Bearded Dragon – Pogona Vitteceps

Easily the most highly recommended choice for a pet lizard, the Bearded Dragon is a popular pick for a pet reptile. They tend to be docile with proper handling from birth, and often enjoy being handled by their owners.

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Bearded dragons are generally a yellow or brown color, although there are other color variations, including purple and orange. They have spikes along their sides as well as under their chins, hence the “beard” portion of their name. When they are angry or afraid, the spikes on their beards can inflate, causing the lizard to look larger and more menacing.although there are other color variations, including purple and orange. They have spikes along their sides as well as under their chins, hence the “beard” portion of their name. When they are angry or afraid, the spikes on their beards can inflate, causing the lizard to look larger and more menacing.

Background

Bearded Dragons were originally desert-dwelling reptiles. Although it is highly advisable to obtain your Bearded Dragon from a breeder, not the wild, it is still important to keep the species’ background in mind as you care for the lizard.

Their desert habitat means they appreciate very warm tanks as well as periodic water mists. In the wild, they would have gotten their water via rainfall by licking the water droplets off their noses. Owners can simulate rainfall by misting their Bearded Dragon with a reptile mister.

Behavior

Bearded Dragons have several interesting behaviors that make them enjoyable as pets. One such gesture is “arm waving,” which is when they will lift one of their front legs in the air and “wave.” The gesture is considered a sign of submission.

Bearded dragons wave to show submission and head bob to for dominance Source

Although rare in domesticated breeds, the “beard,” from which the lizard derives its name, can also extend as a fear response.

Occasionally Bearded Dragons’ eyes also bulge. It is unclear what the exact cause of this occurrence is, but it is considered not harmful. It can occur as the lizard prepares to shed. Signs of a serious medical concern is if the eye is swollen or if there are lesions or abscesses.

In the wild, Bearded Dragons can lose their tails to escape predators. However, they do not regrow their tails, but would remain tailless for the rest of their lives.

Nutrition

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Bearded Dragons are omnivores, which means most of them will eat both meat, fruits, and vegetables. Some feeding options are crickets, mealworms, super-worms, waxworms, frozen vegetables, fresh carrots, mustard, collard or dandelion greens, or kale. Lettuce (romaine or green leaf) can be a good option in moderation, but has little nutritional value.

Vegetables should be chopped or shredded before feeding. Also, avoid broccoli and spinach – these vegetables can be harmful to the lizards.

With insects, it is helpful to gut load (feed the insects a high nutrient meal before feeding them to the lizard) so that they will pass along more nutrients to your lizard.

Supplements of calcium and D3 can also be helpful for Bearded Dragons. These supplements prevent a potentially fatal metabolic bone disease. Add the supplements about once per week for most Bearded Dragons. Young Bearded Dragons and breeding females need the supplement more frequently.

Bearded Dragon Care

Habitat

Bearded Dragons need a UVB fluorescent bulb, which aids in providing D3 for the lizard. They also need a heat emitting bulb that goes up around 100F (38°C). An under-tank heating pad can also be helpful in keeping the temperature warm enough for your Bearded Dragon. However, heat rocks pose a risk for burning your lizard, so those should be avoided.

Make sure you have a hiding area, as well as branches or rocks for the lizard to climb and bask on. Most Bearded Dragons prefer to climb and bask higher up than many other lizards.  However, make sure the rocks and branches are secure and won’t fall when the lizard is climbing.

Backgrounds and vegetation can also help the habitat feel natural.

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Bigger tanks are better, but no smaller than 36x12x18” (92x30x45cm), as Bearded Dragons can get quite large. The bottom of the tank should also have substrate. The tank will most likely require daily cleaning, due to the high amount of waste created by the Bearded Dragon.

Brumation

Brumation is a type of hibernation, usually occurring toward the end of summer. The Bearded Dragon will dig or even bury itself in the substrate, and will appear tired and slow. While this can be a sign of illness, a vet can check feces for any infection. If that test comes back clear, then it is likely that the Bearded Dragon is undergoing brumation.

Be sure to feed your Bearded Dragon more leading up to brumation, as they often do not eat during its duration. Monitoring their health and weight as well as making sure there is clean water and a little food available during brumation can help ensure a happy lizard when it wakes up.

Breeding

Bearded Dragons should be at least 18 months old before breeding. Some recommend placing multiple females in the tank with one male, as this can make the process less aggressive. There is often head bobbing and biting leading up to mating, and depending on the severity of the biting, the lizards may need to be separated for their safety. Having multiple females in the tank can reduce the risk that biting would become a danger.

The female will lay the eggs in a hole, which means the substrate will need to be at least 8″ (20cm) deep, to allow her sufficient space to dig. Ensure that the substrate can be dug into by the female, but also that it is sturdy enough that the hole will not cave in. If a pre-made hole is provided to the female, she will often start her digging there and lay the eggs inside after she has dug further.

Bearded dragon laying eggs in a hole she made Source

Most females lay 15-50 eggs, about the size of a quarter. Eggs can be incubated in a commercial incubator that is kept between 83-86F (28-30°C). Styrofoam incubators also work well. Eggs hatch somewhere between days 60 and 70. Once hatched, the babies will be 3-4″ (7-10cm) long.

Bearded Dragon Baby care

Bearded Dragon Baby Source

While baby Bearded Dragons need more frequent feeding, overfeeding can cause paralysis and death. Small meals of crickets, mealworms, and wax worms are great options, although vegetables should also be added every couple days. Ensure that any insects are small enough for the babies to eat and that you transition them to vegetables. Juvenile Bearded Dragons should only be eating insects two or three times per week but should be offered vegetables every day.

Calcium supplements can also be added every other day for juveniles, and vitamin supplements can be fed once a week.

Common illnesses

Common illnesses in Bearded Dragons include genetic diseases, which can cause deformations in the limbs or the tail, and sometimes extra appendages. Calcium and Vitamin D3 supplements are essential for the Bearded Dragon, as deficiencies can lead to seizures, developmental deficiencies, and brittle bones. Beta-carotene deficiencies (cause by a lack of carrots and yellow vegetables) can cause discoloration of the Bearded Dragon.

showing a malnourished bearded dragon with a lack of calcium and stunted growth Source

Infection is also a risk. Respiratory infection results in gaping, mucous in the nose and mouth, and difficulty breathing. Gastrointestinal infection can cause weight loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. An overly damp environment mainly causes fungal infections, and antifungal cream will heal the infection.