picture of bearded dragon

Bearded Dragon Care Sheet

Why “bearded” dragons? These reptiles have fleshy appendages below their jaws, which they can expand when irritated. When fully inflated, this appendage resembles a beard.

In the wild, bearded dragons are tan and gray with a circular, striped, or barred pattern on their backs and spiny scales. Selective breeding in captivity has produced a greater variety of colors, ranging from reds and oranges to greens. Bearded dragons also have distinctive circular dark patches just before their shoulders: it is unknown whether these serve any particular function.

Altogether, adult bearded dragons are generally 18-24 inches long. Bearded dragons are relatively intelligent lizards who respond to and interact with their environment. When allowed to explore larger spaces, they often appear curious about sights and sounds around them. They seem to remember locations and may re-visit areas where they have found food in the past. They usually are comfortable perched on their owners’ shoulders and respond well to being hand-fed. 

SqueakLove has put together a complete list of facts and tips on raising a happy, healthy bearded dragon.

Bearded Dragon Caging & Accessories

Beardies have some very specific needs. Proper lighting is crucial for robust health, while precise heating will keep your cold-blooded friend warm. Caging must allow enough space for the bearded dragons to take advantage of the heat – as well as a heat gradient to cool down. You can ensure a healthy, happy, and thriving dragon with just the right, bearded dragon caging and accessories.

Bearded Dragon Caging

Adult bearded dragons are significantly larger than juveniles. So while a 10-gallon tank will suitably house a 4-5 inch baby dragon, the minimum size caging for an adult is 36” by 12”, or approximately 435 square inches of floor space. Bigger is better, though, when it comes to bearded dragon cages.

  • Some helpful tips:
  • House bearded dragons individually to avoid possible fights. Beardies can be aggressive with one another, and they’re surprisingly fragile. Fights can result in anything from scrapes to severed limbs.
  • Favor caging made of glass or plastic. Beardies seem to enjoy being able to see the outside environment. An opaque tub may not allow enough visual stimulation.
  • Cover the bearded dragon cages to prevent the dragons from getting out and other hazards, like household pets, from getting in. Covers also facilitate proper lighting (more on that below).

Cage Accessories

Beardies have some very specific needs. Proper lighting is crucial for robust health, while precise heating will keep your cold-blooded friend warm. Caging must allow enough space for the bearded dragons to take advantage of the heat – as well as a heat gradient to cool down. You can ensure a healthy, happy, and thriving dragon with just the right, bearded dragon caging and accessories.

You can’t just dump a bearded dragon into an empty cage and expect them to thrive! But with a handful of proper caging accessories, your bearded dragons may well relish their new home.

  • Basking spot. Beardies are both cold-blooded and diurnal (active during the day), and they need an area close to the heat and light source where they can bask. You can make this out of a tree branch, wood, brick, cinder block, or a reptile hammock. Just make sure the basking spot you create:
    • Can hold your fellow’s weight
    • It is large enough to fit the entire body.
    • Is easily climbable
    • Rests several inches below the basking light
  • The basking area should be at one end of the enclosure to create a heat gradient (hotter on one side, cooler on the other). That way, the dragon can place itself in the ideal spot for maintaining the correct body temperature.
  • Sleeping alcove. Some bearded dragons prefer to sleep in an enclosed area at night. Provide an alcove or other hiding area that will accommodate the Beardie’s entire body.
  • Additional bearded dragon accessories for the caging include a water dish and food bowl.
  • NOT recommended: Cage decorations and plants, unless they are pretty sturdy, since the dragon will climb on and over them.

Bearded Dragon Bedding

You can keep beardies on a variety of substrates, including sand, reptile carpet, ceramic tile, and newspapers. Which is choose is up to you, but we do not recommend sand. First, you don’t want to risk the dragon ingesting any. Second, bearded dragons tend to produce copious, messy droppings that are more challenging to clean out of the sand.

