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Pet Reptiles - Bearded Dragons

Bearded Dragon is the common name for any agamid lizard in the genus Pogona. They are native to Australia. Bearded Dragons are popular exotic pets in many places, notably the species Pogona vitticeps, the Inland or Central Bearded Dragon. These pets are often affectionately called "Beardies" by those who breed or raise them. Because of their friendly and calm nature, they are a popular breed among children. Bearded Dragons are known, according to many owners, to be very docile and trusting, yet at the same time, outgoing and curious lizards. They make faint clucking noises. If you scare them they make a loud hissing sound. Their behavior includes body language such as head bobbing and leg waving. It is not recommended to try to arouse this behavior, however, as it is territorial in nature.

Bearded Dragons are opportunistic omnivores. Many Bearded Dragon habitats are dry and sparsely vegetated, so food is often difficult to find. As a result, Bearded Dragons are capable of subsisting on a wide variety of food sources.

Their stomachs are large enough to accommodate large quantities of food. At a young age, Bearded Dragons will not eat as much vegetation as their adult counterparts. As a Bearded Dragon ages it will eat less animal matter and more plants, leveling off at about 80 percent plant and 20 percent animal diet.

Bearded Dragons are omnivorous, requiring both insects and vegetables foods. A typical diet for captive Bearded Dragons includes leafy greens and vegetables, and regular meals of feeder insects. Insects caught in the wild are not recommended, due to the increased risk of pesticide exposure and parasites. Fireflies and all other animals with bioluminescence chemicals can be fatal to Bearded Dragons. Avocados and Rhubarb are lethal to Dragons as well as birds. Some greens, such as iceberg lettuce is mostly water and can cause fatal diarrhea. Kale, cabbage, and spinach contain high oxilates which bind to calcium and in large amounts can lead to metabolic bone disease.

Due to their animated and highly social behavior, mild temperament, willingness to breed in captivity, flexible diet, and robust nature, Bearded Dragons are popular among reptile enthusiasts as pets.

A 20 gallon (75 liter) aquarium is the bar minimum for a juvenile Bearded Dragon, however they will fast outgrow this within the first year. For an adult the minimum is a 40 gallon (150 liter) breeder, though many breeders recommend a 55 gallon (200 liter) breeder instead. This allows the Dragon ample space to turn around, lie down, and run to and fro as it chooses. Bearded Dragons bask most of the day, absorbing the heat they need to digest their food. It is important that there are at lest one or two good basking spots in the Dragon's habitat. Rocks are preferable to logs as they hold heat better, though logs can also provide stimulation for the animal, as they will climb on it. Any item taken from the outside must first be boiled or baked, however, to remove contaminants. Electric or batter powered devices can cause stomach burns if they malfunction, so they are not widely recommended. The habitat should also contain something fro the Dragon to hide under.

Bearded Dragons also need proper lighting. A UVB light is needed, with two options being available. Fluorescent strip bulbs or mercury vapor bulbs. These bulbs will need to be kept within 8 inches of the basking spot so your lizard can properly absorb the rays and needs to be replaced every 6 months. Without a good UVB light the Dragon will develop MBD and not eat as much. A Dragon needs between 12 to 14 hours of daylight; much less or more causes problems with their circadian rhythms and makes them lethargic and sick.

For heating, Bearded Dragons need bright white light during the day. At night a red light can be used, as it will provide heat and you will be able to see it, but it will not disturb the animal's sleep cycle. Under tank heaters are one option for keeping the tank warm at night when the heating lamp is off, while ceramic heat emitters are another option.

Temperature is one of the most important health factors. A Dragon needs the correct temperature to digest, so a good thermometer is essential. Analog, round, stick-on, and other non-digital thermometers do not measure the basking temperature properly as they do not measure the actual basking spot, just the temperature of the glass or air. A digital thermometer with a probe or an infrared thermometer are two recommended types of thermometers. Temperatures need to be between 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit (basking spot) during the day and 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit at night (the higher end of the range is for babies, the lower portion is for adult Dragons). If the dragons do not receive the proper heat they will become lethargic and they will eat less. Eventually the lack of proper heating will be fatal.

Substrate is another important factor in keeping a healthy Dragon. Babies and juveniles are particularly at risk of impaction and are often kept on paper towels, as they are easy to clean up and dispose of, and there is no danger of babies ingesting substrate. Tile is another popular choice, as is reptile carpet. As the Dragon gets older it can be placed on finely sifted play sand. Calcium sand is often used and is widely recommended, but it is also reported to cause impaction due to "clumping" in the gut if ingested, while play sand will pass through a well-fed individual. Walnut shells, wood chips, and anything else of that sort are never to be used. They are large, with sharp edges, and can be swallowed. They are not digestible, however, and will swell and clog the gut, causing a very painful impaction.

Bearded Dragons are territorial and despite their like for human contact they will maim or kill a tank mate when an argument arises. Pairs of any gender combination have been known to result in severe, and in some cases death of one or both of the pair. It is near impossible to keep a pair or group together for an undetermined amount of time while many owners claim not to see any fighting or dominant behavior; it only takes one fight to end in tragedy. It has been said that two females could be housed together in the proper environment, but no one knows exactly what this environment is or how long the peace will last before a fight could break out.

When provided with the proper habitat, temperature, and UVB lighting, Bearded Dragons are hardy lizards. They are also pets that do their best to hide health problems when becoming ill. This is probably an instinctual behavior, since a sick Dragon in the wild would probably not live long. The most common diseases include Agamid adenovirus, mites, terminal ingestion, thermal burns, calcium deficiency, impaction, hypovitaminosos A, respiratory infections, dehydration, stomatiitis, internal parasites, coccidian and other parasites, dystocia (egg binding), and MBD.

Pet Reptiles and Pet AmphibiansPet Bearded Dragon Resources, Articles, and Information