Bearded dragons are well known for their highly diverse omnivorous diet, cute appearance, and even cuter personality.
Today, though, we will discuss the former to provide you with a deeper understanding of what beardies need in terms of food.
While bearded dragons qualify as omnivores, their diet changes drastically as they mature.
Baby and juvenile dragons prefer to keep 90% of their meals as insects and worms, with the rest of 10% consisting of veggies, plants, and fruits. Adults consume a lot more plant-based foods than insects, so let’s dive into that.
More precisely, let’s look at the different types of veggies that bearded dragons prefer and their impact on the lizard’s long-term health.
Nutritional Needs of Bearded Dragons
The best word that describes the bearded dragons’ nutritional needs is balance.
Bearded dragons need a bit of everything to stay healthy, and their nutritional requirements change slightly as they mature and grow older.
Here are the basic dietary requirements to consider:
- Protein – We’re mentioning protein first because this is one of the first things your beardie will have. Bearded dragons consume vast amounts of protein and animal fat during their first months to the first year of life. This is when they’re dealing with high metabolic rates, so they need to consume protein-rich meals more frequently to support their accelerated growth. A lot of insects will be sacrificed on this altar, including crickets, locusts, dubia roaches, superworms, etc.
- Calcium – Calcium is a critical component of a dragon’s diet, which is why lizards tend to eat a lot of it. They get most of their calcium from leafy greens and insects, but they could always use more. Calcium alone isn’t enough, though, as vitamin D3 is necessary to ensure proper calcium synthesis. Captive-bred bearded dragons require both calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation because of this, along with 10-12 hours of UVB basking radiation for additional D3 synthesis.
- Vitamins and minerals – We include a variety of micronutrients here, such as manganese, vitamin A, the vitamin B complex, iron, etc. These are only required in moderate or minor portions, so the lizard can meet their quota fairly easily.
- Fiber – Fibers are critical for the lizard’s digestive health. These are prevalent among various fruits and veggies, which clean the intestine and keep the lizard healthy and in peak condition. Be mindful of the amount of fiber your lizard can have. Too much or not enough can lead to digestive issues.
- Water – Water is extremely important for lizards in general, not only to hydrate them properly but to aid in digestion as well. Bearded dragons require a fresh and clean water source at all times to keep their hydration levels optimal. Environmental humidity also contributes to the reptile’s hydration levels, as values of up to 30-40% are generally enough. Bearded dragons are desert lizards anyway, so they don’t require too much water to thrive. These lizards get much of their water from the very food they have.
It’s important to note that, aside from the general standard nutritional requirements, no 2 bearded dragons have the exact same meals. Some prefer specific foods over others and eat more and more frequently as well.
It’s important to adjust to your beardie’s dietary needs and preferences and even speak to your vet or a reptile professional in this sense.
The expert reptile nutritionist can guide you in the right direction so that you can keep your lizard pet healthy and well-nourished.
Best Vegetables for Bearded Dragons
Veggies make up for most of the bearded dragons’ diet, especially adult lizards, whose overall diet consists of 80% veggies, fruits, plants, and other plant matter.
Some of the basic veggie categories to consider for your beardie include:
- Leafy greens – These represent the core of the lizard’s diet. Kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, and collard greens all fall into this category thanks to their high-calcium and low-calorie content. However, be mindful of some of them because leafy greens like spinach are not recommended due to their high oxalate content. Oxalates bind to calcium molecules, preventing the lizard’s organism from synthesizing them.
- Root vegetables – Root veggies include foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets, among many others. These are great sources of vitamins and minerals, as well as fibers that aid in digestion. However, root veggies are better served in moderation due to their high carb content, which can promote obesity.
- Cruciferous vegetables – This category of veggies is also good for dietary diversity, thanks to the vitamin and minerals they contain. Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are good representatives in this sense. Again, these are also best served in moderation because they contain goitrogens, which impact the thyroid’s function.
- Allium vegetables – Allium veggies, although highly nutritious themselves, are also great as spices to flavor up your lizard’s meals. Some good options here include garlic, onions, and leeks, which you should also serve in moderation. Your beardie’s digestive system will not be able to handle them in large or frequent portions.
