What Do Bearded Dragons Need: Tips for Setting Up the Ideal Vivarium for Your Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons need an ideal vivarium that should be spacious, appropriately equipped, and provide a safe and comfortable environment for them to thrive. The vivarium should be at least 4 feet long, 2 feet deep, and 2 feet tall to provide enough space for your bearded dragon to move around and explore. 

Lighting and heating are critical components of a bearded dragon’s vivarium. Bearded dragons require UVB lighting and a basking light to help them metabolize calcium and maintain healthy bones. The basking spot should be set to a temperature of around 38 to 42 degrees Celsius, while the cooler side of the enclosure should be around 22 to 26 degrees Celsius.

Setting Up a Vivarium for Bearded Dragons

1. Size

The appropriate size for a bearded dragon vivarium depends on the size of the dragon and its age. As mentioned, a general guideline for a single adult bearded dragon is a minimum enclosure size of 4 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet tall (120 cm x 60 cm x 60 cm). However, larger enclosures are always better for the animal’s well-being, and many keepers provide even more space for their dragons.

For young bearded dragons, smaller enclosures are appropriate until they grow larger. For example, a 20-gallon tank (75 liters) is sufficient for a bearded baby dragon. As they grow, they will require more space, and it is essential to upgrade their enclosure accordingly.

It’s also essential to provide appropriate heating and lighting, hiding places, and climbing opportunities within the vivarium to ensure the bearded dragon’s health and well-being.

2. UVB Light

Bearded dragons are cold-blooded reptiles that require specific light and heat requirements to stay healthy. They require UVB lighting to synthesize vitamin D and absorb calcium from their diet. Without proper UVB lighting, bearded dragons can develop metabolic bone disease, which can cause deformities and fractures. You should provide your bearded dragon with a UVB bulb with a UV index of 4 to 6.

Exposure to UVB light can also stimulate a bearded dragon’s appetite, which is especially important for young or sick animals that may have a decreased appetite. In addition, bearded dragons exposed to adequate UVB lighting often exhibit more vibrant coloration and natural behaviors. 

Adequate UVB exposure has also been shown to improve overall health and vitality in bearded dragons, including immune function and resistance to disease. However, it’s crucial to monitor the lighting conditions in your bearded dragon’s enclosure and provide a shaded area so your bearded dragon can escape the heat and UVB lighting when needed.

3. Dimming and Pulse Thermostats

A dimming thermostat is a type of thermostat that can be used to regulate the temperature of heat sources, such as basking bulbs or ceramic heat emitters. A dimming thermostat regulates the power sent to the heat source, effectively “dimming” the bulb and reducing the heat output. 

This can help to maintain a more stable temperature in the vivarium, as the thermostat will adjust the power to the bulb to prevent overheating. Dimming thermostats are most suitable for spot lamps, as they reduce or increase the energy steadily sent to the light. This prevents the light from flickering and enables bearded dragons to keep track of the natural cycles of day and night.

Meanwhile, a pulse thermostat is another type that can regulate the temperature in a bearded dragon’s vivarium. Pulse thermostats send short bursts of power to the heat source, effectively “pulsing” the heat output. This can help to maintain a more stable temperature by preventing the heat source from overheating.

Pulse thermostats are best suited for non-light-emitting sources like ceramic heat emitters. These thermostats let you control the device’s temperature by varying how long it takes to rise or fall back to its set point. This allows you to ensure that bearded dragons are kept at a constant temperature around the heating source.

Both dimming and pulse thermostats regulate the temperature in a bearded dragon’s vivarium. The type of thermostat you choose will depend on your specific needs and the heat source you use. It’s crucial to select a high-quality thermostat and monitor the temperature in the vivarium regularly to ensure it remains within the appropriate range for your bearded dragon’s health and comfort.

4. Substrate

The substrate (floor covering) for a bearded dragon’s vivarium should be safe, easy to clean, and able to maintain proper humidity levels. Here are some standard substrate options for bearded dragons:

  • Reptile Carpet: This is a popular option as it is easy to clean and provides a non-slip surface for your bearded dragon. Reptile carpet is also inexpensive and can be washed and reused multiple times.
  • Ceramic Tiles: Tiles are easy to clean, can help maintain a stable temperature, and provide a rough surface for your bearded dragon to help with the natural wear of their nails. They are also relatively inexpensive and come in many different styles.
  • Paper Towels/Newspapers: This is the most inexpensive option, as you can toss out the soiled paper towels or newspapers and replace them with fresh ones. However, this option provides little grip, so it may not be best for more giant bearded dragons who may slip and slide around.
  • Play Sand: Play sand can be used for a natural look and feel, but it cannot be easy to clean and cause impaction if ingested by your bearded dragon. If using sand, ensure it is fine-grained, sifted, and not the same type used for construction or landscaping.
  • Others: Other options include coconut coir, reptile bark, and walnut shell, which can all provide a natural look and feel but should be monitored closely for potential ingestion or other issues.