Bearded dragons, also known as Pogona are Australian reptiles, generally found in arid and semi-arid areas across the continent. The name comes from the lizard’s “beard”, used to intimidate potential rivals or predators.
Bearded dragons have triangular heads, round bodies, and strong legs. Their fingers and tails are sensitive and do not regenerate.
They have good vision (in full color) and an excellent sense of hearing. Their taste and smell are also very well developed. Bearded Dragons generally test the environment using their tongues, similar to snakes.
The bearded dragon’s teeth are unusual. While the lateral teeth are permanent, their front teeth fall out and others grow to replace them. The mouth is also used to keep body temperature under control: when they have reached the ideal temperature or are too hot, they open their mouth wide to prevent body temperature from rising. This behavior is also known as gaping.
Types Of Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragon Or Pogona Has 8 Species:
- Pogona Vitticeps (Central Bearded Dragon)
- Pogona Barbata (Coastal or Eastern Bearded Dragon)
- Pogona Minor Mitchell (Bearded Dragon of Mitchell)
- Pogona Minor (Bearded Dragon Dwarf)
- Pogona Nullarbor (Nullaerbor Bearded Dragon)
- Pogona Henrylawsoni (Lawsons Bearded Dragon)
- Pogona Minor Minima (Western Bearded Dragon)
- Pogona Microlepidote (Small-scale Bearded Dragon).
Outside of Australia, there are only the Pogona Henrylawsoni and Pogona Vitticeps and rarely the Pogona Barbata.
There is also a ninth species, obtained in captivity, called Pogona Vittikins, which is the cross between Pogona Vitticeps and Pogona Henrylawsoni.
Since exporting wildlife has been illegal in Australia since the 1960s, bearded dragons found outside of this continent are bred in captivity.
In general, there is no need for a license to keep a bearded dragon, but some states or countries have special legislation for breeders.
In Australia, almost all species can be kept as pets, but licenses are generally required, depending on each type of bearded dragon.
3 Most Common Bearded Dragons Kept As Pets
1. Pogona Vitticeps
Pogona vitticeps is the one generally known as the Bearded Dragon, being the most popular species among reptile owners. Also called the Yellow-headed Bearded Dragon, it is 60 cm (23 inches) long and has a manageable temperament. It has a flat body and a long tail (half of the total length).
Colors can vary (brown, gray, red, orange, white, or yellow), but the most common are yellow and golden shades. Many special colors are obtained through selective breeding.
2. Pogona Henrylawsoni
Pogona Henrylawsoni was first described in 1985, so there are still many controversies about what these lizards should be called. That is why they are known by many different names, such as Rankins Dragon, Dumpy Dragon, Dwarf Bearded Dragon, or Black Ground Bearded Dragon.
They are smaller than Pogona vitticeps, generally 25 cm (10 inches) long; They have a different head shape and almost no beard.
They also have a different temperament and are considered more as a social species. They generally have light colors like beige or khaki with dark stripes under the chin.
3. Pogona Vittikins
Pogona Vittikins (or Vittikins Dragon) are fertile hybrids of Pogona Henrylawsoni and Pogona vitticeps. They are 30-40 cm (12-16 inches) long, have a less developed beard, and different head shapes than other lizards.
Vittikins tend to fall between the size of the larger Vitticeps and the smaller Rankins dragon.
It can be difficult to tell Vittikins and Rankins Dragon apart, especially when they’re young. A Vittikins dragon will tend to be heavier and longer than a Rankins dragon. A Vittikins will generally have a more noticeable peak along its midline.
Behaviors Of Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragon colors can change from black and dark gray to bright reddish or orange. Normally this ability allows them to heat up or cool down. Changes that do not appear to be related to changes in temperature can be caused by stress or illness. When the beard is darkening it is a sign of aggressive behavior.
This appears to be a form of communication, for both males and females. Some specialists consider this to be a way to show submission or avoid aggression.
