What Is a Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons, or Inland bearded dragons, are one of the most common domesticated exotic lizards. The species is formally called Pagona vitticeps, after formerly having been known as the Amphibolurus vitticeps. Often, this reptile is called the Yellow-Headed or Central bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons are medium-sized exotic lizards and reach lengths of 12″ to 24″ with males typically being the larger of the two sexes.
The head of the bearded dragon has a triangular shape, which has rows of spike-like protrusions. Below their jaw, bearded dragons will have rows of spiked scales that look like a beard when puffed up, hence its name. The dragon has short, stout legs and its body is flat and low to the ground. It has two long rows of spiked scales down each side of its abdomen, and its tail is usually half the length of its body. Unlike other common and exotic lizards, the bearded dragon’s tail does not fall off and regenerate when the reptile is threatened.
Bearded dragons live several years, but typically those bred and raised in captivity do not exceed 12-14 years of age.
Bearded dragons eat live insects. They can subsist off a wide range of different types, including crickets, kingworms, and mealworms. They also eat some fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, apples, peaches, bell peppers, and leafy greens like kale and collard greens. In captivity, the bearded dragon’s diet should replicate what it would eat in the wild.
Bearded dragons are among the most docile of all exotic lizards. They enjoy being touched or handled, unlike other reptiles who typically don’t indicate any sort of preference for human interaction. Because they are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and are awake during the day, they’re easy pets to enjoy.
Caring for a Bearded Dragon
If you choose to have a bearded dragon as a pet, it’s important to understand how to care for them. They’ll need a safe, healthy, and engaging environment to thrive.
Typically, bearded dragons can be housed in large terrariums. PVC and melamine cages are also popular options. Cages or tanks should be the minimum size needed for the age and size of the reptile. For example, a 20-gallon terrarium is suitable for a baby bearded dragon, while a fully grown, 24″ adult should have a 120-gallon terrarium. Ensure the tank is outfitted with a vented but secure top, like a screened, hinged top with a lock.
Like all reptiles, bearded dragons need light that mimics the natural sun and heat lamps to help them regulate their internal body temperature. Two different types of lights are necessary: a long fluorescent UVA/UVB tube light and a basking bulb. Without the UVA/UVB light, your bearded dragon may develop metabolic bone disease, and without a basking bulb, they can easily become too cold and fall ill.
Temperature and Humidity
Bearded dragons like to stay relatively warm. Because reptiles need to move about to regulate their body temperature, it’s important that your terrarium have a cool side and a warm side. The cool side should still be quite warm at about 85 degrees, and the warm side under the basking bulb should be between 95 and 110 degrees. Bearded dragons can survive in temperatures as low as 65 degrees at night, however, this is not recommended and 70-75 degrees at night is much more comfortable for the reptile.
Bearded dragons are desert reptiles, so they prefer low-humidity environments. A terrarium with a screened top is usually all that is needed to prevent humidity build-up.
You’ll need to put something in the bottom of your dragon’s terrarium to help make them more comfortable. Most often, reptile owners use newspaper, butcher paper, and paper towels. Reptile carpet is also available and highly recommended. Do not use loose substrates such as sand, soil, gravel, or wood chips.
Crickets can be fed leftover fruits and vegetables prior to feeding them to your bearded dragon. Some owners choose to feed crickets a vitamin mixture or dusting them with a calcium supplement before placing them in the terrarium with their dragon. Dragons can also be fed mice similar to snakes, and often do very well on whole food options.
Avoid handling your bearded dragon when it is resting or ill. To pick up your reptile, move one hand slowly under its belly. Keep your fingers under its chin and allow the tail to rest along the length of your forearm. Never grab a dragon by its tail or limbs and do not squeeze it if it tries to escape; simply let it go back into the terrarium. Hold the reptile close to your body and low to the ground; if it attempts to jump out of your hands, it could become injured upon impact.
Keeping a Bearded Dragon Healthy
Just like any pet, it’s important to keep a bearded dragon healthy and happy. Owners should be aware of basic hygiene practices, health issues that commonly plague this breed of reptile, and how to find a veterinarian that has experience working with exotic lizards.
Daily care of a bearded dragon should include cleaning the terrarium of any droppings and uneaten food, cleaning out food and water bowls, and replacing fresh food and water. Every couple of weeks, your reptile’s terrarium will need to be fully taken apart and cleaned with a reptile-safe disinfecting solution. Bearded dragons typically don’t require baths, but do enjoy one from time to time. Make sure the water is warm but not hot, and do not allow the water to come up past the reptile’s knee joints. Sinks are best for small dragons, while larger dragons can be bathed in the bathtub.
While many veterinarians treat exotic lizards, not all will. Before you bring your dragon home, make sure you have access to a veterinarian who has experience working with reptiles and ideally, bearded dragons specifically. Don’t wait until you need to seek emergency veterinary care for your dragon to try to find a doctor who can help.
Signs of a Healthy Bearded Dragon
Before you purchase or adopt a bearded dragon, it’s important to ensure it’s healthy. Look for the following signs:
- Alertness during the day
- Resting at night
- A robust appetite, especially for moving prey like live crickets or cockroaches
- A desire to bask for most of the day
- Sitting upright, with well-toned muscles and good bone structure
- A rounded belly
- No signs of excretions, dirt, or sores from the eyes, nose, or mouth
- No signs of a dirty vent to indicate diarrhea
- No signs of swellings on the tail or toes to indicate shedding problems
Do not purchase or adopt a bearded dragon that looks ill, does not bask or eat, or appears dirty, thin, and poorly cared for.
Where to Find a Bearded Dragon
If you’ve decided to become a bearded dragon owner, congratulations! Now, it’s time to find one. Where you get your reptile can make a significant impact on how healthy it is, its temperament, how long it lives, and more. Make sure you’re getting your bearded dragon from someone who has properly cared for it and is supporting the reptile community versus damaging it.
Many pet stores offer exotic lizards for sale, including bearded dragons. However, few pet store employees truly understand how to properly provide for the wide variety of reptiles and other animals in their care. For example, ball pythons and bearded dragons are both reptiles, but they require radically different environments: dragons like arid, hot, and bright conditions, while ball pythons prefer darker, much more humid conditions. Many bearded dragons purchased from pet stores are injured or ill, unbeknownst to the beginner reptile enthusiast.
You can also choose to purchase or adopt your bearded dragon online. Ideally, you’re looking for listings nearby so you can travel to pick up your dragon and take it home. However, you may be able to purchase your dragon from a reputable breeder and have it safely shipped to your location. Overnight shipping is typically required to ensure the dragon arrives healthy and intact.
One of the best places to get a bearded dragon is from a reptile show. Often, breeders attend shows with their best reptiles on display, and they can be purchased right there on the spot, often with their terrarium included. Reptile shows allow you to meet breeders face-to-face and ask questions about the dragon you’re interested in as well as caring for bearded dragons in general. Breeders should be professional, friendly, and ready to answer your questions. If you meet hostile breeders or breeders who don’t seem to be interested in addressing your questions, don’t make a purchase and keep looking for a breeder who truly has a passion for the industry.
Reptile Super Show is the world’s largest reptile show and sale. Come visit us in California and browse the largest collection of snakes, reptiles, and exotic lizards for sale under one roof!