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In response to many requests for information concerning the captive care of this popular pet lizard RainForest Adventures is providing the following suggested guidelines for the captive care and breeding of the pet Bearded Dragon

It has only been in the recent past that Bearded Dragons have entered the pet market in large numbers.    Australia protected the export of many of their animals well before most other countries began to protect their respective wildlife with similar laws.  As a result of this early protection many of the Australian animals were fairly rare in captivity.   It was only in the mid to late 1980's that greater numbers of the creatures from "down under" appeared on the scene.  Some of this initial stock was the result of zoos releasing captive born an

A period of great learning about the captive husbandry and reproduction of many species of Australian animals began in earnest.  The lizards of Australia were some of the first to be successfully reproduced in sufficient numbers to supply the great demand from the pet trade. 

The Bearded Dragon, which once commanded very high dollars, was now available at reasonable prices.  And so began the great love affair with "Beardies"

In this article we will address the basic needs and requirements to successfully keep and breed  pet Bearded Dragons. The primary areas that will address here are:

A native of  hot, arid regions of Australia the Bearded Dragon has some very specific husbandry needs that must be met for the lizards to be optimally healthy.  Fortunately none of these needs are difficult to meet. 

Why Bearded Dragons?

There are several reasons this lizard can make such a wonderful choice as a pet.  First the Bearded Dragon remains relatively small in size.  A large male Bearded Dragon is only about 12-14" long as an adult, with females growing slightly smaller.  Secondly the placid nature of most pet Bearded Dragons allows them to be handled without much concern about bites or undue stress to the animal itself.  It is important to remember that virtually any animal can bite, so please exercise caution around young children who may inadvertently be bitten by a Bearded Dragon. 

Another wonderful aspect of the pet Bearded Dragon compared to other lizard species is the diurnal nature of your new pet.  While some creatures such as geckos are nocturnal, the Bearded Dragon is active during the day!  Many species of geckos for example are active at night making it difficult for your family to enjoy the activity of the lizard.

Diet is another factor in considering a pet, the Bearded Dragon is quite adaptable in what it will eat, this can make it an easier animal to maintain than other creatures with a rigid diet. 

 

 

 Choosing Your New Bearded Dragon

Today virtually all Bearded Dragons available in pet shops, online, and else where were born and bred in captivity.  In many cases they are literally dozens of generations in captivity, some could begin to argue that this little lizard is becoming domesticated!

There is an immense amount of interest in breeding this lizard by both professionals and amateurs alike.  Many unique and highly variable color patterns (or morphs as they are known) have emerged. 

The species of Bearded Dragon most likely to be encountered by the new pet enthusiast is the Inland Bearded Dragon

 Two other species of Bearded Dragons occasionally appear on the market but for the sake of this article we will be addressing the specific needs of the Inland Bearded Dragon. 

Ideally you should try to obtain a very young Bearded Dragon, possibly a hatchling, if one is  available.  While older animals are sometimes available you may have a difficult time determining age, previous diet as well as other unknown factors.   Bearded Dragons live on average about 5-7 years in captivity, so purchasing an adult greatly increases the chances that your dragon is no "spring chicken"

Two hour old Bearded Dragon with un-hatched eggs

Young Bearded Dragons that are housed together for too long a period of time may have a tendency to nip off each others toes and even parts of a tail.  Ensure your new little lizard has all of his toes before bringing him home!

Boys or Girls??   A question some people never even consider initially is whether or not to obtain a male or a female Bearded Dragon?  As young animals the little Dragons can be quite difficult to sex, adult Dragons are very easily sexed based on visual differences in the femoral pores which are found on the rear legs of all Bearded Dragons.  Males have very pronounced or large pores.  They appear to be large scales on the rear legs, females have very small pores.  If you do not have experience determining the sex simply ask someone who has worked with Dragons to show you the difference, it is unmistakable once you have seen it. 

