Creating your bearded dragon’s ideal setup is one of the most exciting aspects of their care! If you think about it, when setting up a habitat for any reptile, you’re re-creating their natural environment! Imagine having a piece of nature right in your home..fascinating, right? In this article, we’ll discuss different enclosure types on the market and the key setup elements!
Now, as I mentioned earlier, your goal is to re-create the dragon’s natural environment. I’m not talking about positioning pieces of decor or using Grapevine vs. Cork Bark, I’m referring to the core aspects of their environment. Proper temperatures, lighting, humidity levels, and room to move around comfortably. If you create a setup that provides those core elements, you can have fun with the theme. If you want the cage to look like a rainforest with artificial plants or simulate a Mario Kart level, you can do that! Always keep your dragon’s best interests at heart, making sure that it’s safe and effective for him or her.
To create a bearded dragon setup, the first thing you need is an enclosure. There are several different quality options:
All of these are excellent options. Aquariums are easy to find at almost any pet store, garage sale, or places like Craigslist. They are fairly heavy and cumbersome to move, plus you have to lift the lid in order to clean or play with your beardie, moving around the lights and reducing longevity. Front opening glass terrariums provide easy access to your dragon and you don’t have to worry about moving around your lights. They make excellent display tanks, the only downside is that they can be a bit pricey.
Wooden or melamine enclosures are some of our favorites – they hold heat very well, look awesome, and are easy to customize. You can either build them yourself or have someone do it for you! Many people specialize in creating simple and inexpensive wooden setups. If you want something completely stunning, companies like Cages By Design have you covered! [link] Plastic enclosures are commonly used by breeders and pet stores, as they are stackable and lightweight. Most plastic enclosures are made from heat-resistant polyethylene, so you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes or melting.
Lighting and Heat
Bearded dragons are diurnal lizards, meaning they are awake during the day, hunting or basking under the bright Australian sun. To replicate this, we use lights that produce UVB and heat. UVB is an essential part of the dragon’s metabolic and digestive systems – invest in quality UVB lighting!
When creating your setup, place the UVB and heat bulbs next to each other. These elements work together and are utterly useless when apart!
Some of the best UVB lighting available is Zoo Med’s ReptiSun T5 HO 10.0. We recommend purchasing a hood and light that spans the length of your enclosure! These lights not only have a fantastic output but they also last longer than most other products. Replace the UVB bulb every 6-8 months and check it regularly if you or a reptile store near you has access to a radiometer!
For heat, almost any incandescent light will work. Determine your wattage by how far away the basking “spot” is from the light, as well as how large your enclosure is. A good rule of thumb is to keep the basking spot 6-8” away from your heat bulb. Reptile specific basking lights also work great, such as Zoo Med’s 100 Watt Repti Basking Spot.
Don’t forget your light fixture! You can use an aluminum brooder lamp from a hardware store but fixtures like Mini Deep Domes or Light Domes are more compact and look quite a bit nicer. Whichever dome you choose, ensure that it’s rated up to the wattage of your bulb.
Lastly, use a digital thermometer – these are invaluable as you need to know the specific temperatures in the enclosure. Basking temps need to be 105-110 degrees F with a cool end in the 80’s.
Substrate is an important part of an ideal bearded dragon setup as well. Never use loose substrates like calcium/play sand, walnut shells, or wood chips! These pose a huge health risk for both baby and adult dragons. We recommend using:
These are all easy to clean, inexpensive, and (most importantly) healthy for your dragon!
Decor and Climbing Structures
Having something to climb on is important for bearded dragons, as they need a basking spot. Plus, come on, who wants to live in an empty box? Now, there is an incredible array of design and decor options for the setup. You can get naturalistic backgrounds (that double as a climbing surface) like THIS and THIS or you can make your own! We love to maximize the horizontal and vertical space in terrariums by using sandblasted Grapevine and Cork Flats or Rounds.
This picture is of my dragon’s setup (his name is Aristotle). As you can see, there is a hiding cave on the cool end, a platform in the middle, and a basking area, plus decor scattered throughout. I am constantly evolving my enclosures and will be adding more “stuff” to climb on! For plants, the possibilities are endless. You can use plastic cacti or venus fly traps, or bushes, grass, etc. In Aristotle’s enclosure, there is Amapallo/Mandarin/Congo Ivy, Bunch Grass, a Laurel Bush, and a Primate/Crocodile Skull!
As you can see, there are many different ways of designing a bearded dragon setup. The core elements are all the same! Whether you want the setup to be simple or elaborate, always design it with the dragon’s best interest at heart! 🙂