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Picture of Complete Bearded Dragon Care
Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps), also commonly referred to as "Beardies" are a very poplar species of reptile, especially among children. This is in part due to their calm nature, relatively easy care, and easy availability. In this instructable we will go over all aspects of bearded dragon care, from hatchlings to large adults.
 
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Step 1: About Bearded Dragons

Picture of About Bearded Dragons
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Bearded Dragons are native to Australia and there are several different species, but for the most part any lizard from the genus Pogona is commonly called a Bearded Dragon. Bearded Dragons are large lizards, with adults reaching 18 to 26 inches (45-60 cm) from head to tail. An adult Bearded Dragon can weigh 300 grams (10.5 ounces) or more. Bearded Dragons have triangular heads, and flattened bodies.

Bearded Dragons are named for the distinctive pouch on the underside of their jaw, when threatened they will inhale air and puff up the pouch in order to appear larger.

In addition to the standard grey/brown color there are now many variations, known as color morphs, which range from deep reds and oranges to white.

Now that you know a little more about Bearded Dragons move on to the next step to learn where to learn where you can get one

Step 2: Where to Get Your New Bearded Dragon

Picture of Where to Get Your New Bearded Dragon
*Note: You should already have all the supplies you need before you actually buy a Bearded Dragon*

There are several ways to acquire your first bearded dragon,

1. From a Local Breeder:

This is normally the best option, assuming the breeder is reputable, regularly has his adults vet checked, and is properly caring for his dragons.

Things to look for:
1a. The breeder is willing to talk to you on the phone and meet you in person.
1b. The breeder is willing to let you see the breeding area and adults.
1c. The breeder is willing to answer any questions you may have.

The advantages of dealing with a local breeder include:
1d. Being able to see the parents of your potential new addition
1e. Being able to choose from many different dragons, that likely have received good care
1f. Being able to ask the breeder care questions, and making a valuable contact.

Things to avoid:
1g. Paying for a dragon before you see it
1h. Purchasing a dragon with known problems at a "discount"

2: From a Breeder/Pet store Online or by Mail:

Purchasing a Bearded Dragon online has risks, but can be very rewarding. Finding a reputable store or breeder can be hard, but here are some things to look for:
2a. A well maintained and regularly updated website.
2b. Pictures of each individual dragon for sale, not just a stock photo
2c. The owner or costumer support is easy to contact, and willing to answer questions

There are some advantages to purchasing a dragon online:
2d. A vast selection of Bearded Dragons to choose from.
2e. The option to get sub-adult and adult Breadies.

Things to avoid:
2f. An out date site with no recent information.
2g. Being unable to talk with someone directly, whether that be through email or phone

3. From a Local or Chain Pet store

Bearded Dragons are sold in many chain pet stores such as Petsmart and Petco, and this is where many people purchase their first bearded dragon.
Things to look for:
3a. A clean and well maintained store.
3b. A knowledgeable and friendly staff.

The advantages to purchasing from a Pet store
3c. Being able to see the Dragon in person before you purchase.
3d. Being able to see how the Dragon was cared for before purchase.

Things to avoid:
3e. Obvious maltreatment of the dragons.
3f. Most chain stores; they don't adequately care for the Beardies.


Once you have decided where you want to get your Breaded Dragon from go on to the next step to see how to choose a healthy dragon.

Step 3: Choosing a Healthly Dragon

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*Note: You should already have all the supplies you need before you actually buy a Bearded Dragon*

Bearded Dragons are very good at hiding any kind of disease, mistreatment, or illness. This is likely do to the fact that a sick Bearded Dragon in the wild would be picked off by predators. Because of this is hard to tell how healthy a bearded dragon really is.

The best indicators of health can be made by looking at how the Bearded Dragon is being cared for, as a well cared for dragon is likely to be healthy.

Things to look for:

- Clear eyes that are free of mucus
- A clear nose
- A clear vent (located at the base of the tail, beware of obvious protruding bones)
- A large robust dragon
- Fat stores in the tail
- Eyes that don't appear to be recessed (recessed eyes are a sign of dehydration)
- A large non-crowded enclosure
- An assessable water dish
- Adequate temperature ( a basking zone of 100 degrees F. and a cool zone around 85 degrees F.)
- A healthy feeding regiment (see the section on feeding for more info)
- UVB lighting
- Proper substrate (see the section on housing for more info)
A healthy dragon will be alert and aware of it's environment.

