Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
This Bearded Dragon FAQ has come about in response to the many phone calls and messages we have received asking similar questions. If you have a question that isn’t listed answered here, please call us.
PLEASE NOTE – All information in this FAQ/care sheet has come from our personal experience and/or research. Many ‘opinions’, in many areas of care, vary from one person to another and can be controversial. Please remember, these are all opinions and contained here are ours. The sources we found extremely useful at the beginning our journey was the many, many knowledgeable people willing to share their personal experiences.
General Description of Bearded Dragons-
The Inland, or Central Bearded Dragon inherited their name honestly, and was derived from the way they tend to enlarge or ‘blow out’ a flap of skin under the lower jaw if upset or disturbed. Aside from blowing their beard out, they may also darken the color there to almost black which creates a bearded display. The Bearded Dragon is native to many different habitats and regions of Australia.
They thrive in deserts, grasslands and woodlands, and in both unpopulated and populated areas. It is said by many herpetologists who have come across Beardies in the wild, that one could walk right up to one and the little guy wouldn’t mind… and possibly even pick it up with little or no fuss being raised by the animal. Their temperament is extremely docile and trusting, therefore making it an excellent pet – even for children and beginners.
The adults sometimes reach up to almost 2ft in length, with the average being 18 – 20 inches. However, fresh hatchlings are approximately 3 to 4 inches in length (head to tail) and usually grow to 5-6 inches at the end of the first month. By the end of a dragons second month, they usually are at least 7-8 inches in length with considerable more body weight. From 2 – 6 months, we have found the average growth rate to be 1/2 inch a week, with some weeks being 1 inch or more to 1/4 inch or less.
General Dragon Care –
Bearded Dragons need little care, beyond daily maintenance, once they are established in/acclimated to their new environment. Care should certainly be taken to emulate a natural setting to reduce stress to the animal… And a schedule should be developed for lighting and feeding for the same purposes.
Selection of your new pet is one of the most important steps toward successfully maintaining the health and happiness of your bearded dragon. Purchasing a dragon online is basically done through an ‘honor system’. The hatchling you receive should be robust appearing with ample fat stores at the base of its tail. Generally, it is possible to determine the overall health of all lizards by examining the base of the tail for fat stores. Beware of protruding bones at the base of the tail. Take notice to the dragons eyes in particular – are they noticeably recessed? If so, it is possible that the dragon is becoming dehydrated. A healthy dragon will appear alert with both eyes wide open and attentive to its environment.
Housing Your Dragon-
A hatchling up to 12 inches can be kept in a 20-40 gallon tank. This will allow the lizard enough room to run around and exercise and also not have to run too far to catch its dinner. As the dragon grows, consequently so should its enclosure. We recommend no smaller than a 40 gallon tank for one, or 55 for two adult Bearded Dragons (M/F). This allows each Bearded Dragon ‘living-room’ in the cage, minimizing squabbles – yet encouraging natural displays and interactions.
We use a 4 ft (w) X 2 ft (d) X 12in (h) cage (eight sq.ft) for housing up to three adult dragons. Any additional dragons should be allowed approximately four sq.ft. per dragon.
**NOTE – All cage accessories that are collected from outdoors must be parasite free before introducing them to your collection. Your options are to either soak them in 10% bleach / 90% water solution or bake them in your oven for approximately 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Both of these methods will assure the death of parasites/bugs and eggs.
Most shops also provide a selection of reptile substrates. We suggest following the ‘window screen’ when selecting a loose substrate. If it wont go through a window screen, do not risk it going through your dragon.
Reptile Bark/Bedding –
This product is definitely not a good idea. Live feeders will hide under the bark, resulting in the dragon not getting its full meal and the possibility of the crickets coming out at night and bothering the dragon. Or eating feces. Another major reason is that the dragon could accidentally ingest a piece of bark, which would result in terminal ingestion.
Children’s Play Sand –
This is an economically affordable and low maintenance substrate for dragons. Simply ‘scoop’ the poop and replace the sand as it is visually needed. For hatchlings, be sure to run the sand through a window screen to eliminate any tiny pebbles that they may decide to taste. (If you do not sift and your dragon ingests a pebble, it will most likely result in terminal ingestion) There are many types of sand available in different grain sizes. We recommend fine grain childrens sterilized play sand if sand chosen as a substrate.
Reptile Carpet –
This works well and looks nice. It is fairly easy to clean, and certainly easier if you have more than 1 piece cut to fit in the cage. The only downfall is that dragons normally pass a bowel movement every day – requiring the cleaning and replacement of the carpet on a daily basis.
