Have you noticed your bearded dragon isn’t basking like usual?
As a beardie owner, you likely know how vital the act of basking is for this desert creature.
Taking in those light rays on a regular basis is essential!
So, of course, you may be worried if you notice your pet dragon isn’t engaging with this activity as much as it should.
What might a lack of basking mean for your pet?
And what should you do about it?
We’re here to help!
Why Is My Bearded Dragon Not Basking?
If your bearded dragon isn’t basking, something might be wrong with their setup—or something might be wrong with them. Whether it turns out to be nothing, an easy fix, or a severe issue, you’ll want to investigate further.
Basking is an essential activity for your bearded dragon’s body to function correctly.
Absorbing heat from the sun (or an indoor sun-equivalent, for a beardie in captivity) increases their body temperature.
For a reptile, this practice is crucial to support the digestion of their food.
The UV rays from the sun or a UV bulb also enable your pet to absorb calcium, which is very important since a lack of calcium weakens their bones and can cause serious health issues like metabolic bone disease.
You’ll want to make sure the lighting setup in your beardie’s tank is up to snuff in terms of placement, correct temps, size, and efficacy.
As a rule, proper basking temperatures in your pet lizard’s habitat should be somewhere between 95-105° degrees Fahrenheit (41° C).
The amount a bearded dragon basks can undoubtedly vary, from a straight eight hours a day to 15-minute increments in and out of the light repeated over the course of a day, but they will usually bask after a meal in order to properly digest their food.
While exact behavior can vary, if they’re not basking at all or you notice them basking less than is their usual, it could be a sign of stress, and you may need to adjust their lighting setup in some way.
Since your beardie can’t precisely communicate when something’s wrong, it’s essential to pay attention to behavioral details like a sudden disinclination to bask!
Now let’s get into the specifics of what might be going on in these situations.
Is Something Wrong With The Temperature?
As stated above, there are certain correct basking temperatures you’ll need to enforce.
Incorrect basking temperatures are one of the most common reasons beardies stop basking.
While your lizard needs a hot temperature in their basking spot, if it’s too hot, they’ll avoid positioning themselves directly underneath the heat lamp and opt for cool zone temperatures instead.
If your beardie is hanging out close to the basking zone but not fully immersed, this might be the case.
While the basking area should be around 95 to 105° degrees Fahrenheit (41° C), the excellent spot should be more like 75 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C), and at night, without the light on, the ambient temps in the tank should be around 70 to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
If this proper temperature gradient is not reached, the entire tank turns into a hothouse, sending your bearded dragon into hiding.
It’s essential to offer a cool side temp lower than the heat bulb temp to give your bearded dragon the chance to cool off.
Using a thermometer on the wall, like a stick-on thermometer, may not always reflect the accurate temperature since basking light bulbs can create hot spots turning out to be hotter than you think.
For this reason, we recommend using a handheld thermometer in addition to your regular thermostat system.
Use a handheld infrared thermometer as a temperature gauge for specific areas of the tank.
Point this temperature gun at various areas to see if your thermostat reading is actually correct.
Note: baby dragons have slightly higher preferred temperatures than adult dragons, so temperature depends not only on the area of the tank but also on the age of the dragon.
We recommend reading our post on bearded dragon tank temperatures for a dedicated guide on achieving correct temperatures.
Could Something Be Wrong With My Lighting Setup?
In addition to temperature considerations, there are a few other things to keep in mind when it comes to the basking environment you’ve set up for your dragon.
Maybe the basking area is too close to the heat source, or perhaps the lighting isn’t set up correctly.
As a bearded dragon owner, these considerations are part of your responsibility in caring for your pet.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when setting up your beardie’s basking station:
Distance: On average, keep a distance of 6-8″ inches (20 cm) between the heat lamp and your lizard’s basking platform.
If the platform is too close to the heat bulb, your dragon may not be willing to climb up to bask for fear of overheating.
Wattage: Pay attention to bulb wattage and choose based on how big your tank is and how far away the basking spot is from the heat source.
50 watts might be enough for a small tank, whereas a bigger tank could demand a 75- to a 100-watt bulb.
The type of light will also play a factor here—for example, halogen bulbs are stronger than house lights, and you will need to adjust the wattage accordingly.
Color: Bearded dragons prefer a white color bulb for basking, so avoid other colored bulbs (red, blue, or black).
UVB Bulb vs. Heat Lamp: UVB lights should span a majority of the tank so your beardie can get proper exposure to these helpful rays, while the basking lamp provides a heat source in a specific basking spot.
For your UVB bulb, a tube bulb works well to cover more ground.
More on UVB: Make sure you’re using a UVB lamp appropriate for reptiles with the correct strength.
We recommend choosing one explicitly branded for reptiles.
Avoid full-spectrum lights made for growing plants, as well as lights which do not emit UV rays entirely.
Positioning: Arrange the light bulbs overhead—do not install any lights, basking or UVB, vertically or sideways, as the wrong lighting position can end up shining directly into your bearded dragon’s eyes, potentially damaging them.
