What Is A Bearded Dragon

If you’re looking for fun and unique pet reptiles, bearded dragons are the way to go.

Bearded dragons (or beardies, as their owners often call them) are large, tough lizards with fun personalities.

But before you head off to the pet store and adopt one of these lizards, you may be asking yourself;

“What is a bearded dragon?”

This article details what makes this one of the best pet lizards and what they need to be healthy.

Table of Contents

Description Of The Bearded Dragon

The bearded dragon (or Pagona for its scientific name) is a genus of reptiles made up of different lizard species.

Its full scientific taxonomy is Animalia Chrodata Reptilia Squamata Iguania Agamidae Amphibolurinae Pagona.

These lizards break down into eight different species in the wild.

Their common name, bearded dragon, comes from their “beard,” which is when the underside of their throat flares a little and turns black when threatened.

The scales around their triangular heads and throat work to scare off predators, but they aren’t very sharp and typically won’t hurt people.

They can change color to a certain degree depending on situations like temperature changes, challenging rival males, and feeling threatened.

In general, adult male bearded dragons grow to be around 24″ inches long. 

Adult female bearded dragons can grow up to 20″ inches in length.

This reptile also has a mild venom gland which is harmless towards humans, but it’s effective at deterring small animals in the wild.

In the wild, they tend to live up to 12 years if not eaten or injured by predators.

They can live up to 14 years in captivity, some bearded dragons live up to the 20-year mark lifespan.

Habitat

In this section, we go over the information you need for the habitat of bearded dragons, including in the wild and captivity.

Habitat In The Wild

Bearded dragons are found all over the eastern half of Southern Australia and the southeastern Northern Territory in the wild. 

The eight species are spread through the following types of environments:  

Bearded dragons love to climb in the wild to reach higher places for better basking and heat. 

Climbing is also linked to territorial and dominance behavior.

Because of this climbing, these reptiles are considered semi-arboreal.

They are often found on fallen or broken trees, large rocky outcrops, and bushes when basking.

Otherwise, they hide in their burrows when threatened.

To escape heat and predators, they can dig into the ground to create these burrows.

Enclosure Size And Material

In captivity, they need an enclosure simulating what they experience naturally in the wild.

40-50 gallon tanks are the minimum size for an adult dragon. 

It is NOT recommended to keep multiple bearded dragons in one container.

If you get the largest species of the lizards and grows up to 20″ inches or more, you may need a 75-gallon tank.

The tank doesn’t need to be made of a specific material, but glass aquariums, melamine cages,

PVC cages and vision cages are typical.

The tank also needs a secure, sealed lid. 

Bearded dragons are great climbers and could force their way out of a cover sitting loosely on top.

The tank’s flooring is up to you, but younger bearded dragons should only use certain kinds because they often accidentally eat part of the flooring while feeding.

While some owners do it, we recommend avoiding using a sand substrate since eating it can cause impaction.

Here are some standard flooring/bedding options:

Specific wood chips are used with adult bearded dragons if the wood chips aren’t treated.

Temperature

The bearded dragon’s naturally warmer habitat requires extra care when setting up the reptile’s habitat at home.

There needs to be a specific temperature range for the basking area, cool/hide spot, overall temp for the enclosure, and these change at night.

The basking temperature should be from 100° – 110° degrees Fahrenheit (38° – 43° C) for babies and 105° degrees Fahrenheit (40° C) for adults.

For the rest, it should be the same for adults and babies.

The overall temperature of the enclosure should be around 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C). 

The cool spot or hiding spot is between 70° – 85° degrees Fahrenheit (21° – 29° C).

At night, you should switch off your lamp, but check to make sure it ends up in the 65° – 70° degrees Fahrenheit (18° – 21° C) range for temperature.

Use a good thermometer to keep track of this.

If you’re having trouble picking one, check out our article on the best thermometers for bearded dragons.

Lighting

Bearded dragons need a lot of sunlight to survive, so your tank needs to mimic sunlight and provide many UVA and UVB rays.

This is done by adding a UV bulb to the enclosure.

This light should be on for 10-12 hours a day to give the beardy all the “sunlight” it needs.

Humidity

A bearded dragon’s natural environment is dry, so they need low humidity to stay healthy

This isn’t something you usually have to worry about.

A shallow water dish kept filled should be enough to control the humidity and provide the reptile a place to drink/bathe and absorb the water.

If you’re worried about the humidity, buy a hygrometer to track the moisture inside your dragon’s tank.

Brumation

Brumation is a type of hibernation specific to reptiles. 

In this time, they can go months without eating and only occasionally drinking water.

As opposed to resting and hiding from high temperatures, brumation occurs when the temperature drops consistently due to a colder season or rainy season.

When the temperature drops to 60° – 70° degrees Fahrenheit (15° – 21° C) at night and 75° – 80° degrees Fahrenheit (24° – 26° C) during the day, a bearded dragon enters brumation to protect itself.

Force brumation on the bearded dragon by lowering the tank temperature, but this isn’t recommended.

Shedding

Bearded dragons shed at different intervals depending upon their age. 

