Bearded Dragon Caresheet
Written by: Brittany Hamilton and Joshua Halter
Date: October 8th, 2018
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If you are looking to get a reptile as a pet, a bearded dragon, also known as a beardie, are one of the most charismatic reptiles out there. These lizards make a great first pet reptile because of their sweet natured- personality and relatively friendly manner. These traits make them one of the most common kept lizards in the industry as well as one of the best beginner level reptile keeper. But even though it is a good beginner reptile, does not mean that they should be taken for granted in their care. Even these hardy lizards have very specific needs, which must be met if it is going to thrive in your care.
Have you ever wondered why these lizards get their name? When they feel threatened the pouch like skin (guttural pouch) will fold out under the neck. The neck is covered in tiny spines that will poke out and the entire neck gets jet black making it look like a human man’s beard. The males will normally have darker beards especially during mating season. When interacting between themselves these lizards will sign to each other to communicate. They will head bob, shaking their head up and down, to show dominance. They will also do a hand waving gesture to show submission.
Bearded Dragons are found in central Australia and non-coastal areas of Eastern Australia. They are found in arid deserts, rocky outcrops, and woodlands. They spend much of their time in bushes and on ground. But they can climb well and will use rocks and stumps use them as basking spots as well as a place to spy insects below.
When keeping these lizards in captivity, it is best to mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible to keep these dragons satisfied and fulfilled. By creating a “self-contained” ecosystem you are essentially creating a living thing. This will invoke your dragon to use their natural behaviors of hunting, burrowing, grazing, and thermos regulating. It also means less cleaning, no more harsh dragon feces smell. By using the dude’s system will cut down cost significantly over time. Your substrate will last a life time. Using carpet, paper towel, or other substrate, you have to clean regularly to prevent bacteria growth. That means once a month you are buying new substrate, when you could be using The Dude’s lifelong substrate. It also pleasing on the eyes and makes a good decorative show piece in your house.
Baby dragons can start their life in a 20 gallon long tank, or a 36" x 18" x 18". This gives them enough space to move around, but still makes it easy enough for them to catch their food. Juvenile Dragons (up to 8 months of age) need at least a 40 gallon tank. As the Dude says, bigger is better but anything less than 40 gallon is not recommended. Adult dragons need to have at least a 55 gallon – 75 gallon. I personally keep mine in a 4x2x2 (120 gal.). The larger is better. This gives them enough room to move around and have the space to explore, forage, and be more active. There are many different types of material that can be used. I would recommend a solid wall, front opening enclosures. A dragon’s natural reaction is to run and get defensive from something overhead, due to being prey to birds. A human hand swooping into a top cage can scare them. I also do not recommend cohabitation. They can nip each other, resulting in loss of tail and limbs, even death.
For the Bearded Dragon I would recommend the Terra Sahara substrate. This substrate was specifically designed to replicate the harsh desert, rocky biomes found all over the world. The dense heavy Terra Sahara will retain all burrows and tunnels that your dragon creates over time while still letting the soil “ breathe” and have air transfer. These air pockets help keep the root system and the Terra Sahara healthy over time. To add with your substrate is biodegradables also known as a buffer. Because of the hot light and ventilation, your soil can dry out quite quickly. By adding a buffer/biodegradable, like leaf litter, on top of the soil you can help maintain moisture and keep it from increasing the humidity of your enclosure. Biodegradables are also very important in your bioactive ecosystem because they provide cover and food for your micro fauna. As your micro fauna or bio shot breaks down your biodegradables they provide organic nutrition into your soil, revitalizing it and keeping it healthy.
Bearded Dragons are semi arboreal. Meaning they spend time on the ground and up above the ground. All of my dragons love to climb on branches and bask up high close to the heat. To give them the option of basking high or low, you can add sandblasted grapevine wood. Grapevine does great in arid, semi-arid, and temperate biomes. Making it a perfect fit in the Beardie’s enclosure. Grapevine is sturdy enough to hold your adult dragon comfortably. You can even combine multiple pieces of grapevine to give you as much height and length as you want, while giving you a unique piece of wood. You can also utilize The Dude’s cork flats and tubes for your dragon. Flats are perfect for your dragon to bask on and even helps get shed off your dragon. Cork tubes can give your dragon a natural hide to get away from the heat as well as a nice place to sleep in.
Bearded Dragons are considered omnivores and herbivores. Choosing the right plants for them are important because they will likely try to eat them. If you choose something toxic and they eat, well obviously that is no good. It is recommended with all omnivores to offer different edibles in the enclosure to allow for foraging throughout the day. Live plants like Opuntia Cacti, Basil, Oregano, Mint, Rosemary, and elephant feed can be planted. Some plants may be destroyed or devoured as early as a day, others take a few weeks. This is where you as an owner get to play and learn what your dragon loves.
Temperature and Humidity
There should be a consistent temperature gradient across the entire terrarium. The hottest point should be directly under the basking element and the coolest area on the opposite end of the enclosure. The temperature should be the warmest in the basking zones while cooling gradually into the coolest zone. Bearded dragons regulate their own body heat. They know when they need to bask, and if they begin to get too warm, will move away from the basking spot into a cooler area to cool down. It is very important to provide them with the proper gradient for them to regulate body temperature. Ambient temperature in your baby dragons should stay around 80°F to 85°F degrees. Basking temperature in babies should range from 95F to 110F. On the opposite, cool side the temperature should be 80F to 90F. Adult bearded dragons can have slightly lower basking temperatures ranging from 90F - 94F. The cool side is the same as the babies, 80F to 90F. You only need a nighttime heat source, like a ceramic heat emitter, is if the temperature in the cage drops below 65. The bright light in heating bulbs can disrupt the dragons sleeping pattern. That is why using a heat source that does not emit light is the best option. Bearded dragons need heat to help with proper digestion. In the wild these animals inhabit a wide range of habitats with humidity anywhere from 20% to 70% humidity. I try to keep mine at 50%. This seems to work best for all my dragons. Because you are have a temperature gradient I would use 2 thermostat/hygrometer. One on the basking side and one on the cool side. Later I will get into how humidity is maintained in the cage and the myths about high humidity and dragons in a bioactive enclosure.
