The Inland, or Central Bearded Dragon certainly inherited their name in all honesty... it was derived from the way they can enlarge or 'blow out' a flap of skin under their lower jaw when upset or disturbed. Aside from blowing their beard out, they may also darken the color there to almost black which creates a bearded display. The Bearded Dragon is native to many different habitats and regions of Australia.
They thrive in deserts, grasslands and woodlands... in both unpopulated and populated areas. It is said by many herpetologists who have come across Beardies in the wild, that one can walk right up to one and the little guy wouldn't mind... and possibly even pick it up with little or no fuss being raised by the animal. Their temperament is extremely docile and trusting, therefore making it an excellent pet - even for children and beginners. The adults can reach up to approximately 2ft in length, with the average being 18 - 20 inches. Hatchlings are approximately 3 to 4 inches in length (head to tail) and should be 5-6 inches at the end of their first month. By the end of their second month, they should be at least 6-7 inches in length with considerable more body weight. We have found that with proper care and a little luck, dragons can reach 9 inches within 2 months, with the average being 8 inches. From 2 - 6 months we have found the average growth rate to be approximately 1/2 inch a week, with some weeks being 1 inch or more to 1/4 inch or less.
General Care - Bearded Dragons need little care, beyond daily maintenance, once they are established in/acclimated to their new environment. Care should certainly be taken to emulate their natural setting to reduce stress to the animal... As should a schedule be developed for lighting and feeding for the same purposes.
Selection - Selecting the animal to be your new pet is one of the most important steps toward success in maintaining bearded dragons. When purchasing a dragon online, it is basically done through an 'honor system'. The animal you receive should be robust appearing with ample fat stores at the base of its tail (generally it is possible to determine the overall health of all lizards by examining the base of the tail for fat stores). Beware of protruding bones at the base of the tail. Take notice to the dragons eyes in particular - are they noticeably recessed? If so, its possible that the dragon is becoming dehydrated. A healthy dragon should appear alert with both eyes wide open and attentive to its environment.
Housing - A hatchling up to 12 inches (ideally), should be kept in a 15 gallon tank. This will allow the lizard enough room to run around and exercise... and yet not have to run too far to catch its dinner. As the Dragon grows, so should its enclosure. I would recommend no smaller than a 55 gallon tank for one or two adult Bearded Dragons (M/F). This will allow each Bearded Dragon 'living-room', minimizing squabbles - yet encouraging their natural displays and interactions. I use a 4 ft (w) X 2 ft (d) X 2 ft (h) cage (eight sq.ft) for housing up to three adult dragons. Any additional dragons should be llowed approximately 4 sq.ft. of floor space per dragon. **
NOTE - All cage accessories that are collected from outdoors must be parasite free before introducing them to your collection. You can either soak them in a 10% bleach / 90% water solution... or bake them in your oven for approximately 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Both of these methods will assure the death of parasites/bugs and their eggs.
Substrates - Most shops also provide a selection of reptile bedding and sand. (We suggest following the 'prey size rule' when selecting a substrate.)
Reptile Bark/Bedding - This is definately not a good idea. Crickets can hide under the bark, resulting in the dragon not getting its full meal and the possibility of the crickets coming out at night and bothering the dragon. Another major reason is that the dragon could accidently ingest a piece of bark which would result in terminal ingestion.
Children's Play Sand - We have found this to be an economically affordable and low maintenence substrate for dragons. Simply 'scoop' the poop and replace the sand as it is visually needed. For hatchlings, be sure to run the sand through a window screen to eliminate any tiny pebbles that they may decide to taste. (If you do not sift and your dragon ingests a pebble, it will most likely result in terminal ingestion ) There are many types of sand available in different grain sizes. We use fine grain childrens sterilized playsand in our cages. Be sure that there are no silicia warning on the bag before purchasing it.
Reptile Carpet - This works well and looks nice. Its fairly easy to clean also - even easier if you have more than 1 piece cut to fit in the cage. The only downfall is that dragons normally pass a bowel movement every day - requiring the cleaning and replacement of the carpet and decorations on a daily basis.
Newspaper/Paper - This is a good idea if you're concerned about ease of cleaning and cost. Its not the 'prettiest' set-up for your tank, but it works well. *The ink in the newspaper will NOT harm your dragon - its non-toxic. It may give them dirty-looking feet, but thats about all. Be aware that crickets will hide under the newspaper.
