14 Oct Bearded Dragon Basics
Are you planning to own a bearded dragon? It is important to make necessary preparations before your bearded dragon arrives. Proper enclosure set up and care is the key to owning a happy and healthy bearded dragon. Let’s find out about the bearded dragon basics in this article.
Bearded dragons are Australian animals that have been in the pet trade since the 1960s. However, Australia has since banned the export of their wildlife and only the bearded dragons which left the country were able to breed and thrive in captivity. No bearded dragon has left Australia legally since the ban. Therefore, all of the bearded dragons currently existing in the pet trade are either from black market purchases or legal captive breeding efforts.
Through the years that bearded dragons have been kept in captivity, numerous morphs have already emerged as a result of mutation of the genes. Later on, these morphs were later classified as “designer morphs” which demanded higher prices in the pet trade. Some morphs were results of gene mutations due to excessive inbreeding since no new genes were added in the gene pool of captive bearded dragons since the 1960s.
Bearded dragons primarily eat various insects, fruits and vegetables. However, finding enough quantity of food for your bearded dragon is sometimes the challenge in keeping one. Sometimes, bearded dragon owners would resort to feeding more veggies than insects, which might stunt the growth of your bearded dragon if given a plant-based diet at a very young age.
The best feeders for your bearded dragon which is readily available in the Philippines are:
There are other insect feeders available in the Philippines. However, these insects mentioned above have the most nutritional value for bearded dragons. The size of your bearded dragon dictates the size of feeders that it can ingest. As a rule of thumb, feeder insects should only be about half the size of your bearded dragon’s head. This also minimizes the chances of choking.
There are different types of enclosure setups that would work for bearded dragons living in a tropical country. There are many options to choose from and whichever works for you all depends on the climate on where you are located. This care sheet is geared towards readers who reside in tropical countries, such as the Philippines.
Heat and light source
Heat and light sources are very important in any bearded dragon enclosure. You may opt for a cheaper DIY alternative for light domes and lamp fixtures which can easily be purchased from your local hardware. In addition, for basking bulbs that provide UVA, you may also buy your standard home halogen lamps if you would like a cost-effective setup. On the contrary, there are also UVA bulbs that were specifically manufactured for reptile use such as products from Exoterra, Zoomed, and Reptizoo which are slightly more expensive, but they function the same way. UVA bulbs or basking bulbs are examples of heat and light sources.
UVB bulb is a light source that provides minimal heat. However, UVB is essential for calcium and other nutrient absorption on bearded dragons to prevent the onset of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). UVB can also be obtained from natural sunlight, so you might not need it very much during the summer days. But, during the rainy seasons, you will probably need your UVB bulb much more due to minimal sunlight and shorter days.
Ceramic heat emitters and heat pads are heat sources with the absence of light. Moreover, for bearded dragons, these heat sources are generally used during cold and stormy nights in the rainy season. These heat sources help lower the humidity in your bearded dragon’s enclosure to prevent respiratory infection.
We’ll talk about budget-friendly enclosure setups in a separate article.
There is a never-ending debate on what is the best substrate on bearded dragons. However, in my opinion, substrate needs vary depending on what your bearded dragon is used to. The loose substrate is generally discouraged due to the risk of impaction. On the contrary, not all bearded dragons like to lick their substrate. In that case, the risk isn’t very true. But, if you feed your bearded dragon on loose substrate, then that is where problems occur since it is inevitable that some of the substrates will be ingested by your bearded dragon.
I use washable mats which are easy to remove from the enclosure to disinfect with household bleach, rinsed and soaked. Washable mats are safe and cost-effective since they are washable, instead of disposable. Washable mats may last for more than a year with proper care and cleaning and your bearded dragon may feel comfortable with it.
The most common substrate that most pet keepers use is paper often in the form of newspaper, paper towel or tissue paper. Any dry paper works for this matter. However, it only covers the cover of your enclosure and it generates plenty of waste, especially if you have plenty of bearded dragons. Wet and soiled paper is no longer recyclable, so this type of bedding eventually becomes residual waste which isn’t very pleasant for the environment.
Reptile sand is one way to make a naturalistic set up in your home which mimics the certain appearance of deserts that bearded dragons originated from. Moreover, most sands manufactured for pet use are generally safe to be ingested due to its fine particles which can easily pass the digestive tract of bearded dragons, the same way that natural sand may be ingested in minimal amounts in the wild. However, reptile sand is still risky for bearded dragon hatchlings but they are safe for more mature dragons. In addition, reptile sand is very easy to clean since you just have to scoop the poop out of the sand, much like what you would do in a cat litter box.
Enclosure size and decors
Bearded dragons may start small as hatchlings, but they can grow up to 2 feet in length from tip to tip. However, hatchlings and adult bearded dragons have different needs when it comes to enclosure sizes. You may want to start our small for a bearded dragon hatchling. An aquarium which is about 10-15 gallons would be enough. You would have to upgrade your enclosure as your bearded dragon grows. This way, it will be easier for them to find food or basking spots.
Enclosure decors may be necessary to aid your bearded dragon during the shedding process. However, for silkback bearded dragons, enclosure decors should be smooth to prevent bruising. On the other hand, all other bearded dragon scale types would need a rough surface to rub off their old skins when they are shedding. Some rough stones or barks may do the job. Make sure you disinfect the cage decors properly before using them.
Size and lifespan
Bearded dragons start very small as hatchlings, often measuring 4-5 inches tip to tip right after leaving the egg. However, the maximum size of a bearded dragon is approximately 24 inches from tip to tip. This being
said, hatchlings and adult bearded dragons have very different needs when it comes to cage sizes and cage accessories. Nevertheless, both adults and juveniles need enough heat and light source for normal body functions. Provide enough food and water, but do not overfeed or over-hydrate your bearded dragon to maintain their health.
Bearded Dragons can live for up to 7-10 years of age. However, some specimens in captivity were recorded to live for more than 10 years of age. Several factors affect the lifespan of bearded dragons. However, if you provide all of their needs they may live for a long time. Owning a bearded dragon is a commitment that can last for several years.
Bearded dragon basics provided you with important information about bearded dragons. Moreover, if you are an aspiring bearded dragon keeper, this guide may help you prepare important things for your upcoming pet. There are a lot more things to learn about bearded dragons which we will cover in our future pet guides which may answer specific questions about bearded dragons that you might have in mind.