These are the basic requirements for raising a healthy bearded dragon
1. A Secure Enclosure; Juvenile bearded dragons can be kept in an enclosure as small as a 20 gallon aquarium, but the adults usually reach 18-22 inches and will require the equivalent a 55 gallon aquarium or larger. If you use an aquarium you will need a screen top (made of metal) that can be secured.
2. Substrate; There are many substrate options and even more opinions on what and what not to use. Your juvenile bearded dragon should be kept on a newspaper, paper towel, shelf liner, etc until they are 8-9 inches long. Then you may elect to try something else.
3. Heating & Lighting; Both heat & light are important for the health of your dragon. Dragons need full spectrum (UVB) light, and a heating/basking light. You can use 2 separate lights, an incandescent light for heat/basking and a fluorescent light for UVB. Or you may opt to use a Full spectrum heating & UVB incandescent light. The enclosure should contain a temperature gradient with the temp at the basking spot 105º-110 º, and the cool end of the enclosure should be around 75 º. You may need to get a thermometer. The heat & light should be on a plug in timer, which you can pick up just about anywhere for about $5.00, for 12 hour on & off during the night. DO NOT use hot rocks or undertank heaters.
4. Cage Furnishings; The minimum requirements for furniture/decorations is something for your dragon to climb on (preferably under/near the basking light & UVB light so they can regulate their temperature and the amount of UVB they are getting), some sort of a hide/cave, and a food dish..
5. Food & Supplements; Bearded dragons do well on a mixed diet of greens, vegetables, & insects. There are also some “pellets” and freeze dried mixtures that can be used, but some dragons may refuse to eat them. The dietary requirements change as your dragon ages, but they all should be fed a variety of insects & greens. For hard bodied insects (crickets, roaches, etc.) the insect’s body should not be longer than the space between the dragon’s eyes. Adults can eat larger insects as long as they are soft bodied (Butter worms, Hornworms, etc.). Hatchlings should be fed 1/4 - 3/8 inch crickets 3-4 times per day, juvenile dragons 1/2 – 1 inch crickets 1-2 times per day, and adults should be fed insects once per day or every other day. Your dragon should first be fed insects starting an hour after the lights come on to allow them time to warm up. They should be fed as many insects as they can eat in 10-15 minutes, and it may take some time to determine the correct amount. Do not feed your dragon Mealworms, they are not able to easily digest the chitin and it can cause impaction. Do not feed them any meat or chicken because it is too high in protein and can kill them. All insects should be dusted daily with a calcium supplement with or without vitamin D3. This is critical to bone growth. Calcium with Vitamin D3 should not be considered a substitute for exposure to UVB light. Once a week the insects should also be dusted or sprayed with a reptile multivitamin. Adding this more than once/week may lead to health issues due to the high levels of some of the vitamins. Chopped/torn greens and vegetables should be fed every day, with the majority being greens that are high in calcium and low in phosphorous. Some of the staple greens we use are collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, & dandelion greens. They should be washed thoroughly and cut/torn into small pieces. Bearded dragons like variety so we try to mix up the staple greens and also the vegetables that we add for color & flavor. We frequently use mixed vegetable, acorn or butternut squash, bell peppers (various colors), okra, kale, alfalfa, bok choy, apples, carrots, chicory, parsley, & parsnip. There are also some fruits, vegetables, & flowers that may be given as an occasional treat. We feed greens every day. We put them in the enclosures about 1 hour after the lights go on and remove them from the enclosures about 1 hour before the lights out so we can clean & disinfect the dishes.
6. Water; While bearded dragons get most of their water from the food they eat, they should be misted at once/day. Mist your dragon, then wait a minute & mist them again. Avoid excessive misting (more than 2-3 time/day) as it can prevent them from warming up and interfere with the digestion of their food. They will also enjoy and will benefit from a weekly bath. You can use a plastic container, filled up to their shoulders with slightly warm water. The enclosure can also include a water bowl or pool. If you chose to use a pool, use one that is not deeper than the height of the dragon at the shoulders and is easy to get into and out of. Some dragons will drink from a dish, and most dragons enjoy a dip in the pool/bath. In fact it helps them to poop, so be prepared to remove them from the pool/bath to disinfect the container. Do not allow them to remain in the water with their poop.
7. Handling your bearded Dragon; when you purchase a bearded dragon, it may take some time for it to become acclimated with its new surroundings and feeding schedule. Allow them a few days to become accustomed to their new environment before trying to handle them. They may also stop eating while this is going on. Once they become acclimated, short periods of handling and hand feeding is usually all that is required to form a bond with your friend. Be careful, they may jump or try to escape and may fall and get hurt. Always wash your hands before & after handling any animal. Many of the everyday chemicals that we use may be harmful to your dragon. Some reptiles may also carry pathogens, most commonly salmonella which they can get from the food & insects they eat. This does not mean that they are infected, just that the carry the pathogen, most commonly in their excrement. This is one of the reasons why cleanliness & good housekeeping is so important. If you allow your friend to tromp through his poop & food, or remain in the bath after they have done their business, then they may become infected. This is the same pathogen that is in eggs and raw poultry, so it is no more dangerous than cooking breakfast or dinner.