Heating

Like all reptiles, bearded dragons are cold-blooded creatures, so they need an external heat source to keep themselves warm. Hence the basking spot we mentioned above. Specifically, the basking spot should reach a temperature of 95 to 105 degrees F (or up to 110 degrees for babies).

You can use a heat-only device such as a ceramic heat emitter, but it’s generally more efficient to use a heat-emitting light of appropriate wattage. Some keepers provide additional heating with an under-tank heater in the winter, but it’s not necessary. Beardies generally do well with the home’s ambient temperature, as long as it doesn’t get below 60 degrees F.

Lighting

Two types of light are required to satisfy bearded dragons’ metabolic needs; Lights should be on during the day and off at night.

Either on a 12 hour on/off schedule year-round or on a changing schedule with reduced lighting during the winter (8 hours) and increased lighting time during the summer (14 hours).

Fluorescent Light For Health

This light supplies two types of ultraviolet light, UVA and UVB, which mimic the effect of sunlight to stimulate the body to produce vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is necessary for the body to metabolize calcium and maximize bone strength. The fluorescent light should be at least 24” long and must be replaced every six months because the coating allowing UVB production will wear off.

Generally recommended: the Reptisun 10.0

Incandescent Light For Heat

As mentioned above, bearded dragons require a basking spot. Using an incandescent, halogen, or mercury halide light will accomplish this. Incandescent lights are usually 75 to 100 watts, depending on the distance from the basking area. When setting up the light and enclosure, use a reliable thermometer, probe, or temperature gun to adjust until you reach the proper temperature (between 95 and 105 degrees F).

Bearded Dragon Diet & Feeding

Bearded dragons are generally easy to feed: a simple diet of live food, leafy green vegetables, and some fruit will keep them happy. Be sure to meet their precise requirements – avoid hard-to-digest foods or greens that block nutrient absorption and include essential supplements like calcium to ensure optimal health. Bearded dragon diet and feeding is a vital part of your beardies life.

Live Food

Bearded Dragons eat a combination of fruits, vegetables, and live food, including feeder roaches, crickets, hornworms, silkworms, super worms, or butter worms. Mealworms are generally not recommended due to the amount of difficult-to-digest chitin in their exoskeletons. Though not required, some keepers feed their dragons live pinky mice. We recommend blaptica dubia roaches as a staple feeder for your bearded dragon.

  • Some bearded dragon feeding tips: Do not feed insects that have been captured from the outdoors; they may have ingested poison or other toxic substances.
  • Dust feed with calcium with D3 and powdered vitamins (shake them in a jar or bag that contains a small amount of the supplement).
  • Some keepers choose to supplement their diets with commercially available pellets that incorporate the nutrients found in prey and greens. Some bearded dragons will accept this alternative, and some won’t.
  • Feeding should take place during the day when they are awake.

What Fruits & Vegetables Can Bearded Dragons Eat

The bulk of the plant matter fed to bearded dragons should consist of nutritious leafy greens and orange vegetables such as squash or yams. Don’t count lettuce, except for romaine, in the leafy greens: it doesn’t contain significant amounts of nutrients. Instead, the most nutritious greens include collard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, carrot, and beet tops.

  • Some fruits and vegetable tips: Spinach, chard, and kale should be provided in limited quantities; they tend to reduce the body’s calcium absorption.
  • Tough vegetables such as carrots or yams may need to be lightly steamed to facilitate digestion.
  • Fruit should make up only 10-15% of the dragon’s diet; it will cause loose stools if provided in excess.

Feeding Baby Bearded dragons vs. Adults

Baby bearded dragons grow rapidly, up to 12 inches in their first year. They need greens and insects/worms at least twice daily. To determine how much live food to feed a baby bearded dragon, begin with ten prey items at a time and gradually increase the quantity until it is clear that the baby has had enough. Supply food small enough to fit in the dragon’s mouth.

