Click on the Image to download our detailed care sheet
There are many reasons people own exotic pets but before buying one there are some things you need to consider. Not all exotic pets require the same investment of time & money that is needed to properly care for the animal you are considering. Try to avoid buying an exotic animal without taking the time to understand what is involved in providing the care that it needs and deserves. You can do this by researching the animal online, reading books, talking to people you may know who have similar pets, and by talking to people in pet stores & at expos. Keep in mind that not all pet store employees or vendors at expos have the same level of knowledge, or motivation for providing accurate information. Also remember that there are usually many ways to do the same thing, and rarely is only one of them the correct way. What works for one individual may not work for you. For this reason we encourage you to educate yourself BEFORE buying one of our bearded dragons. A bearded dragon can live from 7-12 years so it is a long term commitment. It is also preferred that you have a habitat set up before you purchase any exotic animal. This will reduce the stress on both the animal and you since you won’t be scrambling around to set up a home for your new friend.
What you will need
1. A secure enclosure; this should be large enough to allow for a heat gradient and secure enough to keep the dragon in & everything else out. It can be made or purchased and sometimes can be found used. If you purchase anything used be sure to clean it thoroughly or bake it @ 250º -300º for 1 hour. Bearded Dragon infants can be kept in an enclosure as small as a 20 gallon aquarium, but the adults usually reach 18-22 inches and require a minimum of a 55 gallon aquarium (enclosure). A smaller enclosure may not provide enough of a temperature gradient or room for the dragon to move around. While too large of an enclosure may make it difficult for your dragon to catch his crickets. When they are small dragons may be kept together, but when they are older you CAN NOT house 2 adult males together. Some people believe that you can keep an adult male and 1-2 females together, but if there is a size difference the largest dragon will always dominate the smaller dragons and not allow them to feed or have access to adequate basking space or the UVB light. This will cause them to be small, underdeveloped, and weak. The smaller dragons will always be under stress which make them suceptible to parasites and infections. You should also start to prepare for incubating & hatching eggs since they will mate. If you use an aquarium you will need a screen top (made of metal) that can be secured. To avoid buying multiple aquariums, you can purchase a larger aquarium and partition of part of it. Then as your dragon grows you can move or remove the partition.
2. Substrate: There are many substrate options and even more opinions on what and what not to use. Some of the substrates that are “recommended” by various people. Some of the options are alfalfa pellets, play sand, various calcium, aquarium gravel, vitamin, & silica sands, mulch, ceramic tile, potting soil, newspaper, paper towels, shelf liner, or reptile carpet. Never use any kind of sand gravel or particulate substrate for dragons that are smaller than 8-9 inches because the risk of impaction is very high. They all have their advantages & disadvantages, and you may try a few different ones before you decide what works for you. When deciding on a type of substrate there are certain things that you need to be aware of. Anything small including pellets, sand, pieces of paper, or threads from the carpet or shelf liner can and will be ingested. This can cause impaction which can be lethal. Additionally your dragon should be misted at least once a day, excessive over-misting could prevent your dragon from warming up enough to digest his food causing health issues. It also means that the substrate will get wet and some of the options can retain the moisture and promote the growth of mold & other things which are not good for your friend. Cleanliness of the enclosure is vital. Bearded dragons tend to eat a lot, so they also tend to expel the waste a lot. Daily spot cleanings are usual, and the substrate should be changed regularly and disinfected by baking or with a 10% bleach solution, or replaced. If you use bleach make sure it is completely rinsed off before returning it to the enclosure. We have never had an impacted dragon, but after trying virtually all of the options we have narrowed it down to 2 types. For babies & small juveniles we only use paper towels and tape the edges down to avoid insects crawling under it and also tears in edges of the paper. For the adults we use shelf liner, which is inexpensive and easy to clean. Some of the enclosures have trays of (washed & sifted) sand that is a mixture of play sand & calcium sand, because a lot of dragons love to dig.