Cage Accessories -
Rocks - We choose to use River Rocks for basking areas in our enclosures. They are smooth for easy cleaning and when placed under a basking light, get very warm and provide heat to the beardies underbelly, which aids in digestion. This way they receive heat from the top - via a basking light, and from the bottom - via the heated rock.
Branches - These make beautiful additions to a cages set-up. A few things to keep in mind when choosing to add branches to the environment is that the branch will not conduct/absorb heat as well as a rock. You will need to monitor the temperature to be sure it is adequate for your dragon to digest its food. Branches also make a great hiding place for small crickets. Crickets will crawl into any split or peeling bark that they can find... so be sure to shake out the branch in the evening to avoid excess crickets running around when the lights go out.
Hide Boxes - This is a no-no for small dragons. The dragon may decide to hide instead of bask and therefore will not eat well and grow properly. This is also the favorite place for a crickets to hide. Its cool and dark which makes for a perfect gathering place... so, unless you like to chase crickets around before the lights go out, hide boxes are something to avoid.
Lighting and Heating - Proper lighting is also very important to the well-being of a Bearded Dragon. A good split of day/night is 14/10. This can easily be regulated by a timer, which can be found at almost any hardware store. ((not only is it better for the Dragon... its much easier on the caregiver. :)) A basking spot is also a must for a Beardie. The Dragons body temperatures are important for digestion and fighting off illness.
A low watt bulb, placed in a reflector dome at one end of the cage, will concentrate the bulbs heat to that one side of the cage. The top basking area on one side of the cage (closest to the light) should reach between 105 - 115 degrees for adults and 110 - 120 for babies - with the ambient cage temperature on the other side of the cage being significantly cooler - approximately 80-85 degrees. This basking temperature may seem high, but these temperatures are common of the ground surface when air temperatures are over 85 degrees. (yes, this can be tricky... but that's where cage accessories come in handy.)
The nighttime temperature of your cage can drop into the 60's without worry. If your house gets cooler than that, you may need to invest in a red bulb for nighttime temperature maintenance. This will emit the heat needed to keep the temp up, but not the light that will interrupt the dragons sleep pattern. WARNING - Do not use an electrical reptile heat rock or heating pad as a heat source for your Bearded Dragons. Thes products have the potential to fatally burn the dragon's belly, as many lizards do not feel a 'localized' temperature... but an overall body temperature. (See Thermal Burns below)
The need for a full spectrum florescent reptile light is among those topics being disputed between Hobbyists at the moment. Dragons DO need a source of UVB light to naturally produce vitamin D3, (which helps to absorb calcium) and without a steady supply of it, are more subject to complications. This can be obtained by a bulb or by subjecting your Dragon to natural sunlight for a period of time each day. Many people think that by placing the vivarium near a window and allowing the reptile to bask in the sun will help. This is not so. Normal plate glass as used in windows and vivariums will actually filter out the ultra-violet rays that are required to synthesise natural vitamin D3.
If choosing to use a full spectrum light, the bulb should be within 6-10 inches of the basking area, so they can absorb the UV-A and UV-B to manufacture their vitamin D3 for bone formation. These bulbs need to be replaced after 6 months time. Once again, it is not vital AS LONG AS there is proper supplementation in their diet and enough light intensity.
We feel UVB indoor lights are not needed if dragons are fed a proper diet; and supplemented with Vitamin D3. A calcium/D3 supplement, like RepCal can be used in place of the UVB bulb. The dragon still received its needed Vitamin D3, but instead of producing it itself, it is given dietarily.
Feeding - Feeding your Bearded Dragon will require handling bugs. Yes, we said BUGS... Crickets, mealworms, wax worms, oh! And possibly pinkies. Bearded Dragons are omnivores, meaning that they will eat veggies and small animals. Insects should be a daily staple of your Dragons diet and greens should be available at all times.
Bugs - CLICK HERE to BUY LIVE INSECTSThe size of the food items you feed your Dragon is extremely important. All food that is offered should be smaller in width than the Dragons mouth. Use caution in choosing the insect size, as too large of a cricket can cause health problems (ie. - blockage) while digesting. The same applies with mealworms, use small mealworms for small dragons, and increase the mealworm size as the dragons size increases. A hatchling, up to 2 months will eat mostly insects, picking at finely chopped greens here and there.
