Understanding what a dig box is and why your female dragon needs one to comfortably lay her eggs is an essential part of your pet’s care.
There are many factors to keep in mind when it comes to building the perfect digging box and laying environment for your gravid beardie.
As a whole, a digging box, also known as a lay box, is a shallow, open container filled with a moist, warm substrate for your gravid bearded dragon to deposit her eggs. Its purpose is to mimic the warm, damp sand wild bearded dragons typically bury their eggs in the wild.
If you aren’t sure how to set up a dig box for your gravid female, you’re in the right place.
From the proper substrate to the box’s overall construction to how to make your beloved beardie feel comfortable and safe while she prepares to lay her clutch, we’ll cover everything you need to know in-depth.
What Is A Bearded Dragon Digging Box?
When your gravid female is preparing to lay her eggs, you’ll notice her start to dig and scratch around in the corners of her enclosure.
She would typically find a warm, moist spot of sand in her natural habitat to bury her eggs in.
This is where the digging box comes in to mimic these conditions.
Although it’s generally not a great idea to use loose substrate for your dragon’s standard enclosure, for a dig box, loose, damp substrates are perfect.
For the most part, we’d recommend having a smaller, separate enclosure available to transfer your dragon into when she shows signs of being ready to lay her clutch, like digging and pacing back and forth.
However, if your beardie seems hesitant or nervous about laying in a new location, it’s OK to place the dig box in her regular enclosure as long as you adjust the temperature and humidity accordingly, which we’ll get into the specifics of soon.
Many bearded dragon owners aren’t aware beardies can lay eggs even without ever interacting with a breeding partner.
There’s a good chance your female will eventually lay an infertile clutch out of the blue (usually during the warmer months, when breeding season occurs) at some point, even if she’s never been paired with a male.
This is why it’s crucial to understand how to construct and maintain a dig box so your pet will be able to deposit her eggs safely and quickly.
Now you know the basics of what a dig box is; let’s get into when exactly you’ll be giving your lizard her dig box and how to build and maintain it for her.
When To Give Your Gravid Dragon A Dig Box
If you’ve paired your female with a male dragon recently, you already probably know to keep an eye on her for any sudden weight gain or unusual behavior.
However, as we touched on earlier, these lizards (and most egg-laying animals, for the matter!) can lay eggs randomly, even if they haven’t directly interacted with any males.
Usually, bearded dragons will lay more eggs during their breeding season in the summer, but it is normal for them to develop and lay multiple clutches any time of year.
You should have materials to build a dig box on hand and know how to quickly prepare an ideal laying environment for your lizard in case this happens.
If you know exactly when your female last bred with a male dragon, it’ll be a lot easier to predict when she’ll lay her clutch.
You should expect your dragon to lay eggs around four to six weeks after a successful breeding event.
Although dragons as young as 10 months are technically able to lay eggs, this is an exception rather than the norm.
In most cases, they won’t start laying eggs until they reach sexual maturity at around 18 months of age.
You won’t need to give your dragon a dig box until she starts displaying digging behavior in her standard enclosure.
At this point, her belly will be full of eggs.
She will also become more energetic just before depositing a clutch of eggs, appearing to nervously pace back and forth throughout her tank; this behavior is also commonly referred to as “glass surfing.”
This is when you’ll need to transfer her to her dig box enclosure or modify her existing enclosure temporarily for her to lay and bury her eggs.
The whole egg-laying process varies in length from the dragon, but usually, healthy females can lay an entire clutch within a couple of hours or so.
Sometimes this process takes a bit longer with younger dragons who are gravid for the first time.
A gravid beardie will gain weight reasonably suddenly and quickly.
If you examine her belly closely, you’ll notice it’s enlarged, and sort of lumpy; these lumps are the outlines of eggs!
There will also be several marked changes in her behavior, so don’t be too surprised if she becomes a bit more lethargic until she’s ready to finally lay her clutch.
Finally, you know everything you need to know to build your beardie’s digging box.
Next, we’ll cover the materials you’ll need and the construction process.
Creating A Bearded Dragon Dig Box: Size and Materials
You’re now ready to build your gravid beardie’s digging box!
As far as size goes, this will vary slightly depending on your dragon’s size.
This size is a general guideline rather than a hard requirement.
Many owners use plastic containers or even litter boxes as dig boxes.
The box should be at least 4″ inches deep and filled with your substrate of choice so your gravid female will be able to bury her eggs in the warm, damp material.
This is mainly for her comfort, as you’ll be removing the eggs immediately anyway to either put in an incubator or dispose of if they’re infertile.
Be sure your dragon can easily climb into the digging box.
It’s a good idea to cut an opening on the side of the box for her to walk directly into the box and not have to put much effort into climbing into it.
She’s expecting, after all, so make things convenient for her!
