intro/Natural History
Bearded Dragon Care
(Pogona vitticeps)

The Inland, or Central Bearded Dragon certainly inherited their name in all honesty... it was derived from the way they can enlarge or 'blow out' a flap of skin under their lower jaw when upset or disturbed. Aside from blowing their beard out, they may also darken the color there to almost black which creates a bearded display. The Bearded Dragon is native to many different habitats and regions of Australia.
They thrive in deserts, grasslands and woodlands... in both unpopulated and populated areas. It is said by many herpetologists who have come across Beardies in the wild, that one can walk right up to one and the little guy wouldn't mind... and possibly even pick it up with little or no fuss being raised by the animal. Their temperament is extremely docile and trusting, therefore making it an excellent pet - even for children and beginners. The adults can reach up to approximately 2ft in length, with the average being 18 - 20 inches. Hatchlings are approximately 3 to 4 inches in length (head to tail).
There are several different color and pattern phases of bearded dragons today.  Breeders continually selectively breed their animals to produce "enhanced" color and patterns.  The "Sandfire" morph is probably the most popular morph available today, along with the Red phase and Red/Gold phase.   Albino bearded dragons are not yet available to the public, although we have seen photos of young albino hatchlings.  We can not verify the source of the photos, so can not validate that albinos even exist.  It will be interesting to see future morphs produced by introducing albinism, if in fact, they do exist.

They are diurnal (active during the day) and seem to fall asleep within minutes of the light going off in the evening. With proper care bearded dragons have lived for 10 years in captivity. Because of very restrictive wildlife export laws in Australia, all individuals available in the United States are captive bred from founder animals imported from Europe.


A hatchling up to 12 inches (ideally), should be kept in a 10-15 gallon tank. This will allow the lizard enough room to run around and exercise... and yet not have to run too far to catch its dinner. As the Dragon grows, so should its enclosure. I would recommend no smaller than a 55 gallon tank for one or two adult Bearded Dragons (M/F). This will allow each Bearded Dragon 'living-room', minimizing squabbles - yet encouraging their natural displays and interactions. I use a 4 ft (w) X 2 ft (d) X 2 ft (h) cage (eight sq.ft) for housing up to three adult dragons. Any additional dragons should be llowed approximately 4 sq.ft. of floor space per dragon. **
NOTE - All cage accessories that are collected from outdoors must be parasite free before introducing them to your collection. You can either soak them in a 10% bleach / 90% water solution... or bake them in your oven for approximately 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Both of these methods will assure the death of parasites/bugs and their eggs.

Substrates -
Most shops also provide a selection of reptile bedding and sand. (We suggest following the 'prey size rule' when selecting a substrate.)

      We have found this to be an economically affordable and low maintenence substrate for dragons. Simply 'scoop' the poop and replace the sand as it is visually needed. For ADULTS be sure to run the sand through a  screen to eliminate any tiny pebbles that they may decide to taste. (If you do not sift and your dragon ingests a pebble, it will most likely result in terminal ingestion ) There are many types of sand available in different grain sizes. We use fine grain REPTILITE  in our cages.
   Reptile Carpet
      This works well and looks nice. Its fairly easy to clean also - even easier if you have more than 1 piece cut to fit in the cage. The only downfall is that dragons normally pass a bowel movement every day - requiring the cleaning and replacement of the carpet and decorations on a daily basis.
      This is a good idea if you're concerned about ease of cleaning and cost. Its not the 'prettiest' set-up for your tank, but it works well. *The ink in the newspaper will NOT harm your dragon - its non-toxic. It may give them dirty-looking feet, but thats about all. Be aware that crickets will hide under the newspaper.
  Paper Towels
This is a good idea for very young or just arrived in your home dragons. It allows you to change out as soon as they go and see that they are going normally.
   Rabbit Pellets
Several reputable Breeders use this as a substrate. It's essential that you remove faeces as soon as possible if you are choosing this. Damp pellets can create alpha toxins and bacteria

BAD Substrates

The following are bad for one main reason - impaction. A lot of stores may try and tell you that they are suitable, they may even be using them themselves, but they are wrong. Each of the following have proven to cause impaction and death to Bearded Dragons (as well as other reptiles) and should be avoided like the plague.

