If you are considering getting a bearded dragon as a pet, we love your company here. We are in the process of preparing detailed bearded dragon care guides to provide a holistic understanding of these incredibly fascinating pet lizards.
This exotic pet was introduced in the US in the 90s and in 2022, there are hundreds of bearded dragons across the US. In the latest Minnesota Reptile Show, there were over 50 presenters showcasing their work breeding different varieties of bearded dragons.
Growing up, I really hated lizards and couldn’t have imagined that I would be developing these materials to assist other potential lizard owners to care for their bearded lizards. I’m still not a big fan of slimy lizards, but these little guys have definitely won me over and I’ve enjoyed learning about their intricate care requirements.
What are Bearded Dragons?
Bearded dragons are a type of lizard that looks like little dinosaurs known scientifically as Pogona. The word beard in their name is a reference to the dense flap of skin that hangs under their chin, which can extend and turn different colors when they are stressed or excited. These creatures originated in Australia, where they were commonly bred for the pet trade.
Using the beard, they can also intimidate others or utilize it to show affection. The beards really define these creatures and both genders have this beard, with the males having relatively darker beards. I’ll explain more about their beards later.
Bearded dragons are native to Australia and prefer living in dry, arid environments with lots of rocks and hiding places. In the wild, they are mostly found in the eastern and central parts of Australia.
The map below shows the distribution of bearded dragons across Australia.
Australia banned the export of bearded dragons in 1960 but there are varying explanations of whether the bearded dragons here in the US came directly from Australia or from a breeding stock in Germany. Regardless of the path they took to get here, bearded dragons have really gained popularity since their introduction into the US in the 90s.
Male bearded dragons are typically larger than females and can grow up to 24 inches long whereas females can grow to just 19 inches. As mentioned above, they look like lizards but have a very thick beard made of spikes that are used to extend their neck when they are trying to look big or intimidate others.
Bearded dragons; male vs female:
Male bearded dragons have larger, more prominent beards than females. They also tend to be larger overall, averaging a length of up to 24 inches while females can grow to just 19 inches. Male and female bearded dragons have the same characteristic flaps of skin under their chins, but males typically display darker, thicker beards than females.
Did you know that bearded dragons can change the color of their beards depending on their mood or emotions? When they are feeling threatened, stressed, or excited, bearded dragons will display darker, more prominent beards. Their beards can also turn white when they are cold.
At first glance, you might think that all bearded dragons look the same. But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that there are many different color morphs or patterns that these creatures can come in. Below are just a few examples of the different color morphs that you might see in a bearded dragon.
In summary, you can tell the difference between a male and female bearded dragon by observing the following;
- size of the head/skull: Bearded dragons have bigger skulls compared to their female counterparts
- Length: Make bearded dragons are longer growing from 21 to 24 inches while female counterparts are 16 to 19 inches in length.
- Males have thicker tails
Bearded Dragon Colors:
Normal: The normal coloration for a bearded dragon is a brownish-gray body with a lighter-colored underbelly. Their beards will be a darker color, often black or brown.
Albino: Albino bearded dragons lack pigment in their skin, which gives them a white or cream-colored appearance. They often have red or pink eyes.
Hypomelanistic (Hypo): Hypomelanistic bearded dragons, also known as hypo beards, have a lighter-colored body and a darker head. Their beards are often black or reddish-brown in color.
Orange: Orange bearded dragons have orange scales on their bodies and their beards will usually match the same color. These creatures can also have darker markings on their backs and heads.
Leucistic: Leucistic bearded dragons are white or cream-colored with light yellow eyes. They may also have dark spots or splotches on their bodies, which give them a mottled appearance.
Their beards can also turn black when they are excited, angry, or trying to attract a mate. Underneath the beard str spines that continue down their back and tail. These spines lay flat most of the time but are inches long. They have powerful hind legs and clawed feet, which help them climb rocks and escape predators, as well as a flat scaly tail that helps keep balance.
