Bearded Dragon

Bearded Dragon – Pogona Vitticeps

Natural Habitat:  Australia
Life span:  An average of 10 years

HOUSING

  • Bearded dragons should be housed alone.
  • Provide a terrarium size of at least 72 inches long by 16 inches wide by 17 inches high for a single adult dragon.
  • A minimum of 10-20 gallon aquarium is necessary for juveniles.
  • Newspaper, indoor/outdoor carpet or paper pulp material is recommended as a substrate as it is easily cleaned and will not cause gastrointestinal problems (i.e., impaction) if eaten.
  • Sand, mulch, bark or any other particulate substrate is not recommended as ingestion may cause problems and is difficult to keep clean.
  • Provide branches, driftwood, cork bark, and/or large rocks for climbing.
  • Provide a daytime focal point basking range of 85-95°F with the ambient temperature 75-80°F.
  • Provide a nightime and ambient temperature range of 60-70 degrees F.  A night heat source such a heat strip, ceramic heating element or red bulb may be helpful.
  • Provide 12-14 hours of full spectrum light including ultraviolet B (UVB) in the summer and 10-12 hours in the winter. UVB is important for absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal system.
  • Change the UVB bulbs every 6-12 months (depending on your brand and type of bulb) as the UVB production diminishes with time even if the bulb is still producing light.   Note:  Glass and plastic filter out UVB and only allow UVA (visible light) to pass through.  Be sure there are no glass or plastic barriers between the bulb and your lizard.

FEEDING ADULTS

  • Adults are primarily herbivores (plant eaters) and should be fed a variety of dark leafy vegetables such as collard greens, kale, romaine, mustard greens, endive, red/green leaf or Boston Lettuce, spinach (even with oxalates it is safe to feed as a small portion of the diet to increase variety), parsley, bok choy, and broccoli (leaves and florets).
  • Limited amounts of other vegetables such as shredded carrots and sweet potato, squash, peas and beans can be offered.
  • Chop or shred the greens into bite sized pieces and place them in a bowl or on a plate, spray with water prior to feeding.
  • A calcium supplement can be dusted on top of the salad.
  • Crickets can be offered, occasionally.
  • Commercial bearded dragon diets (moistened with water) can be offered, but should not make up more than 50% of the diet. If they are readily eaten it is important to reduce other vitamin and mineral supplementation.

FEEDING JUVENILES

  • Juveniles are omnivorous (eating approximately 50% animal material). A variety of leafy green vegetables as described for adults and appropriately sized crickets (no longer than the width of the dragons head) should be offered twice per day.
  • Offer gut-loaded insects two to three times per week.
  • To properly gut load, provide insects with a complete diet such as an insectivorous lizard or psittacine pellets (see Cricket Care).
  • Dust crickets with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement four to five times a week and a multivitamin once a week (e.g., Zoo Med – Reptivite).
  • Placing too many insects in the enclosure at once can make it difficult to know if the young dragons are eating and can be stressful if the insects crawl on them.
  • Up to 50% of the diet can be moistened, commercial juvenile bearded dragon food but it is important to reduce other vitamin and mineral supplementation if it is being readily eaten.

WATER

  • Provide clean fresh water in dishes or bowls that the dragons can easily climb into. For juveniles, offer water in smaller containers that they can sit in or run through.
  • Dragons can be encouraged to drink by dripping water on their heads with a water bottle.
  • The environment can be misted to encourage them to drink the water droplets.
  • Soaking dragons occasionally in a warm water bathe encourages drinking, helps maintain hydration and, therefore aids in shedding and evacuation.

REPRODUCTION (Not Recommended if not for commercial purposes)

  • Use only bearded dragons in good health and body condition for breeding.
  • A pre-breeding cooling down period is recommended from early December to mid-February. Reduce the light cycle to 10 hours and provide 14 hours of darkness. Reduce heat or an environmental temperature of 24-29oC (75-85oF)
  • Dragons will often be inactive, not eat and stay hidden during this cooling period.
  • Fresh water should be provided daily. The dragons can also be soaked weekly in lukewarm water to help keep them hydrated.
  • At the end of the cooling period return to 14 hours of daylight and 10 hours of darkness with a normal heat range.
  • Feeding will resume and breeding will begin within several weeks.
  • Females will “wave” their arms and males will become more aggressive, bobbing their heads and chasing the females.
  • Watch females for excessive trauma to the skin as the males will bite and carry the females around by the skin of their head and/or neck.
  • Eggs will be laid two to three weeks after breeding and females will become restless and begin digging in the enclosure.
  • Freshly dug garden soil, damp sand, a sand/peak mixture or moist mulch can also be used.  It should be placed in a container at a depth of 12 inches or more to provide an adequate nesting site within the enclosure.
  • “Starter” burrows can be dug out in the nest chamber to entice the females to burrow and lay eggs.
  • Eggs can be incubated in moistened coarse vermiculite (ratio of five parts vermiculite to four parts water by weight) in a sealed container and poked with small holes to allow a small amount of air exchange.
  • The eggs should be placed in the moist vermiculite (approximately two thirds buried) in the same position as they are laid and maintained in that position throughout the entire incubation period. The vermiculite (not the eggs themselves) can be misted with water once weekly if it appears to be dry.
  • Hatchlings can be left in the incubator for the first day or two after they leave the egg.
  • Hatchlings can then be placed in a separate sweater box, poked with air holes and lined with moist paper towels, and kept in the incubator for a day or so.
  • Feed and house hatchlings as outlined above for juveniles.

COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS

Gastrointestinal parasites (coccidian, pinworms, and flagellates) are extremely common in bearded dragons. A fecal examination should be performed and, if necessary, appropriate anti-parasitic treatment prescribed by a veterinarian. A veterinarian skilled in reptile medicine and surgery should be consulted if any of the following conditions are noted in:

  • Weight loss
  • Not eating or drinking (generally appetite will be suppressed during the pre-breeding cooling period.)
  • Abnormal stools
  • Twitching, tremors or seizures
  • Swelling of the limbs
  • Inability to close mouth properly
  • Discharge from eyes and/or mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Distention of the abdomen (except in females that have been bred and are doing well otherwise)
  • Masses or lumps on the body or limbs, wounds, cuts or scrapes.

REFERENCES

De Vosjoli P, Mailloux R. The general care and maintenance of bearded dragons. Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc. Lakeside, CA.
Pether J. 1992. Captive breeding (bearded dragon). Inter Reptilian, 5(2):54-57.
Weis P, Weis P. 1994. Breeding bearded dragons. Reptiles Mag, 8:54-55.