Note that baby dragons will initially eat more crickets than greens; they’ll increase the amount of greens they’ll consume as they mature. Adult bearded dragons are usually maintained on a schedule alternating live feeders and fruit/vegetables.

Water

Bearded dragons do not always drink consistently from a water dish, though one should be provided. Instead, they receive most of their hydration from the fruits and vegetables they eat. In addition, bearded dragons will benefit from being bathed weekly. Soak your bearded dragon in warm water 3” -5” deep for several minutes. They may drink the water but will also absorb water through their skins. Since they originate from a desert habitat, humidity is best kept low in their enclosures.

Bearded Dragon Health

If you care well for your bearded dragon, he’ll stay healthy, but many possible afflictions can strike. Make sure you understand bearded dragon health issues and illness, including nutrient deficiency, parasites, adenovirus, and physical risks. It is often hard to diagnose the problem, so know a good vet familiar with reptiles.

Healthy Bearded Dragons

Healthy bearded dragons are alert, responsive reptiles. When at rest, they generally keep their upper bodies and chests off the ground with their front legs extended. Their tails are flat on the floor, with the last few inches of tail frequently elevated slightly. When basking, they may open their mouths.

Sleeping bearded dragons usually lie flat on their bellies in the corner of their cage or under an overhang. With the right food, hydration, temperature, and light, your bearded dragon should remain healthy.

Calcium/Vitamin D3 Deficiency

Like most reptiles, bearded dragons require calcium (to maintain bone density) and vitamin D3 (to help metabolize the calcium effectively). Bearded dragons obtain their calcium from the balance between live prey and vegetation and from powdered supplements with which the prey items should be dusted. They receive their vitamin D3 from exposure to natural sunlight, adequate UV light, and/or powdered vitamin supplements.

If you fail to provide both of these essential nutrients, the consequences include bone softness, lethargy, constipation, poor posture, and ultimately, death. Some of the effects of inadequate calcium supplementation cannot be reversed, though providing appropriate supplementation can usually halt disease progression. In this case, the calcium may need to be administered in higher concentrations under the care of a qualified herp veterinarian.

Bearded dragons may also contract other nutritional or metabolic diseases such as gout, caused by poor kidney function due to dehydration.

Injuries

Bearded dragons kept with cage mates are more likely to sustain physical damage from bites and nips. The problems may range from simple skin breaks to loss of a limb or tail. The best prevention is to house beardies individually.

Dragons may also sustain injuries due to regular life cycle activities, including prolapse (where part of the internal organs end up outside the body) of the rectum, hemipenis, or egg binding. Some bearded dragons have been known to develop swollen or crusty eyes. This may be due to getting an irritant in the eye, but there are indications that compact fluorescent bulbs as basking lights can cause or exacerbate the problem.

Parasites

Some reptiles can sometimes live with parasites, but when illness or poor husbandry damages their ability to fight disease, they experience parasite overload. In other cases, dragons become infected with parasites that arrive via live prey or other bearded dragons. Then they continue to re-infect themselves from their fecal matter or presence of oocysts (parasite eggs) in the cage.

Common parasites that affect bearded dragons include protozoa such as coccidia, microsporidia, pentastomids, and worms such as pinworms and tapeworms. Some of these parasites, such as tapeworm sections, can be seen in bearded dragon feces. In most cases, the dragon will be lethargic and seem ill; diagnosis will require testing by a qualified veterinarian based on a fecal sample or other tests. External parasites such as mites are less common in bearded dragons than snakes but can occur; they need to be removed from the dragon and the environment.

Treatment includes dosing with the appropriate anti-parasitic medication, scrupulous and repeated cleaning of the enclosure and quarantine from other reptiles.

Adenovirus

This intestinal virus, which affects humans and other reptiles, is challenging to diagnose or treat effectively. Some bearded dragons can carry the virus and remain asymptomatic indefinitely. For others, the virus is fatal relatively quickly. There is no definitive cure for adenovirus.

