often ends in death.
Now, you’ve seen why having UVB is important, so let’s talk tech! Not all UVB producing lights are created equal! There are three types of lights available on the market: Compact fluorescent, linear tube fluorescent, and mercury vapor bulbs.
Compact Fluorescent: These are small, spiraledlights, and are generally fairly cheap to purchase online or in pet stores. We do not recommend using these as they have a weak UVB output, rarely last more than 3 months, and have been known to cause eye issues. On top of that, if you use one of these with your setup, then your dragon is limited to only receiving UVB underneath the basking spot. Pay a bit more money now to get lighting that is healthy and ultimately lasts longer!
Linear Tube Fluorescent: The name is pretty self-explanatory! These are long (14”+) tube lights and are the best option out on the market for reptile UVB! Not only do they generally emit UVB beyond 6 months but they are also fairly inexpensive to purchase. We recommending Zoo Med’s new ReptiSun T5 HO bulbs and fixtures. The T8’s are “okay” but not as energy efficient, strong, or long lasting as the T5. You will want to purchase their 10.0 bulb. This is a specific wavelength optimal for desert dwelling species 🙂
Mercury Vapor Bulb: These are the industry “All-In-One’s.” They provide UVB and heat in a single bulb, which can be very convenient. Using them is great if you are breeding and have many different baby enclosures to light. The downsides are that the UVB isn’t as strong or long lasting as it is in the tube fluorescents and the bulbs are often fragile. Plus, you run into the same issue that we found with the Compact bulbs – UVB is ONLY in one spot!
At the end of the day, mercury vapor are in the “okay” category and ReptiSun T5’s are in the “AWESOME” category, being entirely optimal for your dragon’s UVB needs. If you use the T5 bulb for your dragon, don’t forget to purchase a heat lamp at the proper wattage, to provide a basking spot of 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit.