If you want a friendly reptilian pet who’s easy to care for, your choice is an easy one: You want a bearded dragon.
Beardeds are not only tame when handled, but many also seem to enjoy the contact. Even better, they’re suitable for almost any pet lover or family situation – and a great pet for a responsible child.
Bearded dragons enjoy exploring, whether crawling on their owners or around the house. They stick out their tongues to touch new surfaces to determine the temperature and makeup of the area – a behavior that adds to their appeal.
Beardeds live to be about 10 years old and will measure 18 to 24 inches in length, including the tail. Hatchling beardeds are only about 3 1/2 inches in length, and look more like a gecko than a giant lizard species. Common colorings of the bearded are yellow and tan, though they can be found in more vibrant yellow, orange and albino.
The bearded dragon name comes from the display the pet puts on when trying to act tough. The puffed-beard display is used only defensively to scare away potential threats. Along with puffing out, beardeds also flatten out their bellies to look wider, as well as leave their rather large mouths gaping open to intimidate the potential threat.
Beardeds are quite happy to live alone in the wild, except when in search of mates. If you want more than one, however, there’s no downside, since they seem to enjoy the companionship of another of their kind. Female beardeds can usually be housed with another female or male, but males should not be housed together, due to territorial aggression.
Beardeds need human help to maintain their temperature in captivity, using heat lamps or warming pads. They do well in tanks where some areas are cooler and some are warmer – a range of 85 to 105 degrees by day, dipping into the 70s at night.
You’ll also need special lighting, since these reptiles need UVB rays to properly absorb dietary calcium. A full-spectrum light should be provided 12 to 14 hours a day most of the year, and 10 to 12 hours in the winter.
Omnivores by nature, beardeds enjoy both plants and meat in their diet. Juveniles enjoy a carnivorous diet, while adults become primarily herbivores, enjoying a diet of dark, leafy vegetables and some fruit. All food given to the bearded should be shredded into easy-to-swallow, bite-size pieces. Insects should be given to adult beardeds two to three times per week. They eat mainly crickets, but also mealworms, wax moth larvae and pinkie mice in limited amounts.
Beardeds hit sexual maturity between 1 and 2 years of age, when females will start laying eggs, regardless of whether they’ve been mated.
Veterinary care is minimal for pets who are being properly cared for. After purchase, your bearded should be examined for health and parasites, with treatment for the latter if necessary. After that, annual examinations are recommended, to help your veterinarian understand what’s “normal” for your pet, so treatment can be more targeted if there’s a problem.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.