Species: Pogoda Vitticeps (Bearded Dragon)
Size and Longevity:
This reptile has an endearing personality and will quickly become a member of the family. Its gentle disposition and inquisitive nature makes it a great pet for the beginner and expert enthusiast alike. This is a great first pet for a responsible child but interaction with younger children should be supervised to prevent injury to the child or pet. Babies are 2.5 to 3 inches long and adult bearded dragons (commonly called beardies) reach an average length of 18 to 24 inches. They are considered to have reached adult length at 18 mo. of age but will continue to fill out a bit. As more is discovered about proper care and nutrition for these adorable animals, a longer lifespan is being realized. The average expectancy for a captive born and raised beardie is 15 to 20 yr. Dragons breed readily in captivity causing them to be very accessible.
Another appealing aspect of beardies is the variety of colors they are available in. Coloration can range from the normal tan, yellow and orange into newer morphs displaying broken patterns atop a body color of white, lavender and even red. Babies can take several months to show their color potential.
Care, Habitat and Caging Requirements:
Never place your dragon's tank where it gets direct sunlight. Temperature within the habitat can rise sharply and kill your pet quickly.
Bearded dragons are diurnal (active during the day). They are a desert animal and the humidity level in the tank shouldn’t be permitted to get above 30%. High humidity and too cool temperatures can result in respiratory infections. 10.0 desert UVB is required for 12-14 hr. a day.. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for placement of the light. For most bulbs, it will need to be within 6 to 12 inches of the animal to provide the proper concentration of UVB exposure. Ventilation is necessary so a wire top should be used to prevent build up of heat, humidity and also to allow the UVB to reach the animal. UVB cannot pass through screen, plastic or glass. The light should cover approximately 2/3’s of the length of the tank, not less than 1/2. Compact bulbs are not safe and florescent tubes or Mercury Vapor bulbs are recommended. If a florescent UVB light is used, dragons see the low frequency emission from the light as a cloudy day. Another white light source (common household bulb is fine) should be used to provide the daytime cycle and basking heat. Red bulbs should not be used for heat at night as dragons can see the red spectrum. Beardies prefer it to be dark while they sleep. The lights should come on and go off at the same time daily. Use of an appliance timer can do this for you.
If weather permits, your dragon is old enough and you decide to take your dragon outdoors for natural sunlight; be sure the lizard does not overheat. Early morning or evening sun will not overheat him as quickly. He should be closely monitored. It is best to place him in a wire cage with a well shaded area and cool water available; hold him or put him on a leash. Young dragons blend into the ground and can disappear before you realize they are gone. Contact with the ground always provides the opportunity for invasion by mites and parasites. Be sure your pet doesn't partake of wild insects, unsafe vegetation or walk in feces left by other animals.
It is never recommend that a baby or juvenile be housed on sand, walnut or corn cob, alfalfa tablets, aspen bedding, wood chips, pine bark, kitty litter or any other loose bedding/substrate. It will be ingested when the dragon eats and can cause a choking risk or impaction (ingestion of particles which clog/block the intestines) which can result in serious illness and even death.
Beardies need to feel secure and should have hiding areas (reptile caves) as well as limbs for climbing and a perch closer to the heat source. Hiding places at both ends of the temperature gradient is desirable but at least provide one on the cool side. If rocks are stacked in the habitat be sure that they cannot shift and injure or crush a reptile.
Housing is a matter of “stepping up.” Your baby dragon will be overwhelmed in the tank it will need as an adult so start it in a 10 to 15 gal. tank so that it can catch its prey items more easily. A 20 gal. long tank may be used and divided off with a piece of cardboard until the baby needs more room and is a better hunter. Keep the tank uncluttered while the baby settles in and learns to hunt. Babies should only be housed on paper towels. Replace as soiled or needed, at least weekly. Offer a shallow water bowl for drinking. Many dragons will defecate in water so be sure to monitor the bowl and clean it as needed, at least once daily. The water bowl should always be placed on the cool end of the temperature gradient. Mist (use a spray bottle to gently wet) the dragon and an area of the glass 3-4 times a day. Spray the dragon from the tail towards the head so as not to frighten him. Do not spray him in the face until he becomes accustomed to being misted. Many dragons will not drink from a water bowl and will instead lick droplets from the tank. The basking spot should be 105 to 110 degrees F. The warm side should be 100-105 F. and the cool side should be 10 degrees cooler. Babies need the heat but they can dehydrate. Be sure to mist them several times a day.