Have a Good Vet

With the exception of injuries that one can see and some larger parasites, it’s nearly impossible to determine which of the diseases described above may be making your beardie act ill. When a bearded dragon’s behavior changes for the worse – including lethargy, unusual body position, constipation, inability to open the eyes – it is essential to contact a veterinarian who can correctly diagnose and treat the condition.

Breeding Bearded Dragons

While breeding bearded dragons is relatively easy, you must follow reasonable husbandry procedures to ensure success with healthy babies. Breeding follows several clear stages, from determining gender through mating and egg-laying to incubation. Every stage has specific requirements for ambient conditions, housing and timing.

 

Bearded dragons are relatively easy reptiles to breed. Follow correct husbandry procedures, and you’ll maintain healthy parents and offspring. Be sure adult dragons are mature, fed, supplemented, and housed adequately.

  1. Sexing: Determine the gender of your beardies.
  2. Brumation: “Cooling” before breeding season.
  3. Mating: Encouraging reproduction.
  4. Egg Laying: Proper egg-laying enclosure.
  5. Incubation: Keeping eggs sufficiently warm until hatching.

Sexing

It’s only possible to reliably determine the sex of a bearded dragon after it’s several months old. Male bearded dragons have noticeable bulges behind the vent and a “V” shaped pattern of “pre-anal pores” in front of the vent. Female dragons lack these distinguishing characteristics.

Brumation

Bearded dragons are among those reptiles that will breed best when provided with a winter “cool down” period, also called “brumation.” Unlike hibernation, bromating reptiles do not sleep deeply through the period, although they significantly reduce their activity level and stop eating.

Many dragons will hibernate spontaneously, and you’ll observe a decrease in food intake and activity level in the late fall and early winter. Brumation can be encouraged by gradually reducing the basking temperatures to 75-80 degrees F, reducing the photoperiod (the number of hours where lighting is provided) to 8-10 hours a day, and turning off any secondary heat sources. Heat, light, and basking temperatures can be gradually restored after approximately six weeks.

Breeding (Mating) Bearded Dragons

Housing Breeders

Opinions vary about whether to house breeding groups of bearded dragons together or introduce the male for copulation only. Some argue that housing a male-female pair together will overly stress the female if the male decides to breed frequently. Plus, in general, housing bearded dragons in groups increases the likelihood of injuries from competition for food, basking spots, or rejections of attempts to copulate.

If you decide to house them together, it is essential that the enclosure be large (at least 6 feet long for a pair of beardies) with several choices of basking spots, hiding areas, and food. Having said all that, it is probably safest to house the dragons individually.

Introducing The Breeders

Once the bearded dragons appear to have increased their activity level and food intake, usually in February or March, the male and female can be “introduced.” If the dragons have been housed together throughout the brumation period, they will likely spontaneously begin to display mating behavior.

Most breeders who keep dragons separately find it best to introduce the male into the female’s enclosure to maximize the female’s comfort level and reduce the male’s aggression. The male bearded dragon will approach the female with a variety of head bobs and may display his full beard.

As with most reptiles, copulation is a vigorous, somewhat violent process. The male will copulate with the female by biting her neck, climbing on top of her, and twisting his body to insert one of his hemipenes into her cloaca; copulation is completed relatively quickly.

Egg Laying

If copulation was successful, the female should be ready to lay her eggs 4-6 weeks afterward. The female will demonstrate she is prepared to lay her eggs with increasingly active and agitated behavior. For example, she may attempt to dig in her cage.

Provide an enclosure for laying with at least 12” of the substrate in which she can dig (coco fiber, dirt, potting soil, etc.). The female will dig a deep hole and generally lay 10-30 eggs. Females can store sperm and lay multiple clutches after just one mating, up to 5 or more in a season every 3-4 weeks.

Incubation

Once the female has completed laying, eggs should be carefully excavated and placed in an incubator without turning them or changing their orientation. They can be marked with a permanent marker to be sure of which side is up. For incubation, eggs are generally partially buried in a container of moist perlite or vermiculite (moisten the substrate with water and squeeze out the excess).