Bearded Dragons Behaviors;
Bearded dragons are known for their bold, confident personalities making them very protective of their territories. They are not easily intimidated or frightened and will approach new situations without hesitation. This makes them an ideal pet for people who want a lizard that is easy to care for and fun to interact with.
Another characteristic of bearded dragons is their tendency to be territorial. They will often mark their territory with urine or other body fluids and may become aggressive if they feel that another bearded dragon is encroaching on their space.
They like to move around and in nativity, they are not confined to space. They move around basking in the sun and looking for food. They are omnivores as they will eat both plants and animals.
Why they make good pets:
If you’re looking for a pet that is friendly, playful, and easy to care for, then a bearded dragon might be the perfect choice for you. Not only do they have bold personalities and curious natures, but they are also very low maintenance. They don’t require frequent attention or interaction, making them ideal pets for busy people who still want to enjoy the companionship of a pet.
Bearded dragons are also relatively easy to care for. They can be kept in a simple enclosure with few accessories, and they don’t require special lighting or heating. As long as you provide them with the basics, they will be happy and healthy.
Here are other reasons to get this pet;
- they look lovely, or at least cute to thousands of Americans adopting them
- they like people – they really like the human touch
- Low price – you can get a baby for $40
- A wide variety of colors to choose from
- Appropriate for all types of households, whether you live in an apartment or a house
- Can be trained to do tricks like waving and shaking hands
- They’re friendly and make great first pets for kids
- They are not very picky with what they eat
- They are very docile and can be easily tamed
- They are intelligent enough to identify the owner which is pretty cool!
Risks caring for bearded dragons;
Earlier this year, USA Today reported on a CDC investigation that linked the Salmonella outbreak with 44 cases of sickness and 15 hospitalizations across 25 states. The outbreak was traced back to pet bearded dragons.
The CDC recommends that people wash their hands thoroughly after handling any reptile, including bearded dragons. They also advise against letting reptiles roam freely in homes, as this increases the risk of Salmonella exposure.
Bearded dragons can also carry other parasites and diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If you plan on keeping a pet bearded dragon, it is important to work with an experienced reptile veterinarian and do your research to understand the potential health risks involved.
Caring for Bearded Dragons and cost:
You’ll need the following key items in order to adopt and care for a bearded dragon;
recommend a tank that is at least 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. This will give your bearded dragon plenty of space to move around, play, and get in some exercise. You can find bearded dragon tanks on Amazon for about $100 to $400 depending on the habitat you want your bearded dragon to have. For your bearded dragon’s habitat, you’ll need a tank, a basking spot, a hiding spot, and some substrate.
An ideal tank would look like the one below;
Heating and lighting:
Bearded dragons need a source of heat in their tank so that they can thermoregulate properly. You can provide this by placing ultraviolet (UVB) light in their tank. This will also help them produce vitamin D3, which is essential for their health.
Bearded dragons can be kept on a variety of substrates, such as sand, gravel, or newspaper. Avoid using anything that could be ingested, such as small rocks or pebbles recommend doing some research on the best types of substrate to use and how to properly care for your bearded dragon. This can often be done by contacting a vet or reptile expert, reading up on caring for bearded dragons online, and/or joining an online forum or community dedicated to these pets.
As mentioned above, bearded dragon tanks can be very expensive but you can always try a DYI cage that resembles the expensive cages/tank setups that go for hundreds of dollars. A small 25-gallon tank can be enough for a young beardie of fewer than 6 months of age. This may cost you up to $50.
By the end of their first birthday, your beardie will be comfortable in a larger 40-gallon-size tank. You can get a bigger tank of up to 75-gallons but don’t really see the need. A 40-gallon tank can go for about $100.
For the two other requirements mentioned above, you may spend another $100 to $150 but that’s before you pay for the vet who will check on the pet right after you adopt it. This can be another $200 or higher if you don’t have pet insurance.
What they eat:
Bearded dragons will eat a wide variety of fresh plants and vegetables, such as kale, collard greens, squash, carrots, bell peppers, and more. You can also supplement their diet with crickets and other insects.