     Corn Cob
It's hard to pick which of the following is worst but I think this one is it! Not only an impaction substrate, but one that harbors fungus and bacteria
    Walnut Shell
It looks harmless enough, but the edges are very sharp and it could kill your dragon very easily. If it does pass through when ingested, it is often trapped in the vent area
The problem with this product is twofold. First, they like the flavour of it and may eat it if they are lacking adequate calcium in their diet. That would be fine, except all test show that it is not digestible, no matter what the product states and Second, it can clump and form an indigestible bolus in their digestive tract. This often leads to a paralysis and can cause death
even though this is made by ZooMed (for whom I have a high regard) it's totally inappropriate for beardies for the same reason as CalciSand. It's a shame they advertize these for reptiles and so many people have lost their pets to its use.
    Repti Bark
is also a no no - it is very fibrous and could easily end up causing impaction and has been known to end up lodged in the vent
     Any of the wood shavings
like cedar or pine should also be avoided - cedar had dangerous aromatic oils and pine can get impacted if ingested
     Original Lizard Litter
made from the kenfa tree and Jungle Blend or something like that. It's real fibrous and also can cause impactions. It may be the same thing that claims to be made of 100% renewable resource coconut fibers (pulverized), and "exists as an alternative and digestive material to peat moss, vermiculite, sand and soil". Frankly I doubt the digestibility claim- especially for Bearded Dragons, which have short digestive tracts

Reptile Bark/Bedding
      This is definately not a good idea. Crickets can hide under the bark, resulting in the dragon not getting its full meal and the possibility of the crickets coming out at night and bothering the dragon. Another major reason is that the dragon could accidently ingest a piece of bark which would result in terminal ingestion.
Selecting the animal to be your new pet is one of the most important steps toward success in maintaining bearded dragons. When purchasing a dragon online, it is basically done through an 'honor system'. The animal you receive should be robust appearing with ample fat stores at the base of its tail (generally it is possible to determine the overall health of all lizards by examining the base of the tail for fat stores). Beware of protruding bones at the base of the tail. Take notice to the dragons eyes in particular - are they noticeably recessed? If so, its possible that the dragon is becoming dehydrated. A healthy dragon should appear alert with both eyes wide open and attentive to its environment.

Cage Accessories

      We choose to use River Rocks for basking areas in our enclosures. They are smooth for easy cleaning and when placed under a basking light, get very warm and provide heat to the beardies underbelly, which aids in digestion. This way they receive heat from the top - via a basking light, and from the bottom - via the heated rock.
      These make beautiful additions to a cages set-up. A few things to keep in mind when choosing to add branches to the environment is that the branch will not conduct/absorb heat as well as a rock. You will need to monitor the temperature to be sure it is adequate for your dragon to digest its food. Branches also make a great hiding place for small crickets. Crickets will crawl into any split or peeling bark that they can find... so be sure to shake out the branch in the evening to avoid excess crickets running around when the lights go out.
      Hide Boxes
      This is a no-no for small dragons. The dragon may decide to hide instead of bask and therefore will not eat well and grow properly. This is also the favorite place for a crickets to hide. Its cool and dark which makes for a perfect gathering place... so, unless you like to chase crickets around before the lights go out, hide boxes are something to avoid.
    Bearded dragons like it HOT! The key to heating your enclosure is providing a temperature gradient from a hot basking zone, to a cooler area. Basking temps should reach well over 100 degrees F. The cooler zone should be around 80 -  85 degrees.The nighttime temperature of your cage can drop into the 70's without worry. If your house gets cooler than that, you may need to invest in a bulb for nighttime temperature maintenance.Use thermometers, DON'T guess!
    The brighter the light, the better. Dragons thrive under a good full spectrum UV source. We recommend active UV/heat or mercury vapor bulbs. These bulbs work double time to give your dragon quality UV and producing heat at the same time. You may also use fluorescent UV full spectrum tubes, although they do not produce the same UV quality. The colors and health of your lizard depend on good heat, bright light and UV. Your dragon will also benefit from natural sunlight and we recommend bringing your lizard outside in an outdoor basking enclosure. However the more natural sunlight you expose them to, the less supplements you should give, especially vitamin D3 (this may also be the case when using the active UV/heat bulbs).These bulbs need to be replaced after 6 months time. We also think that younger dragons may become stressed when taken outside, and therefore suggest holding off on outdoor excursions until your dragon is older . Many people think that by placing the vivarium near a window and allowing the reptile to bask in the sun will help. This is not so. Normal plate glass as used in windows and vivariums will actually filter out the ultra-violet rays that are required to synthesise natural vitamin D3.

