Bearded Dragons, like so many other reptiles, have increased in popularity over the past decade or so. Unlike many of the more challenging reptiles, however, Bearded Dragons make wonderful pets, can be highly social and bonded to their owners, and are relatively hardy. If you’re interested in adopting a Bearded Dragon, here’s what you need to know to properly care for your Bearded Dragon:
Housing and Enclosure
Bearded Dragons are very large as adults and grow very quickly. That cute baby you bought will be basically full grown in a year, so you should keep this in mind when purchasing a bearded dragon and plan for the future. The primary reason not to get a bearded dragon is inability to afford the cost of a large aquarium, and if you can’t afford a terrarium for your bearded dragon that will provide him or her with lots of space to run around, do not buy one! If, however, you’re prepared to invest in a proper Bearded Dragon enclosure, here’s what you need to know:
Bearded dragons smaller than ten inches or so will do fine in a 20 gallon long aquarium. As they grow larger, they will need an enclosure that allows them to turn around, run, hide, and engage in normal behaviors. Generally, anything smaller than a sixty gallon tank will be too small.
Bearded Dragons are desert dwelling lizards and thus the best substrate to use for them is an edible calcium-based sand, which should be available at your local pet store. Make sure that the sand is edible; Bearded Dragons tend to eat whatever is available, and if your Beardie eats hard plastic, he could become impacted and die. If you cannot find an appropriate sand, newspaper is an excellent substitute and comes with the added benefit of making cleanup much easier.
In terms of cage decor, bearded dragons prefer lots of things to do. Provide your bearded dragon with several items to climb on like lizard hammocks and driftwood (make sure the items are clean and preferably from a pet store, NOT from outside- otherwise your beardie can get nasty parasites), and provide your Bearded Dragon with a hiding place.
Bearded Dragons like a hot environment, so you’ll need to make sure your Bearded Dragon’s cage is properly heated. A basking area should be 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can achieve this using one or more heat lights. Do not use heat rocks; these can injure or even kill your Bearded Dragon.
There should also be a cooler side of your Bearded Dragon’s enclosure because these lizards need not just head, but a heat gradient. The cooler side can be room temperature, or 70-80 degrees. You can turn off the lights at night, or if your house gets particularly cold, consider using a heat-producing bulb that does not produce light (look into red or blue bulbs at your local pet store).
Bearded Dragons, like most other reptiles, need calcium to maintain bone health, but need Vitamin D3, which comes from sunlight in order to metabolize calcium. Since most Bearded Dragon owners do not take their beardies outside daily, the most efficient way to provide your Bearded Dragon with this very important vitamin is to provide her with a full spectrum UVB/UVA light, which mimics sunlight. Fluorescent bulbs traditionally used over fish tanks work well for this purpose, but compact fluorescent light bulbs specially made for pets are cheaper substitutes and will work fine, as long as they provide both UVB and UVA rays.
Feeding Your Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragons are omnivores and should be provided with both insects and vegetable matter. However, many Bearded Dragons in captivity tend to resist eating vegetables, and if this is the case with your Bearded Dragon, you will need to “gut load” her food. Provide the insects you are feeding to your beardie with fruits and veggies 24 hours before feeding, and your Bearded Dragon will get the necessary nutrients from them. Equally important is to supplement with calcium powder. Sprinkle calcium on your beardie’s food to prevent metabolic bone disease and ensure he is getting a balanced diet.
Excellent and readily available insects for your Bearded Dragon include crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, phoenix worms, and calci-worms. Aim to feed a wide variety of foods.