What Is a Bearded Dragon?
Native to Australia’s woodlands, savannahs, and deserts, bearded dragons enjoy rocky terrain and warm, dry climates.
There are eight species of bearded dragons. All are known by the scientific genus “Pogona.” This term derives from the Greek “pogon,” which means “beard.” The most common species of bearded dragon is the “Pogona Vitticeps.” “Vitticeps” means “striped head.”
Bearded dragons are medium-sized dragons. They grow to between 16 and 24 inches long. Importantly, their full-grown size depends on several factors. These include species, sex, habitat, and diet.
The sides of their muscular bodies are lined with pointy ridges. Their scales appear sharp, but they are actually soft and flexible. Their large, triangular heads are also lined with spikes. The name “bearded” dragon comes from the row of spiked scales beneath the lizard’s chin. When extended, these spikes resemble a beard.
While some lizards’ tails fall off and regrow, the bearded dragon’s tail is a permanent feature. It grows to about one-half the size of the dragon’s body.
The inland bearded dragon is the most common species of bearded dragons bred as pets. Its colors include shades of tan, brown, and yellow. Other species of bearded dragons exhibit various colors depending on their native habitats. Through selective breeding, dragon enthusiasts have produced lizards in a variety of solid colors. However, most bearded dragons available in pet stores are a mix of green, tan, yellow, and red.
Well cared for, bearded dragons can live upwards of 10 to 15 years in captivity.
In their native habitats, bearded dragons enjoy climbing trees and basking on rocks. However, they also enjoy time in the shade. Therefore, a good bearded dragon habitat should mimic these conditions as much as possible.
The bearded dragon’s habitat is one factor that affects its size. In fact, the lizard will only grow as large as its habitat allows. It is, thus, important to choose bearded dragon housing that will accommodate a full-grown lizard. At minimum, a full-grown bearded dragon needs a tank that is 36″ x 12″ x 18″.
The length and width of the cage are important to allow the lizard to move and grow. However, the cage should also be adequately tall enough to allow the lizard to climb. A comfortable habitat will include sturdy branches and rock formations for this purpose.
When designing your dragon’s habitat, safety should be your top priority. Make sure, therefore, that all large objects are secure. If a log or rock falls, it could seriously injure your pet.
Also remember to secure your lizard’s cage with a screened top to keep him safe.
Light and Heat
A good bearded dragon setup requires more than a tank. Bearded dragons also require light and heat. Using a combination light fixture, you’ll need to supply your lizard with two types of lighting:
- A UVB fluorescent bulb, which will help him metabolize vitamin D3
- A reptile daylight bulb or heat emitter
Bearded dragons also require a heat source under the tank. A heating pad attached to the bottom of the tank is the safest option. While many pet owners purchase heat rocks, these can form dangerous hot spots with the potential to burn your lizard’s skin.
Bearded dragons enjoy basking in temperatures ranging from 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. They will sometimes turn black to absorb more heat. If you notice this, your lizard’s habitat may be too cold. They may also be experiencing stress from another source. Most often, though, this color change is a natural part of your lizard’s temperature regulation.
In the wild, bearded dragons enjoy the sun and the shade. They can become too hot as well. It’s important, therefore, to provide your lizard with shaded areas. Bearded dragons enjoy hiding in caves or logs. You can purchase these at any pet store.
It’s also important to monitor your lizard for signs of overheating. These include gaping, or sitting with an open mouth. If you notice these signs, you can help your lizard cool off. Turn off some of his lights, and mist him with cool water. You may even take him out of the cage for some playtime in a cooler environment.
The base layer of your dragon’s cage is called the substrate. Appropriate bearded dragon substrate materials include carpeting, newspaper, or ceramic tile. Loose materials, include commercially available reptile sands, can be dangerous if your lizard ingests them. This is especially true with young lizards.
Many bearded dragons enjoy digging, however, and in the wild, they burrow to cool off. You can, therefore, provide a small area of Eco Earth substrate. Made from coconut fibers, Eco Earth is available at most pet stores. Alternatively, you can make your own mixture of potting soil and play sand.
Cleaning Your Bearded Dragon’s Habitat
Your dragon will produce a lot of waste, and you’ll need to clean his cage each day. This means removing his droppings and uneaten food. An aquarium fish net can be helpful for spot-cleaning the substrate. You should completely remove and replace this substrate at least once every three months.
It’s also important to wipe down the sides of the tank and any climbing or decorative features periodically.
Finally, remember to clean your lizard’s food and water bowls to prevent bacteria or mold growth
Bearded dragons are omnivores. Responsible pet owners should, thus, provide them with a variety of plant- and insect-based meals.
Bearded dragons enjoy a range of raw vegetables, including:
- Shredded carrots
- Collard, mustard, and dandelion greens
Offer your bearded dragon a variety of vegetables every day.
Avoid feeding your lizard broccoli or spinach. In large quantities, these vegetables can be harmful.
While iceberg and romaine lettuces are safe, they have little nutritional value. If you choose to offer these, you should do so sparingly.
When feeding your bearded dragon, remember to chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Also remember that fresh vegetables pack the biggest nutritional punch. Frozen vegetables are generally safe, but they do lose some of their nutritional content.