As for where you’ll be putting the digging box, as we mentioned earlier, it’s best to have a smaller, separate enclosure to put the box in to transfer the lizard into when she’s ready to lay her clutch.
However, if she is too anxious about the new custom enclosure, it’s also OK to modify her existing enclosure temporarily until she finishes laying her eggs.
This is rare, though, as most dragons adjust to the smaller enclosure just fine.
Filling a Dig Box: Substrate
After you’ve found the perfect container for your dragon’s digging box, you’ll then need to fill it up with the suitable substrate.
There are many great substrate options available for dig boxes, from coconut fiber to sand to plain soil.
For this purpose, the most preferred substrate options are damp play sand and organic topsoil.
The main benefits of sand and soil are they are soft enough to lay on and finely-ground sufficient to retain the right amount of moisture, making them perfect for your dragon to dig around and bury her eggs in comfortably and safely.
Warning! Don’t use sand as a normal substrate, especially with young beardies as they tend to ingest the sand and get impacted, which may cause severe health issues if not taken care of.
Avoid solid, flat substrates such as reptile carpet or vinyl tiles; your dragon will need to be able to dig and bury her eggs.
While flat substrate is an excellent option for a standard beardie enclosure, it doesn’t make for a very comfortable surface for a gravid dragon to lay her eggs in.
On the other hand, although loose substrates aren’t recommended for standard enclosures due to potential impaction issues, they are just suitable for your dragon’s laying box since you’ll only be using them temporarily until your dragon deposits her clutch.
While it’s OK to use one or the other, many reptile owners opt to make a 50/50 blend of the play sand and topsoil for their pets’ digging boxes.
Fill the dig box with at least 6″ inches of the sand mix substrate and add warm water, so it becomes damp but not soaked.
You don’t want the dig box to be overflowing with water; just add water gradually until it is moderately damp and clumps together easily.
Now your digging box should be complete!
Next, let’s put it into your chosen enclosure and get the humidity, temperature, and other settings just right.
Heating a Dig Box: Temperature and Humidity
Once you’ve placed the digging box into the enclosure where your dragon will be laying her clutch, it’s time to adjust the temperature and humidity to the ideal settings.
It would be wise to set up a thermometer/hygrometer combo near the cooler spot and the hot spot of the enclosure so you’ll be able to modify it as needed.
For the temperature, keep it within a range of around 85 to 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
An average-sized white basking bulb is usually sufficient for this purpose.
When it comes to the tank’s humidity, you’ll also need to modify it slightly.
Typically, the humidity in your dragon’s tank will be pretty low, around 20 to 40%, as they are desert animals and risk developing respiratory issues if their humidity gets too high for a prolonged amount of time.
However, for your dig box enclosure, it’s OK if the humidity goes up to 50% or even 60% temporarily, as the heat combined with the moist substrate will naturally raise the humidity anyway.
Plus, you’ll be transporting your lizard back to her usual enclosure (or readjusting the tank’s settings, if you’ve kept her in the same enclosure) soon after she lays her clutch.
Our post on managing humidity in bearded dragon tanks will help you maintain appropriate levels.
Caring For A Gravid Bearded Dragon
Now, while it’s certainly important, your digging box is only the beginning of your gravid beardie’s care.
You’ll also need to make some other adjustments to her diet and nutrition to help her growing body house her clutch of eggs.
Remember, your dragon is able to lay clutches of anywhere from five to 20 or more eggs at a time, so she’s going to be a bit stressed out both mentally and physically!
The first and possibly the most critical adjustment you’ll need to make is upping her calcium intake.
Give her plenty of nutritious dark, leafy greens and generously sprinkle them with a calcium powder supplement, so her bones and muscles stay nice and strong throughout her egg-laying process.
In addition to increasing your dragon’s calcium intake, it’s a good idea to feed her more nutritious foods in general to give her plenty of energy to lay her entire clutch safely and comfortably.
While lots of dark, leafy greens are ideal, other veggies like squash, bell peppers, and green beans will also give her some variety in her diet.
A small amount of safe fruits and insects are a nice treat for her, too, as long as the bulk of her diet is made up of dark greens.
Another way to make your gravid beardie more comfortable is to give her warm baths often, daily if possible, as her eggs are developing.
The warm water will not only be incredibly soothing for her, but it will also keep her hydrated, as she will absorb some of the water through her skin.
Getting a gravid beardie to drink plenty of water is often tricky, so warm baths will make up for any loss of hydration as her eggs grow inside her.
Finally, keep both her primary enclosure and her dig box clean and comfortable.
Keep her in a quiet room with as few external stressors as possible.
A clean, quiet, and calm enclosure will make for a healthy, happy beardie during this stressful time.
Give her plenty of hiding spots to rest in when she’s feeling shy or tired.