A Brief Introduction to Keeping Bearded Dragons

Let’s be honest; if you’re planning to get your very first bearded dragon then its easy to get overwhelmed by all the information. Its easy to spend hours on end, clicking on websites and going round in circles. What I wanted to do in this this article, therefore, was to cover some of the more important “beginners lessons” all in one place.

In essence, it’s a brief “hit list” of questions I get asked all the time. By the end of this article you should be in a much better place to start your journey to successful bearded dragon ownership.

How difficult are bearded dragons to look after really?

Caring for any reptile can essentially be split into two “phases”. The first of these is the setup phase, where you’re buying and setting up the vivarium. This takes some time and effort. The second phase is essentially the routine maintenance one the initial setup is complete.

Bearded dragons, like most lizards, have quite specific requirements. They need a cage that is heated to the right temperature, they need artificial lighting of the right type and a special diet. The bearded dragon keeper really needs to learn the details about each element to successfully set up a cage.

Once it’s set up, however, bearded dragons aren’t overly challenging to care for. If you have the right attitude, and a little time available each day, caring for a bearded dragon should be well within your abilities.

My child wants a bearded dragon – is that a good idea?

There’s been growing interest in pet reptiles among children, especially those wanting to keep bearded dragons. It’s important to appreciate that all pet reptiles require some specialist care. This can make bearded dragons expensive to start off with, and you’ll likely need to offer quite bit of help along the way. This certainly isn’t as easy as getting a hamster.

That said, bearded dragons are one of the very best pet reptiles for beginners. They achieve a reasonable size, making them easy to handle. They’re docile and soon become quite tame. They’re hardy and reasonably easy to care for (relatively speaking).

So if you’re sure that you want to get your child a reptile, and you’re willing to give them the help and support they’ll need, you could do a lot worse than choosing a beardie for them.

How big do bearded dragons get?

On average bearded dragons reach a length of around 60cm. Half of this is body, and half of it is tail. While they’re nowhere near the biggest lizards, therefore, they do attain a pretty good size. Surprisingly, bigger lizards tend to make for better pets, as they’re slower moving and easier to handle. As a domestic pet, beardies are pretty much the perfect size.

Roughly how much will a bearded dragon cost?

Bearded dragons are available in a number of different colour forms. The vast majority of beardies you find for sale in local pet stores are the standard grey colour form, which are pretty cheap to buy.

So while the lizards themselves aren’t expensive, what can be is all the equipment you’re going to need. Very briefly, you’ll need to think about buying a couple of heaters (one for a basking area, one for more general background heat), a UV lighting system, food (including vitamin supplements) and of course the vivarium itself.

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Added up, buying a bearded dragon with all the kit can be an expensive exercise. I would expect the whole setup to cost several hundred pounds (or dollars) to get it right. Be prepared for this investment, as trying to kit out a bearded dragon vivarium on a budget rarely ends well.

What are the running costs of a bearded dragon?

There are a number of running costs that you will need to shoulder on a monthly basis. Primarily this comes in the form of electricity to run the heaters and lights, and the ongoing food bill.

Heating a vivarium to 25’C or more, all year long, with a hotspot of 35’C doesn’t come too cheaply. Nor does having the artificial lights on for long periods of time each day.

Ontop of this hike in your electricity bill, there is the cost of food. Firstly, there are all the salad items that you’ll be buying from the supermarket (or even better growing at home). Then there’s the insects. A tub of crickets will set you back £2-3, and you’ll probably be buying at least a tub each week. Then there’s the supplements, which are expensive, but tend to last a long time.

All in, I would budget for around £30 or so per month, so that you’re not too shocked when the bills are totted up.

How much effort is it to care for a bearded dragon?

The main effort of getting a bearded dragon is the initial phase of setting up the vivarium and learning what you’re doing. After this, bearded dragons don’t require a huge amount of ongoing care.

In essence you’ll want to change the water bowl to ensure it’s fresh, spot-clean any areas of the substrate which has been soiled, and replace plant-based foods to keep them fresh. In youngsters you’ll also want to pop in some live insects as food.

Lastly, it’s worth spending a little time either passively watching your bearded dragon, or actively ineracting with it, such as with handling. In this way you’ll not only be able to get your dragon nice and tame, but it will be easier to spot any health issues which may arise.

Personally I would budget on around 30 minutes of daily effort at a minimum in order to keep your dragon fit and well.

Note, also, that this same time will need to be applied when you go on holiday, so you’ll want to plan well in advance for these situations.

How many bearded dragons should I buy?

In the wild, bearded dragons are mainly solitary lizards, only coming together for short periods of time to breed. Adults have no real parental instincts, and youngsters will be left to fend for themselves.

While these youngsters may well live together happily, as they grow it is normal for dominance to start showing. Under such circumstances a pecking order will arise, with the more submissive lizards struggling for food or the best basking spots. In time this can lead to stress, and reductions in health.

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The point is that while it is possible to keep baby bearded dragons together – as one often sees in reptile shops – mid-sized to adult beardies are generally best kept on their own. Like a hamster, don’t worry about them getting lonely.

If you’re planning to buy two beardies, therefore, you’ll probably want to invest in two seperate cages for them too.

What do bearded dragons eat?

Bearded dragons are omnivores – meaning that they eat both meat and plant matter. The meat element tends to be live insects in captivity, such as suitably-sized crickets and locusts. The plant matter generally involves a range of leafy greens and vegetables, supplemented with a small amount of fruit.

The ratios of insects to plants vary over the lifetime of it’s lifetime, with youngsters eating far more insects, and adults eating far more plants. The bearded dragon keeper must therefore feel comfortable buying, handling and feeding live insects to their pet on a regular basis.

We have put together a detailed guide on feeding your bearded dragon here.

How friendly are bearded dragons?

Firstly, it’s important to appreciate that reptiles tend not to tame down like a dog or cat might. They will very rarely seek out human interaction, and on the rare occasions that they do this is more likely because you’re toasty and warm rather than their “friend”. That said, bearded dragons are definitely one of the friendliest and most sociable of reptiles.

Unlike most lizards, which will at best merely tolerate human interaction, bearded dragons do tend to tame down very nicely and happily sit in the hand. Many will also get so same and so familiar with their owner that they will wait at the door of their vivarium for food and attention, and will happily clamber out onto a hand. All it takes is a little effort.

So, to summarize, bearded dragons are some of the friendliest exotic pets on the market, and are ideal for those who want a reptile that they can safely handle on a regular basis.

Still got questions? If so, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll answer them as soon as possible…

Richard Adams

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