Bearded Dragon

(Pogona vitticeps)

Native Range:

Inland areas of eastern and south-central Australia. There they inhabit dry desert regions, particularly areas studded with rock outcroppings.

Size:

Approximately four inches long at birth. Adult males may grow eighteen to twenty-four inches in length while females are smaller, usually twelve to sixteen inches in length.

Handling:

Bearded Dragons are among the easiest to handle pet lizards available. Many seem to enjoy handling, or at least the stimulation it provides. Almost all will quickly learn to recognize their keepers. If startled, they may attempt to circle behind something and remain out of sight. If pressed, they will run. These lizards rarely bite, although they may do so if restrained. Most will sit quietly in the hand or climb up onto a shoulder if allowed the chance.

Caging:

Hatchlings are best maintained in small enclosures (a 10 gallon aquarium is acceptable) as they frequently get ‘lost’ in larger cages and cannot find food and water. Adults are large active creatures and require considerable space. A 29 gallon aquarium is a minimum for females, while the larger males may need twice this much space. Whatever cage is selected, be sure to provide adequate ventilation. A typical aquarium with screen cover is fine. Try to keep the cage very clean, dry and odor-free. Be sure to provide sturdy climbing and basking areas. Use caution when decorating with live plants as these lizards will readily consume them. Certain plant species can be toxic. Adult dragons have even been known to consume silk plant leaves!

Substrate:

Do not use a particle substrate, such as wood chips, soil or bark with these lizards as they may accidentally pickup pieces and swallow them. Impacted substrate is a common cause of death. Additionally, crickets will hide under the substrate and clean themselves of calcium powder, reducing their nutritional value. Plain sand has proven suitable for most keepers. VMS recommends keeping hatchlings on a bare glass floor until about eight weeks of age. The hatchlings readily drink from droplets collected on the floor and often will wriggle down into these droplets for a little soak. Also, hatchlings are curious and will ingest anything that catches their attention. Anything different in size, color or texture may be ingested. Keeping the surroundings spartan may seem cruel, but it prevents many mishaps.

Food:

A variety of small insects and leafy greens are eagerly accepted by these lizards. Hatchlings will feed on two to three week crickets. As they grow, provide larger crickets, wax-worms, and mealworms. Adult specimens will take an occasional pinkie mouse. As they mature, Bearded Dragons gradually shift in dietary preference to predominantly vegetable matter - although insects will always be eagerly consumed. Greens and vegetables must be finely shredded or grated for hatchlings and juveniles, less so for adults. Dust food with a calcium powder every other feeding to provide additional calcium for growing bones. Adults may be supplemented twice weekly, unless females are producing eggs. This uses huge amounts of calcium, and supplements for gravid females should be made daily.

Humidity & Water:

Hatchlings should be misted daily so they may drink the water droplets from leaves and cage walls. While adults will learn to drink from a dish, they tend to spill large amounts of water. This causes an undesirable increase in humidity. Many keepers recommend a weekly soak in tepid water for twenty minutes or so as an alternative. Humidity should be light, as their natural desert habitat is quite hot and dry.

Heating & Lighting:

Provide a thermal gradient by placing a spot lamp at one end of the cage. This should allow the dragon to choose from higher temperatures (about 100-110F) at the warm end, and cooler temperatures (about 80F) at the cooler end. Temperatures below 80F should be avoided for hatchlings, below 75F for adults. If needed, a ceramic heat emitter or infrared bulb may be used to provide warmth at night. In addition, these lizards require UVB light to properly metabolize calcium. This type of light can only be produced by specially made fluorescent tubes. We recommend ZooMed’s Reptisun 5.0 bulb. When placing this bulb over the cage, remember that the UVB rays are filtered out by glass – the top of the cage must be made of screen to be effective. Also take care in choosing the location of the bulb. It should be placed such that the lizard will be directly under it when resting in its favored basking site. Avoid placing these bulbs more than 12-15" from the basking site as their effectiveness is greatly reduced beyond this point.

Reproduction:

Mature males can be distinguished by differences in tail taper, enlarged femoral pores, larger head and overall size, and by periodic darkening of the throat region. This, coupled with head bobbing behavior is perhaps the best method for the inexperienced keeper to determine sex. There is no reliable method to sex hatchling dragons, although experienced keepers may be able to hazard a guess at juveniles at sub-adults. The sexes may be raised together until about four months of age. At this time the males will begin to fight. Do not keep more than one male per cage as they will fight. Sexual pairs or harem groups may be housed together indefinitely if given adequate space, but be prepared to separate them if aggression should occur. Bearded Dragons may reach sexual maturity in under twelve months. Females will lay 10-25 eggs (average 20) every three to six weeks until her fat and calcium reserves are depleted. This prolific egg production is very hard on the female, and many will perish if particular attention is not paid to their needs. Incubation can take from 55 to 75 days, depending on temperature. Most keepers use vermiculite moistened with water in a 1/1 ratio by weight as substrate. A temperature range of 78 to 85F has proven successful. It is highly recommended that additional study be made before attempting to breed your dragons.

Color and Pattern Phases:

There are numerous color morphs available, with some catchy names attached. All of these involve the tendency for adults to develop yellow or reddish coloration to some degree. The intensity and amount of this coloration is quite variable and impossible to predict, so use caution when paying extra money for 'desirable' color morphs. Recently, hypomelanistic dragons have appeared under the trade name 'Pastel' and another trade name ("Snow') may in fact be leucism.

© 2000 VMS Professional Herpetoculture (http://www.vmsherp.com)