3. Heating & lighting; both are important for the health of your dragon. Dragons need full spectrum (UVB) light, and a heating/basking light. There are many ways to provide this. 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. There are now compact (coil) uvb lights but there are multiple reports of causing blindness and other issues and I would not use or recommend them. The basking spot should reach a temp of 105º-110 º, and the cool end of the enclosure should be around 75 º so they can regulate their temperature by moving around the enclosure. They should also be able to escape the UVB light since they can get sunburn, although it’s hard to tell. Glass & plastic covers will block the UVB. The heat & light should be on a timer which you can pick up anywhere for about $5.00, for 12 hour on & off during the night. Some people recommend decreasing the light/heat hours during the winter (brumination), but it should not be necessary if you are not intending to breed them. Your dragon will also benefit from exposure to natural sunlight when it is warm enough, and also enjoy the different scenery. DO NOT use hot rocks or undertank heaters. Bearded dragons do not sense heat through their bellies and they can be burned. It is also difficult to get a proper heat gradient with an undertank heater. See below on how to setup the lights in an aquarium type enclosure.
4. Cage furniture for Climbing & Hiding; 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. You should avoid putting the basking light over the cave, it may turn it into an oven, but if you use a separate UVB light it can go over the cave since they do not generate any significant amount of heat. You can use branches, rocks, bricks, slate, or make/purchase the decorations. If you use anything from outside make sure you soak them in 10% bleach solution, rinse & dry them, or bake them to kill any mites or fungus. If you chose to use rocks, make sure they are placed on the enclosure floor and not on the substrate and are arranged so they do not fall on your dragon. You can also find different methods to make decorations & caves on the internet. You will also need a food dish. The dish should be deep enough to restrict insects from escaping, but not too tall that it discourages or prevents your dragon from eating their vegetables.
5. Food, water, & supplements; bearded dragons are omnivores, so like us they need protein & vegetables. They do well on a mixed diet of green, vegetables & insects. There are also some “pellets” and freeze dried mixtures that can be used, but some dragons may refuse to eat them, and there are no long term studies at this time. Some people also advocate feeding in a separate enclosure or plastic bin, but as long as you remove any dead insects and keep the enclosure clean it should not be necessary.
The dietary requirements will change as your dragon ages, but they all should be fed a variety of insects & greens. The “staple” insect for bearded dragons is crickets, probably due to the fact that they are readily available and can be purchased at almost every pet store, but there are a lot of other options available. They can also be fed Wax worms, Super worms, Silkworms, Butter worms, Horn Worms, Phoenix/Calci- worms, some species of cockroaches, and more. Do not feed your dragon Mealworms, they are not able to easily digest the chitin and it can cause impaction. 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. If you chose to keep a small colony of insects, which you probably will to avoid continuous trips to the pet store, remember that your dragon will be eating whatever you feed your insects.
All insects should be dusted daily with a calcium supplement with or without vitamin D3. This is critical to bone growth and to avoid leaching the needed calcium from other resources in the body such as bones and spinal cord. This can cause major health issues. They can manufacture vitamin D3, but it requires adequate exposure to UVB light, which may be difficult to attain. This is another reason it is beneficial to bring your dragon outside for exposure to natural sunlight. Some research suggests that bearded dragons may not be able to utilize the Vitamin D3 in the calcium so it 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, kale, dandelion greens. These are readily available in supermarkets & “superstores”. Make sure you wash them thoroughly, even if you buy “organic” greens meant for human consumption. Bearded dragons like variety so we try to mix up the staple greens and also the vegetables we add. The vegetables add different colors & flavors for your dragon. We frequently use mixed vegetable, acorn or butternut squash, bell peppers (various colors), okra, 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 them and have them ready for morning. Some people recommend spraying the vegetables with water to provide additional water, but if the greens are fresh we are not sure this is necessary.
Avoid all lettuce it is mostly water and has very little nutritional value & spinach due to the oxalic acid, which binds more calcium that it offers, actually reducing the total calcium available. Spinach can be fed occasionally as a treat, but there are better options available. Do not feed them any meat or chicken because it is too high in protein and can kill them.
6. 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. They should start to lick the drops off the enclosure & furnishings. 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 that is not deeper than the height of the dragon at the shoulders and is easy to get in and out of. Bearded dragons are from the desert so they don’t need a lot of water. Most of what they do require, they get from their food. However 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, or any pet, 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. Once they from a bond they may sit on your lap or shoulder for hours. Always remember they are animals and if given the chance will probably try to escape at some point. 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. 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.
