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A visitor from Australia
Member Name: LittleEwok
Date: 16/01/05, updated on 01/02/05 (5320 review reads)
Advantages: very cute, in reptile terms easy to care for, like being handled unlike most lizards
Disadvantages: The set-up costs a lot, they eat creepy crawlies
Bearded dragons vie with leopard geckos and corn snakes for the most popular captive pet reptile. Unlike many species which have been found unsuitable for human companion animals, bearded dragons are the “dogs of the lizard world”. They are sandy and brown coloured with spiky looking scales, and a “beard” of scales which turn black and stick out when the beardie gets into an argument with another of its kind. There are several different subspecies of bearded dragon, the one most commonly kept in captivity, Pogona vitticeps or the Inland bearded dragon, is about 8 inches long from snout to the base of its tail. They have adorable little smiley faces and are rather clown-like in captivity.
A beardie home
I came home with Grommit, Oscar, a book on caring for bearded dragons and a huge tank five foot in length and two foot deep by three feet tall. Bearded dragons are active little lizards which need a lot of space. A single adult dragon needs four foot by one foot of floor spaces, and although bearded dragons are not truly arboreal (tree climbing), they do appreciate some height for rocks, shelves and branches. Dragons are very territorial, just like most lizards, so if you keep two or more the recommended minimum is six foot of floor space, and you can never keep more than one adult male beardie to a cage.
As instructed by my beardies’ previous owner, I lined the cage with newspaper followed by sand, playground sand will do the trick. Some reptile keepers disagree with calcium sand because they argue if swallowed it impacts in the gut and over and period of time can kill the lizard, but this actually rarely happens in captivity…and of course, bearded dragons are desert lizards so probably swallow sand in the wild all the time without ill effects! Sand is the best substrate for beardies. When they mess in the tank the sand clumps together, so you can simply lift out the dirty bits which means the cage doesn’t need cleaned every week…which is not only tiresome but annoying for the beardie when he comes back and finds his territory all messed up again. Some people use aquarium gravel, special reptile carpeting, plain newspaper, or some kind of wood bark. Shavings used for small animals like rabbits shouldn’t be used as they are quite toxic to reptiles.
Besides substrate, in the cage I placed a variety of rocks, branches and shelves for the beardies to climb on. A water bowl should be provided, some keepers only put this in the cage for an hour or so a day, as beardies are desert lizard and high humidity from evaporating water can make them ill. There should be a basking spot for each beardie in the hotter end of the tank, and a hide for each beardie on the cooler side (more on this later), so to avoid fights over territory.
Of course, being Ozzies, beardies are used to high temperatures. Most beardie keepers use special reptile incandescent bulbs to heat the tank, or a special ceramic heater…both of which must be caged off to prevent burns to both beardie and owner! The incandescent bulbs are much cheaper to run, but you usually need two…one for day and one for night (‘daytime’ bulbs are blue and give off light, ‘night time’ bulbs are red so they don’t disturb the beardies sleep). Ceramic heaters add more to the electric bill however they are more efficient for larger tanks. Beardies are daytime active lizards so are used to getting their heat from above (i.e., the sun), so heat mats used for some reps aren’t much use for them.
Beardies also require lighting in the form of a UVA and UVB bulb. Without UVA, reptiles cannot use calcium in the body and end up with the lizard form of osteoporosis, called Metabolic Bone Disease. In order to combat this, beardies need a fluorescent tube which gives off full spectrum, UVA and UVB rays (you need special reptile lights to do this, fish tank lights aren’t suitable). For Grommit and Oscar I chose a bulb with 5% UVB, this is the minimum required for bearded dragon, and a second, full spectrum tube with 2% UVB. These tubes need to be replaced every six or seven months even if they are still giving off light, because they wont still be giving off UV after this time. Some reptile owners provide a basking heat lamp which gives off light also, but in smaller tanks this tends to raise the temperature too much.
Most reptile keepers now use a thermostat with their heater, to keep the temperature constant. As the heat source is in one end of the tank, one end of the tank should be around 90-100F. This allows the lizards to bask in the hot end of the tank, and then retire to the cooler end (80-84F) to cool down…several hides and caves should be placed at this end for them, as well as the water bowl. A thermometer should be placed on either end of the tank so you are sure of the temperature, and the thermostat should be rigged to allow the night time temperature to fall to 65-75F. The dragon should have ‘daylight’ with all lights in the tank on for 12-14 hours a day.
What they eat
Here comes the gross bit. This is the reason I wasn’t so keen on taking Grommit and Oscar on…they eat insects (The other lizard I had before these two, a green iguana called Sampson, is a vegetarian). This means buying insects, setting up tanks for them, keeping them healthy AND feeding them to your lizard. If you have a lot of lizards it becomes more cost effective to breed them…YUCH. I don’t know about you but I do NOT like creepy crawlies, unfortunately G and C charmed me so much that I just couldn’t refuse to give them a home. I order insects from a site called live foods every week, and they arrive packaged in either a box or a bag. The first few times I got these deliveries, there was mass escapage…this results in you finding locusts sharing your bed and crickets singing under the fridge at three in the morning. Grown beardies also eat a lot of veg, but the babies usually will only eat insects. Here is a list of what my beardies eat and a bit about them…
Crickets- the most common insectivorous reptile food. They come in brown (scary), black (terrifying) and quiet (not so scary) varieties, and it is good practise to feed all three. You keep them in a small tank with flaked fish food or dry cat food, bran flakes, bread, and a little fresh food. The more nutritious food you feed the cricket, the more nutritious food you feed the beardie.
