Captive Care of Bearded Dragons
Created | Updated Sep 9, 2005
The bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), a type of lizard, can be found over a large area of Australia, from the great inland deserts to the woodlands of the eastern coast. When buying a dragon from the pet shop be sure to get one that is at least 20cm long, because the young can be difficult to care for.
They will live between five and ten years if they receive good care. Bearded dragons are an excellent species for beginning herpetologists1 who want to start breeding reptiles. These lizards become very tame and enjoy lots of handling, making them great pets. Due to their simple care and popularity, more than 50,000 are kept in captivity.
What do they look like?
Bearded dragons are a base medium brown with dark brown to black blotches. They are heavily built and have square muscular heads, strong necks and flat bodies to catch the most heat. They are quick when young but slow down as they get older. They do not store their fat in their tails, like some lizards, but should have a reasonably thick tail base. They are sometimes confused with geckos, which are a different type of lizard.
Housing larger dragons is simple for any beginner. Allow 120 by 120cm floor space for each animal. Sliding fronted chipboard vivariums work well. Avoid screen-caging, because the lizards can get their claws caught easily, which can cause some very serious injuries.
The cage floor is best covered with sand. You can buy edible varieties, such as T-Rex or Bone Aid Calci-Sand, which work well. Do not use builder's sand. Be careful not to use small substrates with dragons that are less than 25cm long, as they can cause fatal internal impactions if eaten. Your dragon will like a hide such as a ridge tile or cork bark tube.
Two males do not get along, so don't try to keep more than one male per cage. The desire to defend their own territory is so great it is best not to let adult males even see one another across the room.
Never place more than three young dragons in a ten-gallon-sized cage with just one spotlight for very long, because the most aggressive lizards will dominate the best basking spot and will be the first to eat. If this occurs, you will see a major size difference in the group of young over a period of two weeks. It will lead to stress and eventual death of the smaller beardies if they are not moved to a cage with less competition.
Lighting and Heating
You will also need a UVB-fluorescent tube, because in the wild beardies spend hours basking in direct sun. The Reptisun 5.0 is recommended, and lasts for six months.
Your main goal should be to make sure they are close to their heat source and that you give water to them by spraying their backs at least twice a day until they learn to drink from a dish of water.
Heat is the key to keeping beardies thriving. A spotlight is necessary and needs to be directed onto a rock or branch. Here, the lizard can raise its body temperature to between 35 and 40°C. When a bearded dragon gets really hot, it will sit with its mouth open. This is the natural way for a lizard to lose heat. It is important to have a 'cool' end in their cage where they can move when they are hot enough. Water should be available at all times in a ceramic pet bowl.
The bearded dragon will eat almost anything - plant or animal. Their diet in captivity should be varied, and all food should be dusted with a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. You can offer them three different food items each week: live crickets, superworms and mixed greens. Occasionally, they may take a 'pinkie'2, but only as a treat. They are also happy to be fed commercially-produced pellets, blossoms, wax worms and fruit pieces. These should be offered in a shallow feeding dish at the cool end of their vivarium. Baby beardies enjoy fresh greens daily. The outer leaves of Romaine lettuce (never Iceberg lettuce), watercress and dandelions are perfect sources of plant nutrients for the growing young.
Bearded dragons are not prone to bad health but still can get worms or mites. If your animal is bleeding from a wound or internally (bloody vomit, or blood in the faeces), is paralysed, has abnormal swellings on any part of its body, may have a broken bone, or has ingested a potentially toxic substance, get your pet to a vet right away. This may sound obvious but many people don't react quickly enough, with fatal results. Worms or mites can be treated with powder or drops, which are available from good vets.