Step 4: Housing and Substrate

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Bearded Dragons are large reptiles, and need plenty of room to move. In addition you will need room to establish a temperature gradient. This does not mean that a hatchling dragon needs a huge tank, as this can make it hard for him to find food.

Housing:

A 20 gallon long aquarium is adequate for a hatching dragon, but keep in mind that they will outgrow it in 3 - 6 months, a young healthy dragon with proper care can grow an inch or more per week.

An adult bearded dragon will need a 40 gallon breeder tank or larger. Many people build custom enclosures from wood or melamine.

No matter what kind of enclosure you use it should have a secure top.

Substrate:

For young dragons the best substrate is newspaper or paper towels. These are easy to clean and completely safe for the Beardie. Young Bearded Dragons are at a very high risk for impaction (when the bowels become stopped up from foreign objects) and should not be kept on sand, calcium sand, repti-bark, wood chips, ground walnut hulls, or any substrate that could be swallowed. Reptile carpet is not recommended either, as they can become hung in the fibers.

For adults newspaper or paper towels can be used as well. Some people use finely sifted play sand, and this is fine if the animal is healthy. Rabbit food pellets made of alfalfa can be used, as these can be digested, however if water comes in contact with the substrate it will mold. Keep in mind, any pelleted substrate can cause impaction, including substrates many think of as "safe". Calcium sand, repti-bark, wood chips, ground walnut hulls, or any other substrate that could be swallowed should not be used.

Another natural looking option is ceramic tile, just make sure that the tiles fit firmly together in the enclosure, with no gaps that the Bearded Dragons nails could get hung in.

Decor:

You can provide you Bearded Dragon with decor such as rocks for basking, just make sure they are sterilized. Branches are not recommended as they provide hiding places for crickets. River stones are a good choice under the basking light as they are easy to clean and aid digestion.

Step 5: Lighting and Heat

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Proper Lighting is essential to Bearded Dragons, especially when it comes to UVB.

Bearded Dragons need UVB in order for the Beardies to naturally produce the vitamin D3, which allows them to absorb calcium.

There are 3 options for providing UVB:

1. Natural Sunlight:

You can expose your Bearded Dragon to natural sunlight to let it absorb UVB. However keep in mind this will mean your Beardie will need to go outside, as most windows filter out UVA and UVB. So if you live in area that does not stay consistently warm (above 75 degrees F) this will not be an option.

2. Fluorescent Strips:

The cheapest indoor option comes in the form of fluorescent strips. These lights can be purchased from most petstores and can be ordered online and typically cost $10.00 - $40.00 depending on length. Fluorescent lights typically come with a rating, such as 2.0, 5.0, or 10.0 this number refers to the percentage of UV that the light outputs. Most experts recommend 10.0 for bearded dragons. These bulbs only effectively output UV to around 12 inches, so your Beardie should be able to get within 12 inches of the bulb. The bulbs also loose effectiveness at 6 months to a year, so they will need to be replaced accordingly. Keep in mind that fluorescent lights do not produce any heat.

*A note on CFL's: These bulbs are a new addition, and many feel that they do not output UV at the same level as their linear counterpart, thus at this time I do not recommend the use of CFL's with Beardies*

3. Mercury Vapor Bulbs:

Mercury Vapor bulbs produce both heat, and high output UVB. They are now starting to be available in pet stores and can be purchased online for $40.00 - $80.00. These bulbs have some advantages over fluorescent strips in that they last longer, and do not have to be as close to the Beardie. However, without a UV meter it is hard to tell how much UV your dragon is getting, and he could be getting to much so please consider purchasing a UV meter before using MV bulbs.

In addition to these you must provide other lighting to keep your dragon healthy. There are 2 other lights you should provide.

1. Incandescent Lights:

These can be either a standard light bulb or one made for reptiles. These are used to provide a photo period and creating a basking spot for the dragon. Reptile bulbs are typically coated, and do little for your dragon besides bringing out natural color.

2. Red or Infared Bulbs/ Ceramic Heat Emitter:

If your house temp falls below 65 - 75 degrees F at night you should provide heat in the form of a red bulb or ceramic heat emitter. These lights provide the same heat as a Incandescent but do not disturb the dragons rest.


Bearded Dragons should have a photo period of 14/10, this means they need 14 hours of light and 10 of dark. Many people use a timer to help maintain this.

Temperature Control:

There are a few different ways to control the heat output of the basking lights/ceramic heat emitters:

1. Rheostats:

A rheostat is simply a device that controls how many times per second the lights/emitters receive power. The rapid on/off results in an overall lower output, and this combined with an accurate thermometer allows you to control the heat in an enclosure without moving the lights.