Beardies benefit from having a 15-20 min. soak in shallow water at approximately 80-90 degrees F. (it should feel slightly warm to your hand, not hot). An infrared temperature gun will give you an accurate temperature reading without being put in the water. You can keep the water warm during the soak by placing a UTH or heating pad under one corner of the container (be careful not to get it wet). Do not let the water become too warm. The water should be even with the shoulders, not over the back. Monitor your beardie during the soak to prevent him from drowning. This will keep them well hydrated as they absorb moisture through their skin. Most dragons will defecate in the warm water soon after being placed in it. Should this occur, change the water and continue the soak. Babies should be soaked 2 to 3 times a week; juveniles twice weekly and adults once a week. The misting and soaks will also aid your pet to more easily remove dead skin during a shed.
Dragons will shed often as they grow. If you look in the tank one day and your beardie looks more like a frilled lizard than a dragon; do not be alarmed. It can take a few days for your pet to complete his shed and slough off the dull dead skin. Daily soaks during a shed will speed the process along.
Your juvenile dragon can be stepped up to a 20 gal. long tank but he will soon outgrow it. Dragons grow at a phenomenal rate. By the time he outgrows this tank, he should be hunting well enough to move into his adult habitat. Suggested substrates are paper towels, non-adhesive shelf liner, aged (at least two weeks) newspaper, or butcher/packing paper. Replace as soiled or needed, at least weekly. Make sure the substrate offered is not slick and has enough texture that the dragon can keep its feet under it as it walks. Provide clean water at all times. Mist your dragon and the glass 2-3 times a day. The basking area should be 110 degrees F. The warm side should be 100-105 F. and the cool side should be 10 degrees cooler. Juveniles need the heat but they can dehydrate. Be sure to mist them several times a day.
An adult beardie will need a minimum space of a 40 gal. breeder tank. A 55 gal. aquarium is not large enough due to being only 12” wide. This is too narrow for a dragon. The dragon will have a heavy stiff tail and need room to make turns. Breeder tanks are designed for terrestrial (ground dwelling) animals (they do not hold water) and offer more floor room for the reptile, instead of side glass for viewing fish. The adage, “bigger is better” applies here. Always give your pet as much space as you can afford to. Good substrates for an adult dragon are paper towels, non-adhesive shelf liner, aged (at least two weeks) newspaper, butcher/packing paper or slightly textured ceramic tile (not smooth or gloss). Tile is a one time purchase, easy to clean, helps keep the sharp tip off nails, is available in assorted colors and conducts heat well. Spot clean (remove food debris and fecal matter) the tank daily between weekly cleanings. Adults require a warm side of 95 degrees F. and the cool end should be 85. Mist your grown dragon 1-2 times daily.
Reptiles are Ectothermic (having a body temperature that varies with the environment). Heat may be provided with an overhead lamp during the day and a UTH pad (Under Tank Heater) if necessary at night. The temperature of either heat source should be controlled with a rheostat or thermostat and determined with a digital probe thermometer or an infrared temperature gun. A temperature gradient should be established in the habitat. Recommended nighttime temperature is 70 degrees F. The temperature can drop as low as 65 F. at night with no ill effects and most reptiles benefit from a cool down at night. Temperatures below 65 degrees F. for a prolonged period can result in respiratory infections. The reptile will move around within its habitat to obtain thermoregulation (control of its body temperature).
Desert doesn’t mean sand. Antarctica is a desert. Most dragons originate from regions of hard baked earth though some do reside in sandy areas. Using sand as a substrate is frowned upon. You run the risk of your animal becoming impacted. That being said, if you must go there then please use a washed fine grain play sand. Do not use silica sand. It is sharp and can cause internal injuries. Calcium sands are deadly. They are not digestible and clump when wet. The dye can transfer to your animal as well as be ingested. It is never recommended to house a dragon on sand before the age of 18 mo. and obtaining full adult growth.
Defensive display and other behavior:
Once your beardie gets a bit of age on it, it may surprise you one day. Juvenile and adult dragons can appear quite fierce when they are frightened or startled. They will flatten their body causing it to widen, puff out their throat with a ridge of muscle causing their spikes to stand erect, open their mouth wide and may even lash their tail! Many have the ability to turn their throat very black (including the female of the species), thus the name “Bearded.” Though this sudden change in attitude and appearance may look very intimidating, it is usually all bluff. Dragons very rarely bite. Talk to your pet and give him time to calm down again. This attitude doesn’t usually last very long at all.
Dragons speak with body language you can observe. Head bobbing can be a way of a male determining if another dragon it sees is the opposite sex or a rival. Head bobbing can indicate aggression or submission, depending on the speed of the bob and the range of the movement. Another form of communication among dragons is arm waving. Babies are more inclined to do this than adults are. Even lone babies will do this. It can mean, “Please don’t hurt me – I’m harmless.”
Dragons are territorial and become more so as they age. They can become quite upset at the sight of a newly arrived beardie. Always use care and closely observe your dragon if a new pet is added within eyesight of the resident dragon. If usual posturing or agitation is evident in either animal, place the other tank out of view or block it from view with a towel or piece of cardboard.
