Raising healthy baby bearded dragons is easy as long as their needs are met. With some planning and a little reading, you can make your dragons life as healthy and as stress free as possible, and find it a rewarding experience. The care plan below is what we basically follow, with great success. Following the care plan below, we have consistently raised groups of dragons to 14 inches and over, within 4-5 months. We have found during the first 4 months, the average growth rate to be approximately ½ inch a week.
Basic Set Up
Bearded Dragon hatchlings should be raised in a small enclosure for optimal growth – no larger than a 40gal breeder. This way they do not have far to look for their food, as crickets tend to stay away from bright spots – and that is where your dragon will spend most of its daylight time. Use a 40 or 60-watt spotlight at one end above a basking rock (Not a heat rock, just a plain rock). The height of the rock or the wattage of the bulb will need to be adjusted to get the surface basking spot to a 105 – 110 degree range at mid-day, for the baby dragons need to get very warm to digest their food. Set a temperature gauge on the highest part of the rock for an hour and check the temperature… (Please do not guess.)
Basking under a light is a more natural way for dragons to receive heat. (Not only do they receive heat from above, but the light also warms the rock, creating heat for their belly, which aids in digestion.) Make sure the other side of the tank stays cooler, around 80-85 degrees. This will provide your dragon with a suitable environment to allow them to regulate their body temperature. Nighttime temperatures can safely drop into the sixties. Once a week we give all our dragons a day of rest, which consists of shutting of all lights and no heat or food for the day. They receive light feedings the prior day before shutdown.
For optimal growth, the lights should be left on for 12-14 hours (set on a timer).. Ideally a full spectrum UVB light ReptiSun or Repti-Glo fluorescent tube bulb should be suspended over the cage. (NOT the coil compact bulb!) The UVB bulb should be within 6-10 inches of the basking area, so they can absorb the UVB to assist in manufacturing their vitamin D3 for bone formation. If this bulb is too far from the basking area, the UVB will dissipate before reaching the dragon. Although bearded dragons have been raised successfully without UVB producing bulbs, we would recommend using them.
The substrate can be play sand or newspaper. **If using play sand, the sand will need to be sifted through a screen to remove any of the larger pebbles. Failure to do so could result in death due to a blockage caused by the ingestion of the pebbles. The cage should be simple for the first 4 months or so. There should be no hide spot for they will burrow when needed. There should also be limited decorative items in the cage to prevent the crickets from hiding. And at NO TIME should there be green decorative leaves in the cage – Your dragon will try to eat them.
Bearded dragons require a dry cage, but need a range of 35%-55% humidity in the cage. Keeping dragons consistently below 30% or consistently above 60% can both cause problems. The hatchlings should be sprayed once daily on their heads, keeping the spray directed onto their heads as long as they keep lapping up the water. If they don’t like to be sprayed directly, you can spray the side of the cage or the rock. This simulates the natural way dragons get water by licking up drops of dew they find on plants in the morning. Some do learn to drink from a shallow water dish. If using a water dish, the water MUST be changed daily and immediately if the dish has been defecated in. Dragons vary on their water intake; some drink daily, others may not drink for days or weeks if they are aggressive feeders and getting the needed moisture through their diet. Humidity in the cage also plays a significant role in how much water they may drink.
Bowel movements must be removed daily. If keeping more than one dragon in a cage, ‘Scooping poop’ must be more frequent to keep up on the cleanliness of the cage.
The hatchlings should be fed at least 2-3 times a day for optimal growth. Feed the babies 1-2 hours after the lights have come on to give them a chance to warm up. The last feeding of the day should be a couple of hours before the lights go off to give the dragons time to digest their meal. Start with 2-5 crickets per dragon for the first feeding. Excess crickets in the cage, crawling all over the dragon can stress them out. Remove any uneaten crickets before the lights go out at night. Babies should be fed 1/4-3/8 inch crickets up to approximately 2 months of age, as too big of a prey item can kill a baby dragon. A good rule of thumb is the prey item should be no longer then the width of the dragon’s mouth. Babies can be fed one feeding daily of buffalo worms or small super worms. They will have to be mail ordered, as pet shops do not usually carry buffalo worms (Tenebrioobscurus) or small superworms. Not to be confused with the standard meal worm (Tenebriomolitor). Dubia roaches of appropriate size are excellent feeders as well. As the size of the dragon increases, so should its prey.