During this time, they often go into long periods of hiding until their skin has come off and the new skin has grown in.

Don’t attempt to speed the process along by brushing off the old skin. 

This can damage the new skin underneath.

Young bearded dragons (0-6 months) shed weekly. 

Juvenile (6-12 months) shed between every two weeks and once a month.

Adult bearded dragons shed once or twice a year.

Behavior

The typical behaviors of bearded dragons make them funny and entertaining creatures to own. 

We briefly go over some common behaviors and their causes below. 

Aggressive Behavior

Adult bearded dragons don’t like to share space. 

This territorial nature is why you shouldn’t keep more than one bearded dragon in an enclosure.

When threatened or challenging other creatures, bearded dragons puff out their “beard,” which can turn black.

This happens in both male and female beardies, but the males tend to display more often.

It’s also common for the reptile to open its mouth and gape to make it seems even more significant. 

When they feel incredibly threatened, they also hiss and tilt towards the threat.

Only rarely do bearded dragons ever use their jaws to bite another creature outside of food or their species interactions.

Submissive Behavior

They also offer submissive gestures when approached by bigger bearded dragons, which look like waving hands.

Slow-moving arm circles usually mean submission to another male or bigger dragon.

It is also used as a sign warning other bearded dragons of nearby predators or a female’s willingness to mate.

Head Bobbing

These reptiles give a quick head bob in conjunction with some of the other behaviors, and sometimes they do it for no known reason.

It’s speculated this behavior is part of the male’s dominance and mating ritual.

Still, it’s also seen in smaller males and females seeking to appease or escape the larger aggressive males.

Basking

Bearded dragons need to absorb heat and sunlight while they can, so it’s common to see them sitting up high near light and heat in the wild and captivity.

This is called basking, and it’s a normal and relaxing part of their daily lives.

Hiding

When bearded dragons escape the heat and don’t move by burrowing or finding their hide spot in captivity, this is usually normal as well.

If you’re worried your bearded dragon is hiding too much, look at these reasons why your bearded dragon is hiding.

Health

Bearded dragons, like all animals, have specific health problems they’re prone to. 

In this section, we go over the common health problems you may see, how to notice them, and what steps to take. 

Metabolic Bone Disease

This disease is a general term for several specific illnesses which are fatal for bearded dragons if left untreated.

This disease weakens the skeleton of the reptile and can cause deformation.

Metabolic bone disease is caused by malnutrition or improper lighting resulting in a deficiency of calcium.

UV rays are needed for appropriate Vitamin D levels, which are, in turn, required for the absorption of calcium.

Artificial diets from captivity also tend to be low in calcium as well. 

It’s recommended owners add supplements or dust the bearded dragon’s food with extra minerals.

Natural foods high in calcium good for bearded dragons are:

Your bearded dragon may have a metabolic bone disease if you notice lumps on the legs, spines, tail, twitches and tremors, and swollen jaw.

If you notice these symptoms, increase their UV light time, add more calcium-rich foods, begin using supplements, and take them to the vet.

Atadenovirus (Adenovirus)

Atadenovirus, or ADV, is contracted from reptile to reptile contact. 

Your beardy would likely have gotten this from the pet store if they kept the bearded dragons in the same enclosure.

ADV-Positive bearded dragons die in a matter of months. 

If the bearded dragon lives into adulthood, it is often plagued with liver problems for the rest of its life.

Symptoms of ADV included slow growth and weight gain. 

This disease also weakens the immune system, which often results in increased parasites in the digestive system, further causing malnutrition.

Avoid buying your bearded dragon from a store that keeps many reptiles in one enclosure. 

Whether you do or don’t, have your vet test the bearded dragon for ADV.

There is no simple cure for this disease, but there are treatments that help minimize its damage.

Paralysis

In the diet section below, you notice we warn about the size of the insects you feed bearded dragons.

All insects need to be smaller than the space between the bearded dragon’s eyes. 

If the lizard eats something too large, it can cause paralysis.

Too large of food presses on the spinal cord as it’s digested, cutting off communication and blood between the brain and the rest of the body.

This complication commonly causes paralysis, which resolves once the food is passed. 

But if the food isn’t passed, the bearded dragon may die.

Adult bearded dragons have this problem less than in their juvenile state, but it can still happen to them as well.

If you notice your bearded dragon is immobile and you suspect paralysis from too large of food, take it to the vet immediately.

Impaction

Another word for impaction is constipation, and this is a common problem with bearded dragons.

The food your bearded dragon has eaten isn’t passing out of its system.

This could be due to many reasons, including:

You may notice your bearded dragon is impacted if it stops eating and defecating without discernible reason, such as brumation.

There are several tricks to help your bearded dragon defecate.

Here is a couple of those:

If it doesn’t pass droppings after a few days, call or take your pet to the vet for advice. 

Parasites

Another common health issue is when parasites infect the digestive system.

They are contracted through food and the environment, but they’re most common in bearded dragons who regularly contact other reptiles.

A bearded dragon can have parasites in its system without showing any visible symptoms. 

