The Bearded Dragon, a native of Australia, has become an incredible herpetocultural success story. After arriving into the US reptile pet market in the early 1990s, they have become established as one of the favorite pets of all ages of reptile keepers. They are found in classrooms and bedrooms all over the country. Adult Bearded Dragons reach an adult length of 15" and hatchlings are usually in the 3 to 4" range. The Bearded Dragon’s spiny “beard” is flared out in defensive displays and during courtship behavior. The male dragon’s beard is usually more pronounced and darker than the beard of the female.
Bearded Dragons evolved in a hot, arid environment. Their captive enclosure should reflect this habitat. There is a growing movement in the reptile hobby for the establishment of creative and elaborate naturalistic vivariums for reptiles. The business of selling driftwood, moss, misting systems, colorful sand, and other supplies is thriving. Substrates are an important addition to the look of a naturalistic setup. There is some concern about Bearded Dragons ingesting sand as they pounce on crickets that wander their enclosure. We think natural and even “bio-active” enclosures are much more exciting and though we agree that paper towel can be a good substrate for young dragons, we do not support the use of newspaper, reptile carpet, or wood shavings as substrates. We do not use cypress mulch or pine shavings as a cage substrate because they can hold excess moisture and they can also cause problems if eaten. Also, we do not use aquarium or pea gravel because it could certainly cause problems if ingested.
Obviously, a reptile from a hot, sunny environment is going to require plenty of environmental heat in its enclosure. In nature, reptiles move between hot, sunny areas and cooler, shaded areas to regulate their body temperature. A Bearded Dragon’s enclosure should provide them with the ability to act out this thermoregulatory behavior by having a hot end and a cooler end. Add a hot spot over one end to serve as the basking area and add some shelter at the other end so that a captive dragon can remove itself from the heat. The basking spot should reach temperatures of 95° to 105° F, which can be provided by an overhead lamp. The UVB is important and allows diurnal captive reptiles to produce Vitamin D3 which in turn allows them to properly absorb the calcium they need to form healthy bones and to have healthy, working muscles. Do not neglect this important feature in the lives of these lizards. Metabolic Bone Disease is a common ailment in captive diurnal (active during the day) reptiles that are not given access to unfiltered natural sunlight or to UVB-emitting lamps. In cooler areas or during winter months, a keeper can add a heat source under the enclosure in the form of a reptile heat mat. The goal for a keeper should be to keep the entire enclosure in the 78° to 82° F range and to keep the hot spot around 95 to 105° F.
Feeding captive Bearded Dragons is simple and straightforward. They are going to need a varied diet consisting of live prey such as dubia roaches, crickets, mealworms, waxworms, and occasionally pink mice. In addition, they need a variety of shredded greens and vegetables once or twice a week.
We feel that small dragons should be fed a couple of small dubia roaches every day and they should be fed finely shredded greens two or three times a week. We typically feed small roaches every day and add a small mealworm every two or three days and a wax worm once every couple of weeks. We feel that small insects and small meals are best and there is the belief that large meals and feeding insects that are too large for the dragon can cause leg paralysis, choking, and even death. As they grow, they can be fed larger insects and larger amounts less often, and their intake of shredded greens and vegetables can be increased to three to four times a week. For all sizes of dragons, roaches and salads should be dusted with a vitamin/mineral supplement every third or fourth feeding for young dragons until they are up to three months old.
In nature, Bearded Dragons get their water from rainfall and when dew is licked off of plants. To simulate this in captivity, we typically let water drip into a dish in the enclosure to stimulate drinking. Many keepers mist their dragons once a day with a spray bottle.
de Vosjoli, P., R. Mailloux, and S. Donoghue. 2003. Bearded Dragon Manual. The Herpetocultural Library. Advanced Vivarium Systems.
Green, D. and T. Larson. 2001. Keeping Bearded Dragons. Reptile Keepers Association, Gosford, NSW, Australia.
Repashy, A. 2006. Bearded Dragons in Captivity (Professional Breeders Series). ECO Herpetological Publishing & Distribution, Rodeo, New Mexico, USA.