Reptile Specialists - Tucson, Arizona

Bearded Dragons

Latin Name - Pogona vitticeps

General Information: The Bearded Dragon originates from central Australia. They can get up to 22 inches long but 15-18 inches is average. They can be found in arid, rocky, desert areas as well as arid woodlands. They are mostly terrestrial but will climb around shrubbery and small trees. They are diurnal (active during the day.) With proper care, bearded dragons can live 10+ years in captivity. They are very social lizards and seem to enjoy living in groups. When housing more than one together, however, be sure that there are no significant size differences, as they will not hesitate to pick on or even eat smaller cage mates. Also, mature males often do not get along. We have successfully housed males together without trouble but caution is advised.

Bearded Dragons as Pets: Bearded Dragons are an ideal lizard for first time reptile owners and kids. Their gentle disposition makes them easy to handle even as babies. They are social in nature and seem to enjoy interaction. Their mature size is large enough to be impressive yet still manageable for the average enthusiast.

Housing: A 20 gallon terrarium is a good start for a baby bearded dragon but the bigger the better because they grow fairly quickly. An adult lizard requires a minimum of a 40 gallon terrarium. The terrarium should be longer than it is tall to offer them plenty of ground space. Logs or some other cage decor should be placed around the basking area to allow them to get closer to the lights to help them regulate their temperature.

Substrate: There are many options in this category. Hatchling bearded dragons should be kept on something other than sand as they can eat too much of it and become impacted. Millet, fine coconut husk (dry), and alfalfa pellets all work well. Be aware, if you choose to use alfalfa, it needs to be regularly cleaned. Mold can build up around the water/food dish and it needs to be removed regularly as it can cause some respiratory problems when allowed to keep growing. Sand is an ideal substrate for adult bearded dragons. It is easy to clean and the dragons love to dig into it. We recommend some kind of calcium carbonate sand, which is safer for them if ingested. Never use silica sand or untreated dirt that’s been brought in from outside.

Lighting and Heat: Bearded Dragons need a basking spot that provides them with both UVB and heat. They need to be able to bask under a temperature of 100 degrees F. The other cooler side of the tank should be around 80-85. They also need a full spectrum light. We recommend mercury vapor bulbs. These bulbs give off plenty of UV and lots of heat so it meets all your dragon’s daytime lighting needs. They can get down into the lower 70’s at night but if it gets colder than that, either a nocturnal heat lamp or small heat pad should be provided during the night. Hot rocks should never be used with bearded dragons because they often burn their bellies trying to meet their needs for an exceptionally warm basking spot. For more information visit our Heat and Light FAQ.

Feeding:  Bearded Dragons are omnivores, which means that they need to be provided with both animal protein and vegetables. Although crickets should be the main source of protein, mealworms, super worms, and (optional) pinky mice are all good staples. Also a variety of darker greens should be provided such as kale, bok choy, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, cilantro, parsley, and romaine. Vegetables like squash, carrots, green beans, and peas are good as well. Greens should be served with stems removed and the veggies should be chopped or grated to avoid choking. Other items such as cactus fruit, hibiscus flowers and leaves, nasturtiums, mulberry leaves, and dandelion greens are great too. Fruit should never be more than a small percentage of the diet. It makes an excellent treat for your dragons but never feed it on a regular basis as most fruits contain too much sugar for a healthy lizard. Wax worms are also a fun dragon treat. Prey items should be dusted with a high quality calcium supplement. We use supplements with both calcium and D3 every other day for babies and twice a week for adults. We feed our dragons salad in the morning and a couple hours later give them some crickets (and/or other protein).
A shallow water dish should always be provided also. Some dragons prefer to be misted and you will find that if you direct the spray to the top of the head, the water will naturally drip down into the lizard’s mouth. They also almost always enjoy a good soak every once in awhile.

Sexing: Bearded Dragons are hard to sex until they are at least juveniles. An easy way to tell is to hold the dragon in one hand and pull the tail up with the other. Do not pull too far up so as not to hurt the lizard. On males, you will see two bulges past the vent with an indentation in the middle. On females, you will see one large bulge more in the middle and closer to the vent.

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Bearded Dragons of both sexes also have what are called femoral pores. These are a row of pores lining the inside of the thighs. In males, especially during breeding season, they secrete a waxy substance. On a male Bearded Dragon, you will notice that these pores are larger and stick out farther. In females, the first few closest to the vent sometimes bulge but the rest (if not all) are flat and small.

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Breeding:

General Information: Once you have acquired a definitively sexed pair of Bearded Dragons, breeding them is fairly simple. You want to make sure that they are mature, which happens around a year or eighteen months. The female should also be nice and plump as she will most likely lost a little weight after producing anywhere from 7 to 45 eggs (the average is around 20). It is also important to make sure you have enough space. Some males may become over zealous and can easily over breed a single female if care is not taken. Be sure she is ready each time before breeding occurs. Occasionally, breeders who have overzealous males will separate a female for a few months to give her a break after laying a clutch or two of eggs. Sometimes they need time to put weight back on and keep their energy up. Of course other Dragons don't need this separation time at all as they may take a break naturally, usually during the cooler months.

Egg Box: Bearded Dragon females will also need a nesting area to lay the eggs in. In nature, they would dig a deep whole and deposit the eggs underground, covering them back up on the way out. Something as simple as a big plastic container with a whole cut in the lid works pretty well. It needs to be just big enough for her to climb into and turn around in. You can fill it with several inches (at least four or five inches) of moist substrate for her to dig into. ZooMed's EcoEarth is a favorite of ours as it holds moisture really well without molding. You can also use moistened sand or vermiculite.

Diet: Breeding Bearded Dragons need to be supplied with a calcium rich diet. They should be offered a plentiful supply of crickets and greens dusted with a good calcium and vitamin supplement. It often helps to offer pinkies or fuzzies as well, especially if the female is having trouble re-gaining weight after laying her clutch of eggs.

Incubation: Once the eggs are laid, they need to be removed immediately for incubating. They will probably need to be placed in a separate container with less ventilation. At the store, we usually use plastic shoe boxes or other small tupperware type containers. EcoEarth is a great substrate to use here as well because the bedding will need to stay humid without molding. It can be about an inch thick with small indentations for each egg to sit in. If eggs are stuck together DO NOT try and separate them. When moving the eggs, it's a good idea to first mark the visible side with a pencil or marker. This is important because it is essential not to rotate the eggs while moving them. If an egg is turned upside down it is unlikely that it will hatch. Once the eggs have been moved they need to be incubated at 83º. We sell the supplies to create your own incubator or we can incubate eggs for you. Depending on what you use to incubate the eggs you may have to re-moisten the substrate around the eggs to keep the humidity high. When doing this do not spray the eggs directly, spray around the edges of the container, trying not to wet the eggs. If the eggs are fertile they should begin to hatch in 50-75 days.

Hatchlings: Hatchling Bearded Dragons are extremely fragile and must be kept warm and humid. One or two pinhead crickets should be offered after 2 days. As soon as the baby Bearded Dragons begin to eat they should be provided a continuous supply of crickets. Care should be taken not to put too many crickets in at one time because they can swarm and kill a baby lizard. Because of this hatchling bearded dragons will need to be fed what they can finish quickly at least 3 times a day for at least the first couple weeks. Once they are established food can be offered once or twice a day but it is still important to feed them to their hearts content. It is essential they newborn bearded dragons receive quality UVB lighting and it is recommended that they receive a calcium supplement as well. The first few weeks are essential in the development of the bones and muscles.