JUVENILE CARE SHEET
ABOUT BEARDED DRAGONS
Bearded Dragons are one of the most intelligent of all reptiles and easy to care for. Beardies have individual personalities and are capable of learning to a very high degree. But beardies also have one characteristic that has helped to make dragons the most popular reptile for 10 years running: they are said to bond with humans at the level of a dog or cat. True? Yes, but this characteristic is most apparent when the dragon reaches subadult or adult age and is no longer in pure survival mode, i.e., running away from everything at warp speed. Once a bearded dragon reaches the subadult to adult age, they are less afraid of being eaten by predators and will generally calm down. We have adult dragons that love to hang out with us while we watch TV or will sit on our shoulders while we enjoy the summer sun on the patio. Some appreciate praise, respond to their names, like their heads scratched, etc. They are all individuals but all of our beardies respond to gentle human interaction.
More Than One?
Juvenile bearded dragons can be quite territorial and sit on a fellow cage mate preventing him or her from eating or drinking. If more than one beardie has found its way to your heart or home, keep the dragons in separate cages where they cannot see each other especially during the dragons' adjustment period.
As adults, this social hierarchy presents few problems and we house adult females together often. This is one way to observe the behavior of Arm Waving, an endearing characteristic.
One of the most useful purchases you can make is a gram scale. Keeping weight and feeding records will alert you when something isn't quite right. This enables you to correct the issue before it becomes life-threatening. Good husbandry and frequent informal exams will keep your dragon happy and healthy for many years.
Before brumation which occurs typically during the dragon's second year, it is advisable to have a qualified reptile vet check a stool sample. Fecal checks can alert you to any parasites before the dragon goes to "sleep" and is most vulnerable to parasitic attacks. Just as you worm a puppy, you will probably need to worm your dragon at some point in his life.
A 20 gallon long aquarium is usually adequate to house a 6" juvie for a few months. This size is long enough to allow proper temperature gradient but small enough for the juvvie to locate prey items.
As your dragon grows, it will require a larger enclosure. We use white cages with clear sliding doors vented in the back as shown in our Gallery section. These cages are easy to clean, keep valuable UVB and bright, visual light inside the cage rather than spreading it through the glass walls of an aquarium.
The cages are also able to withstand the high temperatures of the basking light without melting the structure. We are working to bring you the best cages that passed our trials with flying colors. Check back in late April, 2013. We have tested many enclosures over 8 years. In the cages mentioned here, the dragons ate the best, looked the best and bred the best.
These cages are 48" x 24" x 24" high or 18" high. This size is large enough to allow for single dragons or up to 3 adults. The front is sliding glass doors. Vents are located in the back. The cages stack.
The only other items you will need to purchase are the appropriate substrate (we ONLY use papertowels or Repti-Sand in Desert White since Repti-Sand has never caused impaction problems for us in 8 years), digital probe thermometers or an infrared temp gun) and a clear household incandescent light bulb to use for the basking light.
You can use Repti-Sand from Zoo Med as the substrate for adults or paper towels for juveniles. Repti-Sand is super fine and doesn't need to be pre-sifted. Other sands and substrates have created well-documented impaction problems. We, however, use paper towels exclusively due to the ease of clean up for us and hygiene for the dragons.
Spot clean feces immediately and disinfect the cage thoroughly once a week. Cleanliness now will save you many headaches in the future. We use 1 part bleach to 30 parts water to clean. Rinse well and dry.
Juveniles benefit from a simple environment. A smooth, palm sized river rock available at most nurseries makes an excellent basking rock. We use dark rocks which hold heat well and aid digestion. You can also allow the dragon to bask on the round reptile thermometer and scoot the dragon off to read the temp.
DO NOT use heat rocks or heating pads which burn a dragon's sensitive belly. The only items in our juvie bins are thermometers, a feeding dish and a shallow water dish. That's it. Otherwise, prey items will crawl under logs and branches where the juvvie cannot locate them, come out at night and bite the helpless juvie. You will have plenty of time to design an elaborate habitat when the dragon is old enough.
Your dragon will need full spectrum UVB light. We use Zoo Med's 10.0 UVB Reptile light and a fluorescent type fixture that runs the length of the cage. This UVB bulb performed the best in our tests against all other UVB lights.