8. Housekeeping; Bearded dragons eat a lot, especially Juvenile dragons. This means that they also poop a lot. It is critical that you continuously spot clean the enclosure and change the paper towel daily. The enclosure should be disinfected frequently with a 10% bleach solution, rinsed thoroughly, and dried. You can also use one of the commercially available reptile enclosurecleaners. Do not use household cleaners as they may contain ingredients that are toxic to bearded dragons.
9. A vet who treats reptiles; No matter how well you take care of your dragon, they may get sick or hurt and you will need a vet who treats reptiles, not all do. It is well worth the effort to find and talk to a vet who treats reptiles before you need one. A good way is to get your new pet a checkup. That provides you an opportunity to talk to the vet and observe how they handle your pet, and also assures you the animal you bought is healthy. I would recommend waiting until your new pet has become comfortable with their new surroundings.
Western Hognose (Heterodon Nasicus) Care & Maintenance Sheet
Western Hognose Snakes (Heterodon Nasicus) This care sheet is intended to provide the basic information necessary to keep hognose snakes. There is no “right way” to keep hognoses so we also recommend looking at other resources to develop a process that works for you and your snake(s). Western Hognose snakes are relatively small, 15”-24” (males) & 28”-36” (females), heavy bodied snakes that are native to North America, South America, and Madagascar. They typically make great pets due to their mild disposition and the simplicity of taking care of them. Their average lifespan in captivity is 15 years but lifespans of 20+ years is not uncommon. Hognose snakes are in the Colubrid family and they get the name “hognose” from the upturned rostral scales on their snout which they use for burrowing and unearthing prey. Hognose snakes are not likely to bite but they are rear fanged which means they may be classified as venomous by some people. The venom is very mild and generally harmless to humans but you should be aware of this if you intend to keep a hognose snake.
Enclosure/Housing; A general rule for hognose enclosures is to allow 1 ft2 of floor space for each foot of snake length with a height of about 1/3 of the snake’s length. Adult hogs can be kept in a 20-29 gallon long aquarium, younger snakes can be accommodated in a 5-10 gallon aquarium, & a 30-40 gallon should be used for extra-large females & pairs. Snakes are territorial animals and do much better on their own than when kept in groups. Hogs can become insecure when kept in an enclosure that is too large and they may refuse to eat. When kept in an aquarium a tight fitting (locking) screen lid/cover is needed to allow adequate ventilation and to keep your snake in their enclosure. Keeping the enclosure clean is very important to reduce the risk of parasites and illness. Any waste should be cleaned up immediately and the enclosure should be sanitized at least monthly with a complete change of the substrate.
Substrate; Western hognose snakes are natural burrowers so a substrate should be used that will allow them to create burrows. We use aspen snake bedding. Aspen allows them to create a network of burrows that they use to move around their enclosure. Other types of snake friendly bedding can be used but make sure it allows the snakes to create a network of burrows. Bedding should be kept dry, free of feces, and changed completely monthly. Some of the alternative substrates can contribute to high humidity which is not healthy for your snake and some are also difficult for them to burrow in. The “soil” type substrates may also carry a risk of impaction. Never use Cedar, Pine, or Redwood Shavings in any reptile enclosure as they are toxic to most reptiles.
Furnishings; All snakes need somewhere to hide and may become stressed if a place is not provided. We recommend keeping the cage accessories/furniture simple to reduce the amount of items that need to be cleaned. The minimum furnishings are (2) hide boxes and a water bowl. The hides should only be slightly bigger than the snake and have a single opening so the snake can feel secure. Having 2 hides allows you to place one on the cool side and one on the hot side so they can regulate their temperatures and feel secure. You can also put in branches, rocks, and other decorations in the enclosure just make sure they are cleaned before you put them in the enclosure, and cleaned monthly when the enclosure is sanitized.
Heating; all reptiles including snakes are cold blooded and get heat from their surroundings. In the wild snakes bask in the sun to keep warm or move to a shady spot if they are too hot, this is called thermo-regulation. Heat is necessary for proper digestion. Failure to maintain a proper temperature and temperature gradient can lead to health issues. Heating can be accomplished by using an under tank heater, heat mats/pads, or heat tape controlled by a reliable thermostat. Temperatures at their hot spot should be around 88°F-90°F. The cool side of the enclosure should be about 80°F-82°F. The heat source should cover 1/3- 1/2 of the bottom of the enclosure. A thermostat with a “night drop” function allows you to slightly lower the temperatures at night.
