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Caring For Your Bearded Dragon

Many herpetologists consider bearded dragons one of the better lizards to have as a pet because of their temperament, size and appearance. If you are considering getting a bearded dragon – named for its ability to extend and blacken the skin on the underside of its throat creating a beard-like appearance – here are some things you should know.

Who Are They?

Bearded dragons are agamid lizards belonging to the genus Pogona (formerly Amphibolurus). They are categorized as diurnal (active by day), omnivorous and semi-arboreal (tree-dwelling). Their average lifespan is 7 to 10 years. They grow to 24 inches in length and are relatively easy to keep in captivity. Since being introduced to the United States, they are available in red, yellow, gold, pastel and sandfire colors.

Setting Up House

For the majority of reptile owners an indoor vivarium is the only option. It should be as large as possible, measuring at least 6 feet long, 16 inches wide and 17 inches high. It should have a secure, tight-fitting lid made from Plexiglas, acrylic, or glass.

The enclosure needs to have objects for the dragons to climb, such as branches, driftwood or large rocks. Food, water bowls and water baths should be located in accessible areas and cleaned frequently. An area should be set up so the lizard can hide and isn’t always on display. The hideout can be purchased or constructed from cardboard, clay or plastic.
The Proper Temperature

Thermometers should be placed in various parts of the vivarium so accurate readings can be taken. Since bearded dragons naturally live in arid, rocky, semi-desert regions they need to have daytime temperatures ranging from 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, a basking area where the temperature reaches 88 to 95 F, and a nighttime temperature that can fall as low as 70 F.

You can heat the enclosure with a basking light, which should only be used during the day, a ceramic infrared-element bulb by Pearlco, Active UV Heat (Active Heat, Santa Barbara, Calif.), heating pads or heat strips. Hot rocks are a poor alternative heat source, but if used, should be covered with fabric to prevent contact burns.

The Proper Light

If natural light is unavailable, full-spectrum lighting that provides UV-B should be set up in the vivarium. This is essential for both behavioral and psychological benefits and the activation of vitamin D-3, which absorbs calcium from the gastrointestinal tract. Some commercially available fluorescent bulbs that provide the UVB spectrum, are Dura-Test’s Vita-Lite, Vita-Lite Plus, ZooMed’s iguana light and Active UVHeat. These bulbs should be placed within 12 inches of the dragon and no glass or Plexiglas should separate them. It also is important to replace the bulbs every 6 to 12 months even though they are still working because the UVB production diminishes with time.

The Proper Diet

Adult bearded dragons primarily are herbivores that consume 90 percent vegetable matter. Juveniles are more omnivorous, eating 50 percent plant material and 50 percent animal matter. To meet their nutritional needs, dragons should have a daily serving of dark green leafy vegetables, including collard greens, kale, endive, spinach, parsley, bok choy, broccoli, romaine, red, green and Boston leaf lettuces. Carrots, peas, squash and beans also can be part of their diet.

In addition to vegetables, the dragons’ menu should consist of crickets, mealworms, king mealworms and pink and fuzzy mice. It’s important to feed the insects properly a couple of days before serving them to the dragons, and make sure the mice have been separated recently from their mothers. The insects should consume a quality pulverized rodent chow, and a mineral supplement such as RepCal, Reptocal or Nekton should be sprinkled on the insects before feeding them to the dragons a couple of times a week. Sliced oranges are a good source of water for crickets and mealworms should be given carrots.