Bearded Dragons

Description and Background

Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) is the name most commonly used to describe the Inland or Central Bearded Dragon. Their characteristics include broad, triangular heads and flattened bodies with spiny scales arranged in rows. Most of their spikes are found on their throat (beard) or at the back of their head. They display their beard when they are threatened, though the spikes are not very sharp. Over the years, different color variants of bearded dragons have been produced and now come in colors anywhere ranging from dull yellows to bright reds with blue, and even some all white dragons. Bearded dragons perform a hand-waving gesture when they are being submissive or a head-bobbing motion when they are showing dominance over other dragons. They have the ability to change the color of their beard to jet black when threatened. Male bearded dragons grow to be about 16 - 24 inches, and females are usually 12 - 20 inches from the nose to the tip of their tail. In captivity with good care, they have been known to live 8 - 12 years on average. Bearded dragons live in arid, rocky, semi-desert regions and dry open woodlands of Australia. They are good climbers and spend a majority of their time laying on branches and bushes. When they aren't climbing, they can be found basking on rocks.

Housing

Young beardies, normally under 10 inches, can be comfortably housed in a 20 gallon aquarium. Anything over 10 inches should be moved to nothing smaller than a 40 gallon aquarium. Bigger is always better as the beardies enjoy running around and climbing. Always use a screen lid as well because it allows the light to penetrate into the cage. A screen lid also promotes proper air exchange and humidity.


Temperature, Heating, Lighting

Heating is extremely important when it comes to bearded dragon's health. Beardies need it to be very hot in order to properly digest their food and stay healthy. At the basking spot, there should be 12 - 14 hours of around 105 - 110 ºF (40 - 43 ºC) for younger beardies. Adult bearded dragons can have basking temperatures at around 95 - 100 ºF (35 - 38 ºC). This can easily be achieved with a ceramic heat dome and an appropriately sized wattage bulb. The cooler side of the tank should be kept between 80 - 85 ºF (27 - 29 ºC). Night time temperatures can be dropped as low as 65 ºF (18 ºC), but typically are kept around 70 ºF (21 ºC). This is easy to maintain because this is room temperature for most homes. UVB bulbs are also very important for bearded dragons because it helps keep their bones nice and strong. Reptisun 10.0 fluorescent bulbs are what I recommend. They are one of the only UVB light sources available that are strong enough for desert species like bearded dragons. UVB lighting must be provided 12 - 14 hours a day, and the beardie must be 6 - 8 inches away from the lighting for it to work efficiently.

Humidity

Humidity is not a huge deal to bearded dragons since they come from desert terrains where very little water is present. Humidity should be kept between 30 - 35%, which is just below the normal household humidity levels. If you are having troubling achieving this, adding a water dish to the tank should help to raise the humidity levels due to the high temperatures in the tank.


Substrate

For baby and juvenile bearded dragons, the best choices are either paper towels or reptile carpet. The reason for this is because beardies are very curious and like to taste just about everything they can. If they are constantly tasting the sand that is their substrate, then this could eventually lead to impaction, which will in the end kill your poor beardie. This being said, avoid sand for young bearded dragons. Using sand is acceptable when they are adults as long as you feed them in a separate tank.

Diet and Feeding

Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. Any food that you give your beardie must be no larger than the space between its eyes. Failing to do this could lead to impaction or hind leg paralysis. Baby and juvenile beardies should be fed appropriately sized crickets 2 times a day. Feed them as many as they can eat in a 5 - 10 minute period. You'll soon realize that they can consume anywhere between 30 - 50 crickets a day. You should dust the crickets with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement 5 times a week and a multivitamin supplement, like Herptivite, 2 times weekly. Adults only need to eat insects once a day. You may feed them a variety of insects like locusts, cockroaches, waxworks (treats only), silkworms, or superworms. Never feed them wild caught insects, as they can contain parasites or toxins which could harm your beardie. Dust the insects with calcium/vitamin D3 supplements 3 times a week and a multivitamin once a week for adult bearded dragons. All beardies, regardless of age, should be fed a wide variety of greens, vegetables, and fruits everyday. Avoid iceberg lettuce because there is no nutritional value there. Feed carrots sparingly because it has been known to cause vitamin A toxicity in beardies. Lastly, completely avoid all citrus fruits such as oranges and grapes because they are harmful to most reptiles.

Water

Fresh water should be offered daily, although most beardies will not drink from their water dishes. Beardies get most of their water through the foods they eat and baths. A 15 - 20 minute bath every few days will help to keep your bearded dragon hydrated and also to ensure proper sheds. Make sure the water is warm, not hot, and is only as high as its chest. Beardies usually like to swim and play in the water, so expect that. They also tend to defecate in the water so change it immediately and refill it for them to continue their bath.