Male Bearded Dragon Pores Female Bearded Dragon Pores

Often times young dragons can be sexed based purely on behavior.  Males have a tendency to be more aggressive and will "head bob" at each other even at a very young age.   There are no real differences between the sexes as far as choosing a pet goes, all dragons have unique personalities.  Some males are very friendly and inquisitive while others can be more aggressive or shy, the same can be said for female Bearded Dragons.   Choosing male or female will not guarantee a friendly pet. 

 

Housing

It is always a good idea to have your new pet's enclosure setup and established before your new Bearded Dragon arrives home.  While this lizard does not require highly a specialized environment there are certainly some basic criteria that must be met for the overall health and well being of your new pet dragon.

Each of the homes we live in are different, the ambient air temperature, location of the enclosure and other factors may require a day or two for you to ensure the temperature and humidity factors are stable before bringing your new Bearded Dragon home.  Always try to determine the temperature of the enclosure both during the day and night to ensure the enclosure is not too hot or too cold. 

The ideal day time temperature range for your lizard is 85-90 degrees.  A basking spot with temperatures in excess of 95 degrees should also be provided.   This will allow your Dragon to move (thermo regulate) from a warm area to cooler a one.  Nighttime temperatures should not be allowed to drop below 70 degrees. 

Humidity is not as large a concern for this species as with others.  In fact to damp an environment can create skin problems for this desert dwelling lizard.    The proper humidity is a larger factor in allowing the animal to shed it's skin properly than it is any other health issue.   A large water bowl that the Dragon can soak in will significantly aid in helping your lizard to shed any skin from the tail region or around it's toes. 

Remember that your Bearded Dragon will grow at approximately 2" per month for the first several months of life.   At such a fast growth rate what may have seemed like a large enough enclosure will rapidly seem small.  The lesson here is to plan ahead! 

Adult Bearded Dragons are generally comfortable in a 55 gallon aquarium.  Although larger enclosures are acceptable, smaller spaces may be too cramped for this species. 

Keep in mind that your Bearded Dragon loves to climb things!  Provide lots of vertical space for the lizard, they are often observed in the wild on top of rock outcroppings, fence posts etc.  Many keepers make the mistake of only providing horizontal space for their Bearded Dragons.  One other health benefit of vertical space is the increased chance that your lizard can thermo regulate, or control, their own body temperature more effectively. 

Outdoor Housing Many keepers like to take advantage of hot, sunny summer days and put their Bearded Dragons outside for a little sun!  This is arguably the best source of UV rays as well as natural health benefits of being outdoors. 

A few points of caution should be addressed prior to bringing your lizard out for a little sun.  First is the obvious consideration of escape.  Take time to ensure that your outdoor enclosure is escape proof, this really works in two directions, first make sure your dragon cannot get out but secondly make sure no unwanted visitors can get in!  The domestic cat is one of the greatest sources of loss of wildlife on earth!  Your Bearded dragon is just a play toy to be killed by cats roaming the area.  Birds of prey would love the opportunity to snack on a 14" bundle of protein, so please use great caution when housing your lizard outside.  

A well ventilated, well constructed outdoor enclosure should contain plenty of places for your Bearded Dragon to hide from the sun as well as all of the bad creatures that wish to eat it.   Do not make the assumption that simply because your lizard originates in the desert that the creature loves to bake all day long in the sun with no chance for a little shade. 

 

Bearded Dragon Diet

Let's ring the dinner bell!  Your little dragon will be hungry the vast majority of the time.  We make every effort to ensure that young dragons have a steady source of food available throughout the day.

 Young dragons have a tendency to consume a more varied diet than adults do.  As juveniles they  should be fed a diet heavy in insects with vegetation offered.  As adults the diet will switch to primarily vegetables with occasional sources of protein. 

You may find prepared Bearded Dragon diets available in pet stores, online etc.  While these can be convenient sources of food from time to time, we find that whole prey (dusted with the appropriate vitamins) is a much more complete meal. 

 

Reproduction