Tyrannosaurus Pets

Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) Care Sheet

Bearded Dragon PortraitBearded dragons are excellent first pets. They are one of the best lizards for a family, as they appeal to adults and children alike.

When you have a beardie it is more like owning a cat than a lizard. A baby dragon is like a kitten, with a two second attention span, constantly wanting to be the centre of attention. An adult dragon is like an old ginger tomcat, who will quite happily sit on your knee and watch T.V. Bearded dragons used to be considered difficult to keep, but advances in technology now make them ideal for beginners, providing they have the correct set up.

Heating and Lighting for Your Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon Tank Set Up

In nature bearded dragons are sun loving reptiles. The sun provides both the heat they need to stay active, and the UVB rays that are essential to keep them healthy. In captivity we use two lamps to replicate the sun.

A spot light plugged into a thermostat is used to heat the tank.

  A thermostat is essential to control the temperature. Without one the tank may be too cold, or more dangerous, too hot. A bearded dragon needs to bask at temperatures between 40°c – 42°c, and the cool end of the tank should be around 20 - 24°c. At night the temperature can safely drop to around 18°c.

The sensor for the thermostat needs to come into the tank about 6" from the cold end and hang down to 3" from the floor. Set the thermostat to 28°c. This estimate should give you a starting point for setting and regulating the tank. The thermostat will allow the lamp to heat the point where the sensor is to 28°c. Directly under the bulb the tank will be considerably warmer, and at the cool end several degrees cooler.

Allow the tank to settle for two hours then check the temperatures. If the basking and cool end temperatures are not correct then tweak the thermostat slightly, leave for a further two hours and recheck the thermometers. Do not make large adjustments to the thermostat as a small change can make a large difference to the tank temperature. Keep checking and adjusting until the tank is the correct temperature. Always leave at least two hours between checks to allow all the temperatures to settle down.

Most modern houses will not drop below 18°c at night even in winter so the heater can simply be turned off. If you have a particularly cold house, use a red lamp as a heater and turn your thermostat down to minimum at night, and back up to the basking setting in the morning.

A strip light (desert rated 12% UVB are the best) is used to provide the UVB.

  The UV output is only effective for a limited range, the animal must be able to get within twelve inches of the tube in order to utilise the benefits of the UV. The optimum position for the UV is directly above the animal. With the limited range of the UV it is advisable to use a reflector. This nearly doubles the available output of the tube, and increases the range to around 18". UV tubes have a short effective lifespan. They will still be producing light after a year, but the UV output will have dropped to zero. UV tubes must be replaced every six months in order to remain effective.

Adding a 2% or full spectrum lamp will greatly increase the light in the vivarium. These can increase the activity levels of your pet.  They also stimulate more natural behaviour with increased breeding activity.  The last advantage of adding a light of this type is an increase in the colour intensity of your dragon.  While the desert rate UVB is essential for the healthy development of your bearded dragon, the 2% lamp is an optional extra.

Arcadia's new T5 system available as an easy fit all in one slimeline unit is a better choice.  These lamps produce more light and UV than the older T8 units, and produce similar results to running the 12% and 2% T8 lamps together.  These lamps also last for 12 months before they need to be replaced.

More information about UV Lighting

Feeding Your Beardie

Bearded dragons eat a mixture of fresh vegetables and live insects.  A young dragon requires about 90% insects to about 10% veggies.  As the dragon grows it will eat more vegetables, an adult bearded dragon should eat about 25% insects and 75% veggies.  As the lizard grows we reduce the number of days that insects are offered to the dragon, but they should always get fresh vegetables in the morning.

Even though you will not often see them drink from a bowl they should still get fresh water every morning.  Like other desert animals they are able to get most of the water they need form their food. 

Young dragons will sometimes drink droplets of water from a small spray mister.  Gently spray the area around the dragon, this should encourage it to drop its nose and lap up the water.  As the dragon grows spraying becomes unnecessary, but some individuals still enjoy a little shower.  Do not spray excessively into the tank as these are a desert species and excess humidity can cause problems.

Hatchling bearded dragons need to be offered fresh insects several times through the day.  The babies should not be offered for sale until they are at least six or eight weeks old.  At this time they only need to be fed insects once per day. 

When the dragon is six months old we need to reduce the amount of insects offered to them.  At this age miss out one or two days each week.  Drop another day off every three months until you are feeding insects two or three times per week.  During this process the dragon will try to convince you to feed more bugs, but this will lead to an overweight and lazy lizard.  In the wild adult bearded dragons become almost totally vegetarian.  In order to stay healthy they should be fed a diet that matches this.  If fed too many insects the dragon will no longer eat vegetables, in this case stop feeding the bugs until the dragon starts to eat vegetables again.

