A Helpful Guide to Bearded Dragon Care for Beginners
When it comes to caring for reptiles, the bearded dragon is probably one that’s crossed your mind. There are so many different options out there, and to be quite honest with you, they tend to be beginner-friendly reptile companions. We’ll have more on that for you later, but for now, let’s take a look at what we’ll be going over in today’s bearded dragon guide.
We’ll be going over a lot of information today, so it’s essential that you pay very close attention to each section. Bearded dragons are unique reptiles, which means you’ll need to take a unique approach when you look at them.
The bearded dragon can be an excellent reptile for beginners, and if you’re trying to breed -or have one as a pet- you’re definitely in the right place. Today, we’ll be breaking everything down into easy to read sections for you that look like:
- What exactly the bearded dragon is
- How to care for a bearded dragon
- How to breed a bearded dragon
- Bearded dragon morph breeds
- A brief recap on everything we’ve gone over
Please feel free to skip around at your leisure, but we always recommend that you thoroughly read each section before moving on. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure we keep it interesting.
With that being said, we don’t want to waste any of your time, so let’s dive right into the facts.
Here we go!
What exactly is a bearded dragon?
When it comes to a bearded dragon, before we get into the breeding and care sections, you’ll definitely want to know exactly what these reptiles are. This is due to the fact that there are up to eight different species, and while they may vary, it’s important to know that they all fall into the pogona species. Therefore, if you ever hear that term being thrown around in the reptile world, it’s safe to assume that it’s a bearded dragon.
Where do they come from?
While there may be eight different species of bearded dragon, they’re really not as diverse as you may think. This is due to the fact that they’re native to Australia, which means that their species variation is mostly due to their native Australian region. For example, you have specific species of bearded dragons that are native to central Australia -plus the central Australian species is the most common species used as a pet.
What’s with the name?
The name, on its own, is kind of like a nickname. While bearded dragons may not be dragons, or have a beard, it’s definitely something that needs to be covered. This is due to the fact that most bearded dragons have a section under their neck that can turn black -hence the nickname.
Now, it may not resemble a beard in the traditional sense of facial hair, but when the scales turn black you’ll immediately understand where the name came from. With that being said, it will really only change color when the bearded dragon becomes stressed or nervous -we’ll have more for you on their behavior in just a moment.
What do bearded dragons look like?
One of the main reasons that bearded dragons are sought after is due to the fact that they possess a wide range of colors. There are tons of morph breeds, and they can actually change their color based on their environment. They do so in order to blend in with their environment, but when it comes to having one as a pet, some of their color combinations can be beautiful.
Aside from their color combinations, you’ll notice that bearded dragons also have scales across their entire body. The scales are most prominent in the beard area, and while they may appear as very sharp, they aren’t actually sharp enough to do any serious damage. The scales will usually have a triangular-shaped head, and their scales tend to be in rows. So if you ever see a lizard with a ton of scales under its throat, chances are you’re looking at a bearded dragon.
How big are they?
When it comes to having a pet reptile, one thing that you need to consider is their size. This will determine the size of their enclosure and will help you gauge the supplies that you’ll need. Well, when it comes to the bearded dragon, you’ll notice that they’re a bit larger than some smaller lizard species out there. We’re not saying they’re huge, but they’ll definitely take up a bit of space.
This is due to the fact that the bearded dragon male will usually end up being up to two whole feet in length. Also, please keep in mind that this is the average, so you might want to consider the fact that they may grow even larger. Now, with that being said, the female is actually going to be a bit smaller on average. Therefore, when it comes to the female, they’ll usually max out at around 20-22 inches. It’s not a huge difference, but definitely something worth noting.
What is their behavior like?
The bearded dragon is definitely one of the more docile reptiles out there, but there are definitely a few things that you should be aware of. Remember when we talked about their beards turning black? Well -this is actually one of their personality traits. So let’s take a quick look at some of their behavior patterns.
The bearded dragon, when stressed out a bit, will typically expand the area of scales underneath their throat. Think about a pufferfish, but only under the neck. Once the “beard” is expanded, the bearded dragon will typically switch its scales over to black in color. This is used to scare off possible danger and can be quite alarming at first glance.
Now, aside from their throat region, these little guys exhibit some interesting behavior. For example, when they are being dominant -over territory- they’ll actually move their head from side to side. To humans, this may be laughable, but in the bearded dragon community, this is male dominance at its finest. Now, with that being said, they also have a submissive response as well. This can be observed through their usage of a hand wave, which kind of resembles that of a human’s wave. So if they’re waving at you, well, that means you’re doing something right.