Some breeders have recently begun using a system where the eggs are suspended above the moist substrate in an egg container. Some breeders put several pin-holes in the egg container for air exchange. Others keep the containers “airtight” in order to maintain proper humidity and open the containers briefly every week for air exchange.

The eggs should be incubated at 82-85 degrees F with humidity above 75%. Eggs should hatch in 55-75 days with earlier hatching at higher incubation temperatures. It may take a day or two (or longer) for the entire clutch to complete hatching. Although there are some indications that more male dragons result from higher incubation temperatures, temperature sexing determination has not been thoroughly understood with bearded dragons.

Baby Bearded Dragons

Though baby bearded dragons are much like miniature adults, they have specific food, watering, and housing requirements. Babies and juveniles grow very rapidly and must be monitored to make sure they eat and drink enough and don’t outgrow their housing before they start bullying and competing with each other.

Baby bearded dragons, like most reptiles, are miniature versions of the adults. They are independent in feeding and caring for themselves in nature.

However, they are more easily dehydrated and require more food based on their size, as they are growing rapidly. In the wild, this results in many hatchlings not surviving. In captivity, the hatchlings depend on their caregivers (i.e., you) for survival and continued health.

Housing Babies

Hatchlings can be kept in smaller versions of enclosures like those of their parents, with a couple of differences:

  • Using a smooth substrate is preferred over an abrasive substrate like sand.
  • Provide extra water with occasional misting to maintain humidity and prevent dehydration.

Hatchlings can be kept in 10-gallon enclosures with up to 5 dragons in each chamber. They will need to be monitored carefully as they grow to ensure that none of the hatchlings is being bullied or lagging behind the others in development. Hatchling bearded dragons should be removed from the group if they become significantly larger or smaller than the rest of the group. As they grow, the number of hatchlings in one enclosure should be reduced.

Feeding Baby Dragons

Hatchling bearded dragons grow very quickly, so they need to eat frequently. Initially, they may prefer live prey to vegetables. Offer pinhead to 1/4” crickets, small roaches, or fruit flies. They still need to be exposed to a variety of vegetables, similar to those provided to the adults, chopped smaller. As they grow, they will gradually consume more of the vegetables.

Feeding Juveniles

Juvenile bearded dragons, those between the ages of 1 week and one month, continue to require the same conditions as the hatchlings. They are, however, more likely to injure their tank mates due to hunger or competition for the best spots. Consequently, it’s crucial to:

  • Provide small meals several times a day.
  • Have a constant supply of fresh vegetables in the cage.
  • Separate juveniles into smaller groups as they grow, especially if signs of aggression are observed.

Juveniles exhibit several interesting behaviors more frequently than adults. For example, many juveniles will raise one forearm and wave it slowly in a vertical or circular motion. They also tend to bob their heads more often. While the “wave” is generally thought to be a benign social gesture, the head bob is more likely a warning of possible aggression.

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Bearded Dragons:

BATHING

How often should I bathe my Bearded dragon?

As often as you like, but once a week is good. Keep in mind that this may vary based on how your Beardie is behaving. Remember, being soaked is another way for your Beardie to get hydrated.

Therefore, if your Beardie has not been drinking from a squirt bottle or his dish, then you want to make sure you are bathing him regularly.

If they are not pooping, you may find that giving them a warm bath helps this process. Just make sure they don’t go swimming in it afterward as this can cause disease.

If you can’t bathe them each week, make sure you give them a good soak with the spray bottle on the weeks you can’t bathe them.

Ours didn’t like the bath at first, but now he swims and swims and doesn’t want to come out.

What is the best way to bathe him?

We have found that the best way for them and us is to get a container that fits well in your sink. This makes things very easy for cleanup as well.

Fill the water only to where it will reach their chest. You want your Beardie to be able to keep their head above water whenever they wish to.