Click on the image to download our Food Classification Chart
This chart is not all inclusive and is intended to provide a simple reference on choosing the greens for your bearded dragon. We are currently working on a more comprehensive guide, but if you have specific questiions on specific foods, or would like us to add any foods to the list, please feel free to email us and we will do our best to assist you.
Staple foods should be fed on a regular basis. We rotate & mix them to provide variety. The occasional and treats can occasionally be fed as a treat, or a little added to their staple greens to add more variety. They should not be fed items from the occasional / treat category exclusively or on a daily basis, since it may lead to health issues, and they should only be fed in addition to their staple foods.
Never feed these foods (They are toxic or may be harmful in high enough levels): Avocado, Lettuce, Spinach (this is ok occasionally but it is very high in potassium), Rhubarb, Lightninng bugs, Lady bugs, Spiders
Click on the image to download our dragon sexing guide
Even if you purchase a bearded dragon that has been sexed, it is a good idea to re-sex it once it is older. Young bearded dragons are very difficult to sex until they reach 3-4 month of age. By this time the dragon’s sex organs have had time to develop enough so they are easily visible, even by a novice. Bearded dragons can become sexually mature as early as 8 months old, but it is usually closer to 1 year. Once they start to become sexually mature it is important to separate the males because they will fight. It is also important to separate the females from the males unless you are intending to breed them. We strongly advise against breeding siblings or closely related dragons as it will produce dragons that have a high likelihood of dying just before or after hatching, and the ones that survive have a high probability of being malformed and/or have multiple health issues. Generally, responsible breeders will not breed any dragons that are not separated by at least 5 generations of breeding.
There are different techniques that people use to sex bearded dragons, but there is only one practical way that has proven to be safe & effective.
Some people believe that males are larger (typically 18-23 inches) and females are smaller (17-21 inches), but this is not always the case. Some females are large, ad some males are small. Additionally some dragons develop more slowly than others so they may initially be small, but reach a late growth spurt where they seem to be shedding, which occurs when the dragons are growing, every week. So this is not an accurate way to sex a bearded dragon.
Another indicator that is sometimes used is the proportions of the head & body. Males tend to have a larger head to body ratio, with the head being larger & wider than the head of a female on a similarly sized dragon. A female will tend to have a smaller, narrower head size in proportion to their body. Once again the key to this is the word “tend” just because it is frequently the case, it is not accurate 100% of the time.
The third way that is commonly used to determine the sex of a bearded dragon is the size and presence of femoral pores. Males usually have enlarged femoral pores located on the underside of the thigh in a line above the femur bone. While the females have less pronounced femoral pores. This is also a questionable way to sex a dragon. Since both sexes have femoral pores as adults, in young dragons the development of some males may be slower than the development of some females. This would make the femoral pores on the female appear to be “more pronounced” than the pores on a slower developing male dragon of the same size and age as a female.
Some behavior characteristics that are also used to determine the sex of a bearded dragon are arm waving, blackening of the beard, and head bobbing. Some people believe that only males turn their beards black and bob their heads. Some also believe that only females will wave. This is 100% incorrect. We believe that this behavior is related more to dominance and possibly the environment/situation in the enclosure or room than it is to the sex of the dragon. All of our females blacken their beards, usually when they are excited or upset by something they see. They sometimes also display this behavior when we remove them from the sun or their bath before they are ready. Sometime they will blacken their beards when they just want to be left alone. They will sometimes also blacken their beards if they see another dragon, male or female, in an enclosure across the room. Some of our older females will also bob their heads and occasionally even stomp if they see a smaller dragon waving from a different enclosure across the room. Bearded dragons have very good eyesight. We also have males that wave. When they are young it is not uncommon for the same bearded dragon, of either sex, to puff out & blacken their beards and wave in the span of a few minutes. We see these behaviors starting as early as 1 month and believe that they are just discovering the new behaviors and are trying them out without actually understanding what we think they mean. A lot of these behaviors will rarely be displayed if you only have 1 dragon since there has to be at least 2 for one to feel the need to express their dominance.
The only sure way to sex a bearded dragon is to view the hemi penal bulges of the males. This is possible after 3-4 months depending on the development of the dragon, but can sometimes be used to determine the sex of males who have developed quicker. You can usually accurately sex a bearded dragon at about 3 months but it may take a little longer for some males to develop sufficiently to allow the visualization of the Hemi penal bulges. The older the dragon is, the more accurate the sexing. The presence of hemipenal bulges 100% indicates a male dragon, but in younger dragons the absence of the bulges only indicates a female or a slowly developing male.
