Bearded Dragon Care (Beginners Guide)
So, you have decided to dive into the almost endless world of reptile keeping. Awesome! You won't be disappointed. These loveable lizards have so much to offer. Let's see what they're all about.
What Is A Bearded Dragon?
The bearded dragon is a well-sized, flat-bodied lizard that comes from the continent of Australia. They have dry and somewhat prickly skin (which is harmless). Their long tail makes up most of their body length. Hence their name, the bottom jaw is covered in rows of spikey scales which resembles a beard.
Things to Consider Before Getting A Bearded Dragon
An important thing to know and understand is that a bearded dragon is a spectacular pet for a first-time reptile owner. Compared to large reptiles, they can be low maintenance animals as long as the owner is aware of the animal's needs beforehand. Knowing what is needed ahead of time will reduce the chances of a bearded dragon being neglected or having to be re-homed.
Ask yourself these questions: Will you be able to feed my lizard 7 days a week until it is an adult? Will you be able to take time out of your day to interact and bond with your animal regularly? Will you be able to provide space for a somewhat large terrarium? Is there a trusted reptile veterinarian near you in case of an emergency? If you can answer these questions with honest confidence, let's move on.
Caging And Lighting
If you are planning on getting a baby bearded dragon, you'll need an appropriately sized terrarium for its age. A 10-gallon terrarium is a great start for an infant-bearded dragon. This size enclosure is what they can stay in until they are, at most, 10-11 inches long. Soon you will need to upgrade terrarium sizes. Note that you should not buy a large terrarium for a baby bearded dragon to avoid having to buy a new terrarium altogether. The tiny lizard may feel stressed because of being overwhelmed by space. Reptiles can die from stress. Keep these things in mind when you consider purchasing a bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded animals. This means that they can't warm their own bodies as we can. Their body is as warm or cold as their environment. If we humans are cold, we begin to shiver so that our bodies can become warmer. A bearded dragon can't do that. To get warm, they rely on the sun to warm them. In Australia, which is a very hot place, a bearded dragon will sit in the sun to gain energy. The warmer their body becomes, the more energy they gain. Without heat, they will become sluggish and lethargic.
Reptiles will bask in the sun to also digest their food. To keep a bearded dragon healthy, they need to have the correct temperatures in their enclosure. To mimic the sun for a bearded dragon, you must provide them with a basking light bulb. You can find them at your local pet store or online. These are designed especially for reptiles. Never use incandescent light bulbs. These can burn your reptile severely. Here are the recommended temperatures for a bearded dragon based on their age.
Infant-Juvenile Bearded Dragon:
85-90 degrees Fahrenheit
Juvenile-Adult Bearded Dragon
90-100 degrees Fahrenheit
UVB Lighting, Diet, and Vitamins
Correct basking temperatures, as essential as they are, do not complete their lighting setup. As mentioned earlier, bearded dragons sit in the sun to gain energy. With that being said, the sun gives off a special vitamin called vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for human and animal health. For most of the day, bearded dragons will be soaking up UV (Ultraviolet) rays from the sun. Since a pet bearded dragon will be inside your home all day, you will need something to mimic the sun's UV rays. For this, you will need a reptile UVB light. This is a fluorescent light that will be used along with their basking light. Both of these should be kept on for about 12 hours a day and turned off at night. Try to have a set schedule for when you turn them on and off. The UVB light should be replaced every 6 months.
Bearded dragons are omnivores. This means that they consume plants and small animals. In the wild, they eat a variety of insects as well as plants. In captivity, you can feed a baby bearded dragon live crickets. You can buy a bag of them at your local pet store or online. Never feed wild caught insects to your reptile! Wild insects could carry parasites that can be transmitted to your lizard. Or worse, they could poison your lizard. Live insects will make up 80% of their diet until they reach adulthood. 20% of their diet at this age can consist of collard greens (uncooked), peeled carrots cut into tiny pieces, mustard greens, apples (without skin), mango, and banana. You should feed them live crickets every day, and fruits and vegetables once a week. The chart below will serve as a simple reminder.
Baby Bearded Dragon Diet
80% Live Insects
20% Fruits & Veggies
Adult Bearded Dragon Diet
20% Live Insects
80% Fruits & Veggies
For healthy bones, a bearded dragon's food must be dusted with a reptile calcium supplement. A bearded dragon's body needs vitamin D to be able to absorb the calcium its food is dusted with. This is why a UVB light is needed. Without vitamin D, your lizard will not be able to absorb the calcium into their bones that its food is dusted with. Be sure to dust their food only twice a week. This ensures proper bone growth and reduces the risk of metabolic bone disease (MBD) which affects numerous captive reptiles.
Foods to Avoid
Never feed bearded dragons avocados or oranges. These citrus fruits could kill a bearded dragon.
A growing bearded dragon is a healthy bearded dragon. The most obvious sign that a bearded dragon is growing, besides an increase in size, is when they shed their skin. Unlike humans, a reptile's skin does not grow with them. When they have a growth spurt, their skin will turn a pale shade of milky white. When this happens, it means that their old layer of skin is separating from their body, and their new skin is developing underneath. After about a week, their skin will return to its normal color. Shortly afterward, their old skin will begin to flake off and a new layer will be revealed.
As babies, they will likely shed every 1-2 weeks. Their first year of life will be marked with numerous growth spurts. A baby bearded dragon must be fed every day to fuel its metabolism. As adults, they can be feed 2-3 times a week.
Are You Sure?
A bearded dragon can make a great first addition for the new journey of reptile keeping if the owner is prepared ahead of time to care for their needs. Never buy an animal on impulse. It usually doesn't end well for the owner or animal. There is nothing more stressful than being unprepared for caring for another life. This article explains the basics of bearded dragon ownership. There is always something new to learn about them. Be sure to do thorough research before bringing home a bearded dragon. Wishing you well on your journey with exotic animals!