If you’ve ever dreamed of having a pet dragon, you might want to consider getting a bearded dragon. These spiky little lizards are adorable and friendly and come in a rainbow of colors and patterns. They won’t breathe fire or fly away with you, but they will keep you entertained with their quirky personalities and antics. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive care guide for beginners, where you’ll learn everything you need to know about bearded dragons, from their origin and behavior to their housing and diet, to their health and happiness. Read on and discover the wonderful world of bearded dragons!
|Pogona vitticeps (for the central bearded dragon, the most common pet species)|
|Bearded dragon, beardie, central bearded dragon, inland bearded dragon|
|Agamidae (the dragon family)|
|Australia (specifically the central and eastern regions)|
|18 to 22 inches in length from head to tail, 10 to 18 ounces in weight|
|8 to 12 years in captivity, up to 15 years with optimal care|
|Generally docile and friendly, but may display aggression during mating season, territorial disputes, or stress situations. May also bite or scratch if handled improperly or startled|
|Moderate to easy, suitable for beginners|
Minimum Tank Size
|40 gallons for juveniles, 75 gallons for adults. Bigger is better to allow for more space and enrichment|
What is a Bearded Dragon?
A bearded dragon is a type of lizard that belongs to the genus Pogona. There are eight species of bearded dragons, but the most common one kept as a pet is the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Bearded dragons are native to Australia, where they live in arid and semi-arid habitats such as deserts, woodlands, savannas, and scrublands.
The name “bearded dragon” comes from the spiny scales that cover their throat and neck. These scales can turn black and puff up when the lizard feels threatened, stressed, or excited. This is a way of showing dominance, aggression, or attraction to other bearded dragons. Bearded dragons also have a row of spines along their sides and back, which help them regulate their body temperature by trapping or releasing heat.
Bearded dragons are medium-sized lizards that can grow up to 24 inches long from head to tail. They have a triangular head, a long and thick tail, and four sturdy legs with five toes each. Their color and pattern can vary depending on their origin, age, sex, and mood. They can range from light tan to dark brown, with stripes, spots, or bands of different colors. Some bearded dragons have been selectively bred to produce unusual colors such as red, orange, yellow, blue, or white.
Different Types of Bearded Dragon Morphs
Bearded dragons are not only diverse in their behaviors but also in their appearance. Thanks to selective breeding, bearded dragons have developed a variety of colors, patterns, and body types that are known as morphs. Morphs are genetic variations that affect the physical characteristics of bearded dragons, such as their skin, scales, spikes, head shape, nail color, and more.
Some morphs are more common and affordable than others, while some are rare and expensive. Some morphs are healthier and easier to care for than others, while others may have special needs or health issues. Some of the most popular and unique bearded dragon morphs that you can find are:
- Hypomelanistic Beardie: This type of bearded dragon morph has reduced melanin production, resulting in lighter and brighter colors. It also has clear nails and fewer dark patterns or markings.
- Leatherback Beardie: This type of bearded dragon morph has smooth scales on its back instead of spikes. This makes its colors appear more vivid and contrasted. It also has a larger head and a shorter tail than the standard morph.
- Silkback or Scaleless Beardie: This is a type of bearded dragon morph that has no scales at all on its body. It has soft and silky skin that feels like human skin. It can come in various colors and patterns but is very sensitive to heat, light, humidity, and infections. It also requires special care and grooming to keep its skin healthy.
- Translucent Beardie: This type of bearded dragon morph has transparent scales and spikes that allow light to pass through them. It also has dark eyes, no visible iris or pupil, and sometimes blue eyelids. It can come in various colors and patterns but may fade or darken over time.
- Dunner Beardie: This type of bearded dragon morph has irregular scales and spikes that point in different directions. It also has larger legs and feet with extra toes or nails. It can come in various colors and patterns but may have difficulty shedding its skin.
- Zero Beardie: This is a type of bearded dragon morph that has no color or pattern at all on its body. It is completely white or gray with black eyes. It is very rare and expensive to find.
- Genetic Stripe Beardie: This type of bearded dragon morph has a single stripe of color running along its back from head to tail. The stripe can be any color, such as red, yellow, orange, or blue. The rest of the body can be any color or pattern as well.
- German Giant: This type of bearded dragon morph has a larger size than the standard morph. It can grow up to 30 inches long from head to tail and weigh up to 2 pounds. It can come in any color or pattern as well.
- Witblits Beardie: This is a type of bearded dragon morph that has no pattern at all on its body. It has a solid color that can range from light tan to dark brown. It also has clear nails and dark eyes.
- Silverback Beardie: This type of bearded dragon morph has a silver-gray color on its back that contrasts with its belly color. The belly color can be any color, such as yellow,
How to House a Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons need a spacious and secure enclosure that mimics their natural environment. A glass tank with a screen lid is the best option for housing a bearded dragon. The tank should be at least 55 to 75 gallons in size for an adult dragon. Smaller tanks can be used for juveniles, but they will quickly outgrow them.