2 week old crickets (3/8 inch in size) should be offered 2 - 3 feedings a day, only in the amount that the dragon will eat at one feeding.. A juvenile Dragon (2 - 4 months) will eat approximately 20% greens to 80% insects... 3 week old crickets should be given 2 times daily and small (1/2 inch) mealworms can be added to their diet. 4 months to maturity should be fed approximately 4 week old crickets once or twice daily. The small mealies may be replaced by larger ones and king mealworms may also be added. Pinky mice can also be added to their diet once a week, depending on the size of the dragon. Adult dragons need to be fed adult crickets, king mealworms... once a day or every other day. Pinky mice, if used, should be fed sparingly - unless feeding a gravid adult.
Bearded dragons are voracious eaters, especially when they are young. If you aren't feeding the hatchlings enough, and if they have cage-mates, they will nibble toes and tail-tips - if it moves, its food. If your dragons aren't eating well, something is possibly wrong. The most likely problem is that the cage temperature is incorrect: their bodies must reach high temperatures in order to digest their food. If they are digesting slowly, they wont eat well. First step - Check Temp.
Gutloading - Crickets and mealworms are readily available at most pet shops. These crickets and mealies are generally not high in nutrients directly from the pet shop and will need to be fed well (GutLoad, baby cereal, fresh fruit & veggies) before being offered to your Dragon. This is called 'gutloading'. I recommend 'gutloading' crickets for 24 hours before feeding. We use an orange, carrot and a potato for moisture, and a mixture of baby cereal and Gutload for nutrients.
Veggies - There is a huge selection of 'leafy' greens which are high in calcium to feed your Dragon, some of which are... kale, arugula, collard & mustard greens, parsley, dandelion greens and flowers, endives, radish, carrot and turnip tops, escarole and chicory endive. For more of a variety, mixed into the greens may be many other veggies such as squash, corn, peas, carrots (shredded), sweet potato, cucumber, zucchini, green peppers, chard... also chopped fruit such as cantaloupe, apple, blueberries, peaches, pears, grapes, plums, raspberries... all chopped finely to avoid choking. The main idea in their diet is variety.**Do not feed your dragons iceburg lettuce as is has very little nutritional value and may give the dragon the 'runs' - prompting dehydration. Dragons will also munch on other greens. If you take your dragon outside or allow it to roam about the house - please be sure to check that the possible munchies are not poisonous.
USDA Nutrient DataBase for Standard Reference
The Toxicity of Plants
Edible and Harmful Plants
The "G" List
Supplementation - Another 'must' for Beardies is a Calcium supplement - We use Rep-Cal Calcium - with Vitamin D3 and occasionally Miner-All. The dust can be placed into a baggie and crickets 'shake -n- baked' in it before feeding... and the liquid can be sprayed onto their greens. The form of the calcium is a preference, but its presence is definitely a must. At least 1 feeding every other day should be calcium supplemented. **One day a week, we supplement with a multivitamin such as Herptivite. Caution should be exercised when using a multi-vitamin supplement, as reptiles are susceptible to vitamin A toxicity.
Water -Bearded dragons require a dry cage, but need to get a lot of water from sprayings and eating fresh vegetables. The hatchlings should be sprayed twice daily on their heads, keeping the spray directed onto their heads as long as they keep lapping up the water. Adults should be sprayed a few times a week. This simulates the natural way dragons get water by licking up drops of dew they find on plants in the morning. Some do learn to drink from a shallow water pan, but if they get thin or dehydrated it will be necessary to get them to ingest more water by increased spraying and by misting their fresh vegetables. If using a water dish, the water MUST be changed daily and if the dish has been defecated in - it must be cleaned immediately.
Sexing -Bearded dragons are not difficult to sex accurately when young. Many people may resort to "hemipenal eversion", pushing at the cloacal area to evert the male sex organs. This procedure can damage the lizard and is NOT recommended. Body proportions do differ: males tend to have a larger head to body ratio, whereas females have a large body with a medium head and are often smaller overall - unfortunately, we have not found this to be more than half accurate. We check for hemipenal bulges and have found that to be the most accurate way to identify sexes in young dragons.
Behaviors - The most endearing aspect of owning a Bearded Dragon is it's interactive nature. Some of the displays you will see are almost comical...
Beard display -This is often seen being done by male Beardies when determining a hierarchy or during breeding season. The Dragon will 'blow out' its beard by extending a bone-like structure covering flap of skin therefore giving the appearance of a beard. The color of the skin there will also change color to look almost black... We have also noticed this color change to extend down to cover the Dragons chest area. We have also seen this used as a defensive gesture when a Dragon is threatened or startled. Beards are not limited to males; the females will show off their beards as well for various reasons.
