Bearded dragons are popular pets and more and more people are interested in getting one for themselves. These reptiles are calm and friendly, but they actually have a lot of needs that should be taken into account. Every bearded dragon owner will need to set up a good enclosure for their little friend to make sure they’re healthy, happy, and comfortable.
It might seem like a daunting task to set up your bearded dragon’s living space, but we’ve compiled a full guide for you below. Soon you’ll have all the knowledge you need to take care of your scaly little dragon!
Choosing the Proper Tank Size
One of the most important parts of setting up a bearded dragon enclosure is choosing a tank that’s the right size. Bearded dragons themselves aren’t too big (usually about 16-24 inches long) but they need a good amount of space so they can explore their surroundings, navigate between their food and water, and access any hides that you’ve placed.
Bearded dragons that are kept in tanks that are too small tend to become more stressed. They might start doing something called “glass surfing” where they push themselves against the walls of their tank and begin scratching or trying to climb it. This behavior might look funny, but it’s actually an indication of stress. There are a few things that can trigger it but one of the biggest causes is stress about their enclosure’s size or decorations.
You wouldn’t like it if you were stuck in a too-small room for the rest of your life, and neither would your lizard! Giving them plenty of space is key, plus it gives you more room to work with as you set up the rest of their enclosure. Overcrowding can become a big problem if you try to fit too many things into a small area.
So even though it’s cheap and tempting to go with a smaller model, you should really look for an enclosure that’s at least 50-75 gallons. If you want, you can definitely go larger (up to 125 gallons), but that is the ideal size range for fully-grown bearded dragons. Babies can be kept in smaller tanks that are between 20-40 gallons, but they will eventually outgrow these. It’s usually a good idea to spend a bit more upfront instead of continuing to buy larger tanks as you go. (Source)
If you’re looking for a nice, large tank that will set up your beardie for life, you might consider something like the REPTI ZOO 85 Gallon, Front Opening Glass Tank. This has a nice, easy-to-open design and it’s large enough to accommodate fully grown bearded dragons.
Placement in Home
Now that you have a tank picked out, it’s time to figure out where you’ll set it up in your home. Even small enclosures will take up a few square feet, so make sure you have enough room to accommodate them.
One of the most important things to remember is to keep the tank away from direct sunlight. Although bearded dragons are cold-blooded and require heat in order to live, too much sunlight can be fatal for them. This is especially dangerous if they are kept in a sealed glass tank that will trap the heat. (Source)
So make sure that you set up their tank in an area that is away from windows that will let in a lot of light. This also means you can’t keep them in outdoor areas like your yard or balcony (although they may enjoy visiting these areas from time to time).
In general, look for a place that is easy for you to access, lets the dragon see out, and is difficult for pets or small children to reach. You should also make sure that the enclosure gets natural light during the day and darkness at night. These lizards have sleep cycles too, so they shouldn’t constantly be kept in solely light or dark conditions.
Now let’s talk about how to keep your little dragon warm! As we mentioned above, these lizards are cold-blooded and need a bit of outside help in order to stay warm and active. They are native to the hot desert areas of Australia, so they are used to a bit of heat.
The lowest temperature they can comfortably tolerate is 70 degrees Farenheight while the highest is 110 degrees Farenheight. It’s best if the tank has a range of temperatures though, so the dragon can move to the area that best suits it. Every bearded dragon will need a basking rock or another warm place. This is where the temperature should be highest, and it should be concentrated into a small area. This is where the 110-degree spotlight should be. (Source)
There needs to be a cooler part of the tank as well where the dragon can retreat when it wants to cool down. This could include a small hideaway or maybe a shady area with some plants. A longer tank can help you achieve this effect because the heat will distribute less evenly.
The average tank temperature should remain at or above 65-70 degrees at all times, even at night when their basking light may be turned off. If it gets lower than that, they could experience stress and health problems.
UVB lights with the strongest grade (10) are ideal for bearded dragon tanks, but mercury vapor lights can be used as well. Bearded dragons require a certain amount of vitamin D that enables them to fight off metabolic bone disease. They can get vitamin D through their diet and from exposure to UVB lighting. (Source) To stay healthy, bearded dragons should get about 12 hours of direct UVB exposure every day.
This Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 HO T5 UVB Lamp is a good option for bearded dragon owners, and it’s quite affordable as well! You may need to use a ceramic heat emitter as well if you plan on turning the UVB light off at night. This will help the tank maintain a warm temperature without emitting light.
Use a thermometer within the tank to keep an eye on the temperature. Using your home’s thermometer isn’t accurate for what’s happening inside the tank. Check the thermometer at least once a day to make sure your little dragon isn’t freezing or overheating.
