Bearded Dragon Care

Male Bearded Dragon

Scientifc Name: Pogona vitticep (Ahl, 1926)

Often recommend as a starter-species. The Bearded Dragon is a relatively peaceful species. Most specimens in captivity do not object to handling.
If the minimum requirements are offered, this species presents few problems in captivity.

The basic colouration is brown and grey with some subtle reds or light colouration seen in some colour morphs. An individual specimen may show subtle colour or pattern changes in reaction to mood or external stimuli. The body has relatively soft spikes alomg the sides of the body and on its head.

The Bearded Dragon comes from arid and semi-arid (including woodland) areas of Australia. It likes to climb, and is fairly good at climbing but it should not be treated as arboreal as its skills are not as good as true arboreal lizards.

The life expectancy is in excess of 20 years.

Sexing: Males have two hemipenal bulges at the base of the tail, and have more noticable femoral pores than do females. Beard colour, head size and relative thickness of the base of the tail have been cited as indicators of the differences between male and female; however, those characteristics are unreliable.
Size: Typically 18 to 24 inches with an average weight of about 500 grammes.

There is debate on the type of substrate used. Certainly, the substrate must not readily decompose, it must not retain too much moisture, it must be non-toxic, and ingestion should not cause impaction within the gut if ingested.
It is the latter that is of great debate amongst keepers.
Poor diet, however, has a large part to play in observations of impaction after ingestion of certain substrates. Irrespective, gravel should not be used within the substrate.

Water Needs:
The majority of the water needs should be supplied in a varied diet that includes fresh vegetable matter.
If a water dish is supplied then it will need regular cleaning throughout the day.
If the diet is properly biased towards a vegetable diet, then a weekly luke warm bath in shallow water in which the Bearded Dragon can bathe is a preferred method to supplying a constant water dish.
It should be noted that a Bearded Dragon is most likely to defacate either into a water dish or just after bathing.

A light regular misting of rocks is recommended so long as temperatures are not too low or where there is a risk of increasing humidity or wetness within the housing.

Visible lighting should be on for 12 to 14 hours per day.
UVB should be supplied by a minimum of 10% UVB fluorescent lamp. Keep fluorescent lamps on for 12 to 14 hours per day, and encourage the animal to be as close to the fluorescent lamp as possible.
Mecury Vapour lamps offer a much better source of UVB, but require more care in use, require a high housing, and have a defined minimum distance at which an animal can approach (this may be as much as 2 to 4 feet depending upon model used)

UVA should be supplied along with visible light and UVB.

Infra Red light should be supplied in the form of either a visible (white or red) basking lamp or a ceramic heat lamp. See Temperature.

Temperatures & Humidity:
Daytime temperature gradient should be 23ºC to 32ºC within the housing.
Nightime temperature can drop to 18ºC.
The basking area should be about 40ºC (this will require either a good quality thermostat or trial-and-error position of basking lamp done without any animals within the housing)

Bearded Dragons should be kept arid as rule with an allowable rise in humidity to being semi-arid.
High humidity can support microbial growth within the housing, and has been linked to respiratory problems.

An adult Bearded Dragon will require a housing with minimum dimensions of 36 inches long and 18 inches wide. The height should be such as to allow safe décor of choice and position of UV and heat lamps.
Place safe suitable climbing décor and use this to encourage the Bearded Dragon to get close to any fluorescent UV lamps but not too close to heat lamps.

All décor should be sturdy. Make sure that the animal cannot fall a great distance.

Great care needs to be taken when introducing plants. Bearded Dragons are omnivorous and that presents a high risk of poisoning from the many toxic plants commonly sold as houseplants.

The Bearded Dragon offers the keeper a choice of house construction. All must contain adequate ventilation.

A varied insect and vegatable diet is required (these are ominvorous lizards).
Young animals will require suitably sized insects with vegetable supplements; as the animal grows to maturity the diet should change somewhat to have a high vegetable component supplemented with insects.

As a rule of thumb, Bearded Dragons should not be fed insects with a length longer than the distance between the Bearded Dragon’s eyes. This is particularly important for young animals.

Suitable insects include: locusts; crickets; and dubai cockroaches. Morio worms, waxworms, and mealworms are a welcome treat but should be fed with caution and sparingly.

Live food should be gut-loaded by feeding the feeder insects a suitable diet of fruit and vegetable.

A wide range of suitable plant material exists.
The following examples make good foods, and should be served as a varied diet:
Dandelions; rocket; parsley; coriander (in a balanced diet); carrot;melon; apple; pear; mango; and even flowers of nasturtiums, hibiscus and carnation.

Some human fruit and vegetable foods are potentially fatal to lizards; some vegetable matter may off-balance the calcium absorption; other may cause other general metabolic disorders (such a goitre). Don’t experiment: research the list of toxic and safe foods if  foods other than mentioned here are used.

Avoid toxic plants, and avoid or minimise feeding plants that may have a negative effect on nutrient uptake.

Supplements, Nutrition and Usage:
Although a varied diet should supply all the nutrients required by a Beared Dragon, experience has shown that it is wise to supplement food with calcium supplements. These are readily available from vendors.

The reader should follow the instructions for usage as directed with a particular brand.

In general, calcium powder should be added at every meal.

Caution is required for calcium-based supplements containing vitamins or vitamin supplements. If a product contains added Vitamins D or A then it should be added more sparingly and only as directed by the supplement instructions or under the instructions of a veterinarian.

Vitamins are required by the body, but exceeding the required amount can be detrimental to animal health.

Newly acquired animals may benefit from feeding special veterinary ‘pro-biotic’ formulations, but do not feed yoghurt (or similar item intended for human consumption)

Metabolic Bone Disorder (MBD) is not the only potential common problem of reptiles, others exist. However, MBD has a history of prevalence yet is easy to avoid by suitable diet (with calcium supplements) and correct exposure to UVB, UVA and heat.
Calcium requires vitamin D3 to uptake it from the gut; the correct quality and quantity of UVB (and UVA in some reptiles) and exposure to HEAT (eg through basking) are required to synthesis Vitamin D3 in the skin of the animal.

If given the basic minimal requirements, the Bearded Dragon has shown to do well in captivity.
Their ease of handling also makes this species easy to check-spot for ailments. Observing the animals and understanding their behaviour will give early indications of many illnesses.
When handling, do not startle the animal (it may hiss or expand its throat) as that may stress the animal or even force the animal to bite. Make sure that the animal is held firmly at all times and that all parts of the underside are supported: do not hold by the chest.

Cleaning the housing is a relatively low maintenance job. Bearded Dragins defecate only occasionally; any faeces should be removed at once.

Routinely inspect the housing for mites, fungal growth, wet substrate, or strong odours. If any are noted then the housing should be cleaned with a safe proprietary reptile disinfectant. It should be noted that Bearded Dragon housing does have a slight odour.
Some Words on this Species:
This is a commonly kept repltile; as such, there are a lot of information available on keeping and veterinary care.
As with many reptiles, there is a danger of egg-binding with females.
Although the Bearded Dragon is sometimes kept in a small community, it is not necessarily a communal animal. It does not need company.

The keeper should note the subtle head and leg gestures shown by this lizard in cases where terrority is demonstrated, superiority and sub-ordination are demonstrated, where a fight is pending, and in breeding. Both males and females shown head and leg gestures ranging from extremely overt to quite subtle.
A most rewarding species of reptile.

Care sheet Courtesy of The Herpetological Society of Ireland 2009


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