Bearded Dragon Care

Bearded dragons make wonderful pets, especially for the beginner keeper! Bearded dragons tend to be quite docile and don’t require as much specialty care as some other species, like chameleons. Part of the reason these lizards are considered an “easy-keeper” is due to them being a desert species. Keep reading to find out more about keeping your “beardie” happy and healthy!

Terrarium

Terrarium choices are numerous these days, but they’re not all created equal! If you have a hatchling or juvenile bearded dragon, it may be tempting to purchase a larger terrarium now for him or her to grow into, but this actually isn’t the best choice for your pet. Bearded dragons are naturally prey animals, meaning that in the wild they would be a meal for other larger animals. Under human care, this means that large open spaces tend to make them uncomfortable because there’s just more space for potential predators to be lying in wait. So make sure to get the right size terrarium for your beardie’s age and size:

  • Hatchling: 10 gallon terrarium
  • Juvenile: 20 gallon terrarium
  • Adult: 40 gallon terrarium

For hatchling and juvenile bearded dragons, we recommend using a reptile carpet substrate; for adults, we recommend using reptile sand. Both of these substrates are very easy to clean! Reptile carpet can be hand-washed in the sink or in a washing machine, and reptile sand can be sifted whenever necessary to remove debris.

Make sure to supply your beardie with an adequately sized hiding space (so they can enter and exit easily and are able to turn around). This is easily done by using a “reptile hut,” of which there are many variations available.

Heat

Heat should be a main focus when caring for your bearded dragon. These lizards are native to Australian deserts with high temperatures and direct sun exposure. Even though your beardie isn’t living in an Australian desert, that’s what his or her body is adapted for. And we mean their entire body. Even how well they’re able to digest their food is affected by their heat exposure! Therefore, it’s important to replicate this environment to the best of our ability. Here’s how to do this at home:

  • Provide an appropriate size heat bulb for your bearded dragon. In very general terms, you will need a smaller size (lower wattage) heat bulb for tropical species and smaller terrariums, and a larger size (higher wattage) heat bulb for desert species and larger terrariums. However, what is considered a “small” or “large” terrarium can be relevant, so check in with The Repstylist if you have questions about providing the right heat bulb!
  • Provide the appropriate type of heat bulb for your bearded dragon and their habitat; we recommend at least one basking spot lamp. Heat bulbs can be light-emitting or non light-emitting, infrared, halogen, basking, and more (read more about the different type of heat bulbs here).
  • Provide a temperature gradient along your beardie’s terrarium. This means having a cooler side and a warmer side, which will allow your beardie areas to cool off or warm up (they know when they need to do either). You can create a temperature gradient by placing the heat bulb (lamp) on one end of the terrarium. As tempting as it may be, avoid placing the heat bulb in the middle of the terrarium.
  • Provide a basking (hot) spot that is significantly warmer than the warm side of the terrarium. Create the basking spot on the warm side of the terrarium by placing an item, such as a branch, so that it’s elevated toward the heat bulb. Since the elevated end of the branch will be closer to the heat bulb than the floor of the terrarium, it will be significantly warmer. This, again, allows the beardie to bask under imitated direct sun exposure with the option to cool off in other areas of the terrarium.
  • Measure temperature at the elevated basking spot and the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure temperature here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the heat bulb in order to obtain the right temperatures. You can do this by using a lamp stand.
Illustration of proper heat and UVB source placement to create a gradient. Colors illustrate decreasing heat and UVI as you move away from the sources. Illustration courtesy of The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

UVB

UVA, UVB, and UVI are also very important, particularly from a safety standpoint. And, they each refer to something different. Ultraviolet-A (UVA) refers to light wavelengths that allow reptiles (and us) to use our vision and see things. Ultraviolet-B (UVB) refers to light wavelengths that penetrate the skin of reptiles and activate vitamin D within the body. And the ultraviolet index (UVI) is a measurement of UVB wavelengths that contribute to vitamin D synthesis (note that not all UVB wavelengths are involved with vitamin D synthesis!). So what exactly do you need to supply for your bearded dragon?

  • Provide a UVB bulb of appropriate strength for your beardie’s terrarium size. UVB bulbs typically come in “5.0” and “10.0” strengths. These numbers refer to the amount of UVB output that will contribute to vitamin D synthesis for your beardie (either 5% or 10% of the UVB wavelength output). The 5.0 bulbs tend to work best for smaller terrariums and tropical species, while the 10.0 bulbs tend to work best for larger terrariums and desert species. However, what is considered a “small” or “large” terrarium can be relevant, so check in with The Repstylist if you have questions about providing the right UVB bulb!
  • Provide a UVB gradient along your beardie’s terrarium. Much like a temperature gradient, this means having one side of the terrarium with little-to-no UVB exposure and the other side with high UVB exposure. To do this, place the UVB bulb on the SAME side of the terrarium as the main heat source. In nature, UVB and heat both come from the sun, which means when setting up your beardie’s terrarium, these sources should be together (imitating sun exposure).
  • Measure UVI of the bulb you’ve chosen. UVI is a much more useful measurement of UVB, as too much or too little UVB can be very harmful to your beardie. Each reptile species has a UVI value (or tight range of values) that is ideal. Measuring UVI will make sure your beardie is getting the right amount of UVB exposure. Be aware that you can measure UVB separate from UVI (and there are separate meters for these), but a strict UVB measurement will NOT tell you how much vitamin D-synthesizing UVB your pet is receiving. Make sure to measure at the elevated basking spot and at the floor of the terrarium (read about how to properly measure UVB here).
  • Consider that you may need to raise the UVB bulb in order to obtain the right UVI and temperature. You can do this by using a lamp stand.

