Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) originate from the arid, rocky semi-desert regions of Australia. Their name originates from the defensive practice of extending the flap of skin under its jaw to look like a beard when it feels threatened. In captivity, Bearded Dragons typically have a lifespan of 7 to 12 years and reach sexual maturity between the age of 8 to 18 months.
Many pet owners do not realize that these animals are omnivores and thus enjoy a wide variety of different foods. To ensure adequate nutrient intake for your pet, it is important to note that Bearded Dragon’s diet ratio’s change as they age. Juvenile Bearded Dragons should eat a total of 80% insects and 20% plant matter, where adults should be fed 20% insects and 80% plant matter.
Plant matter that can be fed to bearded dragons include dark leafy greens (kale, romaine, beet greens, bok choy, swiss chard, spinach), vegetables (squash, zucchini, sweet potato, broccoli, peas, carrots, beans) and fruit (papaya, melon, banana). Fruit should be fed sparingly (as treats only) to prevent health problems. Non-toxic flowers like hibiscus can also be fed as a treat.
Animal foods that can be fed include crickets, mealworms, dubia roaches and silkworms. It is important to note that mealworms should only be given if they have freshly molted since their shells are too difficult to digest and can result in constipation. As a rule, prey should ideally be fed live and should never be bigger than the space between your Bearded Dragon’s eyes. This rule is especially important for juvenile bearded dragons. Frequency of feeding also differs according to the age of your dragon. Juvenile Bearded Dragons should be fed three times a day whereas adults should be fed once daily.
Bearded dragons also require mineral supplementation to stay healthy. Recommended supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium gluconate powder without phosphorous or vitamin D. Juvenile Bearded dragons should have all their daily prey dusted. As your pet ages dusting can be reduced to once a week. Another way to ensure that your pet is getting enough calcium is to feed “gut loaded” insects. This means that insects are fed high calcium feeds (fresh greens or commercial cricket feeds) for a few days before they are fed to your dragon.
When setting up your enclosure it is important to note that it is large enough. Immature dragons require a 75-190 L tank and adults require a 280 – 455 L tank. The tank needs to be large enough to enable an appropriate temperature gradient (high 38 °C, low 23 °C) to be achieved. The ideal humidity would be below 30-40% to mimic their natural habitat. Although they enjoy a low humidity environment it is important that water is always provided in a shallow water bowl. Bearded Dragons will often soak or defaecate in their water bowl, therefore it should be cleaned daily.
The next step is to purchase a UV and a basking light. UVA/UVB lights need to offer 5-7% UVA/B radiation and must reach 80% of the Bearded Dragon’s habitat. These lights are critical as they aid in calcium metabolism and bone development. Unfortunately, these lights have to be replaced every 6 months as they lose their ability to provide sufficient UV rays.
The second light that is required is a basking light, this light will provide your pet with heat in order to maintain its body temperature. Allowing your Bearded Dragon to bask in the sun for a few minutes a day will also help it soak up the UV rays it requires for adequate calcium metabolism as mentioned above. It is important to note that UV rays do not travel through windows.
Substrates that can be used in an enclosure include newspaper, reptile carpet, paper tiles and towels. No sand/any kind of loose substrate should be used for juveniles! Other supplies needed in an enclosure includes a basking spot, hiding cave and a branch to climb.
Bearded dragons should be bathed/soaked two to three times a week. Supervision is important to prevent your pet from drowning. Baths should be for about 15 minutes in lukewarm water. Bearded Dragons are solitary animals and should ideally be housed alone to prevent injury due to fighting.
Your Bearded Dragon should visit his vet at least once every six months to a year for a general health checkup and to check for parasites. This will ensure that he/she stays healthy and happy for many years to come.
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- Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Inland bearded dragon. May 30, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/basic-information-for-the-inland-bearded-dragon/