The tank should have a temperature gradient that allows the bearded dragon to choose between warmer and cooler areas. The warm end of the tank should have a basking spot with a temperature of 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be achieved by using an incandescent light bulb, a ceramic heat emitter, or a mercury vapor bulb in a dome reflector hood. The cool end of the tank should have a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be maintained by using an under-tank heater or a heat mat. The temperature should be monitored by using thermometers at both ends of the tank.
The tank should also have adequate lighting that provides ultraviolet (UV) rays for the bearded dragon. UV rays are essential for the synthesis of vitamin D3 in the lizard’s skin, which helps them absorb calcium from their food. Without enough UV rays, bearded dragons can develop metabolic bone disease (MBD), which causes deformities and fractures in their bones. The best source of UV rays for bearded dragons is a fluorescent tube that emits both UVA and UVB rays. The tube should span at least two-thirds of the tank’s length and be placed 10 to 12 inches above the basking spot. The tube should be replaced every six months to ensure its effectiveness.
Substrate and Decor
The tank should also have some substrate or bedding that covers the bottom of the tank. The substrate should be safe and easy to clean for the bearded dragon. Some good options are reptile carpet, paper towels, newspaper, or tile. Some substrates that should be avoided are sand, gravel, wood chips, or walnut shells. These substrates can cause impaction if ingested by the bearded dragon.
The tank should also have some decorations and accessories that enrich and comfort the bearded dragon. These include:
- Rocks: Rocks provide basking platforms and hiding places for the bearded dragon. It also helps file down their nails and keep them healthy.
- Branches: Branches provide climbing opportunities and perching spots for the bearded dragon. They also help them exercise their muscles and stimulate their curiosity.
- Logs: Logs provide hiding places and sleeping areas for the bearded dragon. They also help them feel secure and relaxed.
- Plants: Plants provide visual appeal and a natural ambiance for the tank. They also help create humidity and oxygen in the tank. However, only artificial plants or non-toxic live plants should be used in the tank. Some toxic plants that should be avoided are ivy, oleander, lily, daffodil, or azalea.
- Hammock: A hammock provides a cozy and comfortable spot for the bearded dragon to rest and relax. It also helps them get closer to the heat and light sources in the tank.
- Hide box: A hide box provides a dark and secluded place for the bearded dragon to retreat and sleep. It also helps them feel safe and stress-free.
- Water dish: A water dish provides fresh water for the bearded dragon to drink and soak in. It also helps maintain humidity in the tank. The water dish should be shallow enough for the bearded dragon to enter and exit easily without drowning. The water should be changed daily or whenever it gets dirty.
Feeding a Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are omnivorous animals that eat both plant and animal matter in the wild. In captivity, they need a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs and preferences. A good rule of thumb is to feed them 80% plant and 20% animal matter.
Plant matter includes leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs that are safe and nutritious for bearded dragons. Some good examples are:
- Leafy greens: collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, turnip greens, bok choy, endive, escarole, watercress, parsley, cilantro, basil, mint, etc.
- Vegetables: squash, zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin, bell pepper, green beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc.
- Fruits: apple, banana, pear, grape, melon, berry, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, peach, plum, nectarine, apricot, fig, date, etc.
- Flowers: hibiscus, rose, daisy, marigold, nasturtium, geranium, carnation, etc.
Plant matter should be chopped into bite-sized pieces and offered in a shallow dish or bowl every day. A variety of plant matter should be offered to ensure diversity and prevent boredom.
Animal matter includes insects and worms that are high in protein and calcium for bearded dragons. Some good examples are:
- Insects: crickets, roaches, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, butterworms, silkworms, hornworms ,phoenix worms, etc.
- Worms: earthworms, nightcrawlers, red wigglers etc.
Animal matter should be gut-loaded before feeding to enhance its nutritional value. Gut-loading means feeding the insects or worms with nutritious food such as fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, or commercial gut-load products at least 24 hours before offering them to your beardie. Animal matter should also be dusted with calcium powder every other day and vitamin powder once a week to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Animal matter should be offered in moderation according to your beardie’s age, size, appetite, and activity level.
A general guideline is:
- Baby beardies (0-3 months): feed 3 times daily with 80% animal and 20% plant matter.
- Juvenile beardies (3-12 months): feed 2 times a day with 50% animal matter and 50% plant matter.
- Adult beardies (12 months+): feed once daily with 20% animal and 80% plant matter.
Animal matter should be offered first thing in the morning, followed by plant matter later in the day. Animal matter should also be appropriate for your beardie’s size, mouth, and digestion. A good rule of thumb is to feed them insects or worms no larger than the space between their eyes.
Some foods that should never be fed to your beardie include:
How to Keep a Bearded Dragon Healthy
Bearded dragons are generally hardy and resilient animals but can still suffer from various health problems if not cared for properly. Some of the most common health issues that affect bearded dragons are:
- Metabolic bone disease (MBD): This is a condition that results from a lack of calcium, vitamin D3, or proper UV lighting. It causes the bones to become weak and deformed, leading to fractures, paralysis, and death.
- Yellow fungus: This is a fungal infection that causes yellow patches of skin that can spread to other parts of the body. It can also affect the internal organs and cause weight loss, lethargy, and death.