How long do they live?
If you’ll be having a pet reptile, you’ll want to know how long they’ll be around, right? Luckily, when it comes to bearded dragons, you can rest easy knowing that they’ll be with you for quite some time. On average, a pet bearded dragon will last you about 10 years. Now, it’s important to know that 10 years is just the average and that some can live up to twice as long. Also, on the short end, sometimes they may only last you around 6 years. So while it may be a bit of a gamble, a decade is a pretty safe number to assume.
Are they dangerous?
Finally, before you own a reptile, you’ll probably want to understand the risks to your health. This is due to the fact that owning a pet reptile is not quite like owning a cat or a dog, so you need to make sure you know all of the possible risks as well. Luckily, you’ll be pleased to hear that bearded dragons are essentially harmless to humans.
While they may have venom, which can be used quite effectively on smaller animals, that venom is not typically harmful in humans. Could the area around a bite swell up a bit? Absolutely, but chances are you’ll be fine. Now, this is not true for everyone, so make sure that you’re not allergic to their venom, or there can be some serious implications. Other than the venom, their bites can draw blood, but aside from that, you’ll be absolutely fine.
Bearded dragons behave in a unique way, mostly due to their “beards,” but to be quite honest they’re easy pets to handle.
How to care for a bearded dragon
Now that you know the facts, and what these reptiles are all about, it’s time to get to the good part. Therefore, if you want to know about how to care for a bearded dragon, this is the section for you. We’ll be taking a look at some essentials, and aside from the basics, some pretty cool tips you can use to make the most out of your experience.
The first thing you’ll need to do, even before you have possession of a bearded dragon, is finding the right enclosure. The size difference will depend on the age of the bearded dragon you acquire, but it’s always safe to get a 70-75 gallon enclosure. This is due to the fact that most adults will need at least 70 gallons worth of space to really make the most out of their home.
As for the type of enclosure, while cages are not out of the question, you should always look for something more suitable like a tank. Therefore, when it comes to tank choices, it’s always a safe bet to go with a more aquarium type tank. You’ll obviously won’t be filling it up with water, but when you use an aquarium type tank, you’ll be left with plenty of room to customize your enclosure.
Substrate and accessories
Now that you have the enclosure part down pat, you’ll need more than just a tank. This is due to the fact that the bearded dragon will need plenty of additional features in their tank. To start, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right substrate. Therefore, when it comes to the substrate, we recommend that you utilize a reptile carpet or sand. Can you go with woodchips, mulch or cloth? Absolutely, but to be blunt, these substrate options can lead to injuries.
Now that you have the carpet part taken care of, you’ll need to set up the tank properly. When it comes to bearded dragons, there are some additional steps, so we want to make sure that we cover them all. Therefore, within your tank, you’ll need to provide your bearded dragon with:
- A shelf area in which your lizard can “bask on”
- You can also use a branch or rock for your basking area, but make sure that branch is not from your backyard -you don’t want your lizard being exposed to chemicals, bugs or parasites
- UV lamps
- A place for your bearded dragon to hideaway during the night hours
We know that we went over a lot, but there is really a lot of set up involved when it comes to bearded dragons. This is due to the fact that they spend most of the day soaking up the heat, and when they end up soaking up a bit too much, they’ll need an area to cool off. If this sounds a bit confusing so far, don’t panic, because we’ll have more on the temperature and lighting needs in just a moment.
The bearded dragon is a cold-blooded reptile. This means that they use heat from the sun to heat up their blood, so with that being said, you’ll need to replicate this process artificially. You can do so by picking up UV lamps, and a thermometer to measure the temperature of your enclosure.
The basking area -the place where your bearded dragon will soak up the heat- should be about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, in that section, the lights should be on for at least 10-12 hours on a daily basis. This will help replicate day and night for your bearded dragon, which will help their sleeping habits quite a bit.
Now, while the basking area should be kept on the hot side, you’ll need to use another lamp on the opposite side of the enclosure. This is due to the fact that your bearded dragon also needs a place to cool down -you know, from basking all day long. For this section of the enclosure, you’ll want to make sure that you keep the temperature around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. This will keep things cool, but not too frosty.