This is the best idea if you are concerned about ease of cleaning and cost of your substrate. It is not the ‘prettiest’ set-up for your tank, but it works well. *The ink in the newspaper is not harmful your dragon – its non-toxic. It may give them dirty-looking feet, but that is about all. Be aware that crickets will hide under the newspaper, gaining peek-a-boo access at the folds.
***An option that we have chosen is unprinted, sheeted newsprint paper.
Cage Accessories –
We highly recommend river rocks for a basking surface in enclosures. They are smooth for easy cleaning and when placed under a basking light, get very warm and provide heat to the beardies underbelly, aiding in digestion. The dragon will receive heat from the top – via a basking light, and also the bottom – via the heated rock.
These do make for beautiful additions to a cages set-up. Keep in mind that the branch will not conduct/absorb heat as well as a rock. Therefore, you will need to monitor the temperature to be sure it is adequate for your dragon to digest its food. Branches also make a great hiding place for small feeders. Crickets and dubia will crawl into any split or peeling bark that they can find… so be sure to shake out the branch in the evening to avoid excess feeders running around after the lights go out.
Hide Boxes –
This is a no-no for small dragons. Your dragon may decide to hide instead of bask and therefore will not eat well and grow properly. These are also a favorite place for feeders to hide. It’s cool and dark, which makes for a perfect gathering place. So, unless you like to chase bugs around before the lights go out, hide boxes are definitely something to avoid.
Cage Lighting and Heating –
Proper lighting is very important to the well-being of a Bearded Dragon. A good split of day/night is 12/12. This can easily be regulated by a timer, which can be found at almost any hardware store. ((It is better for the Dragon… AND it is much easier on the caregiver. :)) A basking spot is also a must for a Beardie. The Dragons body temperatures are important for digestion.
An appropriate wattage bulb, placed at one end of the cage, will concentrate the bulbs heat to that one side of the cage. The surface basking area (directly under the light) should peek between 100 – 105 degrees for adults and 105 – 110 for babies – with the ambient cage temperature further from the light being significantly cooler – anywhere below 85 degrees. This basking temperature may seem high, but these temperatures are common of the ground surface when air temperatures are over 85 degrees. Remember though, this is a peek temperature and not a constant temperature. The trick is to slowly bring the temperature of the basking area up, allow it to level off for a short period of time and then drop slowly once again. (Yes, this can be tricky… but that is where cage accessories come in handy.)
The nighttime temperature of your cage can drop into the 60’s without worry. If your house gets cooler than that, you may need to invest in a red bulb or heat emitter for nighttime temperature maintenance. Either will emit the heat needed to keep the temperature up, but the light should not interrupt the dragons sleep pattern.
WARNING – Avoid using an electrical reptile heat rock or heating pad as a heat source for your Bearded Dragons. These products have the potential to fatally burn the dragon’s belly, as many lizards do not feel a ‘localized’ temperature… but an overall body temperature. (See Thermal Burns below)
The need for a full spectrum florescent reptile light is among those topics constantly being disputed between hobbyists. Dragons DO need a source of UVB light to naturally produce vitamin D3, (which helps to absorb calcium) and without a steady supply of it, are more subject to complications. This can be obtained by a bulb or by subjecting your Dragon to natural sunlight a few times a week. Many people think that by placing the vivarium near a window and allowing the reptile to bask in the sun will help. This is not so. Glass used in windows and vivariums will actually filter out the ultra-violet rays that are required to synthesize natural vitamin D3.
When choosing a full spectrum light, the UVB bulb needs to be within 6-10 inches of the basking area, so they can absorb the UV-A and UV-B to manufacture vitamin D3 for bone formation. Most of these bulbs need to be replaced after 6 months time. Please read the manufacturers detailed information on the box for specifics of placement, as well as replacement.
Melissa K.’s info on Mercury Vapor Bulbs
Feeding Your Dragon-
Feeding your dragon will require handling bugs. Yes, we said BUGS… Crickets, minimealworms, superworms, roaches, oh yes! Bearded dragons are omnivores, meaning that they will eat both veggies and small animals. Insects and leafy greens should be a staple of your dragons diet.
The size of the food items you feed your Dragon is extremely important. All food that is offered should be smaller in width than the Dragons mouth. Use caution in choosing the insect size, as too large of a cricket can cause health problems (i.e. – blockage) while digesting. The same applies with worms, use small worms for small dragons, and increase the worm size as the dragon size increases. A hatchling, up to 2 months will eat mostly insects, picking at finely chopped greens here and there.
