Reptile Care Sheets - Bearded Dragon Basics
The Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) - aka inland or central bearded dragon, is a semi-arboreal agamid lizard that is native to eastern and central Australia. This particular sub-species can be found in a variety of habitats, from the desert to scrublands and even dry forest and is today arguably the most popular pet lizard in the world.
Lighting: Bearded dragons are diurnal, which means that they are active during the day. And they LOVE the sun. In fact, their parietal (third) eye uses bright light to set the dragon’s circadian rhythm and activity patterns. In other words:
- They must have UVB radiation
- Plenty of bright, white light is needed for energy, appetite, and mental health.
Lighting in the enclosure also helps regulate their day/night cycle, which is good for their mental health and stimulates appetite. According to the UV Tool by Frances Baines, light should be provided for 14 hours/day during the summer, which simulates their optimal photoperiod. To simulate the change of the seasons, reduce the amount of light to 12 hours during winter.
Linear Florescent UVB Tubes
The Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 High Output UVB, Arcadia Desert 12%, and Arcadia Dragon 14% are fluorescent bulbs that don’t produce heat, but provide plenty of good quality UVB for bearded dragons across the length of the terrarium (and the Arcadia is especially good). These bulbs are T5 fluorescents, which means that they have a stronger UVB output than standard T8s. They also last longer — up to a year!
For maximum effectiveness and safety, the bulb should be 1/2 to 2/3 the length of your enclosure, 12-16″ (30-40cm) away from the basking area, however the Arcadia Dragon 14% bulb should be used at a distance of 18-24″ for safety.
Note: compact florescent bulbs are not recommended as a UVB source for bearded dragons as they do not cover enough area of the enclosure
Temperature: Like all reptiles, bearded dragons need heat to digest and maintain their immune systems. Without it, they get sick and die. Since bearded dragons are basking lizards, they use heat most effectively from an overhead heat source that mimics the sun.
Since they are cold-blooded, bearded dragons need a temperature gradient in their enclosure in order to be able to regulate their body temperature. Although they can tolerate very high basking temperatures, they need to be able to escape to cooler areas in the enclosure to prevent overheating. For example, if we were looking at an average enclosure from left to right, the highest temperatures should be at the far left, gradually descending to the lowest temperatures on the far right.
- Basking side surface temperature— 110-125°F (43-52°C)
- Basking side air temperature — 95-105°F (35-40°C)
- Cool side surface and air temperature — 77-85°F (25-29°C)
- Nighttime — 55-75°F (12-24°C)
Pro Tip: If you have trouble achieving a hot enough temperature, try raising the basking area closer to the heat bulb. If the basking area is too hot, plug the lamp into a lamp dimmer so you can dial the bulb down to the perfect temperature.
How do you make sure you’re doing it right?
First, you need to make sure that you’re getting the right surface temperatures. To measure this, you will need an infrared temperature gun. I got an Etekcity Lasergrip 774 off Amazon, and it’s spectacular. Measures bathwater temperature, terrarium temps, dragon temps, the whole enchilada. Get. One.
While using your temp gun, make sure that the basking temperatures cover an area at least as large as the dragon’s entire body (including tail), as hot spots can be dangerous. And don’t take temperature readings until the heat source has been going for about 3 hours, as earlier or later will give you an inaccurate reading. Also note that since your dragon’s head and shoulders are a couple inches closer to the heat source than the basking surface itself, the dragon will likely experience slightly higher temperatures than what the temp gun shows.
Second, you need to make sure that your air temperatures are high enough. A warm basking surface is no good if the air is too cold, and too high air temperatures can give your dragon heat stroke. Keep track of the air temperature in the basking area with a probe digital thermometer.
You need both a temp gun and digital thermometer to get a complete and accurate picture of your bearded dragon’s thermal gradient. One should not be used without the other!
Humidity: Bearded Dragons are desert animals, so they need a fairly dry environment to stay healthy. Ideal humidity will be between 30%-40%, which should match the humidity naturally in your home.
Feeding: How often should bearded dragons be fed?
- Hatchlings (0-6 months old): Insects 2-3x/day, vegetables daily
- Juveniles (6-12 months): Insects 1x/day, vegetables daily
- Adults (12+ months old): Insects 2-3x/week, vegetables daily
To put this in percentages, you’re looking at roughly 60-80% protein for hatchlings, 50-60% for juveniles, and 20-30% for adults. This gradual reduction in dietary protein is proportional to the rate of the dragon’s growth, as they don’t need as much protein and calories from bugs when they’re older as they do when they’re younger. It also helps prevent gout and obesity, two conditions that are extremely prevalent in the US bearded dragon population due to rampant overfeeding and poor breeding practices.
Once your bearded dragon has reached adulthood, it is safe (and recommended) to skip a salad 1 day each week. This helps prevent obesity, and since reptiles have evolved to thrive on very little food, it is actually healthiest for them. There is no reason to feel like this is cruel; you are simply doing what is best for your pet.
How many? Unfortunately I can’t provide an exact number of insects, as this depends on several variables: bug size, type of bug, and the dragon’s age, to name a few. The best rule to follow is to offer as many insects as your beardie will eat within 5 minutes.
Overfeeding and over-supplementing, although well-meant, can kill your dragon — for more information on feeding your bearded dragon we strongly suggest to read and book mark this page
Water: There is a common misconception about bearded dragons that they shouldn’t have water bowls because they don’t readily drink water from bowls/can’t see standing water. But just because you don’t often see your reptile drinking doesn’t mean that they don’t need a water bowl. After all, you don’t always see them eat their salad or poo, but you see the evidence afterward. Part of good reptile husbandry is making sure that your pet has free access to clean drinking water.
Use a shallow water dish large enough for your bearded dragon to soak its whole body if it so desires.
Supplements: To ensure that your beardie is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, you need to keep two forms of supplementation on hand: calcium powder and multivitamin powder. Take care not to use these too often; over-supplementation can be just as deadly as under-supplementation.
Generously dust feeder insects before feeding. Most people prefer the “shake-and-bake” method of dusting, where you stick all the bugs in a bag or disposable plastic container and shake them until they are evenly coated in powder. Calcium sticks better to some bugs than others, and if you’re feeding phoenix worms, you don’t need to dust them at all, as they are naturally high in calcium.
Important: This basic information was compiled with permission from ReptiFiles.com. Be sure to bookmark, reference and read ReptiFiles for the complete care for your Bearded Dragon.
For your complete care guides for Bearded Dragons visit: ReptiFiles - Where Better Reptile Care Begins