During a visit to a pet shop recently I was disturbed to see a sign on the front of a vivarium containing young beardies which read ‘ideal for beginners’. I think this gives the very wrong impression of this reptile. Whilst they are not difficult to look after, their needs and requirements have to be properly understood in order for them to have a happy, healthy life.
Reptiles are similar to fish in that they need to live in the correct environment for them. You wouldn’t put a marine fish in a tropical aquarium, for example, and expect it to live, and even different tropical fish like different types of water – acid, alkaline or brackish for example. Most pet shops are fairly clued up on fish keeping. But many shops selling bearded dragons have only a basic knowledge about their requirements, and are all too often guilty of letting a new owner buy equipment which is totally inappropriate. Or more worryingly, even encourage them to buy it. Worst of all are ‘bearded dragon complete set ups’ – most of which contain vivariums that are too small with heatmats and substrate which are actually harmful to beardies.
As with aquariums, you need to understand the natural habitat of a bearded dragon before setting up what will be its home for life in your house Balm+Beard Brush+Beard Scissors+Storage Gift Box B078N1DBY9.
Bearded dragons come from the hot, dry deserts of Australia. The earth is baked dry so they are used to a hard surface to walk on. They are semi arboreal, and are known to climb fenceposts and tree stumps to bask. The hot sun bakes down on them from above. They spend most of their time basking and sleeping and sleeping in full sunlight, and when they are too hot, they move to a cooler place in the shade as, like many cold blooded animals, they thermoregulate. That is, they control their body temperature by moving from a hot place to a cooler one.
In the desert they very rarely, if ever, come across standing water. They have evolved to extract the moisture they need from the food they eat, and therefore it is not unusual never to see a bearded dragon drink. Their lungs can only cope with low humidity levels.
So what does this tell us? Firstly, that they need a good sized vivarium where a wide temperature range is possible. Secondly, they need something to climb on. They need to get their heat from above – not underneath them, and water features in a vivarium will harm their health. They also need exposure to UVB rays that they otherwise would get from the sun. That does not seem to stop shops selling too small vivariums, heatmats (which can actually burn the bearded dragon’s stomach as they cannot feel heat through their bellies), waterfalls, loose substrate that can be swallowed and impact in the gut, and sometimes they even neglect to tell the purchaser that they need a UVB tube. So be warned.
So, now we know what we don’t need, how should the bearded dragon’s vivarium be set up to ensure it lives a long and healthy life?
First of all, an adult bearded dragon will need a vivarium that’s 4ft x 2ft x 2ft (120cm x 60cm x 60cm). When you consider an adult beardie will be close to 2 ft (60 cm) in length you can see how anything less wide will be uncomfortable for it. Baby beardies are quite happy being put straight into a full size vivarium – in the desert no one partitions off a part for them to use! For babies the decoration should be kept simple so that they can catch their food easily. As juveniles grow so fast it is false economy to start off with a smaller sized vivarium.
There should be a heat source at one end of the vivarium – a 60 or 100 watt spotlight is ideal. You can buy these from supermarkets or DIY stores if you don’t want to buy the ones made specifically for reptiles.