Many different species of insects are now available.  The most common are brown or silent crickets, black crickets, banded crickets, locusts, mealworms and wax worms.  Other less commonly available foods include earth worms, lob worms, calci-worms, beetle larvae, and various species of cockroaches.

Black and brown crickets are a good staple food for bearded dragons.  These are hard to catch making the lizard have to work for its food.  Locusts are easier to catch so the dragon will “prefer” these, but feeding crickets will keep them more active.  Mealworms, morio worms, wax worms, and beetle larvae are a very good treat food but are much higher in fat than crickets and locusts so should be fed in moderation.  Calci-Worms are an excellent food that is high in calcium and unusually for a grub these are also low in fat.  Cockroaches are a very good food source, but be careful which species you choose as some are likely to cause a major problem if they should escape into your house.  Dubia and giant hissing roaches are slow to breed and need very high temperatures to thrive so pose little threat should one escape. Both these species are a very good food for bearded dragons.

Livefoods should also be well looked after.  Feeding the livefoods increases the insect’s nutritional value, making them a better food for the dragon.  Gut load formulas like Zoomed’s cricket care, or Vetark’s Bug Grub and Grub Grub are an excellent food source for insects.  The live food will last longer if kept in a larger well aired tank like a small faunarium.  Several companies also produce cricket keepers, special enclosures designed specifically for crickets.  These have removable plastic tubes which the crickets hide in making them easier to remove and feed to the dragon.

Livefood should also be offered water to keep it fresh.  Unfortunately most insects drown quite easily making open water bowls a bit of a problem.  Using a gel based water source is a simple alternative which eliminates the risk of drowning and keeps the insects well hydrated.

The vegetable side of the diet should include a good mixture of leafy greens such as

  • Endive, Escarole, Lollo Rosso, Dandylion leaf, Romaine, Cos Lettuce, Chard, Bok Choi, Chinese Leaf, Fresh herbs (such as Basil, and Parsley)

Other vegetables which can also be added include

  • Carrot, sweet potato, courgette, bell peppers

Some vegetables contain chemicals which can cause problems with Bearded Dragons.  The following should be avoided or fed only sparingly.

  • Cabbages, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, cauliflower

Vegetables which contain a lot of water should also be avoided.  It is best not to offer the following

  • Iceberg Lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cucumber

In order to ensure that your new pet grows into a healthy and strong animal you need to add some supplements to its food.  We use a combination of a full spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement such as Nutrobal, and a pure calcium supplement such as Calci-Dust.

  • Day one – Nutrobal

  • Day two – pure calcium supplement

  • Day three – pure calcium supplement

  • Day four – no supplement

To dust the crickets place 8 – 10 appropriate sized insects in a large jug or clear plastic bag.  Add a pinch of powder and shake to coat the insects.  Feed these to the dragon.  If these are all eaten and the dragon is still hunting, feed another 2 – 3 insects, keep adding more bugs until the dragon is full.  This extra food does not need to be dusted.


Cleaning Your Beardie Tank

Spot clean the vivarium every day and remove any obvious mess.

If you keep on top of the spot cleaning then the tank will only need to be fully cleaned about once every four weeks. When doing a full clean out put the dragon somewhere safe. Remove and clean all decoration and dishes from the tank. Remove all the old substrate and clean the tank. When the tank is dry, put in clean substrate, and replace the décor. The dragon can then return home.

When cleaning the tank do not use household detergents and disinfectants as these can be toxic to reptiles. There are a range of reptile specific cleaners available.


Or why is my dragon not eating!

During winter the lizard’s metabolism slows and their activity levels and appetite may drop off.  This is normal and is their defence against the colder months.  Most dragons bromate in their second winter, but some start at an earlier age.  As the nights start to drop in temperature and the natural sunlight reduces in intensity they start to slow down a little.  The dragon will dig under a hide normally at the cool end of the tank.  During this time the lizard will eat less, and may stop feeding completely for a couple of weeks at a time.  Keep offering fresh water and vegetables.  A common mistake at this time is to offer favourite treat foods like wax worms.  As these are high in fat the dragons generally continue to eat them but this reduces the need for other more healthy foods.  If the lizard is eating the salad leaves then offer live foods as normal.  During brumation the reduction in activity and metabolism means they will burn little energy so should loose little or no weight.  Weighing the dragon every 7 – 10 days with an accurate scale can keep your mind at rest.  A good visual guide is the shape of the dragon’s hips.  If the skin is flat or rounded up then the dragon is carrying good weight.  If the lizard’s hip bones and spine are visible with a dip in between them then the lizard is losing too much weight. 

This may be most apparent if you purchase your dragon in autumn or winter as the shop tank is probably warmer than your home environment.  This cooler night temperature may well trigger brumation.  It may take a couple of weeks for your dragon to settle, just monitor the animal’s weight and they will be fine.

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Tyrannosaurus Pets