Do not use an electrical reptile heat rock or heating pad as a heat source for your Bearded Dragons. Thes products have the potential to fatally burn the dragon's belly, as many lizards do not feel a 'localized' temperature... but an overall body temperature.
Feeding -
Feeding your Bearded Dragon will require handling bugs. Yes, we said BUGS... Crickets, mealworms, wax worms, oh! And possibly pinkies. Bearded Dragons are omnivores, meaning that they will eat veggies and small animals. Insects should be a daily staple of your Dragons diet and greens should be available at all times.

      The size of the food items you feed your Dragon is extremely important. All food that is offered should be smaller in width than the Dragons mouth. Use caution in choosing the insect size, as too large of a cricket can cause health problems (ie. - blockage) while digesting. The same applies with mealworms, use small mealworms for small dragons, and increase the mealworm size as the dragons size increases. A hatchling, up to 2 months will eat mostly insects, picking at finely chopped greens here and there.
      2 week old crickets (3/8 inch in size) should be offered 2 - 3 feedings a day, only in the amount that the dragon will eat at one feeding.. A juvenile Dragon (2 - 4 months) will eat approximately 20% greens to 80% insects... 3 week old crickets should be given 2 times daily and small (1/2 inch) mealworms can be added to their diet. 4 months to maturity should be fed approximately 4 week old crickets once or twice daily. The small mealies may be replaced by larger ones and king mealworms may also be added. Pinky mice can also be added to their diet once a week, depending on the size of the dragon. Adult dragons need to be fed adult crickets, king mealworms... once a day or every other day. Pinky mice, if used, should be fed sparingly - unless feeding a gravid adult.
      Bearded dragons are voracious eaters, especially when they are young. If you aren't feeding the hatchlings enough, and if they have cage-mates, they will nibble toes and tail-tips - if it moves, its food. If your dragons aren't eating well, something is possibly wrong. The most likely problem is that the cage temperature is incorrect: their bodies must reach high temperatures in order to digest their food. If they are digesting slowly, they wont eat well. First step - Check Temp.
Warning: Lightning Bugs are DEADLY POISONOUS to Bearded Dragons! This highlights the dangers of feeding wild caught insects to your bearded dragons. Our rule is no wild caught insects. The insect may be safe but you never know where that bug has been. The bug may have eaten weed poison or bug poison.

            Crickets and mealworms are readily available at most pet shops. These crickets and mealies are generally not high in nutrients directly from the pet shop and will need to be fed well (GutLoad, baby cereal, fresh fruit & veggies) before being offered to your Dragon. This is called 'gutloading'. I recommend 'gutloading' crickets for 24 hours before feeding. We use an orange, carrot and a potato for moisture, and a mixture of baby cereal and Gutload for nutrients.
      There is a huge selection of 'leafy' greens which are high in calcium to feed your Dragon, some of which are... kale, arugula, collard & mustard greens, parsley, dandelion greens and flowers, endives, radish, carrot and turnip tops, escarole and chicory endive. For more of a variety, mixed into the greens may be many other veggies such as squash, corn, peas, carrots (shredded), sweet potato, cucumber, zucchini, green peppers, chard... also chopped fruit such as cantaloupe, apple, blueberries, peaches, pears, grapes, plums, raspberries... all chopped finely to avoid choking. The main idea in their diet is variety.
Do not feed your dragons iceburg lettuce as is has very little nutritional value and may give the dragon the 'runs' - prompting dehydration.
      Dragons will also munch on other greens. If you take your dragon outside or allow it to roam about the house - please be sure to check that the possible munchies are not poisonous.