2. Thermostats:

A thermostat allows you to set a temperature on a device that your heat source plugs into, the device acts like a rheostat in that it regulates the amount of power, but it also has a probe that is placed in the enclosure that monitors the temperature, and much like a thermostat in a house, regulates the overall temperature.

Heat:

Bearded Dragons need a warm environment,

1 -2 basking spots 98 - 110 degrees F
1 -2 cool zones 85 degrees F

These should be provided for 14 hours per day and can be created with incandescent bulbs, be sure to monitor the temperature of your Bearded Dragon enclosure.

If nighttime temperatures do not fall below 65 -75 degrees F you should not need to provide any special night heating.

Step 6: Feeding, Water, and Supplements

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Feeding is very different for a Juvenile Dragon than that of an adult. A young Dragon needs lots of protein in order to grow.

Typical feeding mix for young Bearded Dragons is 80/20; 80% protein 20% vegetable.

The most common food for Bearded Dragons are crickets; what most people don't realize is how many crickets the average Juvenile Dragon needs.

Young Bearded Dragons should be feed 3 times a day, 2 feedings of crickets and 1 of greens.

Typical feeding mix for adults is 20/80; 20% protein 80% vegetable.

Adults can be feed greens twice a day and cricket once a day to every other day.

Crickets:

Getting Crickets:
Young Dragons normally eat 20 - 100 crickets per day, thus pet store prices of $0.10 per cricket can add up fast. Many people choose to order crickets by the thousand online. Make sure you don't feed your dragon anything you catch outside, as these insects could be contaminated with pesticides.

Choosing Crickets:
Crickets should only be as big as the distance between the Bearded Dragons eyes. Thus if a Bearded Dragon measures 1/2 inch between his eyes the crickets should only be 1/2 inch long. Crickets that are too big can cause impaction!

Keeping Crickets:
Crickets can be kept in a rubber maid container with a secure lid that has bee perforated with many small air holes, or a 10 gallon aquarium with a screen top. Keep them on egg cartons and provide food and water. Water should be provided on a sponge in a shallow dish, crickets will drown in open water and water gel will cause large amounts of condensation (not to mention the smell). A sponge will also smell if it is not cleaned daily, if your cricket keeper has adequate ventilation water gel can be used. Make sure the egg cartons don't come into contact with the water, as wet egg cartons will kill crickets rapidly. Be sure to provide your crickets with food, cat food or dog food will work as a base with fresh veggies and fruits thrown in, you can also purchase pre-made cricket feed from most pet stores, but it is normally expensive. Keep in mind that the nutrients that your crickets consume is what your Beardie will receive.

Feeding Crickets to your Dragon:
For Juveniles:
Throw crickets directly in to your Beardies enclosure 10 - 20 at a time allowing him to eat most of those before adding more. Do this for 15 - 20 minutes, and then remove any uneaten food. Hungry crickets will think your Beardies toes and tail are a tasty snack.
For Adults:
Feed every day or every other day, one feeding the same as with juveniles.

Cricket or...:
Roaches. I use roaches with my beardies, and recommend them to those who have several beardies or those who are fed up with crickets.

Species such as B. lateralis and B. Dubia are excellent choices. These roaches have several advantages to crickets,

-Low to No smell (crickets can have a horrible odor when kept in large numbers.)
-Breed eaisly (raise your own)
-They cannot jump
-B. dubia cannot fly
-The cannot climb smooth surfaces
-Cannot reproduce at temperatures below approx. 78° F.

While the thought of roaches gives many people problems, they are a much better feeder than crickets. If you are interested in ordering some feeder roaches check out aaronpauling.com (I am a very satisfied costumer). He has the best prices on the web.

Greens:
Leafy greens make up a good portion of your Bearded Dragons Diet, here is a list of good greens that can be purchased at most grocery stores:

collard greens
cabbage
spring greens
escarole
turnip greens
mustard greens
dandelion greens
parsley
carrot tops

a mixture of these is recommended.

Greens should be rinsed thoroughly before feeding. Tear the stems out of the greens and chop them into pieces smaller than the distance between your Beardies eyes. A food processor can help with smaller beardies.

Other Insects:
Cricket are not the only insects your beardie will enjoy, here is list of other insects you can feed them:
Superworm
waxworm
roaches
locusts
silkworms
hornworms
butterworms
phoenix worms

Waxworms and Superworms should only be given as an occasional treat as they are very fatty. Mealworms are not recommended as their hard chitin can cause impaction.

Water:
Water is best provided by misting the dragon twice a day, and misting their greens before feeding. When misting the dragons spray toward their heads and keep misting as long as they are lapping up the water. Many dragons will not drink from a water dish, however if you use a water dish you should change the water daily.

Supplements:
A calcium supplement, especially one containing vitamin D3, should be dusted on live food a couple of times per week. Other vitamin supplements can be given, but are not necessary if the Beardie is getting a good varied diet.

Step 7: Conclusion

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If you have read through this instructable you should be prepared to keep a Bearded Dragon. However, you should always research multiple sources before keeping any pet.

This instrucable is not complete and I will continue to work on it as time goes on, so any comments would be appreciated.
MacrossB1 month ago
I wouldnt leave a water dish in your tank ever, only because they are prone to just pooping in their water anyway. Beardies get their water from the insects and veggies they eat, as well as when they get misted or go for a soak.
paperninja6 years ago
is there any exception to insects? my mom is VERY paranoid that they will escape.

You can use dried crickets as a supplement once the bearded dragons are older. Mine loves them and I put the crickets over his salads. They can't run away, can't bite my lizards, and don't make the house smell!

I'm just not sure if the dried are okay when the beardie is young. I didn't start with the dried until my dragon was over a year old. The container says that it has a minimum of 56% of the total protein need. Bearded dragons need a good bit of protein when they are young. Something else I'm looking into is feeder goldfish. A friend suggest putting the small fish in my beardie's water dish, so he go eat them when he needs more protein. My friend had a different kind of lizard though, so I'm still researching that option.

flamesbane (author)  paperninja6 years ago
No, young bearded dragons must have protein in their diet, while some people successfully keep adult bearded dragons on a veggie only diet, young beardies need the protein in order to grow. If you are worried about crickets escaping (and believe me, they will) you could try another feeder insect, such as tropical roaches. Species such as B. lateralis and B. Dubia are excellent choices. These roaches have several advantages to crickets, -Low to No smell (crickets can have a horrible odor when kept in large numbers. -Breed eaisly (raise your own) -They cannot jump -B. dubia cannot fly -The cannot climb smooth surfaces -Cannot reproduce at temperatures below approx. 78° F. While the thought of roaches gives many people problems, they are a much better feeder than crickets. If you are interested in ordering some feeder roaches check out aaronpauling.com (I am a very satisfied costumer). He has the best prices on the web But to answer your question, there is no exception to feeding insects, if you cannot provide insects for a beardie you should consider another pet, such as a uromastyx.
crigby11 year ago
Love this Instructable!! This pretty much explains everything that a beginner would need to know.. I firmly believe that pet shops thrive on a person's naivety to gain more sales, so I recommend you do your homework as to what your pet NEEDS! What's the difference between UVA and UVB bulbs?? Thank you for sharing your gained knowledge! :)
ZedsMom1 year ago

Hi All, just found the site and I agree, very helpful and thorough, nice to find this, but I have to say, I've yet to find anywhere that comments on their "poop" to put it bluntly, besides to say that they may be sick if they have diarrhea or to worry if they get impacted!! My curiosity is with the horrible smell, and with my beardie, as soon as he poops he wants out of his cage, which I do, and then clean up right away and have some mommy and me time before putting him back in,..... but it has the brown part and then a white part!! I'm assuming this is fine since he's done this since we got him, but can I safely assume this is unused calcium or something, or what? And on another note, our Beardie, Zed, has started getting orange coloring on his left eye and side, is this normal for him to begin getting his coloring more, now that he's between 10-12 months old?

And to give some of you a new idea if you've run out of ways to keep them happy or occupied when you can't hold or play with them, we got one of those clear very large hamster balls, and I mean very large, it cost about $30 if that tells you about how large it is, and he just loves it!! It took him just 1 day to figure out how to get it moving and now he loves to go all over the house or stay put and be in front of the t.v. and watch something with me!! He doesn't mind being out of his cage for a bit longer than I expected, and my worrying about his needs to stay heated and under the UVA/UVB light! So he doesn't stay in it long, but it gives him some excitement and he can go wherever he wants, especially around our 3 big dogs and very curious cat, who he gets along with all just fine!! And luckily, he's only pooped in that once, since I usually put him in it when he's caught my attention by scratching at the cage all over, trying to get out, cuz he's just done that!! :)

Sorry for being so wordy, I'm not known for little notes!! LOL!! Thanks in advance for any responses!

