Bearded dragons are one of the most popular pet reptiles, and for good reason. Aside from being a good beginner reptile that's easy to keep, they're one of the friendliest reptiles you'll meet. As with any new pet, it's important to do your research prior to bringing them home, whether you're an expert or a beginner. Although there are eight different species, the one that's most commonly kept as a pet is the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
How to Take Care of a Bearded Dragon
Beardies, as they're affectionately called, are one of the easier lizards to keep, provided you follow some basic guidelines about their care, and you're prepared to be social with them.
The minimum aquarium size for a juvenile bearded dragon is 10 to 30 gallons. Adults need at least 120 gallons of space to thrive. Typically, because bearded dragons can grow up to 24 inches in length, they do best in an enclosure measuring 3 feet wide, 3 feet long, and 2 feet tall. Their tank should not be kept in an area with exposure to direct sunlight, as this can quickly overheat their enclosure.
You will need several accessories for the tank to keep a bearded dragon in a healthy habitat. Like many other reptiles, they need a basking area, which generally entails providing a flat-bottom rock or a basking log and a ultraviolet light that produces UVB in the appropriate spectrum. When they're not basking, they may want to hide away for a while. Choosing a pre-made reptile cave or some sort of do-it-yourself hiding area is necessary to keep them happy and healthy.
While plants are not necessary, they can help your beardie feel more secure by providing hiding spots and shade. You can use fake plants or live ones, although your beardie is likely to try to eat the live ones. Since not all plants are safe for beardies, if you choose to use live ones, use safe plants such as cilantro, jade, junipers, mint, parsley, or ponytail palms.
The flooring for the cage can be reptile carpet, fine playground sand, or newspaper. Substrates that you should never use include gravel, wood shavings, crushed corn cob, or potting soil that contains vermiculite. You may see calcium-based sand advertised for bearded dragons, or have the urge to use playground sand to save on cost, but babies and juveniles shouldn't be exposed to these sand types, as your beardie might eat them inadvertently when feeding, possibly leading to impaction.
DIY Bearded Dragon Cage
Some reptile owners prefer to build their own reptile habitat for something fully customized. You can find plans for building your own bearded dragon habitat online. A suitable habitat can be built with plywood and sturdy glass as long as it allows for proper airflow and will be secure enough for your pet beardie.
Bearded dragons come from natural desert habitats, so they will need an environment that approximates those temperatures. The ambient temperature in the tank should be between 78 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and in the 70s at night. The basking area should be about 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous, which means they eat a mixture of animal proteins and plants. Proteins must be provided in the form of insects, including waxworms, earthworms, mealworms, cockroaches, and crickets. They can also get their protein from commercially prepared and age-appropriate lizard food options.
Beardies should get fresh veggies daily, with about ¼ of a young beardie's food made of fresh veggies. Adults should get about half of their daily diet from fresh vegetables. They can also eat fruit as an occasional treat. Fruits should be fed in moderation due to their high sugar content.
Always provide your beardie with fresh water. As a general rule of thumb, their bowl should be cleaned out daily and refilled with fresh water. However, if you notice the water getting dirty or murky, it should be changed sooner. The water in the bowl should be less than an inch deep to avoid drowning.
You may also notice your beardie doesn't always drink from their bowl. In these cases, don't be concerned. This is a natural behavior and all you need to do is keep a spray bottle nearby to mist your beardie a few times per day. You will notice they drink the water coming down from their body, as it mimics what they would do in the wild.
In addition to food and fresh water, they should get a calcium supplement twice a week. This usually comes in the form of a powder that you can put on live insects before feeding them to your lizard.
Bearded Dragon Characteristics
A bearded dragon pet can be an interesting addition to your home. Aside from being friendly and intelligent reptiles, they have quite a few intriguing characteristics.
While you most often see beardies in shades of brown and tan, breeders are producing lizards with new colors and patterns, which are called morphs. Some popular colors are red, yellow, orange, purple, and white (also called a "zero" morph). Popular morphs have names like "silkback," "leatherback," and "translucent."
A bearded dragon's spines grow on their throat, sides of the body, and head. Bearded dragon tails are almost as long as their body. An adult male can grow up 2 feet long, including his tail. They flare the skin on their throat area when threatened or feeling territorial. This ability makes them look bigger. It's also how they got the name "bearded" dragon.
The average lifespan of a pet bearded dragon is 10 to 15 years. When bearded dragons are sick, their back often changes to a black color and their legs become light yellow. Their beards may also turn black if they feel scared or anxious, or if they are in mating season.
Don't worry if you notice front teeth missing, unless this is accompanied by other concerning signs. The bearded dragon can grow their teeth back. However, unlike some lizards, a beardie cannot grow their tail back.
Bearded dragons are intelligent and can recognize their owners. Their social awareness is part of what has made them such spectacular pets. Many beardie owners have trained them to do different behaviors, including going out for walks on a leash. Not only are they friendly to humans, they're also friendly to other beardies. They are social lizards who "wave" to other dragons when they pass by and have been known to wave to their owners, as well.
- Bearded dragons can sleep standing up, and it's common to see them sleeping by standing against the wall of their tanks.
- If a beardie is feeling stressed or scared, their scales will stick out somewhat from their bodies, like a dog or cat with hackles up.
- While beardies are usually friendly and enjoy being handled, they can bite. Bites are not a common occurrence and tend to happen if a beardie feels scared. They also might bite accidentally if your hands smell like their food.
- Bearded dragons are capable of swimming in the wild and many enjoy spending time in the water. You can provide your beardie with a large plastic tub with water for some swimming fun, although make sure the water is distilled or treated with a water conditioner, such as Zoo Med Reptisafe.
Bearded dragons are generally easy to find at most pet stores that sell reptiles. They are one of the most popular pet reptiles in the U.S. A bearded dragon will run about $30 to $60 if they are young. Adults can be around $100. If you have your heart set on a special color or morph, pricing can vary widely. Some colorful beardies may run about $200 to $500, while highly sought-after morphs can be as high as $1,000 or more.
Bearded Dragons Are a Unique Pet
Spend some time with a beardie and you'll quickly see why these reptiles are such popular pets. They're relatively easy to care for compared to other pet reptiles, and they're friendly, intelligent, and like being handled by their owners. If you're looking for your first reptile, it's hard to pick a better choice than a beardie, though they're loved by experienced reptile owners, as well.