UK Bearded Dragons:

Care Sheet

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HOUSING REQUIREMENTS:

It is MY OWN personal belief that the bigger space you can give a Bearded Dragon, or Dragons the better! The bigger you can afford the happier they will be. I have several colonies with 2 and 3 animals in each, the vivarium sizes are 3'x2'x2', 4’x2’x2’, and 6'x2'x2'. The smaller size, 3'x2'x2' houses adults not yet ready to breed. I have just purchased 2, 6'x3'x'1.5' Bloody huge vision vivs!

It is a very bad idea to keep male beardys together, it has been noted but only when they have grown up from tiny together, add a female and 99 times out of a 100 and one, male will end up badly mauled.

If you are going to keep one on his own, then fine, even a female on her own is not a problem (there is a very minimal risk that she will lay eggs without mating, this rarely happens if the female has not been with a male.) But in my experience, beardys are much happier in groups or pairs, though I have a big male that as he is now so 'humanised' he prefers my company!

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They have a spotlight at one end, a uv tube running the length of the viv and a cooler end which has the ‘nesting’ box in it.

The vivarium has various decorations in it, rocks under the spot( it does now!), bogwood and climbing branches, as well as a ‘nesting box. The rocks under the spotlight serve to absorb heat radiation and stay warm even if the spotlight is turned off by the thermostat, the bogwood is positioned under the very low uv tube so that they can get as close to it as possible. U.v tubes should not give off heat if matched to the correct wattage tube, so therefore the animals are at no risk of being burnt by it. The climbing branches are there for……you guessed it….climbing, they do like to clim , but I feel that it is not necessary to have a vivarium, higher than 2’ as a greater drop than this, has obvious greater risks of injury to your animal. You can add whatever furniture you wish as long as you can clean it and it is not toxic to your animals.

HEATING REQUIREMENTS:

Beardys seem to like it best at 100-110f under the spotlight, with a gradient of 80-90f in the centre and 70-75f at the cool end. It is absolutely vital that you have a gradient, if you do not have somewhere for your animal to cool down it will eventually die of heat exhaustion, due to not be able to regulate their own body temperature, known as thermoregulation. The have no way of controlling their own body temperature other than by sitting under a direct source of heat radiation and then being able to move away from it when they need to cool down a touch.

I have heard people putting heat mats down the ‘cool’ end of the viv, this is really not necessary, they will only go and lay down that end if they are too hot or if they wish to sleep or to hibernate(see brumination). The adult Beardy has a liking for half burying itself in the substrate at night, ( for security?)and to be cool, this way, you will not ever have to turn off your thermostat, the animals will thermo regulate themselves entirely, without the need for you to have a ‘night time’ drop on the thermostat, though if your room only drops to between 70-80f you could happily turn of the spot at night.

I prefer to use an incandescent heat source for my hotspot, I use a blue daylight bulb or a white light bulb, there is some research to indicate that either of these types of light blend with the UV and create a more natural sunlight effect. The other reason is simple; I cannot see if a ceramic is on visually and that bothers me, if an incandescent has blown, I can see it immediately. I match the size of the bulb to the viv, in the 6' viv there is a 250 watt white spotlight, i have found that 100-150 watt par spotlights work very well.

THERE IS NO PLACE IN A BEARDY TANK FOR HEAT MATS, THEY ARE LETHAL!!

It is very important that when you set your hotspot up to check the temperature, I put a stick on thermometer under the spot, one in the middle if the viv and one down the cool end. I now have also purchased several digital ones with probes which are very useful for periodically checking.

In order to achieve a steady and safe temperature a good quality thermostat should be used, I recommend Habistat or Algarde thermostats ‘others’ that I have tried have let me down, those two haven’t. If you use a light bulb, to get the best life out of them I would recommend the use of dimming thermostats, they are kinder on the bulbs and your eye, the light goes off suddenly with a normal temp stat, and believe me if you have several of them going at once it will look like a disco! Having said that if its all you can afford, they work effectively. If you use a ceramic the best thermostat to use is a pulse proportional which keeps the constant temperature by ‘pulsing’ electricity through it, it is very efficient and cheap to run, all my snake enclosures run off pulse proportionals as I use heat cables.

I also have 4 inch deep vents running all the way across the back of the vivariums to allow good ventilation for the lizards, the warm are is regularly replaced this way and does not become stagnated.