Many dragons will shove themselves standing upright into the corner of their tank and sleep in that position. No one is sure why they do this, but it’s quite normal behavior.
Dragons may suddenly begin to claw/scratch at the sides of their enclosure. The reason for this is unclear but again, it seems to occur frequently and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
Feeding and Nutrition:
Get to know your pet’s tail! Odd as that may sound – it is the indicator of his overall health. If the tail stays the same and he’s not eating? He’s okay. Adult reptiles do have periods where they just lose interest in eating for a day or two and don’t need calories.
If you do not have an accurate reptile/postal scale, the easiest way to do this is to photograph the reptile the day it arrives. The settling in period may cause some to get uneasy and not eat. This doesn’t mean they are in trouble. If it takes several days before he eats – it just does! Adults can go longer without food than a baby can. Take another picture once he resumes eating and compare them. If his tail is the same – he’s fine. So there is no need for you to stress, or to cause him to, because you are pestering him with your worry!
Dragons are omnivores (consuming both animal and plant items). Greens and vegetables comprise about 20% of their diet. Beardies will eat anything smaller than they are that they can catch, including smaller siblings or hatchlings. Babies cannot be housed with juveniles or adults. If you house dragons together, be sure they are of like size and weight and the space is adequate. A varied diet is the key to health. Babies will eat more insects than an adult will due to the rapid growth they will be doing. As beardies age, they become more interested in their salad and less interested in their insects. A balanced diet includes insects & vegetables daily and fruit on occasion (avoid citrus fruits). Food items which are high in vitamin A should be fed sparingly. Too much can be toxic to dragons.
Please note that special care must be used in preparing serving size bites for a baby dragon. Though the rule of thumb is to feed your pet insects which are no larger than 2/3’s the size of the reptile’s head, this is not advisable for your baby beardie (0 to 4 months). Prey or food items that are too large can result in serious physical ailments such as ataxia (loss of motor control), choking, partial paralysis, impaction, seizures and even death. It is safest to feed baby dragons only pin head crickets or tiny roach nymphs. Phoenix worms are also available in a very small size. It is not advisable to feed babies meal worms unless they are very small and have just molted (are white and very soft). Gradually increase the size of the food items as your dragon grows larger, falling back on the rule of thumb once he is 4 mo. or older. Tougher food items such as squashes or sweet potato should be microwaved or boiled to soften them before they are offered to your pet. Make sure pellets are thoroughly soaked and soft (they will more than triple in size). These can be mashed and mixed onto the beardie’s salad if he does not eat them when sprinkled on top of the salad.
Dragons need to warm under their lights for about half an hour before eating. Their body temperature must be approximately 100 degrees F. for proper digestion to occur. The first meal of the day should be the salad for dragons of any age. Babies should be fed insects twice daily. Offer them all they will eat at each feeding. They are growing rapidly and will be voracious. If a young dragon suddenly stops eating it’s an indication that something is wrong. Adults should be fed insects once a day or once every other day. The last feeding should be done an hour or more before the lights go out to permit time for proper digestion before the heat goes off. If any type of worm is offered to older dragons in a bowl within the habitat, it’s a good idea to line a smooth sided bowl with a thin layer of vegetables to keep the worms gut loaded and provide moisture until they are consumed. Pinkies are more nutritious than insects and can be offered weekly once the dragon is large enough to swallow them. Use good judgment. An overweight reptile is not a healthy reptile. Adjust the frequency of this supplemental food item based on the weight and activeness of your pet. Though adults are much less energetic than babies, a beardie shouldn’t just lay around in one spot all day.
Variety is the key for good health and an understanding of the vitamin, mineral and nutritional value of foods will better help you provide a balanced diet for your pet. Please refer to this site to familiarize yourself with what foods should be fed and how frequently they should be in the diet:
Beardies will readily eat from your fingers. It’s very tempting to hand feed your dragon but this can quickly cause a dilemma. Dragons have been known to stop eating on their own if not handfed once you begin to do this. Dragons can be quite willful and stubborn. It can be very difficult to get them to resume eating on their own. If you decide to hand feed your dragon, I would recommend doing so only occasionally, not on a daily basis. Save a favorite insect, fruit or flower to offer as a hand fed treat instead of offering a meal item. Care should be used when offering a larger dragon insects or a pinkie. Dragon bites are painful and an over-zealous lizard can mistake a fingertip as part of the pinkie being offered.
Staple & Supplemental Insects:
MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) is a real concern. Calcium powder should include Vitamin D3 (aids in the absorption of vitamin D). A phosphorous free reptile vitamin should also be used. Babies’ gut loaded insects should be dusted (place the insects in a baggie or lidded bowl with small amounts of the vitamin and calcium powders and shake gently to coat them) 3-4 times a week and an adult’s gut loaded insects should be dusted 1-2 times weekly. Calcium powder without D3 should be provided in a shallow bowl within the habitat at all times.