What temperature should the water be?

The temperature should be lukewarm. You don’t want it too hot, but you don’t want it to be cool at all. When the water begins to get cool because they have been in for a bit, it is time to take them out and dry them off with a paper towel.

LIGHTING

What lighting do bearded dragons need?

Bearded dragons need the full spectrum of sunlight, UVA, and UVB. This allows them to produce the proper amounts of vitamin D they need to survive. Bulbs making this light should be 10-12 inches from your Beardie to allow them to soak up their rays.

Natural sunlight will do the trick. However, be very careful not to put your Beardie in a glass enclosure while in direct sunlight. The glass will concentrate the heat from the sun and burn your bearded dragon. If you would like to do this when you can, we recommend purchasing a separate screened enclosure so they can venture out into the sunlight.

Do you recommend any particular lights?

For an all-in-one, this Mercury UVA/UVB/Heat Lamp was a lifesaver when starting. When we were worried most about impaction, this was the all-in-one lamp that helped the most. It produces proper amounts of UVB/UVA and also serves as a basking lamp.

It is worth the money to have this all-in-one, especially if you are dealing with a 20-gallon terrarium and are limited with space for lights. Let us know if it serves the same for you.

As you move to a larger terrarium and need to space out the basking areas and shade areas, the ReptiSun UVB Fluorescent Bulbs can provide the basics (UVA/UVB) throughout, allowing you just to spot heat where needed with other, smaller bulbs.

Zoo Med’s linear fluorescent UVB lamps are made in Germany with the highest quality UVB transmitting quartz glass, with beneficial UVB emissions lasting a full twelve months! The UVB emissions from these lamps will help prevent or reverse metabolic bone disease in captive reptiles, birds, and other animals. In addition to UVB, Zoo Med’s ReptiSun, Iguana Light, and PowerSun lamps also emit beneficial UVA wavelengths, stimulating feeding, reproduction, and natural behavior patterns in reptiles, amphibians, and birds.

These lights come in varying sizes; this link directs you to the 36″ length, which should be sized for a 4ft long terrarium (approx 60-70 gallons)

SUBSTRATES

What should I be cautious of?

No matter what substrate you choose, just be careful that small pieces are not eaten. This could cause serious internal injury, including impaction. Since they make little or no sound, it is hard to tell when they have issues going on inside.

If you choose sand, make sure you sift through it when replacing it. I have found small pieces of glass (sand is ground glass, you know). If you choose others, again, try and remove any real small pieces.

I don’t recommend pebbles of any sort, and this can cause toenails to break etc.

What is your preference?

We started with the carpet when our Beardie was young. Until, of course, when you read that, they can eat any loose fibers and die.

We have sand now, as they are desert creatures. Opinions vary amongst what to use, and many say stay away from the sand. However, numerous breeders and pet store owners have all used sand.

It just seems the most natural to me, and when balancing it all together, it seems easiest to keep clean.

BRUMATING

What is Brumating?

Brumating is a form of hibernation most Bearded Dragons go through. Beardies less than one-year-old may brumate, but it is rare. This is typically adult behavior.

Our Beardie did not brumate until he was about a year and a half.

When do Beardies brumate?

Typically, it is when the weather cools down during the fall months and leads into winter. However, we have a theory that our Herp Vet entertained and did not tell us we were out of our minds.

Bernie seems to brumate when we turn the air conditioner on for the first time. He does not brumate in the winter when it is cold outside. He performs this action when it is cold in the house. So, our theory is that the outside weather does not matter. It’s the temperature in the house. The year we were pregnant, we humans, not the Beardie, we ran the AC extremely cold. Bernie brumated for a long time.

What are brumating behaviors?

Bearded dragons go into a semi-hibernation state. They will sleep more. Go into a shaded area of their home. And eat less. This behavior typically lasts for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Like I said above, when our AC is cranked really low, the bromating timeframe lasts a long time.

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