LIGHTING:

All diurnal lizards require UV light from the sun, in order to produce vitamin d3 which they require to metabolise calcium, the single most important element that a lizard requires. I have heard people say that they have maintained Bearded Dragons on liquid d3 drops and calcium supplements, I know someone who did, the animals I believe suffered from too much as it is very difficult to gauge an accurate liquid dose, all his animals die young from liver and kidney failure and a lot of them are also infertile, so I do not recommend this practise. Your dragon will need a minimum of a 5.0 UV tube, there are 8.0 on the market these days, but my animals have done well with 5.0 so I don’t feel the need to change them at this moment in time. What a lot of people do wrong is to put the tube too high, UV from these tubes only penetrates a maximum of about 12” so it is important to have them at a level where the animals can get the most benefit from it. My animals can climb onto it a lie on it if they so wish, they know when they need UV and will deliberately spend several hours a day lying under or on it, Uv tubes should be changed yearly at the minimum, what I have in some of my vivariums is two starter units and run my first tube for a year then add a second one, when the first one then reaches 18 months I replace it, thus hopefully getting the maximum I can expect from each tube.

The length of time you have your UV on depends on the time of the year, winter I have them on for 8 hours a day, summer they are on for 14 hours, this can also serve to ‘cycle’ your animals to winter and summer thus helping to convince them that it is spring and time to mate as you gradually increase your light levels up from 8 to 14 hours over a few weeks.

SUBSTRATE:

For adults, I use bird sand, the use of bark chips and wood chips should be discouraged, beardys are very zealous feeders and can ingest lumps of bark/chip blocking their guts leading to a painful death or an operation.

I dont use any substrate for hatchlings till they are big enough to go into an adult colony or are about 6 months old.

You will find that it is sufficient every few days to manually remove the faeces from the substrate, you will also find that it will become colonised by baby crickets and little beetles that evolve from the fuzzy caterpillars that you get in with your crickets, do not worry about them, (unless your herps are in the house, then you don’t want them or they will colonise your flour, breakfast cereals and just about any other edible substance in the house.). The Beardys will generally dig them out and forage for their own food which I feel is good occupational therapy for them.

I change the whole substrate about every 2-3 months and sieve it one or twice a week, and give the vivarium a complete clean out using a polti steam cleaner, but don’t worry if you don’t have one of these excellent gadgets, a diluted bleach solution will do just as good a job or one of the proprietary vivarium cleaners.

ADULT DIET:

This is the easy part; Beardys are not that fussy fortunately. As an adult mine get black and brown crickets every  day, giant mealworms once or twice a week, (my belief is that a healthy animal will not be harmed by these), locust when available, a pinkie, a fuzzie or a rat pup once a week (more frequently immediately after egg laying), moths that fly into my shed, beetle larvae (pacnoda), again when available, waxworms, one good thing about Beardys is that they are one of the few lizards that ignore the stench of cyanide and eat the beetles and the pupae, that the giant mealworms turn into. Most kinds of green and red leafed vegetables at least twice a week and any other insect unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!

To this diet I add, calcium powder, human grade very fine pure calcium carbonate to ALL the crickets which are also gut loaded with trout pellets, potato peelings and any other veg available., and twice a week a dose of nutrobal, which contains all the vitamins required, sprinkled over the crickets.

WATER:

Some people like to spray beardys, I do not, I believe that it creates too much humidity in the tank which in turn can encourage bacterial growth and cause respiratory problems for the animals, mine have a fresh water bowl placed in the viv every other night, if they have pooped in it, EVERY night.

BRUMINATION:

Brumination is allowing your animals a ‘cool time’ to mimic their natural seasonal reproduction cycles, you may hear it called ‘cycling’ or ‘cooling’. Basically it is a period of time that you lower the temperature in your animals enclosure to mimic or induce winter.  I have found that dropping the spot to 80f is enough to let the cool end go down to 60f, so the animals can choose where they want to be. Reduce the UV level down to 8 hours per day, feed them once a week, and ensure fresh water is available. I leave them like this for 2-3 months.

Then when ready to 'wake' them up, gradually over 2 weeks increase the uv up to 14 hours a day and the spot back up to 100-110f.

BREEDING:

Once your animals have gone through their hibernation they will then slowly increase their dietary intake and then start mating! This can seem to the untrained eye and a little brutal, the male will grab the female by the spines on the ridge on the back of her head, wiggle his body into place under her and insert one of his hemi-penes( lizards have 2 penis so that they can mate from either side of the female….very handy….) from either side of her body. Mating will take place regularly, even once the female is gravid. From mating the female will then lay eggs, from 4-6 weeks later. You will see her getting notably larger and actually be able to see the outlines of the eggs as they swell up with water 3 days before she is due to lay them. She will then start to search for a suitable place to lay them.

