Bearded dragons

Bearded dragons are native to Central Australia where they are found in semi-arid woodlands & rocky deserts. They are skilled climbers and spend part of the day basking on a rock or branch; they take refuge from the sun in the hottest part of the day. They are called bearded because their spiny throat projections that look like a human beard. They can live up to 10 years and their full adult length is approx. 45-60cms (18-24″). They adapt well to being handled & are one of the easiest lizards to tame – handled gently & regularly they learn to recognise their keepers making them one of the easiest lizards for beginners to keep. They have good daytime activity levels & outgoing personalities with interesting social behaviour. Males’ heads bob rapidly in a display of dominance, while females respond with a slower head bob; both sexes will wave a front leg to appease more dominant animals.

Housing

They can be kept singly, in pairs or groups, with only one male per group as they will fight. Males are slightly larger than females & have a row of enlarged femoral pores running along their inner thigh. Groups will live happily together in larger enclosures while hatchlings up to four–fivemonths old may be kept in a smaller terrarium.

Environment and Furnishings

Bearded dragons need a desert environment, so Exo Terra desert Sand is ideal as a base. Make sure droppings are removed and the terrariums are cleaned on a regular basis to prevent disease. Dragons climb so provide rocks and logs for good basking areas, making sure they are not sharp and they are fixed securely. A hide or something to shelter behind is essential to give privacy and prevent stress.

Heating

A daytime basking area of around 100°F (38°C) is essential, as are cool areas ranging from 68-84°F (20-29°C). No extra night heat is needed for adult dragons if the room stays above 60°F (16°C). A basking lamp is the best heat source because the dragons are attracted to light; Exo Terra Sun Glo Basking Spotlights are suitable set on a timer to give 12 hours light and heat per day.

Larger enclosures may need ceramic heaters as well. Wire mesh guards should be fitted over all heat sources used in order to prevent thermal burns. A thermostat is essential to control the heat source within the terrarium and to prevent your pet from becoming too hot or too cold. Digital thermometers should be placed near the basking spot and at the end of the terrarium to check the temperatures.

In the autumn and winter, as daylight hours shorten, some adult bearded dragons seek cooler areas and become dormant for weeks or even months (this is called brumation). Feeding will cease and once they have begun to sleep all day background temperatures may be safely reduced to 60-70°F (16-21°C) and basking lamps turned down until the dragons awaken and start basking and feeding again in the spring.

Lighting

As well as needing good bright lighting in the form of a spotlight, dragons need ultraviolet light (UVA for normal vision and activty levels and UVB for normal calcium metabolism), these must be supplied by specialist reptile UV lamps or tubes. A high UVB fluorescent tube, such as Exo Terra Repti-Glo 8.0 ( or 10.0) ideally fitted with reflectors, should be used to supplement the lighting. These should be fitted to a timer to give 12 hours light per day. These must be replaced every year, even though they look fine, as all fluorescent bulbs lose their UV radiation within one year.

Water

A shallow bowl of clean water must always be provided. Dragons can take time to learn to drink from a dish. As they are attracted to water movement a dripper system may work or they can be regularly offered a syringe filled with water, dripped on the lizard’s head or in front of its nose. This way they learn to lap from the nozzle. Babies can be gently sprayed and will drink the droplets.

Diet and Feeding

Bearded dragons are omnivorous – vegetarians and meat eaters. So a balanced diet must include green leaves such as spring greens, kale, dandelion, watercress, vegetables such as chopped red pepper, peas, grated butternut squash, carrots and insects such as black or brown crickets, locusts and mealworms. Feed juveniles twice daily; offer adults fresh green food daily and insects every 1-2 days. As an occasional treat fruit can be offered such as apples, bananas, kiwi or grapes but too much can cause diarrhoea. Baby dragons can become seriously impacted (gut blockage) by large insects and should be fed only small crickets no larger than the distance between the dragon’s eyes. They should not be fed mealworms. All insects should be well fed so that they contain maximum nutritional value when fed to the dragons. They normally come with food such as bran in the container. Once or twice a week, before offering them to the lizards, insects should be dusted with good quality reptile mineral/vitamin supplement powder. Exo Terra cricket feeders are perfect as a container to dust them in and then allow slow release into the terrarium.

Dragons will benefit from having a small dish of calcium (calcium carbonate or grated cuttlefish) in their terrarium.

Salmonella

Like all living things, dragons can carry the naturally occurring bacteria Salmonella, which can be acquired through ingestion (by mouth). Good hygiene is therefore very important when keeping any animal. Remember you are more likely to acquire Salmonella from raw or under cooked chicken, a stale cream cake or a dog so do not automatically assume that your snake is the only suspect!

Always wash your hands after handling all animals.

Shedding

Bearded dragons shed their skin naturally as they grow. This will be up to 8-10 times in the first year and several times a year after that.They go off their food for a few days before shedding. The skin will peel off in strips and misting them with water will help with this process.