Feeder bugs are generally offered here 3X a day, only in the amount that the dragon will eat at one feeding. A juvenile Dragon (2 – 4 months) will eat approximately 20% greens to 80% insects. Live bugs should be given 2 times daily and small superworms may be added to their diet. 4 months to maturity are generally fed live bugs twice daily. Small worms may be replaced by larger ones as the dragon grows. Adult dragons need to be fed adult crickets, superworms, dubia roaches… once a day or every other day.
Pinky mice may also be added to the diet once a week, depending on the size of the dragon. Pinky mice, if used, should be fed sparingly – unless feeding a gravid adult female.
Bearded dragons are voracious eaters, especially when they are young. If you are not feeding the hatchlings enough, and they have cage-mates, they will nibble toes and tail-tips – if it moves, its food. If your dragons are not eating well, something is possibly wrong. The most likely problem is that the cage temperature is incorrect: the dragons body must reach high temperatures in order to digest their food. If they are digesting slowly, they will not eat well. First step – Check your temperatures.
Gut loading –
Crickets and worms are readily available at most pet shops. These crickets and worms generally aren’t high in nutrients directly from the pet shop and will need to be fed well (Gut Load, fresh fruit and veggies) before being offered to your Dragon. This is called ‘gut loading’. I recommend ‘gut loading’ crickets for 2-6 hours before feeding. We use greens, carrots and butternut squash for moisture, and a dry cricket chow.
There is a selection of ‘leafy’ greens which are high in calcium which should be used as staples to feed your dragon, some of which are…collard, mustard, turnip, and dandelion greens. For more of a variety, mixed into the greens may be many other veggies such as squash, peas, carrots (shredded), sweet potato, cucumber, zucchini, green peppers, chard… all chopped finely or shredded to avoid choking. The main idea in a bearded dragon diet is variety. **Do not feed your dragons iceberg lettuce as is has very little nutritional value and may give the dragon the ‘runs’ – prompting dehydration.
Dragons will also munch on other greens. If you take your dragon outside or allow it to roam about the house – please be sure to check that the possible munchies are not poisonous.
Another ‘must’ for bearded dragons is a calcium supplement, which can be purchased in either powder or liquid form. The form of calcium is a preference, but its presence is necessary. At least one feeding every other day needs to be calcium supplemented. We use Rep-Cal Calcium – with Vitamin D3. The dust is placed into a tall cup and crickets are lightly shaken in it before every third feeding of bugs.
**One day a week, we supplement with a multivitamin such as Herptivite. Caution should be exercised when using a multi-vitamin supplement.
Bearded dragons should have a dry cage, but do require a humidity range of 35%-55% in their cage. The hatchlings should be sprayed once daily on the head, keeping the spray directed onto their heads as long as they keep lapping up the water. This simulates the natural way dragons drink by licking up drops of dew they find on plants in the morning. Some do learn to drink out of a shallow water pan. If using a water dish, the water MUST be changed daily and if the dish has been defecated in – it must be cleaned immediately. Adults should be sprayed or soaked once a week.
Sexing Your Dragon-
Bearded dragons are not difficult to sex accurately when young. Many people may resort to “hemi penal eversion”, pushing at the cloacal area to evert the male sex organs. This procedure can damage the lizard and is NOT recommended. Body proportions do differ: males tend to have a larger head to body ratio, whereas females have a large body with a medium head and are often smaller overall – unfortunately, we haven’t found this to be more than half accurate. We check for hemi penal bulges and have found that to be the most accurate way to identify sexes in young dragons.
Pictures and descriptions.
Dragon Behaviors –
The most endearing aspect of owning a Bearded Dragon is its interactive nature. Some of the displays you will see are almost comical…
Beard display –
This is often seen being done by male bearded dragons when determining a hierarchy or during breeding season. The Dragon will ‘blow out’ its beard by extending a bone-like structure covering flap of skin therefore giving the appearance of a beard. The color of the skin there will also change color to look almost black… We have also noticed this color change to extend down to cover the Dragons chest area. We have also seen this used as a defensive gesture when a Dragon is threatened or startled. Beards aren’t limited to males; the females will show off their beards as well for various reasons.
Head Bobbing –
This is a dominance display. The Dragon seems to be saying, “Who is the boss here?” It is performed quite frequently during the breeding season to gain the attention and/or submission of a female Dragon… and almost always when your Dragons are given new territory to conquer. (Place them on the floor in your living room.)
