of Bearded Dragons
Erica Mede, CVT
and edited by Susan Horton, DVM
There are 20 different species of bearded dragons in
but only three of those species are commonly found in the pet
industry. The Inland or
Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is the most common
lizard kept and recommended for keeping in the pet industry due to
its gentle disposition and relatively friendly manner when being
handled. The Bearded
Dragon (Pogona barbata) and Lawson’s Dragon (Pogona
henrylawsoni) are also found in the pet industry but in much
smaller numbers. For the
purpose of this hand out however, bearded dragon or “beardie”
will stand for the Inland or Central Bearded Dragon.
Beardies are found throughout the semi-desert regions of
along forest edges too. In
, they are frequently found basking on tree stumps, fences,
railings, and any other object that juts out of the ground.
Bearded dragons are well muscled, broad headed, flat bodied
lizards. Their signature
“beard” is under the chin and consists of small spikes that jut
out when the throat is inflated.
The head is spined as well as the sides of the abdomen.
Some breeders sell Leather Backs which are genetically
designed to have a softer feel by eliminating some of the spikes.
Juveniles lack a beard. The
tail is half the length of the lizard and incapable of autotomy (a
defense mechanism found in some lizards also known as “dropping
the tail”). The
bearded dragon has become quite popular in the breeding industry for
morphs (different variations of color not created in the wild).
The most common morphs are Red/Gold, Sandfire, Sandfire
Pastel, and Gold Headlight Iris.
These lizards have an average life span of 5-9 years although
12 years is no longer uncommon.
Adult bearded dragons are omnivorous while hatchlings and
juveniles are more insectivorous.
Hatchling up to two months old should be fed two to three
times a day a mixture of insects and healthy greens.
Several feedings is especially advantageous when there are
several dragons housed together.
Proper growth is achieved through several small meals with
smaller prey items versus one large meal with a large prey item.
Adults, however, can be fed a salad of greens such as romaine
lettuce, escarole, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and turnip greens
with a small amount of other vegetables and fruits such as carrots,
peas, strawberries, blueberries, melon, and squash once a day.
Edible flowers such as squash blossoms are also okay to offer
and generally relished. Insects
such as crickets, meal worms, and feeder roaches (such as dubias)
are excellent protein sources and should be offered every other day
to every three days depending on your lizards’ body condition
(thin, normal, or obese) and your vet’s recommendation.
Gut loading feeder insects with healthy calcium rich greens
such as kale and Swiss chard is required for a positive calcium to
phosphorous ratio (this prevents and corrects metabolic bone
disease). Feeder insects
must be dusted with a calcium supplement (one without phosphorous)
3-4 times a week and a multi-vitamin once a week.
Some owners feed small pinkie mice to their larger adults.
It is recommended to limit the pinkie feedings to an
occasional treat or once every two week feeding due to the higher
fat content. The most
important rule to remember when it comes to insect and rodent prey
is that the feeder can not be longer than the distance between the
dragon’s eyes! This
helps prevent dangerous impaction and digestion issues including
Hatchlings grow fast but can be maintained well in a 10
gallon aquarium at a young age while growing into adults that can be
housed in aquariums as large as 75 or 120 gallons!
The smallest cage for a singly housed adult is a 30 gallon
breeder although larger is preferred.
Multiple lizards housed together require more room to allow
for escape from each other. Custom
enclosures for adults made of wood or melamine should be 72” long,
16 inches wide and 17 inches high according to some sources.
Ventilation is important regardless of the size of the
enclosure. It is
recommended that aquariums have 3 sides covered to prevent escape
attempts and allow for a feeling of security.
During the warmer months, beardies can be housed outside in
an outdoor set-up created with wood and wire mesh.
There are several blue print plans available on the internet
for these enclosures. Please,
do not take the aquarium outside!
This can cause lethal hyperthermia especially in direct sun
supervision is required ensure the health of your beardie.
These enclosures must be protected from large amounts of
rainfall and predators. The
optimal positioning allows for some shade to be available as well.
It is never recommended to keep bearded dragons on a sand
substrate even the calcium sand sold in pet stores. Life
threatening impactions are frequently caused by accidental ingestion
of particulate bedding including sand, coconut fiber substrate, and
crushed walnut bedding. A
better substrate that is easier to clean is indoor/outdoor carpet,
potting soil (requires weekly changing), and butcher paper.
The substrate should be spot cleaned daily and changed as
needed or after 7 days, whichever comes first.
Temperature and Humidity
The temperature for bearded dragons during the day should be
around 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit and
drops to 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
The basking site should be around 88-95 F.
Two thermometers should be used in the cage.
One placed at the level of the basking site and the other on
the cool end of the tank an inch above the substrate.
