Getting your bearded dragon’s enclosure settings just right is essential, as you need to mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible in terms of heat, humidity, and UVB exposure.
If you’re wondering if your beardie’s light cycles are set up correctly, you’re in the right place.
As a whole, bearded dragons need both heat lighting and UVB to regulate their temperature, digest food properly, and process vital nutrients they need to survive and thrive. Generally, 10 to 12 hours a day of both types of lighting is sufficient.
To learn more about the types of lighting your dragon needs and how many hours of heat and UVB lighting they need each day, keep reading.
We’ll cover precisely how to mount your bulbs in your dragon’s tank, how long you should leave them on and off for each day, and why the proper lighting is so essential to their health.
What Kind Of Lighting Does Bearded Dragons Need?
There are two main types of lighting you will need mounted above your beardie’s enclosure:
- Heat or a basking bulb to keep the tank warmed to an ideal temperature
- UVA/UVB bulb gives your lizard the UV rays they need to absorb and process calcium and digest their food correctly.
Bearded dragons are reptiles, so they are cold-blooded.
Cold-blooded animals cannot regulate their internal body temperature in the way humans and other mammals can do, so they usually rely on external heat sources to stay warm.
In the wild, beardies get all the heat and UV rays they need from the harsh natural sunlight in the Australian deserts they are native to.
In captivity, though, they need a habitat with just the proper heat, humidity, and UV rays, which is achieved by using these specialized bulbs.
Both of these types of lighting serve essential purposes when it comes to keeping your dragon healthy and happy for as long as possible, and neither one is optional.
These two light sources should be the foundation of your dragon’s tank, as they are the most critical components by far; without them, everything else in the enclosure is useless.
Many different kinds of heat and UVB bulbs on the market are designed for use in reptile enclosures such as bearded dragon tanks.
We’ll cover the best types of both you should look for when setting up your dragon’s tank, as well as how many hours per day you’ll need to leave the lamps turned on and off, respectively.
Setting Up Your Basking/Heat Bulb For Bearded Dragons
For heat bulbs, a simple white basking bulb mounted just above the main basking area in the tank is perfect.
You’ll also need a hood large enough to house the bulb, depending on the wattage you choose.
Some experimentation might be necessary to find the ideal bulb for your particular setup.
Plain white basking bulbs are best; avoid colored bulbs, as the harsh red or blue lighting will bother your dragon’s eyes and potentially disrupt their sleep schedule.
You can learn more about the use of red lights with bearded dragons here.
It is essential to also purchase a thermometer and hygrometer for each end of your dragon’s tank: one directly under the basking bulb and one on the far, cooler end of the enclosure.
This way, you will be able to closely monitor the temperature and humidity level at all times and adjust the lamp’s position accordingly.
Your basking area will need to be around 100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C) or so, while the rest of the tank should be about 85 to 90° degrees (32° C).
A subtle, gradual temperature gradient from the basking area to the cooler areas of the tank is ideal and will be achieved by mounting the lamp over your dragon’s slightly elevated basking spot.
Your tank’s humidity will need to be around 30% to 40% at most throughout the entire enclosure.
With the proper heat settings, you likely won’t need to do much to manipulate the humidity level any further, as it will be dry enough with the heat bulb overhead.
We have a dedicated post on bearded dragon tank temperature and gradient to help you maintain your vivarium.
Types of Basking Bulbs
This Zoo Med basking bulb, for example, is an ideal choice.
Keep in mind you’ll also need a hood in which to install and mount the bulb.
Be sure the hood is designed to handle the wattage of your bulb of choice; most will have the minimum and maximum wattage they can handle specified either on their packaging or even directly on the hood itself.
Here’s a ReptiZoo fixture ideal for high-wattage basking bulbs.
You have plenty of options when it comes to how you want to mount the bulb and its hood, depending on your exact enclosure setup.
Most common bearded dragon enclosures are glass with a screen on top, which is designed to be slid or lifted open to access the inside.
Many reptile owners simply opt to place the hood and bulb directly on top of the tank’s screen.
This is a fine setup for a basking bulb, but it won’t be ideal for UVB lighting; we’ll cover the reason why in the following few sections.
Most reptile tanks’ screens are designed to handle high amounts of heat from basking bulbs, so placing the bulb on top will be fine.
Just check it every so often for any signs of burns or damage to the screen.
Other options include installing a hook on which to hang the hood’s cord from above the tank or otherwise mounting it a few inches above the top of the enclosure.
Just be sure the enclosure is warm enough (but not too warm!) and the humidity is within an acceptable range.
Here’s our guide to managing humidity in bearded dragon tanks to help you get it just right.
