Though not as cuddly as a puppy, bearded dragons are still one of the most popular pets worldwide. Learn all about them here.
What Are Bearded Dragons?
The bearded dragon is a species of lizard that gets its name from its flared throat. Many bearded dragon owners and enthusiasts call the lizards "beardies."
Beardie morphs. Bearded dragons have different "morphs," variations in color and texture. They're typically patterned, brown, and tan.
They can be red, orange, silvery blue, white, solid, or patterned. Bearded dragons can also have stiff scales, smooth skin, and spikes.
Beardie sizes. Baby bearded dragons are less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) long and weigh 0.1 ounces (2.5 grams). Adults are 17 to 23 inches long and weigh around 12 ounces (340 grams).
Where Do Bearded Dragons Live?
Bearded dragons originate from Australia's mild deserts and arid woods.
The bearded dragons at your local pet store or reptile breeder probably aren't Australian. Most bearded dragons are bred in the U.S. and considered "captive-bred," making them suitable for pets.
A Bearded Dragon's Temperament
Captive-bred bearded dragons are docile. They rarely bite, scratch, or harm their handlers.
Each bearded dragon is unique but generally sociable and tolerant of humans. Some may be fine with other beardies in captivity, but many prefer to be alone.
Beardies love their owners. They'll recognize you, look in your eyes, beg for food, and sometimes want to be held.
Unlike furry friends, beardies don't need constant attention or handling. They need alone time but will miss you if you're gone for too long.
Setting up for Your Bearded Dragon
There's a lot to get before you bring a bearded dragon home. Many products advertise as perfect for reptiles, but they may be unsuitable or dangerous for your bearded dragon.
Thoroughly research brands and products to guarantee your bearded dragon's safety and comfort.
Bearded Dragon Tanks
You'll need to get at least two tanks throughout your bearded dragon's life. An adult bearded dragon needs a 75-gallon tank (or larger) with a 48-inch by 18-inch base.
Juvenile beardies need a smaller tank, around 20 gallons with a 30-inch by 18-inch base. A tank that's too big can overwhelm them and make it harder to find food.
Suitable Substrate for a Beardie
The substrate is the stuff at the bottom of a tank. The best substrate is easy to clean, can't be swallowed, and won't harbor bacteria.
Paper. Paper towels or unprinted newspapers make excellent substrate. They're cheap and easy to clean and add a layer between the landscaping and the tank floor.
Tile. An alternative, reusable option instead of a paper substrate is to use tiles to create a bare floor for the tank. Tile is easy to clean and makes monitoring the tank's health easier.
Avoid these substrates. Many substrates break one of those rules and should generally be avoided. Avoid the following substrates.
- Loose substrates (your bearded dragon can swallow sand, soil, or aquarium rocks)
- Reptile carpet (unless you wash and dry it every day)
- Natural particulates (your beardie can swallow cocoa fibers, corn cobs, or alfalfa)
Lighting and Heat
Your beardie needs two distinct areas in its tank.
One area should be for warmth and basking. This side of the tank is warmer, brighter, and the perfect place for them to lie.
The other area should be cooler. This side should be a reprieve from the warmth of basking — but not cold.
Lighting. Bearded dragons need around 12 hours of UVB (ultraviolet B) light daily. The UVB can come from a mercury vapor bulb (for adults) or UVB fluorescent bulbs.
Your beardie needs visible light either from being in a bright room of your house or from a supplementary light source. Light is good for their health, appearance, and sleep-wake cycle.
Heat. The light source, ambient room temperatures, ceramic heaters, and under-tank heaters all contribute to the heat of their tank. Temperatures should be the following throughout the day:
- Day (ambient), 76°F to 86°F
- Day (basking area), 95°F to 100°F
- Night (ambient), 70°F to 75°F
- Night (basking area), around 80°F
Hides and Decor
Bearded dragons need plenty of decor for engagement, safety, and comfort. They need at least:
- Reptile-safe limbs and rocks to climb
- Two boxes or hides (one cool and one warm)
- A flat rock for basking
- A water dish
Anything that they can climb should be sturdy and not too tall. They shouldn't be able to fall far or onto something that can hurt them.
What Do Bearded Dragons Eat?
Bearded dragons are omnivores. They eat more live prey when they're younger, gradually becoming vegetarian as they age.
Live prey. Beardies need variety in their diet to make sure they get an array of nutrients. Feed them various living insects like:
- Dubia roaches
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Green hornworms
Greens and produce. Beardies also need fruits and vegetables without pesticides. Dark leafy greens are the best for your beardie, particularly romaine.
How often? Young bearded dragons need about 70% to 80% of their diet from insects and the rest from greens. Feed them insects daily and greens around twice a week.
Adults are the opposite, needing about 70% to 80% of their diet from greens and the rest from insects. They need greens daily and insects no more than twice per week.
Remember water. Beardies can get dehydrated too. Make sure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
Caring for Bearded Dragons
Tank cleaning. Clean up feces, old food, and soiled substrate daily to prevent bacteria growth. Replace your beardie's water daily too.
As needed, clean your beardie's enclosure, decor, and dishes using a 1:10 mixture of regular bleach and water. Make sure to rinse and remove all bleach before introducing them to your bearded dragon.
Shedding. As your bearded dragon goes through life, it'll shed skin. Your beardie will handle it themselves but may need a warm bath if some of their shed gets stuck.
Vet visits. Like any pet, your beardie needs vet visits. Find a reptile vet who can help you if your bearded dragon shows signs of health problems.
Common health problems. With adequate setup and care, you can avoid many common health problems in beardies. Some health conditions to be aware of are:
- Coccidiosis (caused by accidentally eating feces)
- Calcium deficiency
- Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
- Eye problems
Anything Else About Beardies?
There's a lot more to know about caring for a bearded dragon. But don't let their spikes fool you — they're as sweet as can be.