Humidity is important to all reptiles because they don’t want to dry out. Because beardies are native to the desert though, they don’t need their enclosures to be very humid.
The ideal humidity range for these reptiles is 35%-40%. They can tolerate levels up to 60%, but the lower end is preferable. You can use a hygrometer to track the humidity within the enclosure. It’s not too hard for most owners to stay within this range, because most homes naturally are pretty close to this level of humidity. (Source)
There are some tactics you can use to lower the humidity of your dragon’s enclosure if you’re worried though. If you live in a humid area, keep doors and windows closed as often as possible. Set up a dehumidifier in the same room as the bearded dragon’s tank (but not right next to it). You can also move the lizard’s water dish away from the UVB light so that it won’t evaporate and raise the humidity of the tank.
If you need to add some moisture to the tank, lightly mist the enclosure with a clean spray bottle whenever it gets too dry.
Every bearded dragon tank should have some kind of substrate material. This helps protect their feet, gives them a better grip, and gives the tank a bit more of a personal touch!
Choosing the right substrate can be a bit tricky though. It might be tempting to use materials like sand or rocks because they mimic the natural environment of these animals. But in reality, these can end up causing a lot of problems. Sand can get into the eyes, nose, and mouth of your lizard. This will make them irritated and can even cause infections.
It’s also hard to properly clean sand unless you completely replace it each time. Bacteria and insects can hide in loose sand, making it a breeding ground for disease and infections. Luckily there are better alternatives available!
Some good substrate options for bearded dragons include:
- Reptile carpet
- Paper towels
- Ceramic tiles
Several bearded dragon owners also suggested using rough tile or nonadhesive shelf liners for the substrate. (Source) Rubber mats or tiles seem to be the most popular choice because these don’t snag the lizard’s claws. Using dark-colored materials can make the ground uncomfortably hot as well, so stick with lighter colors if you can. (Source)
Many materials will work as long as your beardie can get a good grip on the ground and won’t eat/inhale anything that will hurt them.
Food and Water Dishes
Food and water are essential parts of any animal’s life. It’s great to have bowls set up so your dragon can eat and drink whenever it wants. The type and amount of food that should be given depends on the age of the lizard, but generally, they’ll eat something at least once a day. This includes a mix of leafy greens, live feeder insects, worms, and fruit. (Source)
Their food and water dishes don’t need to be fancy, but they should be fairly shallow so that it’s not hard for the lizard to access them. If the water dish is too deep, it could evaporate and raise the humidity of the tank. Young bearded dragons could also get stuck in water dishes that are too large/deep and end up drowning.
You also shouldn’t let food sit for too long in the tank because it can wilt or rot over time. Live insects could also escape or hide, so make sure you monitor live feedings particularly closely!
Generally look for small, shallow dishes that will be hard for your beardie to flip over. The SLSON Reptile Feeder Terraium Bowl is a good product that can be used for both food and water. You’ll need to use a separate dish for both of these purposes though, so make sure you buy 2.
Hides, Plants, Decorations, etc.
Now we can get into the fun part of setting up a reptile tank! It’s important to make sure your beardie has enough room to move around and has the right conditions of temperature/humidity. But that doesn’t mean that the tank has to be empty apart from the bare necessities. It’s a place for your lizard to hang out, as well as a central part of your home. The tank should look nice and have some variety.
Some necessary decorations include a basking area. As we mentioned above, reptiles need a good place to soak up some heat. A large flat rock or piece of wood are good options for this, but you can also use a small hammock or tightly stretched net. As long as your lizard can sit in the same spot for a long time and be comfortable, it should work fine.
Many bearded dragons also appreciate having a place to find some alone time. This is where hides come in handy! Your dragon will probably spend most of their time out in the open, watching things through their tank walls and basking under the heat lamp. But if they get stressed or overheated, it’s nice for them to have a place to retreat. (Source)
When it comes to decorations, you have a lot of freedom to choose. Many people like to add logs, driftwood, toys, sculptures, and plants to a bearded dragon tank. You can use artificial plants, but just make sure that they won’t hurt your dragon if it takes a bite out of the leaves. Eating plastic is bad for any animal, so if your dragon insists on chewing on fake plants, you may have to switch these out for something else.
You can use real plants as well, but be aware that they may affect the humidity levels in the tank. They will need to be able to survive in hot temperatures as well, so desert-dwelling plants are usually your best bet. Harmless cacti, succulents, and aloe vera are all good choices (although your beardie may get sick if it eats too much aloe).
Bearded dragons have a lot of habitat needs, but they are very fun and fulfilling pets. A good tank setup will help keep them happy for years to come, as well as provide a nice-looking addition to your home.