UVB only penetrates 8-12" from the source. Make sure the UVB light is about 10" from the floor of the dragon's cage.
If the UVB light is older than 3 months or is too high from the floor of the cage, the dragon will not be stimulated to eat and MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) can cripple the dragon.
We check our UVB lights every six weeks with a Solarmeter 6.2. When UVB levels drop to 70% of burn-in levels, the bulbs are no longer in the therapeutic range and need to be replaced.
Thermometers & Basking Lamps
The basking or heat fixture we prefer is the silver domed variety, also known as a clamp light. For the actual heat bulb, we use a standard clear household lamp bulb, like Sylvania. You will want to buy several wattages and switch the light bulbs out while testing for the correct basking temperature and as the seasons change.
For juvies, the dragons generally eat best at 100 - 102 degrees using a digital infra-red temp gun (http://www.tempguns.com/). This temp gun is completely accurate. We have seen other thermometers be off by as much as 10 degrees!
Do not use screen tops for aquariums as we have found the tops block up to 30% of UVB rays. We either hang the lamp from a positive above the bin or clamp the light on the side. If you are clamping the light on the side of an aquarium, you should try the smaller clamp lights available to Lowe's or Home Depot that are 7" across to narrow the heat beam.
The cool end of the cage needs to be at 80 degrees (taking your reading on the floor of the tank).
If the temperatures are not correct, raise or lower the lamp or the wattage of the bulb you are using in the basking lamp until the temperature under the light on the bottom of the cage is correct. Temperature mistakes can be fatal. Temperature problems cause 90% of dragon husbandry problems and are directly associated with lack of appetite. Bright light and correct temperatures stimulate dragons to eat.
For convenience, set lights on an auto timer for 12 - 14 hours per day. A nighttime drop in temperature to a normal household temperature of 70 degrees is fine and necessary. If your home is very cold at night, red heat bulbs can be used to bring the temperature up to the optimal nighttime temp. Be careful not to over heat the cage at night. A nighttime drop in temperature is necessary for dragon health.
Dragons wake up and bask to warm up. Light, heat and UVB stimulate a dragon's appetite and allow the dragon to digest his food.
If the basking spot is too hot or too cool, the dragons will not eat.
On the other hand, when a dragon's internal temperature becomes too hot, the dragon requires an area of the cage that is 20 degrees cooler to get away from the heat of the basking lamp and thermoregulate. Thermoregulation is required for a bearded dragon to survive. If the dragon cannot cool off, the dragon will die.
We feed hatchlings 2 times per day. We have tested both traditional and pellet diets and currently feed a mixed protein diet of crickets, small silkworms, Phoenix Worms and fresh, high calcium greens. As the dragon reaches maturity, they will eat mostly greens, veggies and fruits.
Juveniles should be given as many crickets as the dragon will consume in 30 minutes. Feed juveniles 2 times a day with appropriately sized crickets, no larger than the width of the dragon's mouth. Place 1 or 2 crickets in the cage at a time until the dragon is full.
Crickets should be dusted with supplements that support the fast growing bones of bearded dragons. Our choice is Repti-Calcium with vitamin D-3. We dust crickets once per day for juvvies.
A vitamin supplement - Herptivite - is given once per week.
Tip: Place supplements in a salt shaker and dust crickets as if you were dusting a salad with pepper for yourself.
Crickets also need to be gut-loaded with other things to make them more nutritious. Products like Gut Load are fine. You can also use high calcium foods like the heavy leaves and stalks from mustard and collard greens, some kale, a potato and chopped fresh green beans. Veggies supply both food and moisture to the crickets.
Remove crickets within 1 hour of feeding. Remember to remove crickets at night. Crickets will bite hatchlings while they sleep.
This worm is relatively new to the insect feeder market. So far, we are extremely pleased. The dragons eat the worms eagerly. The worms are naturally high in calcium and low in phosphorous and therefore, do not need to be dusted. The worms can also be plumped before feeding (see Tips) to add additional moisture. The worms also do not need to be gutloaded and keep for weeks at room temperature.