- Nightshade vegetables – Nightshade veggies aren’t necessarily essential, but they make for decent additions to your beardie’s diet. Some good names here include tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants, to name a few. These should also come in moderation due to the high alkaloid content, which can be harmful to reptiles.
- Starchy vegetables – We’re talking green beans, asparagus, zucchini, and cucumbers, among several others. These are generally tasty and contain a lot of water and a decent amount of nutrients. But they are overall less nutritious than other options. So, only feed them as occasional treats to prevent your beardie from experiencing nutritional deficiencies. They’re great for hydration and as low-calorie foods, though, so it doesn’t hurt to have them on the list as well.
- Other vegetables – You can always expand the list by testing out various other veggies that your lizard might appreciate. Two things to note here, though: make sure they’re safe and check their nutritional content. You want to only feed your bearded dragon nutritious and tasty veggies that don’t threaten their digestive health. Always research any new food you plan on adding to your beardie’s meal.
This veggie list may seem long and intricate, but that’s only because bearded dragons eat veggies more than anything else.
At least, adults, do. Juveniles prefer insects as their main course.
Preparing Veggies and Feeding Tips
Now that you know what your beardie must eat let’s see how it must eat.
Here’s how you need to prepare your beardie’s veggie meal to ensure an unforgettable culinary experience:
- Wash the veggies – This comes first and foremost. All veggies must be thoroughly washed and cleaned, no matter their source. You want to eliminate all dust particles, bacteria, and potential contaminants that may be present on the surface. You should also peel those that come with peelable skin.
- Cut and portion them properly – Always cut the veggies into smaller pieces. This allows for better consumption and faster digestion at the same time.
- Pursue variety – Knowing that bearded dragons require a varied diet, don’t be afraid to provide your lizard with several veggies during the same feeding session. Just make sure you portion them correctly so that your lizard can eat everything.
- Raw vs. cooked – Some veggies are better served raw, while others need to be cooked for ease of consumption. Sweet potatoes and squash fall in the latter category, as cooking turns them softer and easier to digest. It’s not wrong to mix raw and cooked veggies in the same meal, either.
- Warm food a bit – Beardies prefer to consume their veggies at room temperature. So, if you’ve just unfrozen the veggies, warm them up so that your lizard can eat them with ease. Or at all; some beardies won’t even consume cold or frozen veggies, to begin with.
- Water – Bearded dragons maintain their hydration via 3 means: from air humidity, by consuming water-rich foods, and by drinking water directly. The latter is the most effective and immediate form of hydration and one that aids better in the digestive process. Make sure your beardie has a water bowl available at all times for proper hydration and digestion.
Keep in mind that these are general recommendations that may not apply to your beardie precisely.
Always adapt to your pet’s needs in terms of dietary needs and preferences, as well as anything else.
Expert Opinions on Bearded Dragon Nutrition
Not that you know the general nutritional requirements of bearded dragons, let’s hear it from experts as well for a clearer perspective:
- The personalized diet of Australian Central Bearded Dragons – This study analyzes the nutritional requirements of central bearded dragons, which are less studied than other species. The findings apply, at least in part, to bearded dragons in general. (source)
- An in-depth study of bearded dragon’s diet – Kristina E. Douglas, BS, Korinn E. Saker, DYM, Ph.D., and other researchers have published a study diving into the beardies’ insect-based diet and how their nutritional requirements change with age. (source)
- Effects of vitamin D3 and UVB exposure on juvenile bearded dragons – A comprehensive 2010 study about the beardies’ UVB effects and D3 supplementation on its nutritional intake. (source)
These studies, and many others, help provide beardie keepers with a deeper understanding of the reptile’s nutritional needs at various stages of its life.
Bearded dragons have a varied diet that revolves primarily around leafy greens and veggies.
Diversity is key in this sense, as bearded dragons require a vast range of nutrients from multiple sources to stay healthy and reach their growth and lifespan potential.
Make sure you understand your beardie’s nutritional requirements, adapt to its preferences, and speak to a professional for a clearer perspective on the topic.