As an omnivore, your bearded dragon also enjoys and requires nutrients from insects. You can feed your bearded dragon any of the following insects:
Your lizard will obtain the greatest nutritional benefit from these insects if you gut-load them first. This means feeding the insects a nutritious meal before feeding them to your bearded dragon. You can find nutritious insect food at most pet stores.
All bearded dragons require a diet that is balanced between plants and insects. In addition to their vegetables, adult bearded dragons can eat approximately 10 insects a day. Alternatively, you can feed your dragon 20 insects every other day.
Keep in mind, though, that baby and juvenile bearded dragons benefit from diets that emphasize insect-based meals. Younger dragons also need to be fed more often. A young lizard may enjoy a meal up to three times a day.
Besides vegetables and insects, your bearded dragon will require nutritional supplements. In particular, bearded dragons require calcium and vitamin D3 to prevent bone disease.
These supplements come in powder form. Simply sprinkle them on your dragon’s vegetables or coat his insects with it before feeding. Full-grown bearded dragons who are not breeding need these supplements weekly. Breeding females and younger dragons require them more often.
Bearded Dragon Behavior
While their spiny appearance makes them look dangerous, bearded dragons are actually friendly, docile, and easy-to-train. In addition to household pets, bearded dragons make excellent classroom pets. Teachers and parents alike appreciate dragon ownership as an opportunity to teach kids responsibility, compassion, and other life skills.
This guide provides the basic information you need to know to care for a bearded dragon. As you get to know your bearded dragon, you’ll notice new behaviors and develop new questions. The following are some common questions and answers about dragon behavior.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Puff Their Beards?
Bearded dragons most often puff their beards when they feel threatened or uncomfortable. Extending the row of spiny scales beneath its chin makes a bearded dragon appear more intimidating to predators. This menacing look is enhanced because, in these cases, the puffed beard also turns black.
Male bearded dragons also puff their beards during mating season. In these cases, as well, the beard not only puffs up but also turns black.
During shedding season, you may notice that your bearded dragon puffs his beard more than at other times. This may be his attempt to speed up the shedding process by loosening the old skin.
Finally, some bearded dragon owners find that their lizards puff their beards simply to show off, express pleasure, or stretch. Most often, the beard will puff but not turn black in these more pleasant situations.
When a Bearded Dragon Waves, What Does That Mean?
Bearded dragons wave their arms to demonstrate species recognition. In other words, dragons wave to acknowledge other dragons they encounter. If they feel threatened by a more dominant bearded dragon or other animal, dragons may wave to show submission.
Females also wave to males to show that they are ready to mate.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Bob Their Heads?
Bearded dragons bob their heads for a variety of reasons. Paying attention to how the lizard bobs its head helps in interpreting this behavior.
When a lizard bobs its head quickly, it may be attempting to defend its territory or itself. Male lizards bob their heads quickly to assert dominance and challenge other males during mating. A lizard on the receiving end of a quick head bob can return it and accept the challenge. Alternatively, he can respond with a slow head bob and wave to indicate his submission.
A word of caution: Never keep two male lizards in the same cage. Also be sure to provide adequate space when housing multiple bearded dragons.
Performing a quick and jerky head bob motion in the presence of a female indicates that a male is ready to mate.
Finally, like a slow wave, slower head bob motions may simply be a way for lizards to say hello.
Can I Train My Bearded Dragon to Walk on a Leash?
Bearded dragons are sociable and intelligent, and they can be trained. Some can even be trained to walk on a leash. However, these efforts take time and patience. They also require you, as a responsible pet owner, to respect your dragon. If you attempt to train your lizard to walk on a leash or perform any task, let his comfort be your guide.
Start by choosing a safe bearded dragon leash. Harnesses are generally safer and more comfortable than collars.
Help your bearded dragon get used to wearing his harness. Begin your efforts in an area, like his tank, where he already feels safe.
Work separately to acclimate your bearded dragon to being out of his tank and even being outside. As two different and new experiences, it’s best to acclimate your lizard to being on leash and being outside separately. When your lizard feels comfortable with both, you can gradually introduce him to be on leash outside.
Throughout training, always monitor your bearded dragon’s safety. As you get him used to being outside, never let him loose. If frightened, your lizard may run up a tree or run away.
Also monitor your lizard’s stress levels. If he exhibits signs of stress at any point during training, return him to his tank.
Finding a Bearded Dragon Companion
Almost all pet stores have bearded dragons for sale, and the lizards are relatively inexpensive.
If you’re looking to bring a lizard into your life, though, rescue is another option. Organizations like the Bearded Dragon Foundation rescue lizards from unsafe or otherwise unsuitable situations. You can meet bearded dragons available for adoption on their website.
Animal shelters draw the most attention for their efforts to rescue cats and dogs. However, these shelters often have bearded dragons among their adoptable pets.
You and Your Bearded Dragon: A Prehistoric Friend for All Ages
After reading this guide, you can now easily answer the question, “What is a bearded dragon?” You also know all that you need to be a successful pet owner of a happy and healthy bearded dragon. Of course, there’s always more to know about bearded dragon care. You’ll develop your own expertise through experience and continued research.
As you and your bearded dragon get to know each other, count on the information on our blog to have your back.