Bearded Dragons, the quiet achiever
People often ask us what is a great beginner reptile? I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to that question. People will say any of the Antaresia group because they are small. (they can also be quite snappy and deter young kids that don't want to be bitten!) I think the answer to that question is the reptile you want to keep (within reason, we do NOT suggest starting out with anything venomous or huge like Scrub Pythons or Perenties etc) but get what you want to keep. To me, there is no point in getting a Children's python if you really want a Diamond Python as you will not have the same interest level and want to clean out the enclosure and handle the python. Research is the key to keeping, the more you learn before you get your new reptile the better a keeper you will be. One reptile which is quite popular as a beginner for young or first time keepers are Bearded Dragons.
Central Bearded Dragons, Pogona vitticeps or more commonly known as beardies or vitti’s are excellent pets with great personality. They are great for the person who wants something a little more exotic and active than a blue tongue, but can still be handled for a reasonable amount of time without over stressing the lizard. As a whole they are slightly harder to keep than some of the other easily available lizards but their winning personality makes that little more effort worth while.
Beardies should be housed in large enclosure (1200 L X 600 H X 600 W) that can be made of a number of suitable materials such as glass, timber or even plastic. Juveniles can be kept in smaller enclosures but care must be taken that the cage will need to be enlarged when the lizard grows. A glass aquarium, with a screen or pegboard lid works very well as does a timber enclosure but care must be taken to ensure that the lizard has adequate
ventilation, warmth and security. If you are using a glass enclosure please remember that glass does not retain heat as well as wood does, so make regular temperature checks when you are initially setting up the enclosure.The substrate can be varied from sand, marine carpet and paper towel (age dependent). We use mainly sand for our Beardies and have found this easily cleaned and economical, as well as visually pleasing. Other effective substrates include the kitty litter which is compressed recycled paper and gravel. If using marine carpet/fake grass you should have two pieces cut to size. So when one gets soiled the other can be put in while other gets washed. If using gravel, paper or kitty litter the toenails may need to be clipped...this should only be done by experienced people, as the vein within the nail can also be nicked possibly leading to a serious bleed. All need cover in which they can hide. This can be provided by a hollow log or a rock near the back wall, leaf litter, commercially bought hides and other things like a flower pot cut in half etc. At least one hide should be in the warm end and one in the cool end of the cage. A basking site (a rock or log) should be placed very closely to the heat lamp in the enclosure to provide quick warmth. If you place a rock or branch in there you have the added bonus of a sloughing aid should your Beardie be having a rough shed. Also Beardies love to perch, branches off the floor of the enclosure will be utilized at length. The water bowl should large enough for the lizard to submerge partially, while being shallow enough for him to be able to reach the bottom. This should be situated in the cool end of the cage. Fresh water should always be available, especially as Beardies have a tendency to use their water bowl as a toilet. The cage should be cleaned out at least once a week to prevent the build-up of germs etc. But traces of faeces and urine should be cleaned as soon as it is noticed.
All heating and UV lighting should be placed at one end of the cage. This creates a
thermal gradient. This is vital for the survival of the occupants as if the cage is either too hot or to cool the lizard has a place to retreat to. Ways of heating include a 40-watt coloured light bulb(s) placed at one end of the cage connected to a thermostat. A heat mat at one end or both the light bulb and the heat mat. Beardies also must have a basking spot, this can be stimulated by a Spot Lamp (Reflector globe with as small spread) works great in maintaining a warm spot in the enclosure. By putting a log or rock underneath it, it will allow the lizard to perch and thermo-regulate (keep it at it optimum body temp.) Ideal temperatures for Central Bearded Dragons are about 38 to 42 degrees C at the warm end of the cage (underneath the spot lamp) and down to about 24 at the cool end.
It’s essential for all Dragons to have access to "Natural" Light. "Natural" light can be provided in a couple of ways, such as exposure to natural sunlight (this is the best way), the use of a Florescent tube or bulb. These lights can be purchased from a pet shop or reptile supplier. These commercially available tubes can mimic natural sunlight’s spectrum including UVA and UVB. These are both vital for healthy bone growth as it aids in the proper digestion of Calcium in reptiles and some amphibians. Regardless of what it says on the package these lights really only work properly if the light is WITHIN 200 mm of the lizard. If heating the cage with a globe set up, the cage must have dark coloured globes such as green or blue. This will not interrupt its photoperiod. The spot lamps should either be a Ceramic type (non light emitting) or on a timer with the same as the UV lights. All the Beardies are Diurnal (active during the day), however sometimes they are active also at dusk on warm evenings. Thus the photoperiod of 14 hours light to 8 dark in summer and 12 hours light and 12 dark in winter is acceptable.
Cooling allows for the males sperm to be produced and the in the females ova to be made.
The temperature of cooling should drop to about room temperature. However this drop should not be sudden, by turning on the heat for 4 hours in the morning for 4 weeks either side of the cooling period (1-month) this will allow the lizard to gently go into torpor. (In Australia most reptiles don't truly go into hibernation.). While being cooled the animal should not be handled or fed. If fed the food may kill the lizard as it while rot within its stomach as heat also plays a role in digestion. It is not advised to cool juveniles, gravid (pregnant), sick or under weight individuals as this can lead to the death of the lizard.
When your Beardie is an adult (over 170mm Snout to Vent (S.V.L.) it should be cooled in the winter months.
The Beardies are omnivores both accepting live and dead prey. Examples of what can be fed to Beardies are: various fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, lettuce, endive, watermelon (not the seeds), tomatoes, carrot, mangoes, cucumber, zucchini and
many more...I however do not recommend citrus, and strongly advise to wash anything washable to remove any traces of insecticides. Other plants: some plants such as clover and the flowers of roses, hibiscus and dandelions are relished. However remember some are poisonous so should not be fed. If feeding plants from your yard check with your neighbors that they do not use pesticides on their yard. Invertebrates such as beetles, crickets and wood roaches eaten, whenever possible. Juveniles tend to eat more insect prey and as they mature, their dietary habits shift to being primarily vegetarian. Bearded Dragons are movement orientated feeders - if housed together limbs may be bitten off or tail tips. Bearded Dragons should be housed separately if they are to reach optimum health. Males also like to prove they are the alpha male when housed together. This doesn't happen immediately but will happen when they mature which is another reason to be kept individually. Commercially available pellets, are great to be fed on occasion, they should be
moistened with either water or fruit juice. 1 in 3 meals should be dusted with a reptile calcium/vitamin supplement. This will ensure that the lizard is getting the right amount of balanced foods essential for survival. Also vary the diet it’s more enjoyable for the lizard to be offered a variety. Now remember most lizards won't feed if they are too cold.
All Beardies are oviparous (egg laying) however clutch size varies. When you think your female Beardie is a few weeks away put in a nest box for her to get used to and dig about in so when the time comes she feels comfortable using it. Beardies average a clutch of 12 but ranging from 3 to 40, the neonates are about 40mm S. V. L. The eggs take around 58 to 60 days to hatch at 31 degrees Celsius
. The mating period is from late August to early March. The actual act of mating usually lasts about an hour while up to 5 hours has been recorded.