It is highly recommended to regulate the temperature using a
thermostat. The primary
heat source should be an over head basking light or ceramic heat
emitter. Secondary heat
if needed ideally comes from under tank heaters under half the tank.
Do not use electrical heating rocks due to the extremely
likely chance the bearded dragon will develop thermal burns.
The humidity in the cage should be maintained between 40 and
60%. This can be
achieved by placing a water dish in the enclosure, preferably one
the lizard can soak in, and daily misting.
A hygrometer is highly recommended.
UVB lights are necessary for the proper growth and
maintenance of bearded dragons.
The ultraviolet B radiation stimulates the synthesis of
calcium. The best source
of UVB is the sun but only when the animal is outside and directly
in the sun light. Never
place the cage by a window. The
UVB light is filtered out through glass and the chance of over
heating the enclosure is extremely high.
The recommended bulb for a hatchling and sub-adult is a Repti
Sun 10.0 and a Repti Sun 5.0 for adults.
The bulb must be changed yearly as the strength of the UVB
will deteriorate with time despite the bulb giving off visible
light. Placement of the
bulb should be overhead and no more than 10 inches away from the
basking site. The light
cycle for bearded dragons should be 12 hours of light with 12 hours
of darkness. Mercury vapor bulbs work well, too.
Dried wood branches are appreciated by most bearded dragons
as the species is a modest climber.
A large rock under the basking light makes a wonderful
basking site. Live
plants such as aloe and palms can be added to the enclosure.
Artificial plants are easily disinfected and make appropriate
beardies will utilize a half log hiding area.
Custom and creative hides can be made as well.
Although we at Chicago Exotics recommend single housing we
understand that group housing is a popular option among reptile
keepers. Males are
typically very territorial and fighting comes to a head during
breeding season. It has
been noted that a submissive male can be housed with a dominant male
but it is still best to separate them.
Dominance displays include inflation of the throat (also a
defensive move) and head bobbing. Displays
of submission are seen as arm waving which as males become older
disappears but is retained in females throughout their life.
Females, once they establish a hierarchy seem to live with
each other without incident as long as there are multiple feeding
stations and enough room. Bearded
dragons can also be housed along or in a group of several females to
one male. The hierarchy
is often very clear with bearded dragons as the dominant lizard will
bask higher than the others as well as eat first.
It is always recommended to have multiple feeding stations if
more than one beardie is housed together.
Bearded dragons can reach sexual maturity by 6 months of age
and as late as 12 months. Males
have large femoral (under side of the thigh) pores and a thicker
tail base. Females have
small or non-existent femoral pores and a slender smoothly tapered
tail. As the lizards
mature, males will develop broader heads as well.
Breeding is triggered by an increase in the temperature
generally in late winter and early spring and lasts around four
months. Females indicate
receptivity by laying flat on the ground and raising their tails.
The male will hold the female by biting her neck and using
his tail to push their cloacas together.
Copulation is not long. Bearded
dragons are capable of laying several clutches (as many as 5!) in
one four month season with around 20 eggs a clutch!
Females will become restless and aimlessly wander the cage
digging at random and go off food right before eggs are laid.
A nesting box of moist sand helps stimulate laying of the
eggs. Females will lay
eggs regardless of fertilization but most females reabsorb
unfertilized follicles. Fertile
eggs if incubated properly at 84 degrees Fahrenheit will hatch
around 55-75 days. Eggs
must be removed from the enclosure and kept moist and protected.
Call Chicago Exotics and ask for Erica if you have questions
about incubating eggs.
Grooming and Handling
Bearded dragons will learn to
tolerate routine handling. When
handled on a daily basis, they seem to become more relaxed as time
goes on, and cleaning the enclosure is simplified when the animal is
docile. Bearded dragon
skin is very rough, so light gloves and long sleeves should be worn
to protect against mild scratches.
Their toenails also become needle-sharp, and should be
trimmed every few weeks. Finally,
because all reptiles are potentially infected with Salmonella
bacteria, which can be transmitted from reptiles to humans, routine
cleanliness and hygiene are essential.
Sources and Resources to Utilize
Lizards Volume 1
- Manfred Rogner
Keeping and Breeding Lizards - Chris Mattison
Reptile Medicine and Surgery - Doug Mader
Manual of Exotic Pet Practice - Mark Mitchell and Thomas N.Tully Jr.
The Bearded Dragon Manual
- Philippe de Vosjoli
A Complete Guide to Pogona vitticeps
- Philip Purser
Windy City Reptiles Group
King Snake Forum
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to
provide helpful service to you and your pet. If you have any
questions, give us a call at 847-329-8709.
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