The staple diet should be an insect which can be gut loaded (fed nutritious foods before they are fed to your reptile). Crickets and roaches are the preferred bugs of choice due to the ability to gut load them easily. Both are available for purchase on line or crickets can be obtained at your local pet store. Please do NOT feed your pet wild caught insects as this introduces fertilizer, pesticide, petro-chemical, fungal, bacterial and parasite issues.
Variety is the key to life so you can spice things up for your pet by offering new food items. Supplemental insects include nutritious soft grub-type worms such as Silk (seasonal & feed on Mulberry leaves) or Phoenix (highest in calcium) and if size appropriate, Superworms (all can be ordered on line or at most pet stores). Meal worms have a very high chitin shell content compared to the little meat ratio and are not a good staple insect. They are very hard to digest and pose impaction risks for young or sick animals. Butter and Wax worms should be offered sparingly as a treat item only due to their high fat content, but are useful to put weight on a reptile in trouble.
Feed your young pet all the gut loaded and dusted insects it can eat in 15 to 20 min. depending on how bad a hunter it is. This is a good reason smaller and uncluttered enclosures are a good housing for babies. Increase the size of their home as they grow and become better hunters. Aesthetically pleasing is not always best for the pet. Feed an adult all it can take in 10 to 15 min. Remove uneaten insect as they pose many problems. The insects are not gut loaded beyond an hour. They will clean the dusted powders off in under an hour. They will climb on and bite your pet. They will graze on the feces and then – do you want your pet to eat them? Many reptiles bothered by insects left in their habitat will cease to eat at all.
Handling and Care:
Dragons do not like to be grasped firmly. Since they are more trusting than other reptiles, they don’t tend to hold onto you firmly. Be careful not to drop your pet. Lift your beardie by scooping a hand under him and supporting him on your open palm with your fingers curled loosely over his back. Beardies of any age take well to being held. Rough handling or dropping your pet can result in a broken tail. The tail will regenerate but it will not be as pretty as the original tail was. The tail is important to the health of the animal as fat reserves are stored there. In the event a tail is lost, the animal should be separated from others and housed on clean paper towels until the wound heals to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the animal is getting enough to eat.
As with any new animal, it will need a “settling in” period. The animal should be observed but not handled when it first arrives for a full week, possibly two. It may not eat for several days, up to a week, until it feels secure in its new surroundings and begins to eat. During this time, the animal should not be handled or stressed. It should not be handled until you are sure it is settled and eating well.
If your animal is still not eating within a week, double-check your husbandry (housing size, floor substrate, hides, temperatures, basking perch, humidity, etc.) with reliable instruments. His basic requirements must be accurately accounted for. Peel and stick or round meters are simply unreliable. An animal being housed too cool or too hot cannot digest properly and may not eat.
The temptation to hold a new animal is overwhelming. We know this. We have the same impulse. Resist it. This can’t be stressed enough: “Give your lizard time to settle in.” Your pet will acclimate more quickly and you will reap the benefit of owning a happy and healthy animal. Give it time to adjust to the sights, sounds, heat, light and smells of its new home. It takes time. Handling causes stress and delays eating. During this time, talk softly to your new pet when cleaning, watering, misting or feeding to help him get used to you.
After 1-2 wk. the long awaited moment will arrive. This has given you time to observe your pet and come to know its particular habits. Wait until the pet is awake and active. When you begin to handle your pet start slowly for the first few days and keep handling minimal (1 - 2 minute once a day) to permit the animal to become secure that when you touch it, it will not be harmed. A ‘hand over hand’ method is recommended. Place the animal on your forearm and allow it to walk the length of your arm. As it nears your hand, place the other arm under and forward of the first, permitting the reptile to walk from one hand to the other arm without being restrained or frightened. Be diligent and prepared to prevent the lizard from jumping or falling with an open hand to block it. Avoid grabbing the reptile or making big/fast movements. When returning it to the habitat, simply cup a loose hand over the pet using your fingers as a ‘cage’ to prevent it from jumping or running and to stress the reptile as little as possible.
Slowly increase the time of handling by 2-3 minutes every few days to give the reptile time to trust you and in no time at all – you’ll have a trusting pet that will enjoy time with you.
Your dragon will need to be 3 mo. of age or older to determine its gender visibly. Place the animal on your open hand facing away from you and gently hold him in place with a thumb over his back. Gradually lift the tail towards the head to about a 90 degree angle being careful not to injure the animal’s spine. Do not push the tail too far over the back.. A bit up the tail just past the vent, a male will have two elongated hemipene bulges. Femoral pores will be evident on mature males. On the tail side, a female will have a central bulge right at the vent or no bulge at all.