Light Cycle

The light cycle isn’t often talked about, but it can have a huge impact on your bearded dragon’s behavior. Just like you and I follow the sun’s direction (we’re awake when the sun is up and asleep when the sun is down), so does your bearded dragon. All animals have a circadian rhythm and 24-hour cycle (even nocturnal animals, but it’s reversed for them), helping them know when they should be awake, sleeping, foraging, hunting, eating, basking, and more. Here’s how to set up a light cycle:

  • Only use white or yellow-light heat bulbs and UVB bulbs during the day.
  • Create a light cycle by turning the above lights on at the same time each morning and off at the same time each evening.
  • If you need to provide heat during the night, consider non-light emitting options such as ceramic heat emitters and heat pads, or red-light heat bulbs. Contrary to popular belief, reptiles can see red light but it doesn’t affect their light cycle. Red-light heat bulbs can create an enjoyable nighttime viewing ability for you.
  • Follow the time changes that we experience and adjust your beardie’s light cycle accordingly. This means you should create a shortened “day” during the fall/winter months and a longer “day” during the spring/summer months.
  • Timers are an excellent way to easily create a regularly scheduled light cycle.
Photo courtesy of Enrique Grisales via Pexels.

Humidity

Humidity is not a great concern when it comes to bearded dragon husbandry. Since bearded dragons are adapted for a dry, arid desert environment, it’s not necessary to create/supply humidity for your beardie. That being said, it can be beneficial to periodically mist and/or soak your beardie in a tub of shallow water to help their skin to shed properly, allow them a different opportunity to drink, and to provide enrichment. Additionally, bearded dragons are not able to handle high humidity (this can cause adverse health effects, like respiratory infections), so make sure your beardie’s terrarium isn’t too humid by using an appropriate size water dish and not over-misting.

Diet

Bearded dragons are omnivores, doing best on a diet including both plant and animal (insect) food items. Diet doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all approach for bearded dragons. There are multiple diet options that all work well if used correctly. Things to consider when choosing a diet:

  • A water dish is a necessity for most reptiles! With the exception of chameleons, reptiles should always have a dish of fresh water available. Some will drink it, some will bathe in it, and some will lay along the rim. All of these are natural behaviors that should be encouraged.
  • Hatchlings and juveniles will require a higher insect-based diet with some produce, and will eat more often (almost, if not, everyday).
  • Adults (one year and older) will require a higher produce-based diet with some insects, and will eat less often (typically three times per week).
  • When choosing insects, consider your beardie’s age, size, and personality in order to choose the best insect to feed them.
    • Insects come in many sizes – the generally accepted “rule-of-thumb” is to choose an insect that is roughly the same width of your beardie’s head between their eyes.
    • Worms are high in fat, so use sparingly as a treat or as a way to add extra calories if your beardie is underweight.
    • Insects come in many forms: live, freeze-dried, canned. If you have a very active beardie, then live insects are the way to go. If your beardie isn’t much of a hunter, then non-live insects on a dish may be best (as long as your beardie isn’t sedentary because they’re overweight).
    • Supplement the insects fed to your beardie with a calcium powder. Lightly dust the insect before feeding.
  • When choosing produce, make sure to “feed a rainbow,” choosing produce of all different colors to make sure you’re supplying all of the necessary vitamins and minerals.
  • Pelleted diets can be great! They can supply all of the macro- and micro-nutrients required by your bearded dragon in one food. But not all pellets are the same. Check out our post on how to read and understand commercial food product labels to make sure you’re giving your beardie the best! Additionally, if you haven’t been using a pelleted food and are considering adding it, check out our posts on how to properly add a food item or change your beardie’s food and what to do if your beardie doesn’t take to it.
  • Mixing pellets and produce is a great way to supply a plethora of nutrients and a variety of piece sizes and textures.
Pre-mixed salads make great herbivorous and omnivorous reptile food! Photo courtesy of The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

Want to know the ideal temperatures, UVI, appropriate produce items, and more for bearded dragons? Check out the “Bearded Dragon Care” magnet on our online store. Taking care of any living creature is a huge responsibility, but it’s also very fun and rewarding! Take the guess work out of caring for your scaly friend by having our handy magnet nearby!

The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

As always, if you have questions about this topic, contact us here or at therepstylist@gmail.com!

©Copyright 2020 The Repstylist. All Rights Reserved.

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