Arm Waving –
This is often seen being done by the females in the cage and the less ‘dominant’ males in response to a ‘beard display’ or ‘bobbing episode’. This is the submissive gesture in recognition and deference to the dominant male. Along with arm waving, we find that some Dragons will bow down slowly to the dominant one. This looks like a bobbing scene in slow motion.
Raised tail –
This is most often seen during breeding season. It seems to signify a certain level of alertness and acceptance. Juvenile Dragons will also do this when stalking its prey.
Dragon Diseases and Disorders –
Although mostly uncommon in a private herp collection, mites are another possible complication. They will most likely be noticed first around the eyes or the corners of the mouth as little round, black/brown or red creepy creatures. They can be treated by many commercial products available at a local pet shop or by a veterinary strength solution available from your veterinarian.
Be sure to follow the directions on the product. Treatment of mites usually takes close to a month of continuous care… as eggs usually hatch daily and must be ‘taken care of’ ASAP… these little bugs have an extraordinary reproductive rate. If you have more than the 1 infested reptile, take extra precautions against transferring the mites from one to another.
Terminal Ingestion –
Unfortunately, young dragons will swallow larger food items than are appropriate for the dragons size. They can die from the large food item lodging within the dragons digestive tract. If this were to occur they will extend their hind limbs straight back as though paralyzed or in excruciating pain. You can raise your basking temperature or soak the dragon in some warm water to possibly induce a bowel movement – but success is a long shot. (Note that lounging/basking dragons often extend their hind limbs. Do not confuse this posture with the indigestion-induced paralysis, in which the legs remain extended and are unable to move. If your dragon will walk or run, it is just being a lounge lizard.)
Thermal Burns –
These are caused by direct contact with a heat source and scald the skin – most likely resulting in blisters. The blisters often break open and create the opportunity for secondary bacterial infections, which will complicate treatment, and also could possibly be fatal (depending on the severity). Dragons WILL walk through their feces – so an impeccable cage is necessary during treatment. While daily treatment can be taken care of at home – your veterinarian will need to perform initial diagnosis and follow-ups.
Calcium Deficiency –
Without adequate calcium and vitamin D3 in your Dragon’s diet, in addition to a slow growth rate, you will more than likely encounter Metabolic Bone Disease. The first symptom usually noticed is uncontrolled twitching of the dragons toes or legs. This will be a fatal disease if not treated promptly. If this problem occurs, we suggest raising the amount of calcium in the Dragons diet immediately and taking it outside in direct sunlight to bask for a period of time each day until the twitching stops. If there is no change in a few days, consider veterinary care as an option.
Vitamin A Toxicity –
This is a common problem that occurs when dragons are over supplemented. Many multi-vitamins contain levels of Vitamin A and should be offered sparingly. Toxicity is characterized by a swelling of the throat and eyes, and proceeding to a bloating of the body and lethargy.
Respiratory Infections –
The Bearded Dragon is fairly resistant to respiratory infections. BUT… prolonged exposure to low temperatures, improper humidity and poor cage conditions could result in respiratory complications. Treatment for this problem… usually antibiotics and to raise the ambient temperature of your cage a bit. (The best thing is to avoid extended low cage temperatures and eliminate the problem before it arises.) The most obvious symptoms are gaping, forced exhalation of air, puffing of the throat, a puffed up appearance of the body and lack of appetite. In some cases, the mucus may accumulate in the mouth and/or emerge from the nostrils. If these symptoms are present and persistent the illness is usually well progressed – a veterinarian visit is in order immediately for treatment.
Internal Parasites –
Symptoms of internal parasites include weight loss, worms in the stools, runny stools, gaping and listlessness. If you observe a combination of these symptoms, you should take your bearded dragon to a veterinarian to have a stool sample examined to determine if there are any parasites present and if so, what kind they are. Follow your veterinarians recommendation for treatment.
Egg-Binding (Dystocia) –
This condition is generally attributed to very few differing causes. It could possibly be caused by a biological malformation (that may cause an obstruction) which may not allow enough room for the eggs to pass through the animal… Alternatively, it could also be caused by very large or malformed eggs that simply wont fit through the oviduct. BUT when these possibilities are eliminated, the cause is usually sub-standard conditions for egg laying. Proper nesting sites and materials must be provided at acceptable temperatures. Malnutrition and dehydration are also attributing factors to egg binding. Your veterinarian should perform diagnosis and treatment. Treatment may vary from removal of the eggs and organs through surgery – to simple massage.
last revised – 12/30/21