This is a male’s habit of moving its head up and down very quickly. In general, it has a completely dark beard when it shakes its head and is a way to dominate smaller males and females.
Puffing up the beard
If the beard is also changing color to a darker one, it is the sign that the reptile feels threatened. It will also flatten its body and prepare to move to the side or jump. If the puffy beard has not changed color, other possible meanings for this behavior are yawning, stretching, or clearing the mouth after eating.
If a bearded dragon flattening its body in the absence of any threat it means it doesn’t get enough heat.
They can do this to each other when there is not enough room for them. Biting can also occur during mating. Biting humans is generally caused by fear.
They do this only if they feel threatened, along with showing teeth, opening their mouths and removing their beards.
Brumation in bearded dragons is similar to hibernation in mammals. However, unlike hibernation, the animal continues to drink and does not sleep. In the wild, dragons strike when temperatures are dropping (it’s a kind of hibernation).
The signs of brumation are loss of appetite, moving around a lot, burying itself, and defecating. In captivity, some bearded dragons strike even if the light and temperature are constant.
At the first signs of brumation, the pet should be taken to the vet so that the owner knows for sure that the dragon is free of parasites and will not lose weight during this period.
Housing For Bearded dragons
Bearded dragons make very good pets and, with proper care, are typically very healthy lizards.
Their lifespan depends a lot on how they live: 5 to 8 years in the wild and 8 to 12 years in captivity if they are well cared for. Sometimes bearded dragons can live to be 14 years old.
Caring for these lizards is not difficult, some basic rules must be followed and specific environmental conditions must be created to give the pet a safe home that meets its needs.
A Bearded Dragon Tank/Vivarium
this can be a glass terrarium (aquarium), a melamine cage, or a plastic cage. Size is actually more important than the material the tank is made of. The minimum dimensions start at 40-55 gallons (150-200 liters) for a 40 cm (16 inches) dragon.
This increases if the pet’s body is longer (75-120 gallons / 300-450 liters for a dragon 60 cm long). Since these lizards need space, bigger is better, even more, because the cage must have one side warmer than the other, a fact that allows the dragon to regulate its body temperature.
A younger bearded dragon can be kept in a smaller tank (30 gallons / 110 liters), but since it will grow and need a larger house, the owner may want to consider buying a large tank from the beginning.
As a recommendation, the length of the floor should be four times as long as the pet. Wire cages are not generally used as they do not keep heat inside and can damage the dragon’s fingers and toes.
Aquariums are popular with owners because they are inexpensive and can be easily found at pet stores.
The main disadvantages are that aquariums are heavy, not as resistant to light as the other options, and sometimes keep too much heat and humidity. Some owners have noted that glass can also influence the color of the pet by taking its shine.
Melamine cages are made of melamine (wood) boards. They are white in color, reflect additional light, and the owner can build the tank at home. The main disadvantages are the high price and the weight of the tank.
Replacing melamine with plastic can be a good option because this way, the tank weighs less. However, the costs are higher.
ABS plastic is the alternative that smells the least and makes the tank even lighter. Professional reptile cages can be the best alternative, even if they are more expensive. They are also made of plastic, but they are chemical resistant, easy to clean, and have heat lamps built into the tank frame.
The tank must be covered at all times, to prevent the bearded dragon from escaping. The correct way to cover the cage is to use a screen cover because it allows airflow and maintains low humidity in the dragon environment. Glass and plastic lids should be avoided.
A Suitable Habitat
Since bearded dragons come from the arid zones of Australia, they need a higher temperature in the tank than the ambient temperature.
They also need full-spectrum lighting for 13-14 hours a day in the summer, 10 hours in the spring and fall, and 8 hours in the winter.
A light timer can be used to make sure the lights turn on / off at the right time. Some owners opted to also have a thermostat to make sure they have the proper temperature inside the cage.
