Native to Australia, eight different Bearded dragon species can be found in the wild. However, these animals are popular as pets throughout the world, especially in North America. Breeders have even created over 20 morphs of different colors and patterns, including albino and no scale bearded dragons.
Outside the morphs, Bearded dragons are generally tan, brown, red, or yellow, depending on the specific species. They get their names from the spiny projections under their necks that they can puff out. When they puff this area, it darkens and resembles a beard. Owners also often affectionately refer to them as “beardies.”
They are easy to tame, adapt well as a pet, and are tolerant to handling. In this article, we will cover all you need to know to become a Bearded dragon owner.
Bearded Dragon Care Sheet
Common name: Central Bearded Dragon
Scientific genus: Pogona
Range: Central and Southern Australia
Lifespan: 6 to 15 years
Adult size: Up to 24 inches long
Temperament: mellow, friendly, docile, easily tamed, and active
A fully grown Bearded dragon will need at least a 40-gallon terrarium to live comfortably. In general, their housing should be around 6-feet long, 2-feet wide, and 2-feet high. If you have the space, consider getting a terrarium around 4-feet long so they can run, exercise, and climb.
Bigger tanks can also prevent the environment from overheating and allow you to create the range of temperature your Bearded dragon needs. Additionally, you can purchase glass tank terrarium like this one with mesh sides and a lifted area to place heating mats.
Here are some additional enclosure options for bearded dragons.
Temperature and Lighting
Since your Bearded dragon is from a desert environment, they need their terrarium to be warm with low humidity. They also require a heat source on one end and a cooler area on the other so they can choose what temperature is best for them.
The cooler side should be around 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmer side should be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and include ultraviolet (UV) light. By placing your heating source and UV lightbulb focused in the same location, your Bearded dragon can bask in the warmth similar to how they would in the sun in the wild. You can also purchase a UVA/UVB sun lamp that combines heat and UVA/UVB.
At night, turn off the lights and use a ceramic heat emitter or night heat lamp instead. Night temperatures should be between 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. These animals sleep at night and are active daily, preferring around 12 hours of UV light every day.
The humidity in your terrarium should be between 20 to 40 percent. When the humidity lowers, mist the terrarium. To manage the temperatures and humidity levels, you should have a hygrometer and thermometer on each end of the habitat. Most products come with both combined.
Diet and Feeding
Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning they eat small insects and plants. You can feed them gut-loaded mealworms and crickets several times a week. You should also dust these meals with Calcium and Vitamin D3 to supplement their diet.
Here are several plants bearded dragons enjoy:
- Leafy greens
These dragons get water from the food they eat, rain, and mist. When misting your terrarium, make sure to mist on their heads as well. Their heads are shaped so water droplets will funnel towards their mouth so they can drink.
It’s best to have reptile carpet or tile at the bottom of your Bearded dragon’s terrarium. You can purchase coconut fiber mats or soft mat bedding for this purpose. You can also use bioactive substrate for adults.
If your Bearded dragon is smaller than 8 inches, reptile carpet is best to prevent them from accidentally swallowing the substrates. Also, avoid using gravel or sand since it can harm their digestive system if consumed.
Clean the Terrarium
Scoop up any waste you see as needed. Bearded dragons don’t urinate liquid but excrete urine with other waste as a white powder. You should only need to change the bedding or substrate completely at least once a month. Products for cleaning their terrarium should be non-toxic, such as:
- Fluker’s Super Scrub Organic Reptile Habitat Cleaner
- AutoRight Spraytech SteamMachine
- Carolina Chlorhexidine Solution
Bathe Them Weekly
Soaking your Bearded dragon in lukewarm water 2 to 3 times a week can help them stay healthy. It helps remove old skin and scales after shedding, cleans germ or bacteria build up on their claws and feet, and helps them defecate.
Use dechlorinated water between 85 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure the water only comes up to around their “knees.” Don’t use soap or detergent since your pet may drink some of the water.
Let them splash around and gently pour water on their back and tail. Avoid getting water in their nose and eyes. Let them soak in the water for 15 to 20 minutes.
Your Bearded dragon may try to run when you initially grab them but they generally tolerate being handled. Some will even enjoy hanging out on your shoulder. You can also rub or pet them when they aren’t stressed, since their spikes become pliable and soft. When held, they prefer to be held flat instead of being cradled.
Although Bearded dragons do produce venom, it is mildly toxic and harmful only to their prey. You will not be affected by the venom they excrete.
Never pick up your Bearded dragon by the tail or it might fall off. Unlike some lizards, their tails will not regenerate. Also, make sure to wash your hands before and after handling them to avoid bacteria, such as Salmonella.
Other Things to Know
1. Things to Include in Their Terrarium
Most Bearded dragons enjoy climbing and hiding, so add some branches and hiding dens. Having a rock or secured driftwood placed near the heat source also allows them to bask. There are plenty of neat products to accessorize your terrarium, including:
- Shale step ledge
- Hideout log
- Hammock bed with pillows
- Hammock and jungle climber vines
- Tree trunk water dish bowl
2. Let Them Exercise
If you have a smaller terrarium that your Bearded dragon can’t run around in, you may need to let them out to run around the house sometimes. They will enjoy the exercise.
3. Understand Your Specific Species
Since Bearded dragons are found throughout Australia, different species prefer different types of habitat setups. For example, the Eastern Bearded dragon (Pogona barbata) is found only in eastern Australia’s densely wooded areas. This makes them stronger climbers than other species and will prefer lots of climbing decor. This species also tend to live by the coast and are good swimmers. They may enjoy a water dish they can soak and swim in.
The most common species for pets is the Central Bearded dragon (Pogona Vitticeps) since they are the calmest and most docile.
4. Their Color May Change
Bearded dragons can change color for two main reasons: due to surrounding temperature or after they shed their skin. So don’t worry if you see your pet’s skin color change.
Their scales can go darker to absorb more heat or lighten up when they want to reflect heat. After shedding their skin as they grow, their bodies can also change color or develop new patterns.
5. You Can Dress and Leash Train Them
Not only can you handle them, but most Bearded dragons can even stay still while you put a leash on them to go on walks. You can purchase multiple types of leashes, including leashes with wings.
These animals are so easy-going, they will even let you dress them in costumes for Halloween. Check out these cute apparel:
6. Smiling Can Mean Overheating
Bearded dragons will open their mouths in a smile-like gesture when trying to cool down. If you see your pet “smiling” excessively, this could mean the terrarium is too hot.
7. Be Aware of Signs of Illness
While Bearded dragons are generally durable and healthy animals, they can get sick. Here are common signs to look out for:
- Dragging their legs, tail, or body can indicate lack of UVB, excess phosphorus, or a calcium deficiency.
- Only spending time in the heated basking areas, means they need more UVB.
- Abnormal feces or blood in their waste can mean they have an infection.
- Random weight loss or refusing to eat are also signs of distress.
Here are some additional tips for taking care of a bearded dragon.
Bearded Dragons as Pets
Bearded dragons are fun pets to have and great for beginner reptile owners because of their docile nature. Although not an animal to excessively cuddle with, they are tolerant to handling and fascinating pets to watch. Their various habits include:
- Running on their hind legs.
- Sleeping while standing up.
- Waving their hands or bobbing their heads when interacting with each other.
These friendly animals can be a joy as a pet, especially if you want a reptile you can walk on a leash. They also live up to 15 years, allowing you to have a companion for a long time. So make sure you are committed to taking care of them!