Bearded Dragon Care
When asked what the best pet lizard is, there is really only one answer – the much loved, much bred, almost domesticated bearded dragon, or ‘beardie’! If you’ve ever seen a cross bearded dragon you’ll understand where the name comes from: they have a special structure in their throat that can be flared out which resembles a human beard. To make the display even more impressive, they can turn their throat skin black. It’s done to intimidate a rival – or impress a lady!
The habitats across this vast area range from outright desert to open scrubland, dry forests and rocky wilderness. They can be partly arboreal, depending on the particular place in which they are found; they are apparently fond of basking on fence posts, tree trunks, and even picnic tables! They tend to spend the early morning and evening basking, but retreat to shaded areas or burrows during the hottest part of the day. Generally, they reach between 45 and 60cm (18 to 24”) although you do get the occasional individual on either side of that; the almost mythical ‘German Giant’ type is supposed to be consistently over 60cm
Despite their small size on hatching, beardies require a generous size of vivarium as they will reach their adult length within a single year. Any size under 120cm x 61cm x 50cm (48 x 24” x 20”) is too small, and larger is always better. As babies they are very active, and as they grow they must be able to get their whole length into either the warm or the cool area of their home, and this is simply not possible in a vivarium any smaller than this. See our Bearded Dragon Vivarium Setups
UVB is absolutely vital for them. Use a fluorescent tube (T5 for preference) of 10 or 12% strength on the roof of the vivarium, and always use a reflector if you use a T8 tube. The UV light should be mounted in the centre of the ceiling of the vivarium. The lights should be on for 12-14 hours per day and off at night.
Use a white/clear basking light to provide a hot spot where the beardie can bask; this must be white to provide the wavelengths that a dragon needs to encourage it to bask, and therefore thermoregulate efficiently. Temperatures should be 35ºC at the warm end, with the temperature directly under the basking bulb able to go as high as 45ºC, and 25ºC at the cool end. As a desert animal, your beardie will appreciate a night time drop in temperature down to 20ºC, although it can go slightly lower than this with no harm to the dragon. If your home stays above 20ºc at night it will not be necessary to provide extra night time heating. If you have a cold house use a ceramic heat emitter or a deep heat projector with a guard and a thermostat.
One of the defining aspects of the bearded dragon is their love for their food. As omnivores they can eat both salad and bugs – in fact, a wild beardie’s diet is often made up of mostly plant matter. As babies up to around 12 months old the diet should be 80% insects and 20% salad, after that it should be at the adult ratio of 20% insects and 80% salad. ‘Salad’ is a catchall term used to describe leafy greens, flowers and some vegetables – do NOT offer fruit, except as a rare treat. The sugar content of fruit (and some vegetables that are actually fruit, like tomatoes) is high enough to upset your dragon’s stomach and lead to very smelly, runny poo as well as making them more susceptible to protozoal infections.
Useful leafy greens include lamb’s lettuce, pak choi, rocket, watercress and mixed lettuce varieties, as well as thinly sliced or grated butternut squash, carrot, and of course dandelion leaves and flowers. Edible flowers are often very popular with beardies, and on our website we have a whole list of suitable flowers for your dragon. We also grow, package and sell Petes Salad for Reptiles which is a mix of high fibre leafy greens and flowers for your dragon that are available all summer both in store and online.
As with all pet reptiles, make sure that all their food is dusted with a good quality calcium or multivitamin/multimineral supplement. Get your baby into good eating habits by offering them salad first thing in the morning, and bugs in the afternoon. This way when they wake up, warm up and are looking for breakfast, all they have access to is the healthy option! This is how we raise our baby dragons from birth, and it’s a system that works well.