BEARDED DRAGON CARE SHEET
Bearded Dragons make wonderful pets, especially for kids. They are extremely friendly and social lizards, and it is very unlikely that one will ever bite if unprovoked. Hatchlings are typically about 2 inches in length. Adult sizes vary between 10 inches and 2 feet. They will live for around 15 years if cared for properly. Bearded Dragons will explore by licking everything. Don't be afraid if they lick you - they're just seeing what you're all about.
A minimum of a 20 gallon long tank should be used for a juvenile, and a minimum of a 50 gallon long tank should be used for an adult. Alfalfa pellets, corn cob bedding, newspaper, or reptile sand can be used for bedding, but alfalfa pellets are probably the best option as they are edible in case your beardie accidentally eats some. Do not use any type of humidity-holding bark such as pine or cypress - since the dragons come from the desert they are unable to tolerate humidity. I also do not recommend using aspen bark since it can cause mouth rot, a mouth infection caused by tiny punctures in the gums that dragons can get when they lick the bedding.
They are arboreal lizards (they spend most of their time in trees) so plenty of branches and climbing rocks should be placed in the cage. A small water bowl should be placed at one end of the tank. A 1/2 log or other hiding spot should also be placed at the same end of the tank. A pegboard or screen top should be placed on the cage. Do not put plastic or poisonous plants in the tank with your Bearded Dragon! They will try to eat them. If you want to add plants, try planting some vegetable or rye grass seeds in a small container, and once they sprout, put the container in the tank. Your bearded dragon may like munching on fresh sprouts. It's a good idea to remove the container when you water the plant, let it dry a bit, and then stick it back in the tank to prevent moisture from building up inside your bearded dragon's habitat.
Heating and Lighting
Two types of lighting will need to be turned on for 10-12 hours per day:
An incandescent light bulb should be placed on the top of the tank opposite the side with the water bowl to provide your lizard with a warm basking spot. Depending on the size of your tank and the temp in the room, anywhere from a 15 watt to a 75 watt bulb can be used. Place a thermometer under the bulb on the branch where your lizard will bask and make sure the temperature reaches 90-100 degrees when the light is on. If not, adjust the wattage of the bulb accordingly. A second thermometer should be placed at the other (cool) end of tank to make sure that side is at least 10-20 degrees cooler than the basking side so you don't cook your new pet! This light should be turned off for the night. However, if your house gets colder than 72 degrees at night, a black or blue light should be used to bring the temperature up to 75-80 degrees.
All day-moving lizards, including Bearded Dragons, require a florescent UVA/UVB light. This light replicates the sun's rays which radiate vitamin D3, helping the lizard to absorb calcium into their body. The light needs to be placed within 8-12 inches of the lizard's basking spot in order to be effective. The light should be replaced every 6-12 months. This light should be turned off for the night as well.
I do not recommend using any type of heating pad, hot rock, or anything other than an over-head heat source. Lizards have an internal "thermometer" on the top of their heads that senses heat and lets them know when they are too warm or too cold. If the lizard is sitting on a heating pad he may burn himself before the top of his head gets warm enough to let him know he needs to move.
Bearded Dragon Diet
Bearded Dragons are omnivores - they eat plants, animals, and insects. The diet should consist mainly of calcium coated crickets, superworms, other insects, earthworms, pinky mice, dark leafy greens such as romaine, collard greens, kale, escarole, and red-leaf lettuce, and fruits & veggies like strawberries and beans. Iceburg lettuce should NEVER be fed to any reptile. NOTE: Bearded Dragons should never be fed a food item that is bigger than the space between their eyes. Doing so can cause them to become paralyzed in their back legs. This is especially crucial with babies - they should only be fed tiny crickets and greens or Rep-Cal Baby Bearded Dragon Pellets. Do not feed babies superworms or pinkies until they are at least 10 inches long.
Babies should be eating 80% proteins and 20% greens until they are about 8-12 months old. At this time they can be switched to a 50/50 diet. Calcium and multivitamin supplements should be used 2-3 times per week. Pellets should be used along with live and fresh foods, not as a sole source of nutrition. Babies will usually eat up to about a dozen appropriately sized crickets per day along with a few bites of greens. When feeding crickets to babies, choose to use more of a smaller size rather than fewer of a larger size.
Adults can be given about 1-2 dozen crickets or super-worms, or 2 pinkies or night-crawlers every 2-4 days with greens or veggies being offered on the days in-between. Some dragons will eat tuna or cooked chicken as well. Don't leave crickets in the tank - make sure you take out any un-eaten ones so they don't chew on your dragon while he's asleep. Another option is to feed your dragon in a separate container or mini-tank, and then transfer him back into his habitat when he's finished eating. The added bonus here is that your dragon will always be handled daily, and you don't have to chase leftover crickets to get them out of his house.
A note on superworms/mealworms: Superworms are not recommended for many reptiles - if they are swallowed whole, there is a chance they can chew their way back out of the stomach, killing the animal. Bearded Dragons tend to chew things well and typically won't swallow the superworms whole. If you're not sure, avoid superworms or cut them in 1/2 before feeding.
Socialization and Handling
Although some people may disagree, I believe that Dragons are social animals and they get lonely when they don't have company around. This does not necessarily mean you need to have more than one Bearded Dragon, but I do think they are happiest if they are at least taken out of the cage daily to interact with you. They are very curious lizards, and I think they like having someone or something around to entertain them. I guess we would all get a little bored and lonely if we lived alone in a box with nothing to do! Please keep this in mind if you are caring for a Bearded Dragon. Always wash your hands after handling any reptile.
Estimated Set-Up Costs for a Bearded Dragon
Tank: $100-$200 for a 50+ gallon
Food & Water Bowls: $15
Hiding Logs: $15
Climbing Branches: $35
Bearded Dragon: In the Phoenix area, they typically sell for around $30-$70.
Before You Buy
Please consider these guys can live up to 15 years, and are very social and curious so they require daily "family" time to stay happy and healthy. Make sure you're able to commit to taking proper care of your bearded dragon before you purchase one.