Maintaining this specific environment requires different heating sources and two different types of additional lights (UVA and UVB).
All lamps should be placed securely, to avoid the dragon climbing on them and get burned.
Primary Heating Source
A primary heating source is required to maintain a constant temperature inside the cage, which should be between 26-31 ° C (78-88 ° F) during the day.
To maintain the proper temperature inside the cage, owners can use ceramic heaters, reptile bulbs, household heat emitting bulbs, under tank heaters.
The recommended bulbs are the ones that produce the full spectrum of light. The temperature should be kept under control all day. For large cages, two thermometers are recommended, so that the owner can have correct temperature values for both the warm and hot parts of the tank.
At night, a heating source should be used only if the ambient temperature is too low, as they need around 20 ° C (70 ° F) to feel comfortable. A good source of heating could be a lower wattage night lamp in red or blue.
Some Bearded dragons are disturbed by light at night, so if the pet can’t sleep, a ceramic heater is a safe alternative. Heating rocks are not recommended as they can harm the pet by causing burns.
Secondary Heating Source
A secondary heating source should provide a higher temperature in only part of the cage so that the bearded dragon can stay in the heat when needed. This source should cover about 25% of the tank.
It should produce a temperature between 32-37.5 ° C (90-100 ° F) for adults and up to 40 ° C (105 ° F) for young dragons.
The basking spot is normally created using a UVA heat bulb with a full light spectrum. To maintain proper body temperature, the bearded dragon simply moves from one area to another.
UVB lighting is essential to keeping the bearded dragon healthy, as it needs it to synthesize vitamin D3, responsible for calcium processing. To provide this, homeowners can use mercury vapor bulbs or fluorescent/linear tubes. This type of light should cover almost the entire cage.
The correct distance between the mercury vapor bulbs and the floor of the cage is approximately 30-40 cm (12-15 inches). But it also depends on the type of lamp chosen, the size of the cage and the manufacturer’s instructions.
Linear tubes should be placed about 20 cm (8 inches) from the pet. The focus radiation level should be as high as possible (10% and 12% are the most powerful).
UVB light should be placed under a reflector which will help more light reach the floor of the cage. Compact/coils cannot offer enough UVB light for the bearded dragon. UVB sources should be changed every 6 months or once a year, as indications by the producer.
Maintaining humidity between 40 and 60% is also important when creating a bearded dragon habitat. A hygrometer is a right tool for measuring humidity and is a must for all dragon owners, as too high a value can cause respiratory infections and low humidity can also lead to health conditions.
An easy way to control humidity is to add a bowl of water to the tank. Some people prefer to use a large dish, in which the dragon can soak.
A Right Substrate
Bearded dragons are climbers, so branches are a must inside the tank. These can be bought in specialized stores or even from abroad, provided they have a smooth surface with no holes.
Some pet-friendly trees include alder, ash, aspen, birch, poplar, dogwood, elm, maple, oak, poplar, sycamore, and willow.
The branch must be longer than the dragon. Before placing any piece of wood inside the cage, the wood should be disinfected by washing it with a 10% bleach solution (thoroughly rinsed and then dried).
Alternatively, the wood can be baked in the oven for 30 minutes at 150 ° C (300 ° F).
Rocks can also be put inside the cage, provided they are large enough not to eat them. A larger rock can be used to create a resting place by placing it directly under the heat lamp.
A basking platform can also work, instead of the rock, if it provides more space and makes the reptile more comfortable. Rocks should also be washed and kept in the oven if purchased from uncontrolled sources.
Fake plants are nice and recreate a natural environment. They must be special plants made for reptile cages, as they are more resistant and the chances of being eaten by the bearded dragon are smaller.
Real plants are generally dangerous, as most of them can be poisonous and should not be allowed in the tank.
Some bearded dragons like hammocks. These are specially made for bearded dragons, so suction cups and hooks are provided at the ends for an easy way to keep them in the tank.