This is why annual checkups (including a feces check) are so important.

Symptoms you may notice include:

If you suspect parasites, take your bearded dragon (with fecal sample) to the vet for a checkup.  

Bearded Dragon Diets

Bearded dragons are omnivores, which means they need various foods such as meat (insects and worms) and plant matter (vegetables and fruits). 

Their diet will change based on their age.

A well-balanced diet includes food sources of different types of meat, vegetables, plants, flowers, and fruit. 

Since bearded dragons have strong jaws, they can quickly eat hard-shelled insects.

Variety is the key to getting all of the nutrients they need.

Extra care should be taken to make sure they get kale, mustard greens, collard greens, or calcium supplements.

Proteins
Veggies / Greens
Fruits

This easy reference chart should help you get a better idea of what feeding a bearded dragon entails. 

Age
Diet
Amount
Frequency

Note: Regardless of the types of insects you feed, they should be smaller than the distance between the bearded dragon’s eyes. 

This prevents injury from eating.

When you go to give a bearded dragon a meal, you should feed the reptile all it’s willing to eat in one sitting.

Once it’s full, remove the food from the enclosure.

Care

In this section, we go over everyday things you, as the owner, need to do to care for the bearded dragon. 

Handling

Bearded dragons enjoy being handled once they’ve been “tamed” or acclimated to their environment.

For the first week, you have one, spend time with your hand in the tank sitting still in front of the reptile’s face. 

This gets the lizard used to your scent and body.

If the beardy comes over and starts to climb and interact with your hand, pick it up a little or let it run over your fingers.

Do this several times a day for the first week until it’s used to you.

If you ever pick up the bearded dragon (whether it’s the first week or not), follow these guidelines for making sure your bearded dragon behaves safely:

Pro-tip: If your beardy struggles in your hand, don’t just let it go. 

If you release it while it’s struggling, it learns “being-picked-up = time-to-wiggle.”

Cleaning The Bearded Dragon

You should bathe your dragon 3-4 times a month. 

For more detail, check out our article on how to bathe a bearded dragon.

Here are the quick steps you need to follow to give your beardy a cleaning:

Cleaning The Enclosure

There are different levels of cleaning which need to be done with your bearded dragon.

Spot clean – Twice a day, every day, pick up droppings, and remove leftover food.

Surface clean – Once a week, use a white vinegar and water solution (1-4 parts ratio) to scrub down the sides and furniture of the tank

Deep clean – Once a month, remove everything from the enclosure (put the bearded dragon in a temporary home) and scrub down everything with the same solution.

Replace the bedding at this point and any old or worn accessories.

Reproduction

The mating period for bearded dragons comes after brumation (see above).

In the wild, males seek out females and announce their desire to mate by bobbing his head, waving their arms, and stomping their feet.

He then chases the female and bites her neck.

From one mating, the female bearded dragon can lay two clutches of eggs (11-30 eggs each).

Using different incubation temperatures, you can change the sex of the bearded dragon embryos.

Eggs incubated at 93° degrees Fahrenheit (34° C) and higher hatch female dragons while 86° degrees Fahrenheit (30° C) and lower hatch male dragons.

Common Birth Defects

If you decide to breed bearded dragons, watch for these congenital disabilities:

Bicephalism – A bearded dragon born with two heads and one body.

Anasarcia – Swollen bearded dragon. 

The eggs appear to be sweating with this defect.

Shistosomus reflexa – The organs develop outside of the reptile’s body.

Spinal and limb defects – Abnormal development of the spine, tail, legs, or toes. 

This is likely due to malnutrition, trauma, or abnormal temperature.

Microphthalmia/Anophthalmia – Small or no eyes.

Hermaphroditism – The bearded dragon is born with male and female reproductive parts.

This dragon is infertile.

Captivity Supplies

In this section, we include a quick list of supplies you’ll need to keep a bearded dragon and why they’re essential.

Tank/Enclosure – This space needs to be big enough for the bearded dragon.

Screen Cover – This cover gives circulation and prevents the bearded dragon from climbing out.

Tank Background – Bearded dragons see in color, and most owners say the background helps them feel more comfortable.

UVA/UVB Light – This light gives UVA and UVB rays to simulate sunshine. 

Bearded dragons need this to survive. 

Basking Lamp – Bearded dragons need the basking lamp for direct heat to digest their food fully and gather energy. 

Flooring – This protects the tank and makes it easier to clean up after the bearded dragon.

Thermometer – Having a tank at a specific temperature is needed for a healthy lizard. 

This thermometer can test different areas quickly and easily.

Water dish – For drinking and bathing. 

Make sure this dish is shallow so the water doesn’t get in the dragon’s eyes.

Basking Rocks – These rocks let the bearded dragon climb and get close to the basking light for more heat.

Hide – A hide or cave lets the bearded dragon escape extreme heat from external heat sources and feel safe.

Branch/Hammock – A branch or hammock lets the bearded dragon exercise and play by climbing.

Common Species

There are eight different species of bearded dragons. 

They are cared for in the same way, with slight differences in size, coloration, and life span.

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