Advice and information on keeping Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragons are best housed in as large a vivarium as possible. Because of their rapid rate of growth and the heating and lighting equipment they need, purpose made vivaria are probably the most appropriate. The types with sliding glass doors to the front being especially resistant to escape.
As a guide the vivarium should be a minimum 90 cm x 45 cm x 45 cm for a single adult Beared Dragon but 120 cm x 45 cm x 45 cm for an adult pair. Of course, the vivarium could be larger as this would allow the animal room to grow and make it easier for the owner to manage the environment.
It will be necessary to provide the Bearded Dragon with a a local hot spot near 40ºC, while the coolest part of the vivarium should be nearer 28ºC. The hot spot can easily be arranged by installing a Basking Spot Lamp. To ensure the vivarium does not overheat, the lamp is best controlled with a HabiStat Dimming thermostat. White and UV light, from a lamp like a Reptile D3 tube, may be needed and should be present for a similar period; about sixteen hours per day in summer dropping to eight in winter.
Repti-Sand, Savannah or Rain Forest Substrates, all used bone dry as the tank base. These will blot up and ‘clump’ any fouling by the Bearded Dragon. Clumps of waste can be removed without cleaning the whole tank out. Cork Bark Logs or climbing branches could be used to make an interesting three dimensional display. Draping Repti-Vines in the vivarium will provide refuges the Bearded Dragon can hide in or move through to loosen shedding skin. Repti-rock caves and water dishes would lend even more functionality and security.
Much of the success achieved in keeping Bearded Dragons will come from the proper ventilation. The lizards require lowish humidity and cannot stand stagnant air conditions. Fresh air moving into the tank is essential. Use the upward draughts caused by heated air rising to flush out the vivarium and drag fresh air in. A light daily misting with a hand sprayer will provide any humidity required. While obviously soiled clumped waste should be removed frequently, eight to ten weeks would be about as long as the tank could be left before being completely cleaned. A routine cleaner for all nonporous surfaces should be used. Anything that cannot be easily cleaned should be thrown away and replaced.
Bearded Dragons may be kept singly or in groups. Of course the more lizards kept in each vivarium, the larger it should be. Males will tend to fight as they reach maturity and no more than one should be present in the tank. In any case, there should be plenty of retreats and visual screens. Watch out for bullying, particularly among juveniles.
To handle a Bearded Dragon the whole animal should be gently grasped and held in the hands. One hand beneath, supporting and the other grasping the animal’s shoulders, controlling it. These animals are one of the few species of lizard that will tolerate being handled. The tail is easily shed and should not be grasped. Once shed, however, a new tail will grow in time.
Insects like crickets and locusts form the staple diet for Bearded Dragons in captivity. Meal-worms can also be fed. All insects should be dusted with Repton. Alternatively, the insect food can be fed Cricket Diet to ‘load’ the insect with vitamins and minerals. Other insects that are eaten include wax-worms, but these are best given only occasionally. Another occasional meal that may be accepted are the commercially prepared, pelleted diets or a frozen rodent pup that has been thoroughly thawed. With all food it is important to balance the nutrients. These lizards grow very rapidly, so any dietary deficiency will quickly result in deformity. Calcium and the associated vitamin D3 being particularly important. Live food is only eaten if it is seen to move and will usually be jumped upon and grabbed with the mouth. One Bearded Dragon may eat up to ten or more insects at one meal; it will depend upon their size.
Feed Bearded Dragons every other day with just enough to be completely eaten in fifteen minutes. Try not to leave an excess of uneaten insects in the cage. In addition to live food a portion of sweet fruit, leafy vegetable and salad can be offered daily. A small water dish kept full of fresh water should always be available. Misting the vivarium with a water sprayer is particularly important with juveniles, which seem to prefer water presented this way over the dish method. After misting, allow the tank to dry out fairly rapidly with good air ventilation and convected heat.
Bearded dragons live for many years in captivity. They do not suffer from many diseases and veterinary attention is rarely needed, if you are careful with the animal’s living conditions. The most often encountered disease in Bearded Dragons will be a metabolic bone disorder caused by insufficient vitamin D3 or calcium. Good practice, hygiene and first aid will probably deal with rest. If real disease is discovered, a vet must of course, be consulted. Pet lizards do not pose a real threat to human health. All the normal hygiene precautions regarding humans and animals should, however, be observed. Any little graze or blemish on the Bearded Dragons themselves would benefit from the first aid afforded by dabbing the wound with a specialized cleanser. As far as human hygiene is concerned, surgical scrub will clean hands and surfaces.