BEARDED DRAGON CARE GUIDE
Bearded dragons are lizards of the Agama family. They are about 7cm (3’’) long when they hatch and grow to their adult size of 45-60cm (18-24’’) in about 1 year. Females are normally smaller then males. They come in a wide variety of colours including shades of brown, grey and orange. Bearded dragons are so called because their spiny throat projection looks similar to a human beard. The male’s beard is typically darker than the female’s and it can be puffed up in a display of dominance. Their lifespan is 8-10 years.
Facts & Information
Origin: Bearded dragons are native to Central Australia, where they are found in semi-arid woodlands and rocky deserts. They are skilled climbers and spend the morning and evening basking on an exposed rock or branch. They take refuge from the hottest part of the day.
Benefits of keeping: Bearded dragons adapt well to being handled and one of the easiest lizards to tame. Gentle, regular handling of young ones is beneficial, as a dragon will learn to recognize its keeper. They are hardy and relatively easy to keep. They have good activity levels during the day and an out-going personality with interesting social behaviour. Males ‘head bob’ rapidly in a display of dominance, while females respond with a slower head bob. Both sexes will wave with a front leg to appease more dominant animals. All of this makes them one of the best lizards for beginners to keep.
Housing: A large terrarium is suitable for 1 or 2 young bearded dragons. They can be kept singly, in pairs or in groups, with only one male per group as they will fight. Males are slightly larger than females and have a row of enlarged femoral pores running along their inner thigh. Groups will live happily together in larger enclosures while hatchlings up to 4-5 month old may be kept in smaller terrarium.
Substrate and furnishing: Bearded dragons need a desert environment, so desert sand is ideal as substrate. Remove all droppings and clean terrarium on a regular basis to prevent disease. Dragons do climb and logs and rocks make good basking area, as long as they are fixed securely. A hide or something to shelter behind is essential. This helps to prevent stress and allow the bearded dragon a safe haven from the outside world.
Heating: A day time basking area of around 100F ( 38C) is essential, as are cool areas ranging from 68-84F (20-29C) Note: no extra night heat is needed for adult dragons if the room stays above 16C (60F) . A basking lamp is the best heat source as dragons are attracted to light. Set on timer to give 12 hours light and heat per day.
Larger enclosure may need ceramic heaters as well. Wire mesh guards should be fitted over all heat sources used in order to prevent thermal burns. Digital thermometer should be placed near the basking spot and at the cool end of the terrarium to check the temperature.
In the autumn and winter, as daylight hours shorten, some adult Bearded Dragons seek cooler areas and become dormant for weeks or even months ( this is called Brumation). Feeding will cease and once they have began to sleep all day, background temperature may safely be reduced to 60-70F (16-21C) and basking lamps turned down until the dragon awaken and start basking and feeding again in early spring.
Lighting: As well as needing good bright lighting in the form of a spotlight, dragons need ultraviolet light ( UVA for normal vision and activity levels and UVB for normal calcium metabolism), which must be supplied by specialist reptile UV lamps and tubes. A high-UVB fluorescent tube ideally fitted with reflectors, should be used to supplement the lighting. These should also be fitted to a timer to give 12 hours light/day. These must be replaced every year, even though they may look fine, as all fluorescent bulbs lose their UV radiation within one year.
Water: A shallow bowl of clean water must always be provided. Dragons can take time to learn to drink from a dish. As they are attracted to water movements, a dropper system may work, or they can be regularly offered a syringe filled with water, dripped on the lizard's head or in front of its nose. This way they learn to lap from the nozzle. Babies can be gently sprayed and will drink the droplets.
Diet and Feeding: Bearded dragons are omnivorous. A balance diet must include green leaves ( e.g. Spring greens, kale, dandelion, watercress) vegetables ( chopped red pepper, peas, grated butternut squash, carrot) insects ( black or brown crickets, locusts, mealworms) Feed juveniles twice daily; offer adults fresh green food daily and insects every 1-2 days.
As an occasional treat, fruit can be given ( apples, bananas, kiwi, grapes). Too much can cause diarrhoea. Baby dragons can become seriously impacted ( gut blockage) by large insects and should be fed only small crickets no bigger than the distance between the dragon's eyes. They should not be fed mealworms.
All insects should be well fed so that they contain maximum nutritional value when fed to the dragons. Once or twice a week , before offering them to the lizard, insects should be dusted with good quality reptile mineral/vitamin supplement powder. Dragons will benefit from having a small dish of calcium ( calcium carbonate powder of grated cuttlefish) in their terrarium.
Shedding: Bearded dragons shed their skin naturally as they grow. This will be up to 8-10 times in the first year and several times a year after that. They go off their food for a few days before shedding. It will peel off in strips. Misting them with water will help the process.