While bearded dragons are omnivores, they are usually more carnivorous when they are younger. Young bearded dragons prefer a diet made up of 70% protein from animals and 30% materials from plants. As they grow older, they tend to become more herbivorous with their ultimate diet split being 50% animal-based and 50% plant-based diets.
Younger bearded dragons eat twice a day but older mature ones can feed once a day.
To give you an idea of how much you may have to spend on food, insects that are favorites for bearded dragons such as crickets, Dubia roaches, and mealworms cost up to 20 cents apiece and may spend up to $15 per week on them. One option to cut this cost is to breed these insects which is a topic I will write about another time.
Aside from animal and plant-based diets, bearded dragons also rely on vitamins and calcium supplements to have healthy growth. Calcium supplements support shell and bone growth. You can provide this by giving them calcium supplements, which can be found at most pet stores.
Are they solitary creatures?
Bearded dragons are not social creatures and do not need to be kept in pairs or groups. In fact, it is often recommended that they be kept alone to avoid any territorial disputes or aggression.
Males cannot stay with other males and it may be possible for a female and male to stay in the same tank if it is large enough for each beardie to have their own space.
They have developed to be independent as a way to survive the hardship in the warm and arid conditions. They are prey to other animals such as snakes.
Why do they like to be alone?
Bearded dragons in the wild are often found basking in the sun by themselves. They will also find a comfortable spot to sleep alone. In nature, there is not much cooperation between these creatures as each one is focused on surviving.
When two beaded dragons meet in the wild, it is usually because one has strayed into the other and dragons in captivity should also be kept alone for the most part. While it is possible to keep them with other reptiles, it is not recommended as they can get very stressed and may even stop eating.
They have developed this behavior as a way to survive in harsh desert conditions. This independence also explains why they can be very territorial, which may lead to aggression if they are kept with other bearded dragons or other reptiles.
Can they be stressed or catch feelings?
Bearded dragons can get stressed from too much handling, not enough handling, being around other animals, or a change in environment. When they get stressed their bodies produce a hormone called corticosterone which can be detrimental to their health if it’s produced at high levels or for prolonged periods of time.
To avoid stressing your beaded dragon, sure to handle them often and make sure they have enough room to spend time away from other animals. Avoid changing the tank or home environment as much as possible, and monitor their behaviors for any changes that may indicate stress.
Most dragons are fine with handling it once a day but if you have time, you can squeeze in a few hours a day – twice or more times a day.
Bearded dragon cysts can also form in female bearded dragons, which may be linked to stress. In addition, stressed dragons are more prone to illness and may stop eating or become lethargic. If you think your bearded dragon has an ovarian cyst, take her to the vet as soon as possible.
Do they have feelings?
Bearded dragons are very intelligent and social creatures that experience a wide range of emotions. They can get depressed if they feel lonely or stressed, and may even form strong bonds with their human companions.
Like other animals, bearded dragons have the ability to feel happiness, sadness, joy, excitement, anger, and more.
Overall, it is important to keep your bearded dragon happy and healthy by giving them plenty of space and handling them often to prevent stress.
Are they intelligent?
Bearded dragons are intelligent pets that social-learn through imitation. ability to social learn. In a 2014 study conducted, bearded dragons that watched a demonstration were able to repeat the same action. Repetition is the elementary form of learning and animals that can repeat actions are considered intelligent.
Not only are they intelligent, but bearded dragons can also form strong bonds with their human companions. They may become attached to the person who handles them the most and may even follow them around when they are out of the cage.
While they do not show affection the way cats and dogs do, they make it up by being friendly, docile, and capable of forming strong bonds with their human companions.
Bearded dragons can be prone to a range of medical conditions, including ovarian cysts, parasites, and infections. These conditions can require costly treatments and may also require frequent vet visits.
Some common medical costs for beaded dragons include blood tests, antibiotic medications, parasite treatments, and surgery. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may spend up to $1000 for some conditions such as ovarian cysts.
For a simple medical check-up, it can cost you from as low as $30 to $200 which may be different if you have insurance and do not pay out of pocket.