- Upper respiratory infection (URI): This bacterial infection affects the bearded dragon’s lungs and airways. It can cause symptoms such as wheezing, sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing.
- Parasites: Organisms that live inside or outside the bearded dragon’s body and feed on its blood or nutrients. They can cause problems such as weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, anemia, and organ damage.
- Cancer: Almost everything can develop cancer and beardies are no exclusion. It can affect any part of the bearded dragon’s body and cause symptoms such as lumps, bumps, swelling, bleeding, pain, or loss of function.
To keep your bearded dragon healthy and happy, you should also provide it with regular check-ups by a qualified reptile vet. A vet can examine your bearded dragon for any signs of illness or injury, perform blood tests or x-rays if needed, and give you advice on how to care for your beardie better. You should also monitor your bearded dragon’s behavior and appearance daily for any changes that may indicate a problem. Some signs of discomfort or distress in your bearded dragon include:
- Sunken eyes
- Wrinkled skin
- Lack of appetite
- Sunken fat pads
If you notice any of these signs of discomfort or distress in your bearded dragon, you should consult your vet for advice and treatment. You should also keep a record of your bearded dragon’s behavior and appearance to help your vet diagnose the problem.
How to Understand a Bearded Dragon’s Behavior
Bearded dragons are not only healthy and easy to care for, but they are also very interesting and fun to watch. They have a range of behaviors that express their emotions, moods, and intentions. By understanding a bearded dragon’s behavior, you can better bond with your beardie and provide it with the best care possible. Some of the most common behaviors that bearded dragons display are:
- Head bobbing: A rapid up-and-down movement of the head that bearded dragons use to show dominance, aggression, or attraction. Male bearded dragons often head bob to impress females or challenge other males during mating season. Female bearded dragons may also head bob to reject males or assert their authority over other females. Head bobbing can also occur when a bearded dragon sees its own reflection in the glass or encounters a new object or animal.
- Arm waving: This is a slow circular movement of one arm that bearded dragons use to show submission, recognition, or greeting. Young bearded dragons often arm-wave to signal their innocence and avoid conflict with older or bigger bearded dragons. Adult bearded dragons may also arm-wave to acknowledge each other or their owners. Arm waving can also occur when a bearded dragon sees something interesting or curious.
- Changing color: This is a change in the hue or intensity of the skin color that bearded dragons use to communicate their mood, temperature, or health. Bearded dragons can change color for various reasons, such as:
- To regulate their body temperature: Bearded dragons can darken their color to absorb more heat or lighten their color to reflect more heat.
- To show their emotions: Bearded dragons can change their color to express their feelings, such as blackening their beard to show anger, stress, or excitement; brightening their color to show happiness, relaxation, or attraction; or dulling their color to show sadness, boredom, or sickness.
- To camouflage themselves: Bearded dragons can change their color to blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators or prey.
- Mouth gaping: This is an open-mouthed posture that bearded dragons use to cool down their body temperature. Bearded dragons can gape their mouth when basking under a heat source or when exposed to high ambient temperatures. Mouth gaping can also occur when a bearded dragon is stressed or threatened by something.
- Beard puffing up: This is an inflation of the throat area that bearded dragons use to intimidate their enemies or rivals. Bearded dragons can puff up their beard when they feel threatened, stressed, or excited. They can also puff up their beard when they are trying to impress females or challenge males during mating season. Beard puffing up can also occur when a bearded dragon sees its own reflection in the glass or encounters a new object or animal.
- Tail pointing upwards: This is a curling of the tail tip that bearded dragons use to show curiosity, alertness, or happiness. Bearded dragons can point their tail upwards when they are exploring their environment, watching something interesting, or enjoying something pleasant. Tail pointing upwards can also occur when a bearded dragon is about to defecate.
- Basking: This is a resting posture that bearded dragons use to warm up their body temperature and digest their food. Bearded dragons can bask under a heat source or in a sunny spot for several hours a day. They usually stretch out their limbs and flatten their body to maximize their exposure to heat. Basking can also help bearded dragons synthesize vitamin D3 from UV rays and prevent metabolic bone disease.
- Hiding: This is a hiding posture that bearded dragons use to cool down their body temperature and escape from stress or danger. Bearded dragons can hide in their enclosure under rocks, logs, plants, or other objects. They usually curl up their limbs and tuck in their head to minimize their exposure to heat or threats. Hiding can also help bearded dragons feel secure and relaxed.
Observing and understanding these behaviors lets you learn more about your bearded dragon’s personality, mood, and needs. You can also better interact with your beardie and provide the best care possible.
Congratulations! You’ve just learned how to take care of a bearded dragon, the coolest and cutest pet dragon ever. Bearded dragons are awesome reptile pets that are lively, friendly, and colorful. They have a variety of colors and patterns that make them stand out and shine. They also have a variety of behaviors that show their feelings, moods, and intentions. By following this complete care guide for beginners, you can give your bearded dragon a cozy and safe home and a yummy and healthy diet. Doing so can make your bearded dragon happy and healthy for a long time!
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