Bearded dragons are elegant, jovial and marvelous creatures. Because they are solitary animals, bearded dragons make for amazing pets. They don’t demand too much attention to stay healthy and happy. Even as they are originally from Australia, you can find them in any pet store near you and unlike many other pets, bearded dragons can live for a long time.
In the wild, a bearded dragon can live for up to 12 years if it’s not eaten as prey. However, in captivity, the average life span of bearded dragons is 8 years but they can live up to 14 years if they are properly cared for. Currently, the Guinness World record for the oldest bearded dragon ever is held by Sebastian, a UK born bearded dragon that lived from 1st June 1997 to 24th January 2016 an amazing 18 years and 237 days!
Several factors come into play when determining the health, overall well being and life span of dragons in when they are kept as pets. These factors include diet, lighting, heating, terrarium set-up, humidity, mineral supplements, etc. Thus, we will be taking a look at these factors one after the other shortly after we take a scientific detour.
Bearded dragons belong to the Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Class Reptilia, Order Squamata, Suborder Iguania, Family Agamidae, Subfamily Amphibolurinae and Genus Pogona. To explain, this genus Pogona has eight species of which Vitticeps is the most common. So the scientific name for your cute little bearded dragon is Pogona Vitticeps.
The natural habitat of the bearded dragon includes the arid and subtropical woodlands, scrublands, the savannah shore areas and the deserts in Australia. Bearded dragons have wide triangular heads with flattened bodies lined with scales and spikes; they also have four strong limbs and a tail that is usually half their body length.
We’ll be debunking two bearded dragon myths in this write up: First, they don’t really have beards. A bearded dragon can expand its throat and change its color to very dark shade when it feels threatened or during mating season to attract a mate. Its throat in this enlarged state is what resembles a beard. Second, your bearded dragon cannot regenerate its body parts. So sadly if a bearded dragon loses a limb or a tail, it is gone forever.
Setting Up The Terrarium
The first factor that can go a long way in keeping your dragon healthy and happy is the kind of terrarium you get and the way it is set up. On the average, a 20-gallon tank will provide sufficient space for your bearded dragon but if you have a bigger dragon, you will need a bigger tank because the more space you beardie has to exercise, the healthier and happier it will be. In setting up the terrarium, the goal should be to make the terrarium look very much like the dragon’s natural habitat.
For the substrate, most people use sand but I will advise that you get a reptile carpet because bearded dragons tend to eat sand when they have a mineral deficiency and this sand can block its food pathway causing impaction. Also, you will need a piece of rock or broken branches where your beardie can perform its daily basking ritual. Finally, you’ll need bowls for food and water. You can find all of these at your local pet store.
Get Heating Right
When it comes to heating, this is where many bearded dragon owners get it wrong and expose their dragons to the risk of dehydration and overheating. You have to imitate the natural temperatures your bearded dragon will experience in its natural habitat. Temperatures should fall somewhere between 38-49oC (100-110oF) on the warmer end of the terrarium during the day and 24-29oC (75-85oF) on the cooler end during the day while night temperatures should be within 18-24oC (66-75oF). I’ll advise you to install two thermometers in the terrarium (one at each end) so that you can closely monitor the temperature in your beardie’s cage.
For humidity, you will need a hygrometer. Bearded dragons thrive in places with humidity between 20% and 30%. An occasional light misting of lower than 20% will also do your bearded dragon some good.
When you have a bearded dragon, you have to pay very special attention to lighting. In the wild, bearded dragons spend most of their time on rocks and fallen branches basking in the sunlight soaking up the heat so when setting up your beardies home, you need UVA/UVB bulbs. These bulbs will act as the sun in your terrarium providing both light and heat, you’ll want to place them above your beardie’s basking spot and have them on for about 12 hours a day. Take special care when installing the bulbs so that you don’t expose your beardie to too much heat. Finally, you will need night specific bulbs if you’d like to watch your beardie at night without disturbing its biological clock.
The Ideal Bearded Dragon Diet
Bearded dragons are omnivorous animals so they can eat both plants and meat. A bearded dragon’s diet is very important because they have such sensitive little stomachs. Younger dragons (hatchling) prefer to munch on insects, their favorite treat is the cricket but they also eat mealworms, waxworms, silkworms, butter worms, fruit flies, grasshoppers, hornworms, locusts, super worms, black soldier fly larvae, and dubia roaches.
When they get bigger, you will have to switch their diet to be based on leafy green vegetables and fruits such as spring greens, bell peppers, carrots, kale, apples, bananas, melon, and other fruits. Bearded dragons require calcium and if they don’t get enough in their food, their bodies feed off the calcium in their bones leaving them very weak and prone to hypocalcemia so you will have to introduce calcium supplements into their diet as they grow.
Tips For Keeps
Here are some tips to keep your bearded dragon healthy.
- Firstly, do not handle your dragon for the first few days after you move it into its new home. This is because this is a phase in which its body system is still trying to adapt to the new environment so its best you give it a few days to settle in.
- The bigger the terrarium, the better for your dragon. Consequently, a bigger terrarium will provide more space for your dragon to get some much-needed exercise which will keep it strong and healthy.
- Water is a very important part of a bearded dragon’s diet, it helps it to regulate its body temperature among several other things so make sure you change its water every day, keep its water bowl clean an never let your dragon be without water.
- They have very sensitive little stomachs so you have to consult a licensed before introducing anything into your dragon’s diet.
- Schedule regular checkups with a licensed veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.
Threats And Countermeasures
I have also put together a list of threats to your dragon’s wellbeing and countermeasures.
THREAT: Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD): This is a sickness that dragons suffer when their bodies start feeding off the calcium in their bones because of lack of calcium in their diet or the inability to process calcium as a result of wrong lighting. Symptoms include jerking movements, bumps on the tail, legs and spine and an enlarged lower jaw.
COUNTERMEASURE: Consult a licensed veterinarian to include calcium supplements in your dragon’s diet, he/she will know just how much and how often you need to feed your dragon with the supplement. Also, make sure to use UVB lighting in your dragons terrarium, this UVB lighting helps bearded dragons to assimilate the calcium from their food.
THREAT: Atadenovirus: This very contagious virus attacks the immune system of bearded dragons; young dragons that contract this virus don’t live past 3 months, while older ones can survive for much longer with the virus, they eventually suffer liver problems. This deadly virus can be passed from reptile to reptile on contact.
COUNTER MEASURE: Prevent contact between your bearded dragon and any unfamiliar reptile(s) as this is all that is required to contract the virus.
THREAT: PARALYSIS: Bearded dragons face the risk of being paralyzed when they ingest large sized food. When a dragon eats large sized food, digestion of that food will put a lot of pressure on its spine cord leading to paralysis.
COUNTER MEASURE: Even though younger dragons are more susceptible to this phenomenon, older dragons are not entirely in the clear so never feed a dragon anything that is bigger than the space between its eyes.
Bearded dragons are the perfect pets for beginners because keeping a bearded dragon never becomes a full time job. Once the terrarium is set up with the right mix of heat, lighting and humidity, feeding is the only other requirement. Also, remember to always consult a specialized licensed veterinarian before adding new treats to your dragon’s diet. Conclusively, I’ll leave you with a few red flags. As a result, if you notice any one of these red flags, a trip to the vet may be the best thing you can do for your bearded dragon. They are:
- More hiding time than usual,
- Less eating and drinking or loss of appetite,
- Loss of weight,
- Swollen joints,
- Discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth,
- Droppings that looks running for more than 2 days.
Now let us smash that Guinness World Record!