Good things about crickets- They are cheap and cheerful and nutritious food if gut loaded (pre fed) well before feeding to your beardie. Only full-grown crickets sing, and contrary to most people I like cricket song, I find it helps me sleep…but most people find it rather irritating. If the singing annoys you, don’t feed adult crickets (only full grown crickets sing), or feed “quiet” crickets which have a nearly silent chirp.
Bad things about crickets- If they escape they are very fast so murder to catch. The black ones are very scary and often eat each other, which is nasty. If you don’t like crickets, picking dead ones out of a tank of them is not very pleasant.
Locusts- Big bright yellow grasshoppers. Very large an with huge alien eyes that are incredibly terrifying. You can keep them as you would crickets, only they like more fresh food (too much moisture kills crickets, but locusts need fresh food).
Good things about locusts- More nutritious than crickets because they eat lots of vegetable food. A lot larger and slower than crickets so a little easier to catch.
Bad things about locusts- They can fly. They usually prefer to hop, but if you remove the cage lid and they all fly off (as has happened to me once), you are in BIG trouble. They also need a heat mat under the tank to keep them alive for a longer time. Much more expensive than crickets. They are very large and scary looking.
King mealworms- King mealworms are the larvae of a kind of beetle. You can keep them in a large tub with a few inches of bran and a few pieces of fruit and veg.
Good things about king mealworms- better than ordinary mealworms for beardies, because they have a thick indigestible exoskeleton that can impact in the lizards guts, easy to keep.
Bad things about king mealworms- Absolutely disgusting looking things, and still not as nutritious as crickets and locusts, should only be fed as a treat.
Maggots- bought from the fishing shop. Must be unbleached as some maggots are coloured to make them more appealing to the fish (???) and this is harmful to lizards. Have to be stuck in the fridge to stop them turning into bluebottles…YUCH.
Good things about maggots- cheap food source for lizards, feeding locusts and the like can end up expensive. They can’t really escape either which is a plus!
Bad things about maggots- Absolutely horrible and you have to keep them in the fridge…gross. Some reptile keepers argue that they shouldn’t be fed to lizards.
Cockroaches- Are you screaming in horror yet? I occasionally buy the beardies special feeder cockroaches as they are probably the most nutritious insect you can buy for an insectivorous lizard. However, you need to be extremely careful they don’t escape.
Good things (!) about them- Very, very nutritious, and also a good treat, lizards love them.
Bad things about them- They are HORRIBLE and are also real Houdini’s…they can climb almost any surface and squeeze through tiny gaps.
Have I grossed you out yet? Other foods I keep to feed to my beardies are snails, earthworms, cutworms and silkworms (kinds of caterpillar). Wax worms are another type of moth larvae often fed to beardies, but they are high in fat and should only be given as a treat. Baby beardies should be fed three to four times a day…and they can go through 15-20 crickets in a feeding. That’s a LOT of crickets in a week.
Some keepers, including me, provide wild-caught insects for their reptiles. Some people caution against this in case the insect has picked up insecticides which could harm your lizard, and this is a valid concern. However, one must assume wild beardies must be full of chemicals (after all there is nowhere truly unpolluted in the world today) and they manage. It’s a good idea to provide variety in the diet, so the odd wild-caught spider or worm probably won’t do your beardie much harm, and wild insects are often more nutritious, especially snails, which are quite hard to get hold of from shops. It’s a good to identify what you are feeding though…for example, dragonflies are poisonous to beardies, and obviously anything with a stinger is a bad idea.
Juveniles should be fed twice a day, Adults five or six times a week. A plate of veggies should ALWAYS be fed each day, nutritious veggies for reptiles are high in calcium and low in phosphorus (and usually quite pricey). Baby beardies often wont eat veg, but good ways to encourage them include placing live food in the veggies so the veg appears ’alive’ to them or scenting the veggies with “cricket scent” which you can buy from reptile shops.
Adult beardies can also be fed ‘pinkie mice’…these are day old mice bought frozen from the reptile shop. They are high in fat but also a good source of calcium, so no more than one a week is suitable for a full size beardie. I don’t really like the idea of feeding mouse pups, its horrible looking in your freezer and having frozen mouse pup look out at you, but you get used to it, however if you prefer you can skip this kind of food all together. However the key is variety. Most keepers only feed their beardies crickets, locusts and the odd wax worm or mealworm, but I feel this is like eating beans on toast for the rest of your life…a variety of foods will keep your beardie healthy and happy.
