Bearded dragons are beloved pet reptiles known for their exotic appearance, easygoing temperament, and relative ease of care. I say ‘relative’ because no exotic reptile is really beginner-friendly.
When it comes to housing bearded dragons, you should account for several metrics, such as temperature, layout, humidity, diet, and lighting.
Today, we will discuss the latter because it is an area often ignored by more inexperienced reptile keepers but equally as important and impactful.
Type of Lighting Used for Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are reptiles, so they require proper lighting to remain healthy over the years.
Since we’re talking about reptiles, the lighting has two primary functions: ensuring a stable and distinct day/night pattern and providing adequate calcium and vitamin D synthesis.
When it comes to the actual light source to use for your bearded dragon, consider the following 3 options:
- Natural sunlight – This one is pretty much self-explanatory. You can place the tank in a well-light room, which can be all the light your dragons may require. However, I would say that this method is rather suboptimal. Natural lighting is great for wild bearded dragons because they can move between different areas, alternative high with low-intensity light, depending on their needs. But a captive dragon has nowhere to go. So, a natural lighting source can work, but it’s less flexible than other options.
- Artificial UVB light – UVB lighting is necessary to ensure optimal vitamin D synthesis. This aids in calcium absorption, keeping the dragon safe from MBD and standard calcium deficiency. UVB lights are of two types: fluorescent bulbs and mercury bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are cheaper but have a short lifespan and only deliver low UVB lighting. Mercury bulbs last longer and deliver high-intensity UVB but are more expensive. You should choose the ones that fit your situation the best. For instance, if your dragon also has some natural lighting, fluorescent bulbs may suffice.
- Basking light – All reptiles demand basking spots with high temperatures for adequate thermoregulation. The difference is that bearded dragons demand higher temperatures than most other reptiles. Their ideal basking temperatures revolve around 100-107 F, so you need a good set of basking lights to meet these requirements. The type of basking lights to use depends on your setup. Incandescent bulbs, ceramic heat pads, infrared bulbs, or halogen bulbs are all viable options, depending on the situation.
The Purpose of Lighting for Beardies
There are 3 primary reasons why bearded dragons demand a good light source:
1. Providing Heat
We’ve already discussed this point briefly previously. Bearded dragons need a familiar temperature gradient as such:
- Basking spot – 98-110 °F. This is the warmest area in the enclosure, where bearded dragons only spend limited time when needing to increase their body temperature fast.
- Main dwelling area – 78-85 °F. The largest surface area where the dragon spends most of its time.
- Cool area – 71-77 °F. This is where the dragon goes to cool off whenever necessary. Nighttime temperatures can also revolve around these values.
A good temperature gradient is necessary to regulate your reptile’s core temperature. The temperature gradient will help with digestion, with a strong immune system, and allow the lizard to become comfier and more energetic.
2. UVB Exposure
All reptiles require some degree of UVB exposure for proper vitamin D synthesis. This is to prevent them from experiencing calcium deficiency, which can result in Metabolic Bone Disease.
The latter has no cure and can inflict a lot of pain and suffering. While the reptile’s diet and vitamin and mineral supplementation are essential for preventing that, they’re not enough.
The lizard still requires either natural or artificial UVB lighting to support the body in metabolizing vitamin D. This helps with better calcium absorption, keeping your beardie well-nourished, healthy, and happy over the years.
3. Enhancing Visibility
Bearded dragons are diurnal animals, so they perform much of their activity during the daytime. This means they require adequate lighting for a distinct day/night cycle.
If the lighting levels are too dim during the day, the dragon may stress out since it can’t see too well. And beardies require their vision to hunt and navigate their habitat.
The Intensity and Amount of Lighting Needed
Light intensity is also important for bearded dragons, but the values necessary depend on the light source itself.
For instance, linear fluorescent bulbs should deliver a light intensity of 30-50 microwatts per square centimeter. For mercury vapor bulbs, aim for 100-150 microwatts per square centimeter.
Each light source carries its own specifics, so adjust the required intensity depending on the lizard’s needs and the light source you’re using. It’s important to mention that not all light sources are equal in terms of light intensity and temperature exchange.
Some light bulb types deliver more light and less heat, while others work the other way around, depending on their purpose.
Lastly, the UV index is also an area that might interest you. Different reptiles require different UV index values depending on their biological needs. The ideal UV index for bearded dragons is 4-6.
Impact of Lighting on Bearded Dragons
Adequate lighting is just as important for bearded dragons as food and water.
There are 3 areas where the effects of natural lighting are the most impactful:
- Overall health – We’ve already mentioned this point previously, and it refers to adequate vitamin D3 synthesis. UV lighting, whether natural or artificial, aids in proper nutrient synthesis, keeping the dragon safe from calcium deficiency.
- Support the lizard’s wellbeing – An optimized level of UVB lighting regulates the beardie’s circadian rhythm, improving the reptile’s feeding and overall mood. A stable day/night cycle is critical for the dragon’s long-term health.
- Support the lizard’s behavior – Bearded dragons tend to become more lethargic and sluggish when lights go out. That’s because their normal physiological functioning informs them that night has come. Bearded dragons demand up to 12 hours of light per day to remain active, healthy, and in a good mood.
Potential Risks and Problems Caused by Improper Lighting
There are several downsides to not providing your bearded dragon with proper lighting.
- Metabolic Bone Disease – We’re mentioning this one first because it’s the most important and impactful health issue. MBD is not curable and usually leads to a slow and agonizing death. This condition results from severe calcium deficiency, which can result from several problems like poor diets, genetic predisposition, and improper lighting conditions.
- Eye problems – Such problems include cataracts and even partial or complete blindness. These afflictions can be linked to poor lighting conditions that affect the lizard’s eye health. Other aggravating factors, including poor diet and prolonged stress, may also contribute to the illnesses.
- Stress-related problems – Beardies kept in improper lighting conditions will become stressed, which is often responsible for digestive problems and weak immune systems. And we all know what those lead to.
Plus, poor lighting will affect the dragon’s behavior and even coloration. The affected dragons appear duller in coloring, and exhibit stressed behavior and lethargy.
Bearded dragons fare best in natural-looking habitats, which also include sufficient lighting, proper environmental parameters, and a personalized layout.
Remember never to keep your dragon’s enclosure in direct sunlight, but make sure that your beardie has access to sufficient light.