The safest, most accurate way to sex a dragon is to hold the dragon in the palm of your hand with its tail facing you, supporting its body and front limbs. The bearded dragons don’t like to be held tightly so you may need to put a finger in front of the dragons head to prevent it from trying to escape and hurting themselves. Gently lift the tail up over the back at approximately a 90 degree angle, being careful not to bend the tail too far or too roughly, as the vertebra at the base of the tail may be at risk of being broken. In younger dragons it may help to gently roll the tail to the right & left to stimulate the hemipenes and make them more pronounced. Looking at the base of the tail, just above the ventral opening, males will display 2 hemi penal bulges on the right & left sides of the tail with an indentation between them. Since females lack the hemipenes, they will display a single bulge centered at the base of the tail above the ventral opening. Remember in younger dragons the presence of the 2 hemi penal bulges 100% indicates a male dragon, but in younger dragons the absence of the bulges only indicates a female or a slowly developing male.
The last way that is used to sex a bearded dragon should only be performed by an expert or a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles. It is called "hemi penal eversion", and involves pushing at the cloacal area to evert the male sex organs. Since this procedure can harm the dragon we do not feel it is worth the risk, and it is not recommended.
Click on the image to download information on bearded dragons & stress
When you purchase a bearded dragon, or any pet, it may take some time for it to become acclimated with its new surroundings and feeding schedule due to relocation stress. As long as their environment is set up correctly, and they are receiving the proper care, relocation stress should only last a few days as they acclimate to their new surroundings. This usually takes 2-3 days but can last weeks in extreme circumstances. Most bearded dragons, and all other living things harbour low levels of various parasites, but they rarely cause any problems as long as the animal is healthy enough to keep them in check. Prolonged stress can lead to increased parasitic levels as the dragon does not have the resources to keep the levels low. It is important to remain patient during the first 2-3 days and keep the handling of your new dragon to a minimum until they get past the relocation stress period. Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling any reptile. Many of the chemicals that we use every day 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; it just means they carry the pathogen and are no more dangerous than cooking eggs or chicken unless it is allowed to infect you or your new friend.
Stress may be demonstrated by any/all of these signs in bearded dragons.
1. Eating; If your dragon will not eat when you receive it, or suddenly stops or reduces the amount they are eating it is usually a sign of stress. It is normal for a new dragon not to eat for a 2-3 days. This can sometimes take longer in rare circumstances. If your new dragon is not eating after 2 days you can try to feed them insects or fruits that are considered “treats” such as super worms, wax worms, butter worms, apples, kiwi fruit, peaches, etc. You can check out the food classification chart on our website for a more extensive listing of the foods commonly fed to bearded dragons. Incorrect temperatures in the enclosure can also cause your dragon to slow down or stop eating. You should check to make sure that the temperature of the basking area is at least 95-110 degrees, with the cooler end 70-80 degrees. Younger dragons may prefer a basking area that is as high as 120 degrees, and this is fine as long as there is a sufficient gradient for it to be able to escape the heat and cool down. For baby & juvenile dragons you may need to contact a veterinarian that specializes in reptiles if it is not eating after 3 days. In older dragons, usually over 1 year old, it may be that your dragon is bruminating. It is a basically reptile hibernation and may last several weeks. It usually occurs when the days get shorter and the temp gets colder. A lot of the signs of stress are also signs of brumination and they may include a reduction or stopping of eating and a reduction of activity. They may go to the darkest, coolest spot in their enclosure or even hide and not move for days to weeks. This is normal behavior and should be allowed to continue. It is possible to “force” them out of brumination by taking them out of their enclosure & handling them or giving them food and water. Not all bearded dragons will bruminate, it depends on the climate, lighting, and how often they are handled.
2. Stress Marks; Your dragon may display Stress Marks. These are dark lines or oval shapes that can appear on its belly and chin. It is a common sign on bearded dragons that you have recently acquired. The stress marks should go away in a few days once it has become accustomed to its new home. Check to make sure that the heating, lighting and diet are correct. Stress marks are completely normal and may also happen when your bearded dragon is cold, irritated, interested in something, and sometimes without any reason you can determine. At any rate, it is normal bearded dragon behavior and is nothing to worry about.