Each morning, place a shallow dish of torn salad greens that are high in calcium and provide moisture: mustard and watercress are excellent, as are turnip green, arugula, endive, escarole, collards and dandelion. Romaine lettuce, kale, parsley and others can be given on occasion.
Babies and young juvies are fed salads, crickets, silkworms and Phoenix Worms.
A 6" baby will require 90% protein in the form of bugs and 10% greens.
Subadult dragons also require the nutrients in hard fresh veggies such as green beans, sugar snap beans, peas, okra, acorn and butternut squashes. Fruits such as kiwi, papaya and raspberries are fed once to twice a week. At this stage we also add superworms to vary the dragons' diet but continue with Phoenix Worms and Silkworms. See the Food Chart at the top of this page for the full subadult to adult diet including calcium to phosphorous ratios for each food item.
In 2003, we tested a pellet diet and have since returned to a balanced mix of high calcium greens and veggies and a variety of insects.
Provide a clean, shallow (knee deep or less) dish of water every morning. The bowl should be large enough for the shoulders to enter into comfortably. Most dragons won't drink from bowls and need to be soaked and/or misted. We have found that spraying babies head to tail tip 2 x a day for several minutes with a plant mister works best. We mist babies in the AM with Hot Tap water about 30 minutes after lights go on and with warm tap water 30 minutes before lights out.
Mist in an arc that falls down onto the dragon's head. Mist and then wait a second. Then mist again and until the beardie starts drinking. He will close his eyes then lower his head and drink as the water runs down his face into his mouth. Try slightly harder spray or finer spray until your find what your beardie prefers. Keep misting until the dragon lifts his head back up. This means he is done. Dragons can dehydrate due to the high temps at which they bask. Mist head to tail tip to prevent tail constrictions. Do NOT mist more than twice per day or the dragon will stay too cool to develop an appetite.
Please remember that your juvenile bearded dragon is a baby and will be afraid in his or her new environment. Make sure the dragon's cage is in a stress-free area, rather than in the kitchen or another high traffic area.
Don't play with, or pick up, your new dragon until he or she has completed adjusted, is eating and belly marks are gone. Then handle juvies just a few minutes at a time working up to longer periods.
White copy paper placed on the outside of a glass tank will block his strange view of the world. This will help a lot as he is already dealing with the stress of the move and seeing his reflection in a glass tank (we do not use glass tanks here). After the dragon is eating well (20-40 bugs per day or more) remove one sheet of paper per week.
We feed crickets using long-handled tweezers (purchased at Wal-Mart.) The juvies are conditioned to recognize the tweezers as a signal for "meal time." We throw 3 crickets in at a time, leave and recheck in a minute or two. We again feed however many crickets as have been eaten and remove any "hoppers." We do this until the dragon is full and remove any excess crickets. This keeps the dragon's environment clean. Phoenix Worms can be placed in a shallow dish.
Too many crickets in the cage at one time will freak them out and the dragon will often refuse to eat.
If the crickets are too big or too small, some will not eat and worse, the dragon can starve to death or become paralyzed (in the case of a cricket that is too large).
Phoenix Worms do not need to be dusted as the worms are naturally high in calcium and low in phosphorous.
One thing we especially like about Phoenix worms is that we can plump the worms in a water glass a few minutes before feeding. This helps to provide additional fluids for those dragons who do not drink much.
If the dragon does not eat the first day, mist in the evening and try again the next morning. The most important thing is to keep the dragon hydrated.
Dark markings or striations on a dragon's belly are a clear signal that the dragon is stressed. When color morphs are stressed, they can also go dark, losing their bright color temporarily. Check temps on the basking spot. Is it 100-105 degrees? Check out the cool side. Is the temperature there at 80 degrees or below? If the temps seem right, look for other causes and make adjustments. When the dragon's belly has returned to its normal white color and is free of markings your habitat has the correct temps and the dragon is adjusting to its new environment.
Make sure your dragon's enclosure is at least 4' off of the ground. Near ground temps can be 20 degrees cooler, though the temp gun may read 100 - 105 degrees.
We encourage you to call us with feeding and drinking updates every other day for the first week or two, until your dragon's belly marks are gone and he or she is eating well.
FOR OUR FOOD CHART SEE THE LINK AT THE TOP OF THIS WEBPAGE.