The Bearded Dragon

Latin name: Pogona Vitticeps

Bearded dragons are lizards of the Agama family. They are about 7 cm (3inches) long when they hatch and grow to their adult size of 45-60cm (18-24in) in about 1 year. Females are normally smaller than males. They come in a wide variety of colours including shades of brown, grey and orange. Bearded dragons are so called because their spiny throat projections look similar to a human beard. The male’s beard is typically darker than the female’s and it can be puffed up in a display of dominance. Their lifespan is 8 – 10 years.

Facts & Information

Origin: Bearded dragons are native to Central Australia, where they are found in semi-arid woodlands and rocky deserts. They are skilled climbers and spend the morning and evening basking on an exposed rock or branch.

Benefits of keeping: Bearded dragons adapt well to being handled and are one of the easiest lizards to to tame. Gentle, regular handling of young ones is beneficial, as a dragon will learn to recognize its keeper. They are hardy and relatively easy to keep,. They have good activity levels during the day and an out-going personality interesting social behaviour. Males “head bob” rapidly in a display of dominance, while females respond a slower head bob. Both sexes will wave with a front to appease more dominant animals. All of this makes them one of the best lizards for beginners to keep.

Housing: A larger (90cm) Exo Terra Terrarium is suitable for juvenile dragons, while adults should be kept in a Vivexotic Bearded Dragon vivarium, or a Vivexotic Maxi XL vivarium. They are best kept singly, but have also been successfully kept in pairs or in groups, with only one male per group as they will fight. Males are slightly larger than females and have a row of enlarged femoral pores running along the inner thigh.

Substrate and Furnishings: Bearded dragons need a desert environment, so Exo Terra sand mats are a perfect material to use for flooring. Exo Terra Desert Sand can also be used as a substrate. Remove all droppings and clean terrariums on a regular basis to prevent disease. Dragons do climb and logs and rocks make good basking areas, as long as they are fixed securely. A hide or something to shelter behind is essential. This helps to prevent stress and allow the bearded dragon a safe haven from the outside world.

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) Note: No extra night heat is needed for adult dragons if the room stays above 16°C (60°F). A basking lamp is the best heat source as 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. An Exo Terra Heat Rock may also be used. Choose an appropriate size for your terrarium and position towards one end of it, underneath the Repti Glo 10 bulb and basking lamp. This allows for the required temperature gradient. Digital thermometers should be placed near the basking spot and at the cool 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 early spring.

Lighting: As well as needing good bright lighting in the form of a spotlight, dragons need ultraviolet light (UVA for normal vision and activity levels and UVB for normal calcium metabolism), which must be supplied by specialist reptile UV lamps or tubes. A high-UVB fluorescent tube, such as Exo Terra Repti-Glo 10.0, ideally fitted with reflectors, should be used to supplement the lighting. These should also be fitted to a timer to give 12 hours light/day. These must be replaced every year, even though the may 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. A balanced diet must include green leaves (eg. spring greens, kale, dandelion, watercress) vegetables (eg. chopped red pepper, peas, grated butternut squash, carrot) insects (eg. black or brown crickets, locusts, mealworms) Feed juveniles twice daily; offer adults fresh green food daily and insects every 1-2 days.

As an occasional treat, fruit can be given (eg. apples, bananas, kiwi, grapes). Too much can cause diarrhoea. Baby dragons can become seriously impacted (gut blockage) by large insects and should be fed only small crickets no bigger 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 use to allow slow release into the terrarium. Dragons will benefit from having a small dish of calcium (calcium carbonate powder or grated cuttlefish) in their terrarium. Exo Terra make a complete dry pellet diet for both juvenile and adult bearded dragons.

Shedding: Beaded 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. It will peel off in strips. Misting them with water will help with the process.

For further information check out the following websites:
The Federation of British Herpetologists: www.fbh.org.uk
Exo Terra: www.exo-terra.com

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Chris Newman, REPTA and The Federation of British Herpetologists in the preparation of this guide.