The bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is a lizard native to Australia. They are popular pets due to their calm temperament and ease of care. Bearded dragons can grow up to two feet long and have a distinctive spiny “beard” under their chin that they use for communication and territorial displays. National Geographic says their average lifespan is around 4-10 years.
Basics About Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons have triangular-shaped heads with a row of spines that run down their neck, which gives them their characteristic “beard” appearance. Their skin is covered in small, pointed scales, and they have short, sturdy legs with sharp claws that they use for climbing and digging.
Bearded dragons come in various colors: brown, tan, red, and orange. They may have stripes or patches of color on their bodies, and some may have patterns that resemble camouflage. Juvenile bearded dragons often have more vibrant colors than adults, and their colors may change as they mature.
A healthy diet for an adult bearded dragon should consist of about 50% vegetables, 40% insects, and 10% fruit. Dark leafy greens such as collard greens, kale, and mustard greens are excellent sources of calcium and other nutrients and should make up the bulk of the vegetable portion of the diet. Other suitable vegetables include squash, carrots, bell peppers, and green beans.
When it comes to insects, bearded dragons can eat a variety of small prey items such as crickets, mealworms, and dubia roaches. It’s important to dust the insects with a calcium supplement and a multivitamin powder before feeding them to the dragon to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients.
Bearded dragons are known for their calm and docile personalities, which make them popular as pets. They are generally friendly and social animals that enjoy human interaction and can become quite attached to their owners.
One of the most recognizable behaviors of bearded dragons is their head-bobbing display, which is often interpreted as a sign of aggression. However, head-bobbing can also be a sign of submission or a way for the dragon to communicate with other dragons.
Courtship and Breeding
Bearded dragons reach sexual maturity at around 18 months to 2 years of age. During the breeding season, which typically occurs in spring or early summer, males will become more territorial and display aggressive behaviors toward other males.
Males will also perform a distinctive courtship display to attract females, which involves head-bobbing, arm-waving, and circling the female. If the female is receptive, she may return the male’s displays and allow him to mount her for mating.
Bearded dragons are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. Females will dig a burrow in the substrate to lay their eggs, which can range in number from 5 to 30, depending on the size of the female. The eggs will incubate for around two months at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, after which the hatchlings will emerge.
Tank and Enclosure of a Bearded Dragon
A full-grown bearded dragon can reach up to 2 feet in length, so it’s essential to provide a tank or enclosure large enough for them to move around comfortably. The minimum size for an adult bearded dragon is 40 gallons, but a larger enclosure is preferable.
Lighting and Heating
Lighting and heating are crucial for the health and well-being of a bearded dragon, as they require specific environmental conditions to thrive. Here are some important considerations:
- UVB lighting: Bearded dragons require UVB lighting to help them produce vitamin D3, which is necessary for proper calcium absorption and bone health. UVB lights should be on for 10-12 hours per day and be replaced every 6-12 months as the bulb’s output decreases over time.
- Heat source: A basking spot with a heat lamp should be provided, with a temperature gradient in the enclosure that allows the dragon to move between cooler and warmer areas. The basking spot should be kept at 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, while the more fantastic end of the enclosure should be around 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Thermometer and hygrometer: It’s essential to monitor the temperature and humidity levels in the enclosure to ensure they are within the appropriate range. Use a thermometer and hygrometer to check the temperature and humidity, and make adjustments as necessary.
- Nighttime heating: Bearded dragons require a temperature drop at night but still need a heat source to prevent them from becoming too cold. A ceramic heat emitter or a low-wattage night bulb can provide heat without light, allowing the dragon to sleep without disturbance.
The substrate, or bedding, in a bearded dragon enclosure should be safe and comfortable for the dragon to walk on. Here are some important considerations when selecting a substrate:
- Safety: Avoid using loose substrates like sand, soil, or wood chips, as bearded dragons can accidentally ingest these materials and develop intestinal impactions. Impactions can be a severe health issue and can even be fatal in some cases. Instead, use a substrate that is unlikely to be ingested, like reptile carpet, paper towels, or ceramic tiles.
- Comfort: The substrate should be comfortable for the bearded dragon to walk on and not cause any injuries to their feet or toes. Some substrates, like gravel or small rocks, can be uncomfortable for bearded dragons and cause foot injuries.
- Cleanliness: Choose a substrate that is easy to clean and maintain. Bearded dragons can be messy, so a substrate that can be spot cleaned and replaced easily will make maintenance of the enclosure simpler.
- Aesthetics: Some substrates, like sand, can be visually appealing and create a natural-looking environment for your bearded dragon. However, if you choose to use sand, make sure it is fine-grain sand specifically designed for reptile use, and monitor your dragon closely to ensure they are not ingesting it.
Bearded dragons require relatively low humidity levels in their enclosure, typically between 20% to 40%. Humidity levels that are too high can create a damp environment that promotes the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi, which can cause respiratory infections and other health issues. Additionally, high humidity levels can cause skin problems and make it difficult for bearded dragons to regulate their body temperature.
To maintain the appropriate humidity level in a bearded dragon enclosure, ensure good ventilation and avoid over-misting or spraying the enclosure with water. Using a hygrometer or digital thermometer with a humidity gauge can help you monitor the humidity level in the enclosure.
While bearded dragons do not necessarily require entertainment like other pets, they can benefit from enrichment activities that keep them mentally stimulated and engaged. Here are a few ideas for providing entertainment and enrichment for your bearded dragon:
- Provide climbing opportunities: Bearded dragons enjoy climbing, so provide rocks or branches in their enclosure that they can climb and perch on.
- Add hiding spots: Bearded dragons also enjoy having a place to hide and feel secure. You can create hiding spots by providing hides or caves in their enclosure.
- Offer varied textures: Bearded dragons like to explore different textures, so they provide a variety of surfaces in their enclosure. This can include tiles, rocks, or even different substrates.
- Play with them: Bearded dragons can be playful and enjoy interacting with their owners. You can play with them using toys like balls or gently stroking and petting them.
- Take them outside: Bearded dragons can also benefit from spending time outside in a secure, enclosed area. Just make sure to supervise them closely to ensure their safety.