Head Bobbing - This is a dominance display. The Dragon seems to be saying " Who is the boss here?" It is performed quite frequently during the breeding season to gain the attention and/or submission of a female Dragon... and always when your Dragons are given new territory to conquer. (Place them on the floor in your living-room. )
Arm Waving -This is often seen being done by the females in the cage and the less 'dominant' males in response to a 'beard display' or 'bobbing episode'. This is the submissive gesture in recognition and deference to the dominant male. Along with arm waving, I find that some Dragons will bow down slowly to the Dominant one. This looks like a bobbing scene in slow motion.
Raised tail - This is most often seen during breeding season. It seems to signify a certain level of alertness and acceptance. Juvenile Dragons will also do this when stalking its prey.
Diseases and Disorders -
Mites -Although mostly uncommon in a private herp collection, mites are another possible complication. They will most likely be noticed first around the eyes or the corners of the mouth as little round, black/brown creepy creatures. They can be treated by many commercial products available at a local pet shop or by a veterinary strength solution available from your veterinarian.
Be sure to follow the directions on the product. Treatment of mites usually takes close to a month of continuous care... as eggs can hatch daily and must be 'taken care of' ASAP... these little bugs have an extraordinary reproductive rate. If you have more than the 1 infested reptile, take extra precautions not to transfer the mites from one to another.,br />
Terminal Ingestion -Unfortunately, young dragons will swallow larger food items than are appropriate for their size. They can die from the large food item lodging within their digestive tract. If this were to occur they will extend their hind limbs straight back as though paralyzed or in excruciating pain. You can raise your basking temp or soak the dragon in some warm water to possibly induce a bowel movement - but success is a long shot. (Note that lounging/basking dragons often extend their hind limbs. Do not confuse this posture with the indigestion-induced paralysis, in which the legs remain extended and are unable to move. If your dragon can walk, its just being a loungelizard.)
Thermal Burns - These are caused by direct contact with a heat source and scald the skin - most likely resulting in blisters. The blisters often break open and create the opportunity for secondary bacterial infections which not only complicate treatment, but could possibly be fatal (depending on the severity). Dragons WILL walk through their feces - so an impeccable cage is a must during treatment. While daily treatment can be taken care of at home - initial diagnosis and follow-ups should be performed by your veterinarian.
Calcium Deficiency -Without adequate calcium and vitamin D3 in your Dragon's diet, aside from a slow growth rate, you will more than likely encounter Metabolic Bone Disease. The first symptom usually noticed is uncontrolled twitching of the dragons toes or legs. This can be a fatal disease if not treated promptly. If this problem occurs, we suggest raising the amount of calcium in the Dragons diet immediately and taking it outside in direct sunlight to bask for a period of time each day until the twitching stops. If there is no change in a few days, consider veterinary care as an option.
Vitamin A Toxicity -This is a common problem that occurs when dragons are over supplemented. Many multi-vitamins contain levels of VitA and should be offered sparingly. Toxicity is characterized by a swelling of the throat and eyes, and proceeding to a bloating of the body and lethargy.
Respiratory Infections - The Bearded Dragon is very resistant to respiratory infections. BUT... prolonged exposure to low temperatures, improper humidity and poor cage conditions could result in respiratory complications. Treatment for this problem... usually antibiotics and to raise the ambient temperature of your cage a bit. (The best thing is to avoid low cage temperatures and eliminate the problem before it arises.) The most obvious symptoms are gaping, forced exhalation of air, puffing of the throat, a puffed up appearance of the body and lack of appetite. In some cases, the mucus may accumulate in the mouth and/or emerge from the nostrils. If these symptoms are present and persistant the illness is usually well progressed - a veterinarian visit is in order immediately for treatment.
Internal Parasites -Symptoms of internal parasites include weight loss, worms in the stools, runny stools, gaping and listlessness. If you observe a combination of these symptons you should take your bearded dragon to a veterinarian to have a stool sample examined to determine if there are any parasites present and if so, what kind they are. Follow their recommendation for treatment.
Egg-Binding (Dystocia) - This condition is generally attributed to very few differing causes. It could possibly be caused by a biological malformity (that may cause an obstruction) which may not allow enough room for the eggs to pass from the animal... Or it could also be caused by very large or malformed eggs that simply wont fit through the oviduct. BUT when these possibilities are eliminated the cause is usually sub-standard conditions for egg-laying. Proper nesting sites and materials must be provided at acceptable temperatures. Malnutrition and dehydration are also attributing factors to egg-binding. Diagnosis and treatment should be performed by your veterinarian. Treatment can vary from removal of the eggs and organs through surgery - to simple massage.