A hiding place is also necessary as it helps the dragon stay away from heat sources or even people. It is recommended only for adult dragons, as younger ones might not spend enough time in the basking place if they had a hiding place.
A tank background will make the dragon feel more secure, especially if all the tank walls are made of glass and are transparent.
Feeding Your Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are omnivores and generally eat non-citrus vegetables, insects, and fruits. As a general rule, all food should be smaller than the distance between the reptile’s eyes; otherwise, they can cause digestive problems.
Feeding and digestion should always be done during the day when the lights are on.
Diet changes with age. Because when young, bearded dragons need to eat more insects than vegetables. While it is still growing, a dragon should eat insects 3 times a day (20 to 60), and should always have some vegetables in the cage.
The insect bowl should be left in the cage for only 15 minutes and then removed until the next meal. Adult dragons only need one insect meal each day, as they tend to become more herbivorous. Too much protein will cause overweight and health problems.
Again, the insect bowl should remain in the tank for about 15 minutes, at which time the pet can eat as much as it wants. Bearded dragons should never eat chicken or fish.
Safe Insects For Bearded Dragons
The most common insects given to these lizards are:
- Locusts (hoppers)
- Dubia roaches (Argentine wood cockroaches)
- Black Soldier fly larvae
- Morio worms
- Red worms
- Wax worms.
All insects must be purchased from pet stores, as if they are obtained outdoors they could be contaminated with pesticides and could harm the pet.
Crickets are low in fat, so they should be used as a primary source of protein. Worms should be used more as treats, especially for adult bearded dragons, as they are high in fat and have lower nutritional value.
The insects must be kept in a special container, according to the provider’s instructions. To ensure that the pet receives enough nutrients, insects must eat before being offered to the dragon (“intestinal burden”).
The right foods for insects are vegetables (also helps keep them hydrated) and special foods from the pet store. Insects can sometimes be difficult to handle, especially crickets that are fast and difficult to catch once they escape.
Keeping the tube with the bugs in the fridge for 5 minutes before handling them will slow them down enough. Fireflies and glittering insects are not recommended for bearded dragons.
Fruits And Vegetables
Fresh vegetables (and occasionally fruits) should account for 25-30% and up to 50% (for adults) of the diet. They are important since they are the main source of water for the bearded dragon.
To determine the best diet for your dragon pet, the owner should also speak to a veterinarian or the breeder from whom they got their pet.
All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before being delivered to the bearded dragon. It is best to check that the vegetables and flowers have not been contaminated with unsafe chemicals.
All fresh food should be cut into small pieces, with none of them being greater than the distance between the pet’s eyes.
Fresh vegetables should be offered daily to adult beards in a special container.
The main recommended vegetables for dragons are:
- Romaine lettuce
- Collard greens
- Kale (borecole)
- Broccoli leaves
- Bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
- Carrots (also the leaves)
- Peas ( rarely)
- Red bell peppers (occasionally)
- Corn (rarely)
- Mustard greens (occasionally)
- Alfalfa sprouts.
Dark green and leafy vegetables should be fed more frequently than others. Iceberg lettuce is not recommended as it has a low nutritional value and can cause diarrhea. Celery should also be avoided. Avocados, rhubarb, and spinach are considered unsuitable.
Some of the fruits that can be introduced to the diet are:
- Musk melon
- figs (high calcium content)
Juicy fruits are best to eat by hand so the beard doesn’t get too dirty. Banana, kiwi, raspberries, and tomatoes are non-toxic but should be administered in moderation. The quantity of fruit supplied should not be more than 20% of the total quantity of fresh food.
Diversity is important when choosing fruits and vegetables, to maintain a nutritional balance. Other safe plants that can complete a varied diet are basil, clover, oregano, rose petal, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, maple leaves, carnation petals, lily flowers, hibiscus flowers and leaves, and pansy flowers.
The flowers should be used as treats.