Shedding

Depending on age and size of your beardie, they will shed anywhere from twice a year to once every 2 - 3 months. Since younger bearded dragons are constantly growing, you can assume they will shed more often than adult bearded dragons. You can tell when a bearded dragon is about to shed because their color will dull quite a bit. For the most part, beardies do not have shedding issues. Regularly bathing them will help any loose skin come off with ease. Do not try to peel the loose skin off because you can damage the new skin, and it may hurt your bearded dragon.

Handling

Handling beardies is very easy due to their docile nature. Very rarely do you hear of someone being bitten by a bearded dragon, and when you do hear of something like that happening then the owner probably deserved it because they would rather run away than bite you. When you do hold your bearded dragon, make sure you are close to the floor or something like a bed because they like to jump sometimes. This will prevent them from falling from a very high height incase they do accidentally escape from your hands. NEVER pick up a dragon by the head or tail! Always pick it up by sliding your hand under its belly to support its body. For larger dragons, you may also have to support its tail with your forearm. Taming younger beardies is quite simple if you do it for a little each day. Try to hand feed it as well because this will help to gain trust, which will also help to calm them down a bit. Each bearded dragon has different temperaments and attitudes, just like humans, so some extra time may be needed to tame certain beardies. 

Cleaning

Cleaning is fairly simple for bearded dragons depending on the type of substrate you use. The tank should be spot cleaned every single day. This means scooping up the poop and any loose food that the dragon may have knocked out of its food bowl. Every week it should be wiped down on the glass and any decor in the cage that may have gotten dirty. Once a month you should clean everything in the cage and make sure it is disinfected. This will prevent bacteria build up. You can use reptile safe solutions that are readily sold on the internet or pet stores, or you may also use a vinegar solution. This can be done with mixing 10 parts water to 1 part vinegar in a spray bottle. What most reptile breeders decide to use is a 2% Chlorhexidine solution. This is what veterinarians use to disinfect all of their tools because it is completely safe to use around animals. You can buy it online and mix 2 tablespoons per 1 gallon of distilled water in a spray bottle. Spray it in the enclosure and on all of the decor and let it sit for 5 minutes and wipe down. This works extremely well.

Health

For the most part, bearded dragons are very healthy if properly taken care of, but there are a few common health issues you may come across at some point.


Dehydration: This mostly happens when you do not bathe your bearded dragon enough or do not provide them with enough water in general. The most well known way of checking if your beardie is dehydrated is to pinch a loose area of its for a few seconds and if it stays in that position instead of going back into place, then it is most likely dehydrated. The best solution to this problem is to bathe your dragon for 10 minutes in warm water and start spraying their vegetables when you feed them.


Diarrhea: This is just when your bearded dragons poop is runny. This is normally temporary and caused by stress, bad food, or possibly even a change in diet. If your beardie is constantly having diarrhea, then it could be parasites or worms, which would require veterinary attention.


Droopy Eyes: This is when one or both of your bearded dragons eyes seem to droop a little bit. This has been known to be caused by kidney issues so if you think your beardie may have droopy eyes, please consult a vet immediately. If not treated, this could lead to partial or total blindness in the affected eyes.


Impaction: This is basically a blockage in the intestines or body cavity. Noticing it is fairly simple if your beardie has had a pretty regular bathroom schedule. If your dragon is eating well but not pooping, it may be an impaction problem. Normally, you can bathe your bearded dragon in warm water for about 10 minutes and massage its stomach to help it poop. Otherwise, seek a veterinarian immediately.


Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD): This is basically a lack of Calcium, Vitamin D3, and/or Phosphorous, which weakens your bearded dragon's bones. Signs of MBD are bumps in the legs, back or tail, or jerky and spastic movements. Most of the time MBD can be treated by making sure you have the correct temperature and UVB lighting, and providing adequate multivitamins to a well balanced diet.


Mites/Parasites: Mites and parasites transmit diseases to your bearded dragon by sucking their blood. These are rare to see on bearded dragons though because their scales are usually too thick for the mites to penetrate. This causes them to attack softer parts of their body like mouth, eyes, and ears. Treatments are only available from veterinarians.


Mouth Rot: This is when a white or yellow gunk appears around the mouth of your dragon. This will cause your beardie to have a decreased appetite. Because of this, you need to have mouth rot treated immediately by a vet so your bearded dragon doesn't become malnourished as well.


