Bearded dragons are low maintenance, easy beginner reptiles for those who want to get their feet in the water of the reptilians. BDs get their name from their commonly seen “beard,” used for mating by males or for dominance. Put a BD in front of a mirror and chances are you will get a flare of the beard. The typical beardie can reach 24 inches full grown as a male and females tend to grow about 15-20 inches. But, some do grow past those measurements – they’re just common at that size.
Housing Your Bearded Dragon
BDs do require large vivariums past 12 inches. A baby or juvenile can start out in a 20 gallon, or some can get away with a 10 gallon. I’ve always advised my customers to bite the bullet and get a 40 gallon breeder tank to start with and last until its adulthood. Mine is currently in a 55 gallon, but 40 gallons are just as fine. Some people do make their own cages with wood and acrylic sliding doors or have them custom made.
Beardies are omnivores, meaning they eat both animals/insects and vegetation. When feeding with insects, do not try and feed a baby beardie a large sized cricket. The rule of feeding juvies is what can fit between the eyes or from eye to tip of mouth is a suitable size. This rule is just so the animal can eat without a problem and can lessen the chance of being impacted from a big meal. I don’t promote feeding mealworms to juvies just because of the hard shell and the not so high nutritional level. If you want to feed something besides their staple diet of crickets, you can try reptiworms or waxworms. When feeding live, dust the food with calcium dust which contains calcium and D3 vitamins to help prevent Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and keep them growing healthy. There is a large controversy over feeding crickets, because some can contain worms that could put the animal’s health at risk. So many hobbyists pick the reptiworm route, which are about the size of a small cricket and packed full of protein. But either way you feed, do not over feed or leave excess crickets in the cage. When the animal is full, they ignore the rest of the food in the tank. With free roaming crickets around, they can easily bite on the lizard and create sores which have had cases of fatality. If I feed with crickets, I feed in a container out of the tank to prevent the food from hiding in the decorations and pooping all over. Feed as much as your beardie will eat, you will see it slowly loosing interest :).
Gutloading crickets is a common feeding technique people have used forever. Gutloading is when you feed your crickets very nutritional foods so that when the crickets become food, your lizard will have taken in the nutrients as well. Many people use a high protein fish flake to feed the crickets to gutload them. There is also premade orange cubes of food and water combo sold at local pet stores that you can put inside your cricket containers.
When it comes to veggies and fruit, beardies have a vast variety they can eat from. Veggies: collard greens, mustard greens, endives, dandelion greens, parsley, radish, carrot tops, and more. For a treat with the staple greens, you can add shredded carrots, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, shredded sweet potato, zucchini, cucumber, and green peppers. Be sure to finely chop the fruits and feed sparingly as some contain high amounts of nutrients. DO NOT FEED ICEBERG LETTUCE, IT HAS LITTLE TO NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE AND CAUSES DIARRHEA – LEADING TO DEHYDRATION
Lighting and Heat
Proper lighting and heat is very important to your beardie’s health. Many new owners mistaken that heat lamps contain UV to provide a 2-in-1. Heat lamps do not create UV, it is impossible for incandescent bulbs! If a retailer tells you that it is possible, they are wrong. There is spiral UV bulbs that create some heat, but not enough to sufficiently give to your beardie. The UV fluorescent bulb I use is the 10.0 bulb made for the desert animals, so it has highest UVA/UVB ratings. The UVA/UVA helps prevent MBD with helping the Calcium/D3 intake. The UV will be on the “cool” side of your viv, opposite of the heat lamp. You want to seperate the two so you prevent your reptile from over heating. The basking lamp varies in wattage from 50W-150W depending on the size of your beardie and the size of your viv. You don’t want to put a 100W bulb on a 10 gallon tank, unless your cooking a lizard for dinner. Instead, a 50-75W should be suitable for juvies. 100-150W are good for tanks 20 gallons and up and for adults or subadults. Decorations on the basking side should include some kind of hide, I use the 1/2 logs, and climbing decorations that can give the lizard different heights to bask. Basking helps regulate internal temps, so if you see your beardie with its mouth open its not dying. It’s just regulating temperature. They will move if they get over heated to the “cool” side. The cool side should contain another hide, if your cage size permits, and the water dish. Keeping the water dish on the cool size prevents over evaporation and keeps humidity lower. Lighting should be left on 8-10 hours a day, mimicking the day/night patterns. Basking temps should be exceed 110 degrees, and 105 degrees for babies – this is on the “hot” side. The cool side should be 80s. The night temperature can be in the mid 60s-70s. If you can’t regulate this, they have infared lighting you can use as a heat source at night.
The substrate is the ground covering you use for your vivariums. With juvenile beardies, you never want to use sand as your substrate. Reptile carpet, cabinet liners, paper towels, or ceramic tiles do great for all ages. The reason you do not want to do a calcium sand or some kind of loose bedding is because of impaction. Juvies are very clumsy eaters and very curious of their surroundings. As they lick or eat on sand, they chance ingesting some as well. Too much bedding causes impaction which leads to very painful paralysis of hind legs and a slow death. Once they hit adult hood, you can switch to sand bedding. Many people use play sand as a substrate. Spread play sand on a cooking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes to kill off any bugs that came with it. Clean as needed from when they poop, spill food or water, etc.