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How do I Care for a Bearded Dragon Lizard?

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  • Written By: Michelle Nickolaisen
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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Bearded dragon lizards are named for their ability to extend the skin under their throats, thereby creating a beard-like appearance. According to many herpetologists — studiers of reptiles — bearded dragons make an excellent pet if a person wants to get a lizard. Generally, they are easy to care for, gentle, friendly, social, and only bite humans when provoked. A bearded dragon lizard is typically about 2 inches (about 5.1 cm) long when hatched; as adults, their size can range between 10 inches (about 25.4 cm) and 2 feet (about 61 cm) long. To properly care for a bearded dragon, you will need to have an enclosure big enough for your dragon, provide a constantly warm environment with direct light, and offer the correct balance of nutrition.

When setting up an environment for your bearded dragon lizard, you typically will want to ensure you choose a terrarium of the appropriate size. A 20 gallon (75 liter) tank is considered the minimum for a young bearded dragon lizard, and a 50 gallon (190 liter) tank is the minimum for an adult bearded dragon. Height usually should be taken into consideration too, as these lizards love to climb around in their cages.

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There are numerous choices for bedding options — alfalfa pellets are one of the most popular options, since they won't harm a bearded dragon lizard if ingested. A water dish and a food dish are necessary, as well. The container typically will need to be cleaned of waste and leftover food daily. Since bearded dragon lizards love to climb around, branches, rocks, or trees could be provided for them to climb around on. Generally, a shelter should be provided for the dragon to hide in; this can be as simple as a small cardboard box or as fancy as a cave purchased at a store.

Bearded dragon lizards naturally live in a desert-like environment and the temperature in the terrarium should be kept at a steady 80° to 85° F (about 26° to 30° C), although at night a temperature around 70° F (about 21° C) is acceptable. A basking area with a temperature of 88° to 95° F (31° to 35° C) should be provided as well. The terrarium can be heated with basking lights, which are only used during the day. Heating rocks generally should be avoided as they can easily burn a bearded dragon lizard.

If at all possible, the terrarium typically should be placed where plenty of natural light is available. Also, a full-spectrum ultraviolet (UV)-B light should be put in the terrarium. This light helps ensure the lizard is getting enough vitamin D3, which is necessary for proper calcium absorption and should also be turned off at night.

A bearded dragon lizard typically will eat plants, insects, and small animals. The majority of an adult's diet should consist of plants and vegetables, while juvenile lizards tend to be more omnivorous, eating about a 50/50 mix of plant and animal/insect matter. Before being put in the cage, the vegetables should be finely chopped — the smaller the lizard, the more finely chopped they should be. A good mix of vegetables would generally consist of chopped raw carrots, dandelion greens, kale, parsley, and frozen vegetables, such as peas and beans. When feeding bearded dragon lizards animals or insects, be sure not to feed them anything larger than the space between their eyes — anything larger can choke or paralyze them. Supplemental pellets and vitamins can be purchased at pet stores, but should only be used two or three times per week and never as the bulk of a bearded dragon's diet.

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