Commercial Dragon Food
As bearded dragons have become increasingly popular, pet food companies are creating more species-specific foods. In general, these are canned or pelleted foods and their nutritional values vary by brand.
Commercial foods should be fed in a bowl, like all other foods, several times a week according to the producer’s instructions and the pet’s needs. Granulated foods should be stored in a cool, dry place, in closed containers, to avoid losing nutritional value.
Most breeders do not use pelleted food as a daily source for their bearded dragons and consider it only as a dietary option in the event that fresh food and live insects are not available. Some dragons may also refuse to eat commercial food.
The best way to ensure that the bearded dragon has a balanced diet is to incorporate more different types of food, both insects and vegetables.
Bearded dragons need more calcium than phosphorus, so vets recommend adding calcium to the reptile’s diet. 2-3 times a week, calcium (gluconate, lactate, or carbonate) should be sprinkled on dragon vegetables.
To ensure that the pet will eat all the calcium, the vegetable portion should be smaller. Afterward, more fresh food can be added.
A vitamin mix can be used once a week, but only after talking to a vet. Too many vitamins can be harmful, and many bearded dragons go to the vet due to excessive vitamin supplementation (especially vitamin D3) or vitamin A poisoning, which is related to consuming the vitamin mix.
Even if bearded dragons don’t seem to drink water, most owners say that there should always be a container of water in the tank. The bowl should not be deep (to prevent the lizard from drowning) and should be heavy enough not to tip over.
The water should always be fresh (sometimes it should change 2-3 times a day because bearded dragons use to poop in the water). The bowl should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
A few times a week, the reptile should be moistened with water to make sure it is sufficiently hydrated.
Bathing Your Pet Bearded Dragon
Bathing a bearded dragon is important for proper hygiene and to help hydrate the dragon, and should be taken once or twice a week, depending on the pet’s needs.
The water should be warm (approximately 36 ° C / 96.8 ° F) and not deep. It is enough water if it reaches the lizard’s knees (for young pets) or shoulders (for adults), which means between 1.2 and 2.5 cm (0.5-1 inch).
Soaps or shampoos are not recommended, as the dragon can also drink some of the bathwater. The pet must remain in the water for 15 to 30 minutes, during which time the water temperature must be kept at the correct value.
Some owners bathe their pet bearded dragon in the sink or bathtub, but for hygiene reasons, we do not recommend this.
A plastic container kept only for the dragon would be more suitable. The container should be large enough to allow the pet to move. A rock or towel can be added to give the dragon an alternative if he wants to get out of the water.
The dragon must be well dried before returning to the tank.
Shedding (also called peeling or sloughing) is the natural process that allows the bearded dragon to remove its old skin, leaving beautiful new skin shiny and colored. The lizard flies more often when it is young because it is growing (once every 6-8 weeks). Shedding generally lasts 2 to 3 weeks with adults and is faster with young lizards.
The shedding process is generated by hormones and is intended to regenerate the skin. It cannot be predicted, as it does not happen regularly to adult dragons.
Bearded dragons that start to peel will show symptoms like loss of appetite, pooping less, their skin color will turn a bit gray, and they just don’t want to be manipulated or touched anymore. One of the first places where they start to shed is around their eyes.
During this period, bearded dragons will start scratching their feet and rub their bodies against the floor, branches, or rocks of their tank.
They will choose to spend more time away from the hot zone and seek more moisture. A water source where they could get wet could be helpful. Some owners even take hot baths with their dragons while shedding, but it depends on how long the pet can bear to be handled.
The humidity in the tank should not exceed the normal limit of 40 to 60%. The UVB light level should also be checked, as this is a very important part of the process. Owners should not remove old skin, as this does not help the pet, but can harm new skin.
Bearded dragons eat their old skin. Some say it’s just a habit taken from nature that helps them keep predators away by removing traces of their scent. It could also be a sign that the pet needs more calcium in its diet.