   Supplementation /vitamins
      Another 'must' for Beardies is a Calcium supplement - We use Repcal with V3 and occasionally Miner-All. The dust can be placed into a baggie and crickets 'shake -n- baked' in it before feeding... and the liquid can be sprayed onto their greens. The form of the calcium is a preference, but its presence is definitely a must. At least 1 feeding every other day should be calcium supplemented. One day a week, we supplement with a multivitamin such as Herptivite. Caution should be exercised when using a multi-vitamin supplement, as reptiles are susceptible to vitamin A toxicity.
      Bearded dragons require a dry cage, but need to get a lot of water from sprayings and eating fresh vegetables. The hatchlings should be sprayed twice daily on their heads, keeping the spray directed onto their heads as long as they keep lapping up the water. Adults should be sprayed a few times a week. This simulates the natural way dragons get water by licking up drops of dew they find on plants in the morning. Some do learn to drink from a shallow water pan, but if they get thin or dehydrated it will be necessary to get them to ingest more water by increased spraying and by misting their fresh vegetables. If using a water dish, the water MUST be changed daily and if the dish has been defecated in - it must be cleaned immediately.
    Sexing dragons, especially young dragons, takes a lot of trial and effort. We personally feel it is not possible to 100% guarantee sex on young dragons. However there are differences between male and female dragons. Generally the male has a larger head, wider tail base, larger pores, and most noticeably, hemipenal bulges. Young male dragons have two bulges, with a slight space between them just behind the vent. Lifting the tail and twisting gently may allow for the hemipenal bulges to appear more pronounced. Females generally have one central or no bulges where the hemipenes would be. However its not uncommon for what is thought to be a female, to turn out to be an undeveloped (at the time of sexing) male, and vice versa.
    Bearded Dragons are generally not aggressive towards people, but will attack other dragons, and many other species of lizards, frogs, etc. Never put a small dragon with a larger one, as the small dragon may end up dinner. Beardeds tend to spend the day running from one heat zone to the next, and often searching for food. A happy healthy dragon is alert, fast, and active. Young dragons can be kept in groups without too many problems associated with stress, but older males should be kept one to a cage. Breeding groups of 1 male and 2-5 females are not uncommon. Males will aggressively bob their heads at the females, while the females will wave their arms in circles back. Males and some females will also turn their beard jet black. These are part of the breeding rituals and territorial behaviors of bearded dragons. Adult Bearded dragons enjoy basking lazily on their logs. Your dragon may "vent" (open mouth breathing) while basking, this is very normal and not a sign of distress. It is also not uncommon to find a dragon sleeping at night in what appears to be the most painful position on earth.

    A well cared for dragon will live from 6-12 years, maybe longer. The early years of a dragons life are often the most important. A young dragon that is not properly cared for is likely to have life long lasting problems. Proper exposure to uvb, vitamins, and minerals along with a well balanced diet in every stage of a dragon's life will help enable your dragon to have a long and healthy life.
    Many things influence a dragon's color including stress, genes, and time of day. Many dragons seems to show there best color when sleeping, or soaking in water; others may show their best color when they are basking, excited, or for older dragons, after they have been exposed to natural sunlight. Any dragon can have color, but you are more likely to get a high color animal from breeding animals with high color. Many breeders have worked with line breeding and today you can find a variety of colors of dragons (the most famous being the sandfire line of colored dragons). It is actually a bit harder to find a "common" dragon these days then a colored one. Many dragons will show more color with age, but that is not always the rule. Color is generally best on healthy happy dragons.
    Also be aware that high color is often achieved by inbreeding to different degrees. In order to achieve some of the flashy high color that fetches high dollar in the market today, many breeders use inbreeding to "fix" genes. It is controversial as to how much damage inbreeding does to the health and hardiness of a dragon, and if there are methods of inbreeding that are more "safe" than others. Problems that have often been associated with inbreeding include general weakness and longevity issues, increased cancer rates, sight and neurological problems, size, and behavior. As little as 3-5 years ago, average hatchling size was cited at about 4.5 inches. Today, it is not uncommon to see 2-3 inch hatchlings, with just over 3 inches as an average. (Some of these issues may also be attributed to many people breeding females at too young an age. A female should be at least 12-18 months old prior to breeding.)
Cleanliness of the enclosure is essential. Waste products should be removed daily. Handlers are advised to thoroughly wash their hands after holding any animal or animal related product.
Bathing your Beardie once a week will help keep them hydrated and will also aid in shedding. Bath water should be warm on your wrist and not hot, much like bath water for a small child. Make the water only as deep as your Beardies chest or half way up their front arms. I usually just fill the tub until the water reaches the second knuckle on my index finger for my adults and the first knuckle for the juveniles. Never leave your Beardie unattended in the bath, accidents only take a second to happen. It's also a god idea to disinfect your tub when the bath is over because Beardies will often defecate in the water.
Gently scoop up your dragon with your hand under its belly. Dragons tend to be very trusting and will not necessarily hold on as will other lizards, so always take care to support your dragon. They do not like being firmly held; let them rest in your palm with your fingers gently curled over the back. Dragons are inquisitive animals, so create a controlled space in which it may do some exploring.