Critter Care:  Bearded Dragons
Compiled by Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary Staff

The Bearded Dragon is fast becoming the most popular and highly recommended lizard pet,
and for good reason. These animals are docile and enjoy human interaction. As adults in
general they are not wiggly like geckos and anoles, nor are they aggressive and
temperamental like iguanas. They are relatively sturdy and live about 7-9 years.

Beardies, as aficionados refer to them, may be only a few inches long at pet stores when they
are very young, but they grow to approximately 2 feet as adults. Beardies are also non-
allergenic pets. Bearded dragons get their name from the skin under their chins which they puff
out and turn black making it look like a beard when they are stressed, challenging another
bearded dragon for territory or courting.

Their somewhat intimidating looks – the larger size, spikes and ’beard’– are just exciting
enough for those wanting to have a little something different as a pet. These same features are
mainly to protect them from their natural predators. Bearded Dragons are native to the desert
areas of Australia where their unique markings help camouflage them in the sandy terrain. The
spikes along their sides are more rubber-like than sharp and they serve to deter such critters
as Tasmanian devils from having a lizard lunch. Bearded Dragons are no longer imported into
the United States, those available for sale now have been bred here in captivity.

Likely due to their calm nature and easy care not many bearded dragons are in rescue
situations. You can often find healthy active young lizards at many area pet stores or from
private breeders for a cost of approximately $50 to $80.

Housing: Younger smaller bearded dragons can start out in a 20 gallon aquarium, but adults do
need a 50 -75 gallon size. It is a myth that you can keep reptiles from growing large by housing
them in a small container. All such confinement will do is stunt their development, make them
aggressive and cause serious health problems.
Beardies are cold blooded so they need a heat source to bring their body temperatures up high
enough for their food to digest. A heat light above the aquarium on the screened top with a 60
watt light bulb is usually sufficient to bring one area of the tank to the 90-100 degrees they
need. You will need a thermometer on the tank so you can be sure one area is reaching the
desired temperature while another area remains cooler. They also need a UVB full spectrum
light also above the tank to provide the sun’s rays they need to produce necessary nutrients
they would get in the wild. These two lights can be set on a timer to be on 12 hours and off 12
as well. Just be sure the tank itself is not in a cold location and doesn’t fall below 60 degrees at
any time. A climbing log, basking rock (placed under the heat lamp), and 2 shallow bowls are
all the cage accessories your pet will need. You can add a hammock if you like. The best
substrate for the bottom of the cage is newspaper. They will not accidentally ingest it like they
can sand or bark. It is cheap and very easy to clean. The adult beardies will only have a bowel
movement mixed with urea (they go ‘all in one’) every few days, so just take out the old and put
in the new as soon as he goes. Weekly you will want to wipe down the cage with aquarium
cleaning wipes or a vinegar solution, then rinse with damp paper towels. Scrub the water and
food bowls weekly or more often if needed, with dish soap and water, rinse well so no residue
is left.

Feeding: A young dragon will need dozens of tiny crickets, meal worms, or silkworms daily, and
fresh greens, fruits and vegetables (favorites include dandelion and turnip greens, cooked
squash and yams, melon and strawberries.) Once the lizard is about 6 months old and nearly
grown they need far fewer bugs and more vegetation. Canned insects can be purchased at pet
sores or online if you prefer not to deal with the live ones. There are even new services online
that will send you prepackaged meals for your lizard!
Prior to feeding, a few times a week the insects should be dusted with calcium powder (again
found at pet stores or online.) This can be done by placing the bugs in a Ziploc bag with a
small amount of the powder and shaking – kind of a shake-n-bake health food for your beardie.
Feeding a bearded dragon insects that are too large for him can cause a fatal intestinal
blockage. A good rule of thumb is to feed insects that are no larger in length than the space
between the dragon’s eyes.
It is best to feed insects purchased at bait stores or pet shops to be sure they are free from
chemicals and disease. NEVER feed lightning bugs to a bearded dragon - they are poisonous
to them!

Bearded dragons are solitary animals and should not be housed with each other. In fact they
should not be housed where they can even see another beardie or they will spend all of their
time in an agitated state either trying to challenge the other lizard for territory or courting it,
causing detrimental stress to the animal.
In general beardies do not bite or snap at people. However, if any animal, no matter how
docile, is stressed or hungry biting can occur. Bearded dragons have no actual teeth, they
have ridged gums with serrated tooth-like projections that are part of the jaw itself to chew their
food. Their bite is significantly less dangerous than that of an iguana.
It is very important to wash your hands with soap and water before handling any animal to
remove smells of food and germs you may be carrying – hand sanitizer is not recommended for
this as some may remain on your hands and can harm the lizard. Then they should be washed
again with soap and water or hand sanitizer afterwards. As with all reptiles Bearded dragons
have a small amount of salmonella in their digestive system, however risk to healthy individuals
are nil when proper sanitation is used. People with autoimmune disorders or other
compromising conditions should handle reptiles and amphibians minimally, if at all.

A few fun things to do with your beardie:
•        Hold him while you watch TV or are on the computer. He may be interested in the screen
and from time to time try to reach out to it with his tongue. He may try to climb up onto your
shoulder, or snuggle on your lap where it is warm.
•        Wrap him up in a small towel like a burrito. Have a flap open at one end for his head. He
will probably go to sleep if he is nice and warm.
•        Take him out to play in the grass. Be sure to have him on a harness and leash or in a
play yard so he does not run away. Also be sure there are no chemicals on the lawn that could
harm him.
•        Talk to him often, he will recognize your voice when you come into a room and near him.
Watch him tilt his head to look up at you.

Resources for more information on Bearded Dragons:

*Please note that the information given is that which we have gleaned from years of caring for the animals, as well as
consultation with many resources and experts; and is not intended to replace other professional advice.   Medical issues
need to be brought to the attention of your veterinarian immediately.
*We do not accept wildlife at Critter Camp. Please contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if you find a wild animal in need
of assistance.

Important things to consider Before You Get A Pet

* Learn everything you can about the type of animal you want to get.
* Know where you will live and what your income will be for the entire life span of your pet.
* Think about what you want to do with your pet and how much time can you honestly spend with it
every day?
*Visit someone who already has the type of pet you are interested in and spend some time with that pet.
* Be tested for animal allergies.
* Consider adopting an animal from a shelter or individual
Try - Be sure to check the “Classified” Section too!

Please feel free to contact us with your Critter Questions!                                     815-266-1342

Learn About Bearded Dragons as Exotic Pets