If you've been tempted to adopt a bearded dragon, there are a few things you've got to consider before hand....
1). Do your Research before you adopt a Bearded Dragon.
First, of you need to know that you are buying from a reliable breeder.
Dragons are a very complex species, make sure that you are buying a healthy dragon, to begin with:
"First time buyers should get a mature dragon as babies are fragile and get sick easily."
If you are thinking of adopting a Bearded Dragon look for one which is over 15cm long as baby dragons are more fragile and get easily stressed, it is much simpler and easier for a first time owner to care for a more mature dragon.
2). Are Bearded Dragons Good Pets for Children?
In short they are not ideal. Bearded Dragons are one of the more complex species to look after as a pet. They have certain needs that need to be met such as exact enclosure temperatures, strict dietary requirements, expensive enclosure maintenance - such as UV bulbs and habitat scenery, and sometimes they like nothing more than to be left alone.
Although Dragons are friendly, they like to live alone, and may be 'aggressive' at first, it's because they need time to get used to their new surroundings and people. It is worth analysing a Dragon's behaviour before adopting so that you will understand their body language.
For example: If they are 'waving' it means they are being submissive. If they are 'bobbing' it means they are challenging for dominance.
3). What to do After Adopting a Bearded Dragon
Once your Dragon has been home for a week it is worth booking them in for a check up at the vets. They will give your pet a once over to make sure they are fit and healthy. They will look for any parasites along with any possible health issues. The good thing is you wont need to get them vaccinated like you would a cat or dog. You should aim to take your Dragon to the vet for a check up every 4 months or so.
4). Space and Environment
When purchasing your Dragon's enclosure make sure you buy a Vivarium Tank instead of a Terrarium or an Aquarium Tank. A Vivarium will help keep the temperature as it has one glass wall and three solid walls. Make sure you buy a big encough enclosure as a Bearded Dragon can grow up to 2 feet long and will like to climb about in its enclosure. An adult Dragon will require a minimum tank size of 55-60 Gallons though a 75-120 Gallon is preferred so that they have ample room to move around. This is their home remember where they will spend the majority of their lives in.
TIP: Storing your bearded dragon will take up a lot of space in your home. It is worth taping out the size of the tank in the quiet room you will be keeping them in a month or more beforehand so that you will see just how much room they will take up!
Dragons like temperatures between 25-31C during the day and 21-26C during the night. This temperature is monitored through light sources during the day and possible heat mats or thermostats during the night. Look into a secondary heat source option so that there is a temperature gradient for your Dragon to live in. It is essential that there is a fire alarm in the room since electronics can fail under extreme temperatures.
You should never put more than one Dragon in a tank, this is due to their territorial nature - especially amongst the males. You should clean out the enclosure weekly, Keep your Dragon clean and healthy with a bath once a week.
Things to Look out For!
Bearded Dragons have been known to keep their mouths open when basking and pant like dogs to monitor their body temperature. You should make sure your Dragon is given a temperature gradient in their tank so they can thermoregulate themselves at will. If they are obsessively panting this is because they lack this temperature gradient within their enclosure and are trying to cool themselves down.
5). What does a 'Black Beard' on a Bearded Dragon Mean?
This can mean one of a few things depending on the Dragon's characteristics.
Territory: For males, it can be territorial, it can mean this is my territory or be a dominance stance over weaker males and females. This can be seen with head movements such as bobbing. A female however is unlikely to use this 'colour changing beard' to show territory dominance.
Aggression: Both male and female Dragons will display a dark shade of grey or black to their beard if they wish to be left alone, feeling uncomfortable, are angry. This is a survival technique to frighten away predators along with hissing, a gapped mouth and puffed up the body to make themselves bigger and more frightening. Do not handle a Dragon after they have 'puffed-up' as this is when they are at their most aggressive
Mating Season: A male Bearded Dragon will display a darker beard to display to the females to indicate courtship. The male dragon's beard will go from 'normal' to black if they see a female and will also bob their head and slap the ground to indicate arousal. If the female is interested she will move her arm in a 'wave' like gesture.
Illness: A dragon may blacken their beard if they are feeling unwell to grab the attention of their owner. If they have been acting unlike themselves and their black beard has lasted longer than usual, get them checked over with a vet who handles reptiles.
Attention Seeking: Sometimes a black beard can mean that they want attention as they are bored and want to play. Spend some time with them out of their tank but remember to be gentile with them, and if a child is playing with them make sure they are supervised.
6). What Food and Dietry Requirments do Bearded Dragons have?
As a young Dragon, you should be feeding them a diet of a variety of insects such as crickets and smallworms, offer as many as it will eat within a 5-10 minute timeframe. When they get older however, you should start introducing vegetables into 2/3rds of their diet. When feeding your Dragon the food size - no matter what the food - should not be bigger than the space between its eyes. Any food bigger than this can cause choking or in the worse case scenario hind-leg paralysis! Young Bearded Dragons tend to eat 2 to 3 times a day. Provide fresh water daily.
7). How do you Handle a Bearded Dragon?
Take your dragon out once a day. They are very curious creatures and will get to know you better. Wear long sleeved clothes as they have sharp claws and may want to investigate you. Bringing your Bearded Dragon out of its enclosure will help reduce their stress levels when they are needed to be taken out during an enclosure clean or going to the vets.
Tip: Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling your Dragon with non-scented soap to reduce salmonella risk.
Summary of Costings
A lot of people will take their bearded dragon for a walk when they are old enough, using a specialist harnesses. We created a unique ID tag that can fit onto the harness for that extra piece of mind. You can find it HERE