Other Heat Sources: If your room temperature drops too low at night, consider investing in a ceramic heat emitter to keep a hot air temp in the tank at night without giving off the light during these off-hours.
Renewal: Be sure to change all bulbs regularly, so they maintain maximum efficacy.
Other Reasons Your Bearded Dragon Is Not Basking
If your lighting setup seems to check out on all these points and the temperature spots look good as well, what are some other reasons your beardie isn’t basking?
It may be something is going on with your pet, whether it’s a psychological or physical health issue.
The Stress Of Being A New Pet
Is your bearded dragon new to your home?
If so, it would be expected if they aren’t basking much.
Being in a new environment with an unfamiliar owner is often a stressful time for a pet, as they can perceive themselves to be in danger.
Make sure to provide a hiding spot or two for when your new pet is feeling vulnerable, and be patient.
They’ll come out to bask more when they feel more at home.
The Stress Of Other Pets
Another related reason your beardie is avoiding basking might have to do with who else is in your home—do you have any other pets?
The presence of a dog or cat, or other large pet can very well contribute to a bearded dragon’s stress level.
These other creatures could look like predators to a small lizard and prevent them from feeling the confidence needed to expose themselves enough to bask.
Again, allow your beardie the time and space to build trust with these other pets.
There’s no problem having multiple species in the house, but you’ll want to keep an eye on their interactions and note such intimidation as a possible factor for disruptions in basking.
Competition With Other Bearded Dragons
It’s not just other kinds of pets posing a threat to your reptile’s sense of safety—fellow bearded dragons also complicate things.
If you are the owner of multiple bearded dragons, basking becomes a bit of a competition.
Like many creatures, bearded dragons are territorial.
When it comes to basking, multiple beardies will be vying for the best basking spot, and the most dominant will come out on top.
It will be no surprise if a more submissive dragon stops basking as much to avoid such confrontations.
Consider supplying a larger basking area able to accommodate multiple dragons, but be warned: this won’t always solve the problem—they may just end up stacking on top of each other, preventing the beardie on the bottom from getting the light they need.
The best solution for this naturally more solitary creature is to keep multiple dragons in separate tanks.
A Sign Of Illness
Other than a sign of stress, not basking could indicate your pet lizard is ill in some way.
Common signs of a sick beardie are lethargy and excessive stillness, constant hiding, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and/or not pooping.
Frantic clawing at their enclosure and dark markings appearing on their bellies and chins—stress marks—are other potential indicators of illness.
If your bearded dragon isn’t basking and is also displaying any of these other signs, please consult a qualified reptile veterinarian for assistance.
Leaving such issues unaddressed could seriously threaten the well-being of your pet.
A Sign of Brumation
Careful not to confuse the signs of illness, including not basking, with signs your bearded dragon is brumating.
Brumation is basically the reptile version of hibernation, in which they naturally shut down during the winter months.
Your pet dragon’s wild counterpart experiences this shut-down as well and will retreat to sleep for several weeks without needing to bask or eat as much.
Bearded dragons start to brumate as early as 6 months of age in some cases, but usually, it’s more like 12-18 months of age.
If your beardie is in a period of brumation, they will be basking less, yes—and also sleeping more, eating less, hiding more, and pooping less.
While brumation would be a natural reason for your pet not to be basking as much, note this period would be during the winter, and you shouldn’t automatically assume it’s brumation without ruling out illness first.
Why Is Bearded Dragon Basking So Important?
This may seem like a lot of detail-oriented information, so why all the fuss?
Why should you care so much about how often your bearded dragon is basking?
As is typical in the lizard world, bearded dragons are exothermic, meaning they rely on external heat sources to maintain their ideal body temperature.
For wild beardies, this heat source is the sun, which provides both heat and UV rays.
In captivity, it’s up to you as a beardie owner to provide the equivalent resources with a basking lamp and UV bulb.
Your pet dragon needs this increase in body temp in order to properly digest food. Improper digestion can inhibit healthy growth and cause impaction, which is when food builds up in the digestive system—a painful occurrence leading to lack of appetite and other health issues.
UVB bulbs additionally provide the UV rays bearded dragons need to produce Vitamin D, which allows them to absorb calcium, a crucial mineral for good bone and general body health in these creatures.
And if you’re more of the do it yourself type we have a post on how to create a DIY bearded dragon basking platform.
You’ll certainly want to understand what’s going on if your pet isn’t practicing this behavior.
Why isn’t your bearded dragon basking?
There are a host of reasons ranging from incorrect basking temperatures and improper lighting setups to issues of stress or illness.
It’s necessary to get to the bottom of this mystery in each case, as the answer could be something easily fixed on your part with the correct equipment, or it could be a sign you need to take your pet to the vet.
In any case, paying attention to your bearded dragon’s behavior, doing your research, and following proper care, recommendations are going to be essential steps to set your beardie up for success.