I use a 2' square box with a lid box and fill it with moist peat patted down firmly and filled to the brim and place it at the cool end. When ready to lay the female will dig a tunnel and disappear into it(that’s why the peat needs to be firm) she will then turn around with her head poking out of the hole and proceed to lay her eggs, usually anywhere from 15 to 42(my record amount) small round eggs. She will then fill in her tunnel and crawl off somewhere to rest and recuperate. At this point I will give her 4-5 pinks to regain some of the large amounts of protein and calcium etc that she has exhausted producing her eggs. A good tip before she lays her eggs is to clip her toe nails, beardys more than Rankins can 'pop' eggs accidentally with their claws, just use a pair of human nail clippers and snip the very ends off.

You will have to learn to recognise when your females have laid their eggs (their belly goes saggy for a few days) as often you will not know they have been in the laying box as they cover it over so well.

Once they start laying, even if you remove the male, the females will lay between 1 and 3 clutches a year! I have heard of 5 in one year but that is unsubstantiated.

INCUBATION:

You will need to have your incubator set up at least 2-3 days before your female is due, get it ready from the time you can see the visible bulges in her sides. Incubator choice is down to the individual. I used to incubate my eggs in vermiculite a naturally occurring mineral that you can get from most garden centres and herp shops. I had a good success rate using it, about 95% of all eggs hatched. A couple of years ago someone introduced me to Perlite, it is a soil lightener, which has an advantage that while the lower level stores water you can put a dry level on top then the eggs aren’t in direct contact with moisture I now have virtually a 100% hatch rate.

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They are then covered with sphagnum moss.

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As a rule of thumb, I don't bother measuring humidity anymore, as long as there is some condensation on the lid then that's fine, if not and you need to add some water, don't put it over the eggs pour it into the corners and keep a bottle in the incubator to keep it at the right temperature.

I use clear sandwich boxes for my egg boxes with tiny holes drilled all the way around the rim at the top to allow air exchange.

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If you incubate the eggs at 85 Fahrenheit you will get an even mix of babies out, ie males=females, and at this temperature they will hatch in 50-70 days. I have had years when they have all hatched at 50 days and one year where they all took 70, yet the temp was no different, I can not explain the phenomenon.

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HATCHLING CARE:

Hatching is another imprecise process, sometimes they all come out together, other times they may take 3-5 days to all come out, never throw away an egg that has not yet hatched, I have had them hatch 2 weeks after the rest, and equally as important, don’t be tempted to cut them open, this will lead to a guaranteed dead hatchling. You must also NOT be tempted to help them out of the eggs, if you do it too early you can rupture their equivalent of the umbilical cord and they will bleed to death. Let them come out themselves, and then leave them in the incubator for at least 24 hours to absorb their yolk that is in their stomach and to allow the ‘umbilicus’ to atrophy and fall off.

You can then put them in a vivarium set up exactly the same as the adults, but without substrate. Beardys are ‘lunge’ feeders and tend to get sand with their food which can lead to impaction, so I no longer use it. Just clean them out every few days.

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                    1 Hour old.                                                                      1 Week Old.

JUVENILE DIET:

Once they are over 24 hours old, you can start introducing no.2  crickets(browns) 3 times a day, just pour in a handful, wait till they eat them then add a few more till they show no further interest, it is advisable not to leave too many free roaming crickets as it may stress out very young hatchlings. All crickets get dusted with human grade calcium, and twice a week nutrobal which has all the vitamins and minerals that the animals need.

After 2 weeks of no.2 they then get upgraded to number 3's crickets, then to no.4's which they get fed till they are 16 weeks plus before I start to give them the occasional small waxworm each, and start to introduce small to medium brown crickets, enough that they eat them all and again don’t leave too many roaming around, they have a nasty nip, be careful not to feed them crickets that are too big, they will eat and very much enjoy stalking and killing them, but it can lead to impaction. If in doubt give smaller rather than larger prey.

As a treat I will sometimes give the youngsters a fruit fly culture, they love to chase theses around and it keeps them occupied for days.

Even more importantly than with the adult, you will need to give Bearded Dragons hatchlings a clean fresh supply of water every day, they will walk through It, foul in it and bath in it, so you must clean it daily.

I also give my hatchling a constant supply of water cress, they will eat this from a few days old, they really seem to enjoy it and if you sit it in a water bowl it will thrive till it is all eaten, my adults still get it too.


This care sheet has been reproduced with the kind help and permission of Barry Summerhayes ( www.hognose.co.uk )


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