We also recommend that you utilize infrared lights as well, this way you can always maintain the heat of the enclosure. This will be helpful in regulating night and day for your bearded dragon because you’ll be able to keep up the heat without making daytime 24/7. Therefore, when it comes to lighting, you’ll likely need at least 3 lamps depending on the size of the enclosure.
Now, aside from just heat, you’ll need to provide your bearded dragon with plenty of UV and UVB light. This is due to the fact that UVB light will help your bearded dragon grow properly, which is why you should look for all-in-one lamps instead of one of each.
Feeding bearded dragons is not difficult, but at times, it can be a bit of a chore. Therefore, you’ll want to go into this knowing that they eat both plants and meat. This is why having a balanced diet is crucial, and you should also consider keeping a food dish in the enclosure for the vegetable part of your bearded dragon’s dietary needs. Now, with that being said, here is a list of what these guys love to eat:
- Many household vegetables will actually be a perfect meal for adult bearded dragons
- Younger bearded dragons love to eat insects
- Crickets are a great and easy insect choice
- Mealworms work
- Dubia roaches are a bit more expensive, but also do the job
- You should always make sure that you feed your bearded dragon live insects
As we mentioned briefly on the list, bearded dragons will actually change their dietary needs as they get older. This is due to the fact that their nutritional needs change, and when they’re adults they tend to have different cravings. Therefore, when they’re young, try and use as many insects as you can. Then, once they are fully mature, they’ll mostly enjoy eating veggies instead.
Now, when it comes to the frequency in which you feed them, this also needs to be considered. This is due to the fact that younger bearded dragons should be fed about 8-10 crickets twice per day. As they get older, you can switch to larger crickets, but keep the number of crickets pretty similar. Once they reach maturity, practice the same feeding habits, but use greens instead. While you should still feed them a few crickets every day or so, they’ll appreciate the veggies once their adults. Trust us on that one.
Everything on planet earth needs water to survive, and the bearded dragon is definitely no exception. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure that your bearded dragon has plenty of water available to keep them hydrated. Now, you can use a water dish for this, but please keep in mind that they may not always drink from the bowl. This means that you should keep a shallow amount of water in the bowl because they might take a nap in their water dish.
Unfortunately, bearded dragon hydration can be a bit tricky. This is due to the fact that they won’t always drink -or sit in- their water bowl. If you see this happening, you’ll need to make some adjustments. This is due to the fact that bearded dragons receive a lot of their hydration through absorption, so make sure you use a spray bottle to gently mist them daily if they won’t drink from the dish.
When it comes to your enclosure, you’ll definitely want to keep things on the tidy side. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure that you clean the reptile carpet at least once or twice a week. Unlike a lot of substrates, reptile carpets can be used more than once. So when it comes to cleaning, you can honestly send it through your washing machine. Also, the second you notice feces in the enclosure, be sure to remove it as soon as possible.
Aside from basic cleaning needs, bearded dragons need some additional care. You’ll want to make sure that you bathe your bearded dragon at least weekly, and make sure you let them hang out in warm water for at least 10-30 minutes. This will help them hydrate, stay clean, and feel refreshed.
Bearded dragons, sort of like snakes, will actually shed their skin quite often. This means that you’ll need to understand their needs, the signs, and how to handle shedding. Luckily, shedding usually occurs on its own, so there really isn’t too much for you to do. If you’re unsure about whether or not your bearded dragon is shedding, be sure to look at their eyes. If their eyes bulge, that means that they are about to begin the process.
Now, you can let the process occur naturally, but if their skin seems stuck, please do not pull or tug on it. Instead, use a spray gun to gently coat them in water. In most cases, this will loosen up the skin, and in doing so will help them shed their skin naturally. Once the skin is fully shed, be sure to remove the skin as soon as you can.
Finally, once you have the basics down, you can start to bond with your bearded dragon. To begin, you’ll want to introduce your hand to the enclosure. In doing so, make sure that you always offer food, because this will help the bearded dragon associate you with food and safety. Once they see you as their caregiver, these lizards can really make for an interesting pet.
As they get older, feel free to let them roam around outdoors, or even inside your house. They’ll mostly bask in the day hours, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a trip to your backyard. Always make sure that the area is safe for them to roam, and make sure that you handle them with care in their youth. Luckily, as their adults, they become a lot more durable.