3. Decreased Activity; If your new dragon is not very active and just lies around, it is usually a sign of relocation stress, and should pass in a few days. In older dragons it may also a sign of brumination. A reduction in activity may also be caused by improper heating, lighting, or nutrition. When your dragon displays a reduction of activity, it is important to for you to check the temperature, and the UVB. A lot of the self ballasted UVB bulbs will continue to produce visible light long after they stop producing UVB. If the bulb is over 6 months old, it should be checked to see if it is still producing a sufficient level of UVB, or replaced. You may have a pet store in your area, or know someone that has a UVB meter and who will check the bulb for you. Also make sure you are providing the proper nutrition for the age of your dragon. Young dragons get about 70% of their nutrition from insects and 30% from greens. This changes as the dragon ages and as adults they should receive about 30% of their nutrition from insects and 70% from greens. You can check the food classification chart on the resources & links page of our website to assure you are feeding the proper foods.
4. Change in coloration; A change in coloration, usually an overall darkening, can be a sign of stress. It may also indicate that your dragon is ready to shed. Bearded dragons also change color based on their moods and the temperature. If your dragon is cold, they will darken their bodies to absorb more heat. Once again check the temperature in the enclosure. A dark beard may also be a sign of stress, but it is also a sign that they display for many other reasons.
5. Avoiding Basking; If your dragon does not bask for several days it may be a sign of stress. They may also stay in the cooler end of the enclosure or in their hiding spot. In older dragons it may also be a sign of brumination. Check the temperatures in the enclosure to make sure there is a sufficient gradient for your dragon to cool down. The basking area should be at least 95-110 degrees, with the cooler end 70-80 degrees. If there is a sufficient gradient, you can move the basking light switching the locations of the cool end and the basking end.
6. Clawing at the enclosure; You may notice your dragon clawing at the sides of the enclosure. This is usually caused by seeing their reflection in the glass and thinking it is another bearded dragon, or by actually seeing other bearded dragons in different enclosures. This can cause them to become stressed. If they are in an aquarium you can try to put a non-reflective background around the back & sides. It may also mean that the temperatures are too high since this will cause them to be more active. Check the temperature to make sure there is a sufficient gradient in the enclosure. The last thing that could cause your dragon to claw at the sides of the tank is that your dragon may just want to come out and play with you.
Dunner Bearded Dragons
There are currently only 2 dominant or co-dominant bearded dragon traits known, the dunner gene and the leatherback gene. This means that if the dragon is carrying the dunner gene it will display the dunner characteristics. If it is not displaying the traits then it is not carrying the genes. There is no such thing as a “het” dunner. This is the same as it is for the leatherback genes.
The first characteristic that most people notice is the rugged or primitive appearance of the dragons. The scales on the upper half of the dunners’ body and tail are conical. They do not resemble most “normal” scales which are more “teardrop” shaped. This results in a rougher texture when compared to a normal scaled dragon. This scale pattern also extends to other areas of the dragon’s body. One of the most noticeable areas is in the dunners’ beard. The scales on a dunners' beard run left, right and up instead of down. This makes the bearded dragons beard feel rough from every direction and also gives them a much rougher appearance.
As you continue to the underside of the dragon you will notice that the scales on the belly also run in random directions instead of the typical organized pattern. When you look at their belly you will notice that there is no distinct pattern. The scales in the center run in many directions and as you move further away from the center they will start to see them take on a left and right pattern. Additionally, the stress lines on a “normal” bearded dragon are oval shaped, while the stress lines on a dunner are prefect circles.
Another difference is seen in the dragons front and rear feet. The dunner has extra long toes and the foot as a whole is much larger than that of a normal dragons. This can be seen when they are hatched.
Another distinguishing feature of the dunner bearded dragon is one of the most obvious. The tail has the same scale configuration and rough appearance as the rest of the body, but it also displays unique patterns which are distinctly different from the typical “banded” pattern. The tail can exhibit a dashed, dotted, or striped pattern that runs up and down the tail instead of the “normal” bands that go around the tail. The pattern varies and is unique for each dragon.