Vegetables are an important part of a bearded dragon’s diet and should be offered daily in bite size pieces in a shallow dish or lid. Arrange the dish filled with vegetables within the dragons view from his basking spot. You should stick with leafy greens, such as collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, turnip greens, chicory, chard, escarole, and endive – alternating when possible. Remove any hard veins. Do not feed your bearded dragon iceberg lettuce as this can give them ‘the runs’ and dehydrate them. Just a few of the foods you can supplement with as your dragon grows are, radish tops, broccoli flowers, parsley, shredded carrots, bell peppers, kale, peas, and red cabbage. Please check the USDA Data Base for exact nutrient content of any given fruit/veggie in question… and please remember, bite size pieces.
Supplementation should consist of dusting the crickets every third to fourth feeding with a phosphorous free calcium powder, like RepCal with D3. A good vitamin supplement such as Herptivite should be used only once a week. Failure to use the calcium regularly and overuse of the vitamins can both cause problems. If not using a UVB bulb, you must be faithful in giving the proper calcium/D3 supplements to prevent possible health problems; namely MBD.
To dust crickets – put them in a sandwich bag… add RepCal… shake until the crickets are white… and serve.
To Gut Load your crickets – We use our own recipe for Cricket Chow as a dry staple food… We also offer various greens, carrots and butternut squash to our crickets for moisture. It is very important to keep your feeders well maintained. This means fed well and cleaned.
Please note –
It is VERY IMPORTANT to keep your new baby’s environment as stress-free as possible for the first few months. Here are a few tips on reducing the stress for your beardie.
– Keep a regular schedule for feeding and watering.
– Put your lights on a timer to keep daylight hours consistent.
– Supplement appropriately with RepCal… and once weekly with Herptivite.
– Feed only gut-loaded crickets/prey items as they are more nutritious.
– Avoid excessive handling when they are very young.
– Maintain a temperature gradient of 105-110 (hot) to 80-85 (cool).
– Maintain humidity levels around 35%-55%
– Is the cage a ‘basic’ setup? Keep it simple for the first few months.
– Make sure their cage is not placed in overly noisy area. (like next to your 100 watt stereo.)
As a final note, babies kept in the same tank will need to be segregated by size, as the larger ones will dominate and stress out their smaller siblings… even when not feeding.
**After receiving your dragon, it is not uncommon for them not to eat immediately. The stress from transporting and inspecting its new environment may put eating on the ‘back burner’ for a day or so. After 3-4 hours of allowing your dragon to adjust to its new home, offer it a few crickets and some chopped greens in a shallow bowl or lid. Avoid trying to hand feed until the dragon is eating well for a few weeks and has adjusted to its new environment.
If your dragon does not eat the few crickets by the end of the first day, remove the crickets and offer them some water. Try covering the sides of the dragon’s enclosure partially with paper to eliminate environmental stress. The next day, wait until mid-day to offer it crickets again. Hopefully, by not seeing any food items for a 1/2 day and becoming more comfortable in their new home, this will stimulate their appetite. If your dragon does not eat by the end of the second day, offer it water again and please give us a call.
**Things that could hurt or possibly kill your Dragon –
*Lightening Bugs – There have been many reports of Bearded Dragons dying after being fed lightening bugs. These should be avoided.
*Pebbles – If using sand, you MUST sift it through a screen to remove any of the larger pebbles.
*Too large of a prey item – Appropriate sized meal worms and crickets are a must for hatchlings. Crickets should be NO LONGER than the width of their mouth. And if feeding worms – mini or small should be used. Approx. 1/4 inch long.
Robert & Victoria Dachiu, All Rights Reserved.