When it comes to caring for a bearded dragon, we know we covered a lot, but trust us it’s definitely necessary. There are a lot of steps, but once you get it all down, you’ll notice that it’s quite easy -even if you’re a beginner.
If you’ll be getting into the breeding business, you’ll need to know how the whole process works. Luckily, unlike the care section, breeding is actually quite a bit more simple. Plus, once you know the guidelines, the lizards will take care of the rest. So let’s take a look at some common breeding practices.
One male per enclosure
When it comes to breeding, you’ll want to make sure that you limit the number of males. This is due to the fact that bearded dragons can be quite the territorial reptiles, so make sure you only keep one male in an enclosure during the mating process. Not only will this make breeding simple, but it will limit any casualties.
When it comes to breeding these reptiles, you’ll need to make sure that the enclosure is able to handle more than one bearded dragon. Therefore, when it comes to tank size, you’ll want to get a tank that’s over 100 gallons. You’ll want to let the male and female get used to each other, so place them together for a week or two at a time.
Have two tanks
Once the bearded dragons breed, you’ll want to make sure that you have a separate tank set up for the female. This is due to the fact that females will need their own area to actually lay the eggs down. The heat should be the same, as should the layout of the enclosure, but make sure that you separate the male and female. You’ll know that female is laying eggs when she begins to dig out certain areas of the enclosed -usually in the corners of the enclosure.
There is a lot more that goes into breeding, especially with the eggs, incubation, and their habits, but that would require another article. Therefore, for the purpose of basic breeding, this should cover the basic steps for you. If you do want to get into breeding, in large quantities, we recommend that you find a very in-depth guide on that area.
When it comes to the world of reptiles, there are always morph breeds. This is due to the fact that genetic mutations -with their skin- can look quite exotic. Now, with that being said, we want to make sure that you know the basics about morphs when it comes to bearded dragons. We won’t go too much into detail but don’t panic, because you’ll leave here knowing what you need to know.
A morph breed is a breed of bearded dragon that has a difference in color than traditional breeds. This is interesting for bearded dragons because most bearded dragons have their own unique colors anyway. This is why morph breeds are so exotic because they truly vary when it comes to colors.
Here are some of the popular morphs:
- Leatherback breeds
- Dunner breeds
- Zero breeds
- Albino breeds
- Breeds that have smaller scales
- Slightly different traditional breeds
- Hypo breeds (display light colors)
While these are some of the most common breeds, there are quite literally hundreds of different morphs out there, and some breeds are still being discovered.
The reason that morph breeds are popular, as we’ve mentioned before, are the color variations within the breeds. This is due to the fact that colors can blend, form different patterns, and create some pretty interesting combinations. Now with that being said, here are some of the common color variations you can find in morph breeds:
- Silver or translucent
- Brown or tan
- Bright or dark orange
- Hypo breeds with different and lighter colors
Breeding and some additional facts to be aware of
The thing about morphs is that a lot of this has to do with genetics. This is why you’ll hear things like recessive traits and dominant traits thrown around. Luckily, all you need to know is that they tell you how the breeding process will work. For example, a dominant trait will always be passed down to an offspring. On the other hand, when you consider a recessive trait, both parents will need to have the gene.
Now, we can definitely teach you an entire biology lesson on the subject, but for the purpose of bearded dragon morphs, this is really all you need to know. Therefore, morph breeds are basically different colored bearded dragons. When it comes to morphs, you’ll also need to consider the price tag that comes with them. This is due to the fact that these breeds are definitely more rare, which means you can expect to pay over $200 for morphs.
Morphs may sound complicated, but you need to understand that a lot of it just comes down to color variations. It’s pretty simple, and while we could break it down further, these are definitely the basics.
When it comes to bearded dragons, there is really just so much knowledge out there. From their heritage to morphs, bearded dragons are one of the more popular reptile pets. This is due to the fact that these reptiles are excellent for beginners, and once you know the basics, they’ll last you a very long time.
We know that we went over a lot of information today, so always make sure that you take the time to fully understand each section. Now, with that being said, if you feel lost, you can always refer back to this article as a guide.
The bearded dragon may not be hard to care for, but before you dive right into the world of bearded dragons, make sure that you plan the whole process out. The size of your enclosure is crucial, and aside from that, always make sure that your bearded dragon has an ample amount of heat to thrive.
Now that you know the facts, are you ready to dive into the bearded dragon world?
***Photos kindly provided by scratch_squirt_and_squirmy
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