How to handle them:
Bearded dragons are relatively easy to handle and care for. To start, you should always use gentle handling techniques when handling your bearded dragon, as they can become stressed easily.
You should also try to avoid changing their environment or tank too often. This can cause them stress and may lead to illness or aggressive behaviors.
Towards the end of each handling session, you should also make sure to spend some time relaxing with your bearded dragon by letting them bask in the sun. This is a key part of their natural behavior and will help them feel calm and comfortable.
Why do they like to bask in the Sun?
One of the key behaviors that bearded dragons display is their love of basking in the sun. This behavior likely developed as a way for them to regulate their body temperature and stay healthy.
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded animals, which means that they rely on external sources such as sunlight to maintain a healthy body temperature. Bearded dragons that have been living in captivity for a long time may also bask to help them feel relaxed and calm.
The lights bearded dragons need
When you adopt a bearded dragon and keep it in a tank in your house, they won’t get the natural UV rays from the sun the way they would in captivity. That’s where the mega UVB light comes in. This is a type of light that helps bearded dragons get the UV rays they need to stay healthy.
The UVB light should be placed on top of the cage and should be turned on for 12 hours a day. This will help your bearded dragon get the UV rays they need to stay healthy and happy.
The UVB light which stands for Ultra Violet B is a type of light in a specific UV spectrum that beardies use to stimulate vitamin D production in their bodies. While UVB light causes skin cancer in humans, it is essential for bearded dragons as they assist them to synthesize their own Vitamin D3 and aids in calcium uptake/bone strength.
What happens when there is a Deficiency of UVB light?
In the absence of UVB light, bearded dragons may develop a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause serious health problems such as bone weakness or skin infections. If your bearded dragon is showing signs of a vitamin D deficiency, such as lethargy or changes in behavior, you should consult a veterinarian immediately for treatment options.
Where to buy bearded dragons:
You can get bearded dragons from breeders or from pet stores such as tropical Rainforest Reptiles, The Bearded Dragon Ranch, Reptmart, and the World Of Dragons.
From bearded dragon breeders;
Beardie breeders such as Atomic Lizard Ranch, Blue Line Dragons, and CB Reptiles offer a wide variety of bearded dragons for sale. They often have a wide variety of colors and morphs (physical traits) to choose from.
Check your state’s agriculture resources to see if they have a list of breeders near you. You can also try to find breeders on Facebook.
From pet stores;
Petco and Petsmart are among the most popular pet stores that sell bearded dragons. They usually have a wide variety of morphs to choose from, and may also offer support for any questions or concerns you have about caring for your bearded dragon.
The only downside is that pet stores do not have a variety of exotic morph beardies as breeders do.
Ads and Facebook Groups
You may find ads and Facebook groups which are also great resources for finding bearded dragons for sale. You can find listings on websites like Craigslist, or join local bearded dragon or reptile-focused Facebook groups to find sellers in your area.
There are also many overseas breeders that sell bearded dragons. These breeders typically have a wide variety of morphs and colors to choose from, but the downside is that you may have to pay for shipping.
Rescue centers for reptiles:
If you’re interested in adopting a bearded dragon, you can check with your local reptile rescue center. These centers typically have a wide variety of reptiles available for adoption, including bearded dragons.
Reptile rescues are a great option if you’re looking to adopt an older beardie or one with special needs.
Some popular reptile rescue centers include:
- The Center for Reptile and Amphibian Rescue and Education (C.R.A.R.E.) in San Diego, California
- The Maryland reptile Rescue in Baltimore, Maryland
- The New England Reptile and Amphibian Rescue in Quincy, Massachusetts
- The Phoenix Herpetological Society in Scottsdale, Arizona
While each of these rescue centers has its own unique set of adoption policies and guidelines, they all share a commitment to providing safe and loving homes for reptiles in need. So if you’re looking for a bearded dragon or other reptile pet, consider checking out your local reptile rescue center.
Please check back soon as we continue to add more content to this guide. Please feel free to comment or share any thoughts on the sections already covered.
Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org