Bearded Dragon Lighting Schedule (Basking Bulb)
Since bearded dragons are diurnal, you will want to mimic the natural course of daytime to nighttime lighting and temperature from their natural desert habitat as closely as possible.
At night, it is acceptable for temperatures in your dragon’s tank to drop to as low as 70 to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
If your home is already around this temperature anyway, you won’t need any additional heat or lighting for your beardie at night.
Simply turn the basking bulb off and flip it back on in the morning.
Be consistent with your lighting schedule to avoid confusing your dragon, particularly around brumation time each year.
It helps establish a strict schedule or even use an alarm each day to know exactly when to adjust the lighting within the tank.
If you tend to keep your home’s temperature a bit cooler and are worried your dragon is too cold at night, you have the option of installing a ceramic heat emitter such as this one, for example, inside the tank to give off a small amount of heat at night while they sleep.
Since ceramic heat emitters don’t give off any light, only heat, they won’t disrupt your beardie’s sleep and wake cycle.
Avoid heat sources like heating pads or heat rocks, as your beardie might burn their soft and delicate belly on them.
Stick to heat lamps and heat emitters for best results.
Many pet owners get misinformed about the use of heating pads so please check out our other post on using heating pads for bearded dragons if you want to understand why they should not be used.
Bearded Dragon Lighting at Night
As we mentioned above, your beardie won’t need any sort of special heat or UVB lighting at night.
It’s best to keep the tank dark at night anyway to avoid upsetting their sleep schedule since they are diurnal animals.
If your home gets particularly chilly at night, just opt for a ceramic heat emitter like the one linked in the previous section.
Setting Up Your UVB Lighting For Bearded Dragons
The other essential type of lighting your beardie’s enclosure will need is UVA and UVB, or ultraviolet lighting.
UV rays are necessary to prevent serious health issues like calcium deficiencies and metabolic bone disease.
Finding and setting up a UV bulb is a bit more tricky than setting up a basking bulb, but it is still relatively simple, thanks to an array of great products available at most common pet shops and online reptile suppliers.
The ideal UVB bulb will be long and tube-shaped, so it will be able to cover the entirety of your bearded dragon’s enclosure, allowing your dragon to absorb the UV rays they need regardless of where they choose to hang out.
Most UVB bulbs have their exact output specified on their packaging.
This Lucky Herp 10.0 UVB bulb, for example, is a perfect choice.
Keep in mind you’ll also need a hood to mount the bulb for your dragon’s tank.
Many bulbs come packaged with a hood to fit the bulb perfectly, such as this Zilla Slimline fixture.
Unfortunately, mounting your UVB bulb is a bit more tricky than setting up a simple basking bulb.
Most reptile enclosures are covered with a screen, which will filter out essential UV rays if you simply place the fixture on top of them.
It is best to install a few hooks or a mount to place the fixture inside the tank, so your beardie doesn’t miss out on any UV rays.
Bearded Dragon Lighting Schedule (UVB Bulb)
Your beardie’s UVB lighting schedule is more or less the same as their basking bulb schedule each day.
Turn the UVB light on in the morning, and leave it on for around 10-12 hours each day before turning it off at night, right around when the sun sets.
Since the UVB and basking bulb lighting schedules are so similar, it is best to just turn them both on and off at the same time each day and night for the best results.
This will keep the lighting consistent in your beardie’s enclosure, which is especially important when brumation time approaches in the winter months.
Types of UVB Bulbs
The main two types of UV bulbs differ in shape.
Some bulbs are long and tube-shaped, while others are more akin to a typical basking bulb.
While both types are available in many different output levels, we highly recommend using a bulb of the long, tube-shaped variety to cover as much space in the tank as possible.
Simpler bulbs tend to give off concentrated UV rays only in one area within the tank rather than covering the entire tank with a moderate amount of rays as the longer tube bulbs do.
While these smaller, round light bulbs work fine for tiny enclosures for smaller types of reptiles, for a bearded dragon, they are not ideal.
Your beardie’s tank will need to be at least 40 gallons in size at the bare minimum, ideally around 50 to 60 gallons.
They’re fine for when your beardie is sitting in their basking area, but they move around a lot throughout the day.
For this reason, a longer UVB bulb to cover more space is best.
Do Bearded Dragons Need UVB At Night?
Just like with basking bulbs, your beardie will not need any UVB lighting at night.
Since UV rays are emitted by the sun in your bearded dragon’s natural environment, it doesn’t make sense to leave the UVB bulb on during nighttime hours.
Turn the UVB bulb off at around the same time you turn off your basking bulb each evening, and turn it back on in the morning.
10 to 12 hours each day of each lighting type is ideal.