Lighting; a proper day/night light cycle is important for the health of your hogs. Western Hognoses are diurnal and a consistent light cycle helps in regulating their activity. Hog noses do not need light 24 hours/day and will suffer from stress without a regular day/night light cycle. The length of the day/night cycle can be combined with the regulation of the temperature to provide seasonal breeding cues. UVB is a controversial subject in regards to hog noses and many other snakes. Many people believe they do not require UVB lighting while others believe it is necessary.
Humidity/Water; Western hog noses need to have a small bowl of clean water available at all times. The bowl should be big enough for the snake to completely submerse themselves in and deep enough so the water stays in the bowl. Change the water and sanitize the water bowl every 3-4 days or more often if the snake fouls the water. If there are any issues during shedding a small humid hide can be provided but it should be removed once the shedding is complete.
Diet, Nutrition, & Feeding; in the wild hognose snakes predominantly eat amphibians, mice, lizards, turtles, reptile eggs, and occasionally insects and carrion. Most captive bred hognose snakes are raised to eat rodents because this is the most widely available food source. It is better to feed a prey item that is about the same diameter as the snake’s head. It should produce a noticeable lump that is not visible after about 24 hours. Hatchlings should be fed small pinkies every 4-5 days and adults should be fed a mouse every 6-7 days. Some larger adults may require 2 mice or a small rat. Always feed frozen/thawed rodents to your snake. You should always use tweezers to feed your hog because it allows you to move the mouse so it appears to be alive and also avoid accidental bites. Unlike a lot of other snakes hogs may strike at their prey from any direction.
The most common technique to get hatchlings, wild caught snakes, and reluctant feeders to eat mice is called “scenting”. Scenting is the process of adding an external scent to a pinkie/mouse. This can be done by rubbing the scent onto the mouse or by applying a “liquefied” scent with a Q-tip. Some of the more common foods/scent's that are used include Fresh or canned fish or fish juice (salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, mackerel, etc.), Hotdog or Vienna sausage broth, Chicken Broth or chicken, Boiled Egg or Egg Yolk. Some of the animal scents that are frequently used include frog, toad, anole, & Gecko.
Do not feed your snake live food because even a small mouse may bite or injure your snake which can lead to an infection. Wild rodents and amphibians always carry parasites so they should not be fed to your snake. Freezing also kills bacteria and parasites.
When purchasing a Western hognose or any snake, always ask the seller what the snake is eating and when the last feeding was. Only purchase established feeders unless you are experienced.
Behavior; The Western hognose snake is probably best known for its wide variety of harmless and amusing defensive behaviors. When threatened they will flatten their bodies to appear larger and more dangerous to predators. They also produce a loud hissing noise and they will frequently flatten out the ribs along their neck and “hood up” like a cobra. They will also strike repeatedly with a closed mouth. If none of these displays works their last ploy is to play dead. Western hognoses will roll over onto their back and stick their tongues out. If you turn them over they will turn themselves over onto their backs continue playing dead. This behavior may also be accompanied by the hognose releasing a terrible smelling musk from its anal glands. Unfortunately they generally stop displaying many of these behaviors when kept in captivity.
Shedding; all snakes shed their skin periodically throughout their lives and this is called ecdysis. Young snakes will shed more frequently than adult snakes because of their rapid growth, but even adult snakes should shed several times a year. This is a natural process and most snakes will shed their skin without any issues as long as there is always fresh clean water in a bowl that is big enough for them to fit in. When your snake is getting ready to shed their color will become dull or dark, and their eyes will turn a bluish color. They are generally less active and may refuse to feed and may also avoid being handled. When your snake is in shed it is best to leave them alone because their vision is impaired and it may stress them out.
Handling; Western hognose snakes are easy to handle but they are fast and quite active so be careful not to drop them while you are handling them. Do not try to handle a snake that is displaying their defensive behaviors to avoid stressing out the snake. Wait until it calms down and then you can handle them. Never handle your snake right after feeding because it may regurgitate its meal. It is advisable to leave your snake approximately 48 hours to digest their meal before handling. Bites from western hog noses are very rare and usually occur due to the snake’s aggressive feeding response. If you are accidentally bitten by your hognose do not pull or pry the snake off because you may hurt the snake. If possible submerse the snakes head in water and this will cause them to let go. If you do get bitten wash the area with soap & water. For mild symptoms you can take an allergy medication like Benadryl. Although there are no reports of a serious envenomation from hognose snakes if you experience severe allergic type symptoms you should seek medical help immediately.
Sexing; Hognose snakes are generally easy to sex visually once they are older. The tail of the female’s short and stubby while in males it is long. Females will have generally have around 30 rows of scales after the vent and males usually more than 40. Probing and popping are other methods which can be used to determine the sex but they should be left to more experienced keepers as you could hurt your snake.
Brumination or Brumation; Brumination is the reptile equivalent of mammalian hibernation and is not generally necessary if you are not intending to breed your snake. It is a cooling period of 6-8 weeks to allow your snake to reduce their metabolism and store up hormones for the breeding season which occurs shortly after the end of brumination. Some snakes will suddenly reduce their activity and refuse to eat for a couple of months on their own accord.