Paralysis: Paralysis in bearded dragons will affect their hind legs most of the time. Feeding them foods that are too big for them almost always causes this. Remember, never feed anything to them that is bigger than the space between their eyes. If you feel your beardie may be paralyzed, seek veterinary advice because reversing paralysis is possible if caught early enough.


Respiratory Infections: Respiratory problems are very uncommon in bearded dragons, but that doesn't mean they still do not happen from time to time. Typical causes are too low of temperatures, too high of humidity, or a too small of an enclosure. Common symptoms are constant mouth gaping (Note: This is okay from time to time. This is the dog equivalent of panting when they get hot.), noticeable breathing issues, and excess mucus around the mouth or nose. Only viable treatment is to bring your bearded dragon to a vet and have them give you the proper medication.


Breeding Bearded Dragons

Breeding bearded dragons is known to be a little too easy. As long as the females are kept very healthy and happy, there should be no complications when it comes time to breeding. The first and main step in breeding is obviously obtaining a male and a female beardie. Sexing the dragons will be mentioned in the following section of this care guide. When placing a male and female together, the male may seem slightly aggressive towards the female but rest assured knowing it is all part of the mating process. The male will nip at the female multiple times throughout this process and can seem like it is harming her, but she will be fine. Bearded dragons are too large for lay boxes, meaning you must make the substrate in the aquarium her lay box. The substrate should be equal parts vermiculite, play sand, and top soil. This will hold humidity well and also clump together enough so it will not collapse on her while she is digging her hole. For the most part, the tank should be about 4 inches deep but in certain areas you want to give her about 12 inches deep so she can dig deep enough and feel secure to drop her eggs. Females can lay any where from 20 - 30 eggs per clutch and about 4 - 6 clutches a year. That is a lot of eggs! Every 2 - 3 weeks you should be able to find another clutch of eggs. The next step is to collect the eggs and begin the incubation process. When incubating, you want to keep the eggs between 82 - 84 ºF (28 - 29 ºC). Doing so will make the eggs hatch in about 65 - 75 days, which is long enough for the hatchlings to develop properly. Once they hatch out of their eggs, it would be helpful to leave them in the incubator for about 24 hours to let them finish absorbing their yolk sac. After this period, you can take them out and place them in a small cage. They will begin to feed approximately 72 hours after hatching.

Sex Determination

There have been people in the past who say that the size of the base of the tail, size of the head, or color of beard are all ways of easily determining the sex of the dragon. However, these cannot be used to determine the sex because both genders can be seen with any one of these traits. There are really only 2 reliable ways of determining whether your beardie is male or female. The first and most common way is to just look under the base of the tail. If you hold your bearded dragon perpendicular to a surface like a table, and ever so gently raise the tail up to a 90 degree angle, you will be able to see bulges. If you see 2 bulges next to each other, this means you have a male. If you see only 1 bulge in the center of the base of the tail, then you have a female. This is very reliable but only in beardies 8+ inches in length. Anything under and they may all look like females because the male’s hemi-penises have not been developed yet. The other way should only be attempted by an experienced breeder or vet. This method is called probing and it involves actually inserting a probe into their vent to make the sex glands show. 


Baby Bearded Dragon Care

Caring for younger bearded dragons requires a little more practice and attention than it would be for adults. All needs are the same for younger and older except for a select few. The first difference would be cage size. For young beardies up to about 10 inches, they should be housed in really no larger than a 20 gallon aquarium. The reasoning for this is so they can actively hunt food easier and also feel more secure. If they are in a 40 gallon or larger aquarium at this size, they may feel exposed and actually stop feeding which would obviously not be good. The second difference is the amount of food and the type of each food they require. Now, as I said before both adult and baby beardies require plant and animal matter, but the babies should have much more animal matter than plant. This will help their growing bodies obtain higher levels of protein in order to survive and be active and healthy hunters for the first year or so. Feeding dusted insects 2 times daily is a necessity for baby beardies, as well as providing fresh fruits and veggies daily. The third one is less significant but still a valuable difference. The basking spot should be a slightly hotter temperature than it should be for an adult bearded dragon. Babies need it to be hot to help them digest all the food they consume everyday so a basking spot should be about 105 ºF (40 ºC) where as for an adult its about 95 ºF (35 ºC). Other than that all care is the same for baby and adult bearded dragons.

Recommended Item Checklist

A glass aquarium

Screen lid

Reptile carpet

Ceramic heat dome

Basking bulb (wattage depending on cage size)

UVB hood

UVB fluorescent tube

Branches and Rocks

Temperature Gun

Spray bottle

Chlorhexidine

Food and water dish

Herptivite

Rep-Cal with Vitamin D3

Cage for crickets

Crickets

Cricket food and water

Disinfectant (for cleaning)