Britney00362 years ago
Please be sure to use UVA (so he stays active, happy, and alive) along with the UVB!
BluesBayou2 years ago
Keep in mind that some breeders will discount animals that have "nipped" tails or missing toes. These are both very common with large breeders who keep mulitple babies in the same enclosure. Though it is a cosmetic issue, if it doesn't bother you, make sure that any wounds are healed properly before purchase. And take the discount, these animals normaly can not be sold wholesale to pet shops, so the breeder will be hung with the imperfect animals. Who doesn't mind a little imperfection everyonce in a while... If your looking to breed your own beardies, it will make no difference and this is a cheap way to get good genetics at good prices. One of my best breeder females is missing two legs, one front, one rear. She takes a bit more time to dig her nest, but I help her out and she is the family favorite in the beardie category.
teatimest2 years ago
Yes, I breed B. lateralis for my dragon. You can also fry them for human consumption. I got mines from aaronpauling, too. Highly recommended.

My dragon is about 2 months old but does not eat greens at all. Should I still provide greens or can I wait until he grows up?
Purchasing a Bearded Dragon online has risks, but can be very rewarding. Finding a reputable store or breeder can be hard, but here are some things to look for
custom labels
labels and stickers
n addition to the standard grey/brown color there are now many variations, known as color morphs, which range from deep reds and oranges to white.
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Bearded Dragons are large lizards, with adults reaching 18 to 26 inches (45-60 cm) from head to tail. An adult Bearded Dragon can weigh 300 grams (10.5 ounces) or more. Bearded Dragons have triangular heads, and flattened bodies.
custom labels
labels and stickers
aideis3 years ago
That was a very very good care guide. It was filled with all the right information which is not always easy to find online!!! I wish I had found this before I got my beardie. A problem with people caring for bearded dragons is that they trust the pet stores and herp companies too much... Just because the heat rock & calcium sand packages show a picture of a dragon doesn't mean you should use it... When I got my bearded dragon I bought a bearded dragon set-up kit that came with a complete care guide. It was all garbage, the first few weeks of having a beardie were complete hell. First of all the kit was a 10 gallon tank which is too small to maintain proper temps, so we went out two days later and bought another tank. Secondly, it came with a basking light only so my beardie wasn't getting UVB and the handy dandy guide never mentioned it. Two weeks later our beardie had a broken wrist. The guide was useless, it made it seem so easy and I can't stand how it made it seem like beardies are great pets for small children. It isn't that beardies aren't great pets but children aren't great caregivers. Bearded dragons are very time consuming because they eat constantly and love attention. They need proper temps, humidity, lighting, and nutrition that a child could not maintain alone.
flamesbane (author)  makuro1354 years ago
The point is: Why risk it?

Some links:
http://www.beardeddragon.org/articles/impaction/
http://www.draconian.com/dragons/bearded-dragon-care.php
Interesting guide. Good work overall
Good Job, This is one of the best written care guides to any animal I have seen on instructables.
pyro=fire4 years ago
how can i make my cage bigger without having to buy a new one please send me a personal message response
piruet6 years ago
I don't fully agree. But I do agree that for little ones paper towels should be used since they can cause many accidents. However, for adults I think all substrates are fine if used properly. I've heard and have had success stories by everything from sand to alfalfa. My beardies have been on zillas walnut shells for a loooooooong time. And nothing has ever happened. So I will only speak from personal and friends experience before ruling anything out.
flamesbane (author)  piruet6 years ago
Even healthy adults can become impacted on substrates that are easily swallowed. While you can keep bearded dragons on walnut shells, most experts do not recommend it. If you notice in my the post above I mention using sand and alfalfa, and both are fine if used properly. Thanks for the comments. ANY pelleted substrate can cause impaction and death.

References:
http://www.beardeddragon.org/articles/impaction/
http://www.draconian.com/dragons/bearded-dragon-care.php
http://www.kricketskritters.com/dragons/dragon-faqs/41-substrate-bedding.html
piruet6 years ago
Very thorough guide. Though I disagreed with a few things, but overall good work.
these things seriously hate me
iPodGuy6 years ago
This instructable is very well written and informative. Nice job! You also did a good job covering the various lighting and heating elements as well, but I was surprised to see no mention of using rheostats for people who choose to use ceramic rocks, heat emitters or basking-type lights.
flamesbane (author)  iPodGuy6 years ago
Thanks for the comment, I had completely forgotten about heat control. The instructable has been changes to reflect this, along with addition of using thermostats. Again thanks for the comment!