The rules for feeding beardies include…never feed any food wider than the width of the head. Baby beardies should have their food calcium dusted five times a week, and vitamin dusted four times a week (you have to buy special supplements for reptiles). The way most people do this is, put the crickets/locusts in a bag, add a pinch of supplement, close the bag, shake vigorously and place the insects in the cage…this also makes them dizzy so they are easier for your beardies to catch!
One or more beardies
Unless you intend to breed, its best to keep a single beardie. Lizards tend to be solitary animals and living in close quarters with other lizards can stress them, especially if they are juveniles or there is more than one male to a cage…and its often hard to tell the difference between males and females. If you really want more than one beardie, then you need at least six foot of floor space in a tank.
What you will need if you want a beardie…
The prices are about an average, shop around to find the best deal
4ft X 1ft vivarium= about £70-80. Alternatively you could make your own viv. You can make a good homemade viv for about half the price of a bought one.
Small tanks for keeping live foods in= about a fiver each. You can get special cricket keepers which have tubes in so you don’t have to handle the crickets…these are great for preventing escapes, but more expensive.
10kg bag of reptile sand= about a tenner. If you have the room, its worth getting a big bag as it works out much cheaper.
Assorted branches, rocks and hides= you can find your own, its much cheaper, but it’s a good ideal to boil them or use a weak bleach solution (rinsing thoroughly after before your reps get near them) to get rid of any wild bugs. If you buy them from a shop they will be pricey, from about a fiver each.
Medium water bowl= around £3. Get one with steps to avoid drowning crickets.
Food bowl= around £3.00. For feeding maggots or mealworms, feeding them in a coffee jar lid prevents escapes, whereas a commercial bought “worm feeder” costs about a fiver.
Fluorescent tube controller= Around £15.
5% to 8% UVB tube plus UVA rays= Usually start around £15. I also provide an additional full spec tube. However, do not go higher than 8% UVB, too much UVB is as bad as too little.
Thermostat- Usually start around £45. Dimmer ones are pricey but worth it.
Stick-on thermometers- for either side of the tank. You can get these anywhere for about a quid or two each.
Ceramic heater and holder- around £25 for both
Daytime bulb- around a fiver
Night time bulb- about seven quid
Bulb holder- around a fiver.
You will also need to fork out for live foods, vitamin and mineral supplements, and water conditioner (the chemicals in our water are toxic to reptiles).
My thoughts on beardies as pets
You should see my other opinion on reptiles as pets for my opinions about this trade…I think the keeping of reptiles is a bit on the dodgy side, which is why I rescue all the reptiles I can. But this review is about beardies in particular.
Beardies, as far as reptiles go, make fabulous pets, they are definitely my favourite species of pet lizard. They are a large enough size for you to hold without worrying about hurting them (I always feel nervous holding small lizards like geckos), and with a little handling they really learn to love humans. They will scratch at the cage to get let out, sit on your shoulder while you work on your computer, mine even play “tag”. They really are like scaly dogs! Apparently in the wild, bearded dragons will come up to people and sometimes allow themselves to be handled, which explains their lack of fear of humans in captivity.
Aside from this, the major plus where beardies is concerned is they are very easy to care for them. Having said this the babies need a lot of feeding and attention, so if you are new to lizards it makes sense to get a juvenile or a young adult. So long as you get the lighting and heat right, and you provide them with a variety of supplement dusted food, you are pretty much sorted!
On the other hand, there is the insect feeding issue. This is a major ick-factor for me. I love reptiles but I HATE creepy crawlies (except from tarantulas, which I actually quite like, believe it or not!). I cannot handle the crickets like most reptile keepers, I have to use feeding tubes and tweezers and all sorts to pick them up, and if they escape I am USELESS. I literally found a locust in my bed one day and screamed and screamed until my boyfriend came in and got rid of it! The worst thing is the cockroaches. I only feed them occasionally to give my lizards a treat, and I have perfected feeding them to the beardies without them escaping…I put the box (which has about ten cockroaches in it) in the cage, open a corner of the box and then slam the cage shut. The cockroaches squeeze out on their own and the beardies make short work of them. UGH.
Another thing to note is beardies longevity…there are reports of beardies over two decades old, and they will certainly reach ten with adequate care. A pet beardie might seem cool when you are fifteen, but what will it be like when you are thirty and wanting to settle down? A beardie really is a long-term commitment, as are most reptiles which live a very long time in captivity (except chameleons, who don’t live very long).
Lastly, you need to be ULTRA sure you are taking care of your beardie to your utmost ability. The thing about reptiles is that they can survive for very long periods of time even if they are in great pain or suffering, and you would have no way of knowing about it. So if you wanted a bearded dragon as a pet, you need to do your research and have regular vet visits throughout his lifetime.
So all in all, after reading the horror story that was my other review, you are still interested in keeping a pet lizard, you could definitely do worse than to start with a bearded dragon…but be warned…you cannot keep only one lizard, you will end up with a small zoo like mine!
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