UVB is an important element needed for Bearded dragons. UVB is not visible. UVB helps bearded dragons manufacture vitamin D3 as well as give us humans sunburns. Vitamin D3 is necessary to take advantage of the calcium in their diet. Without vitamin D3 they are unable to use the calcium and even if offered daily supplements, could still suffer from MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease). Reptiles, unlike humans cannot make their own vitamin D3 and require UVB light. I would recommend using an Arcadia T5 12% UVB bulb. They are one of the best UVB bulbs out there. I do not recommend using a coil compact UVB bulb because they will not produce the best output of UVB for your dragon’s needs.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous and will eat a mixture of both insects and vegetables. As babies they need more protein. Their diet should consist of 80% insects and 20% vegetables. For adults feed them more vegetables then insects. There is about 50 different vegetables that bearded dragons can eat. Collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens are the best options out there. It is best to tear them up and make a mix to give your dragon a variety. Avoid vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and romaine as too much can be harmful, or they offer limited nutritional value. Bearded dragons will also eat fruits like blueberries but avoid any fruit that is citric and acidic. Most dragons will eat up any insect they see. The most popular are Dubia roaches and crickets. Dubia roaches offer more nutrient value then almost other insects. But they can also eat super worms, silkworms, hornworms on occasion, and earthworms. It’s important that the bugs they eat are safe and free of parasites or pesticides. This means avoid using bugs that you find around your home. All insects have an inverse calcium and phosphorus and that needs to be fixed or your dragon can will develop painful debilitating diseases. To help this we gut load and dust our insects. Gut loading refers to the process of feeding the insects a calcium rich food and then feeding that insect to your reptile, while the calcium is still in the insects gut. Be aware the window for the gut loading to take effect is 12- 24 hours. And after 48 hours the calcium level drops off. The last element of feeding bearded dragons is adding a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. These supplements can be sprinkled onto vegetables or insects and will give your dragon the support it needs to prevent metabolic bone disease, a fatal disease that affects bearded dragons. If your dragon is provided a varied diet with the right temperatures, humidity, and UVB, impaction should not be an issue. In other words if you have proper husbandry then you should not experience impaction. In a healthy dragon they could eat just about anything and it will pass right through. If it isn’t digested it will pass through the flexible intestines. Even bigger sharper things are compensated by the colon producing a mucus around the object. However, there is one serious stipulation. This is only true of a healthy, hydrated dragon. Digestion and mucus creation require quite a bit of moisture. Without proper hydration just about anything can cause impaction. The wonderful thing about Sahara substrate is that it allows your dragon to stay hydrated more easily. Giving them a moist soil to burrow in allows them to control their moisture loss in a much more natural way.
Maintaining your terrarium
In my bearded dragons enclosure I light mist 3 times a week. You want the top layer to dry out a bit. So you can maybe wait until the top 1/2 inch layer is dry before you water again. Never let your Sahara completely dry out on all levels. This will kill the necessary micro fauna which play a vital role in the cleanup aspect of bioactivity. If you let it dry out totally then water it again, then dry out again, you will create a great environment for fungus to grow. Fungus can kill off a lot of the good stuff. Never let your humidity go below 30% or you are going to cause dehydration pretty quickly. Bearded dragon light cycle should be 12 on and 12 off. As I stated before, biodegradables are an import part of your ecosystem. When your biodegradables start to break down and have little left it is time to add more. Usually this takes about 3-5 months. I do sift through my soil about once every 2-3 months to help the substrate retain oxygen. This will aerate your soil while still keeping the bacterial cycle in place.
Bugs are a good benefit to any bioactive enclosure. The most common bugs are isopods and springtails. They will dig tunnels and help aerate the soil, plus allow for a more evenly moist soil. They also work with the Dude’s BioShot to breakdown organic waste and the animal’s feces. Once you have your setup complete, you do not have to replace your dirt for the rest of that animals life. Now if you upgrade to a bigger enclosure, you can transfer the dirt you do have, but you might need to add more substrate to give it the depth you need.
With the perfect blend of ingredients this soil replicates their harsh environment to a tee and allows your Beardie’s to use its natural behavior. Another positive when utilizing the Terra Sahara is that is creates a perfect nesting site for your female. When your girl is ready to lay her eggs she will be able to lay right there and not destroying the tank and stressing them out.
Having a proper BioDude setup allows your dragon to hunt, burrow, climb, and just be natural behavioral dragon with natural instincts. Having the Sahara substrate for your dragon will keep your dragon hydrated, while maintain the correct humidity. Not only does it benefit the dragon but it will benefit you. You can visually see how unique your animal is and how they act in a mimicked environment. No more cleaning out feces all the time or the putrid smell left behind. Plus it is aesthetically pleasing saves you money in the long run. In the end it is about giving them everything they need to be happy and healthy, and in the end that is all that really matters.
Other Excellent Resources:
- Josh Halter