Bearded Dragons Are Awesome!
Getting Ready for a Dragon
Changing my salt water tank to a desert habitat wasn't that difficult. I scrubbed the sides, removed the live sand, let the tank dry out for a week and then removed any sediments that remained. I put hot lights over the tank as well to expedite the drying/evaporation too.
Within weeks, I had a tank that was ready for a new creature!
I wanted to start with a baby dragon so that it could grow up knowing me and my students. I had a 75 gallon tank in my classroom as well so that the dragon could "journey" back and forth. Hence, her name.
Baby dragons cannot have sand or crushed substrates as they may eat it and become impacted; ending in death. Most babies are around 7-9 weeks when they show up in pet stores. Tiny and cute, they require more care than a larger dragon does. The flooring of the tank needs to be carpet like and something that can be taken out and cleaned. Dragon poop is messy, wet and very smelly!
Some people use paper toweling for their dragon at this stage. Or, you can buy the plastic carpet/turf at home stores and have it cut into pieces so you can replace the piece when you remove it for washing. I used carpet squares I found at the Dollar Store. These worked well the first 5 months of my dragon's life.
Other things you need for the tank are heavy dishes (one for water, one for dry food and one for veggies/fruit), plastic plants, driftwood and heat/UVB lights. The heat and light components are the most important factors in your dragon's health.
I bought the ceramic heat/basking coil and a dome to house it for the top of the tank (I rest it right on the metal lid) and then a 48" strip light to house the UVB lamp. Get the Repti-Glo 10.0 strength for this. This also rests on the top of the metal lid. The heat lamp doesn't produce any light but it is hot! This is used by the dragon to bask. Basking allows for proper digestion, molting and overall health for your dragon. The UVB light provides light that is comparable to the desert sun. Your dragon also needs this for proper health and digestion. Without the two types of bulbs, your dragon will become ill and will have health issues as well.
Some people buy smaller tanks to begin with their dragon. I didn't. She started out in her 75 gallon tank. At times I used to worry that she wasn't warm enough and would move her closer to the basking bulb. When she was younger, she used to stay toward the bottom. I realized that dragons will remove themselves from the heat when they get too warm. As long as she basked under the heat lamp for a few hours a day as a youngster, she was okay. She is now a year old and has gone through over 10 molts. She is very healthy and happy!
I like to use driftwood in my tank for the dragon because it is sturdy, heavy and provides a comfortable resting place for basking. The wood also absorbs heat without getting hot and allows the under part of the dragon to receive warmth too. It is expensive to purchase but well worth the investment. I got four pieces. Two are in the tank at a time. When I want to sterilize the ones in the tank, I switch out with the extra pieces. Therefore, my dragon gets a change and still has her comfortable surface. Driftwood can be cleaned/sanitized with a water/bleach spray. Spray the wood. Let it soak. Rinse well. Put in the sun or a 200 degree oven to dry it out and remove the bleach smell.
A dragon's diet should be varied and readily available. Baby dragons need many crickets in their diet in addition to their daily vegetables. Crickets provide protein. There is calcium powder that can be used to dust crickets with before feeding the dragon. I always opted to using calcium fortified gut feed and calcium fortified quenching cubes for my crickets. That way, they are loaded with calcium when the dragon eats them! Crickets should not be bigger than the eye space of the dragon. Otherwise, they can cause choking.
When your dragon matures to around 7 months, you can switch to large sized crickets. By the time your dragon is 6 months old, crickets should be given weekly as vegetables should make up 90% of the diet. When I say weekly, this means 1-2x per week instead of every day. My dragon will eat 100 crickets each week; most of them in one feeding session! Instead of putting the crickets in her home tank, I put them in a smaller 5 gallon tank with lid. That way they can have their food and quenching cubes available. When it comes time to feed the dragon, I remove the food/quenching bowls and put the dragon in the 5 gallon tank. She doesn't miss one that way! Otherwise, crickets will hide in the driftwood, plastic plants and substrate; making it hard for the dragon to find them all.
Vegetables should be given daily to the dragon. The smaller the dragon, the smaller the pieces of food. All vegetables are not safe, nor are all fruits. Fruits should be offered as a treat but not as a daily food staple. There are many lists of appropriate foods for dragons on the Internet. The main staple your dragon should get daily are greens. Greens are a combination of collard, mustard and turnip greens. These also are chock full of calcium and help with over all health. I also feed my dragon squash. Butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash. Cook in the microwave without seasoning or butter. She loves it and it is full of vitamins your dragon needs. Many other veggies can be fed occasionally but should not be used as a daily feed. My dragon eats a handful of greens daily. Be sure to remove uneaten vegetables/fruit by the end of each day.
I also keep a small bowl of Zilla Fortified Dragon Food in her tank at all times. It is hard, dry and doesn't spoil. At first, she wouldn't touch it. Now, at a year old, she eats it daily. It provides additional protein and vitamins/minerals she may not get with her other food.
Dragons eat a lot! She will graze all day long but will never overeat. It is important that your dragons crickets are not wild, but purchased at a pet store. Wild crickets can carry insecticide or other potentially fatal substances. Vegetables should be fresh and not beginning to rot. Fresh water should be provided as well. Dragons do drink water. They also like to poop in their water dishes too. Yes. Gross!
When my dragon was smaller, I cleaned my tank every week. When I saw that she had pooped, I cleaned that up with anti-bacterial wipes. I wiped down the plastic plants with anti-bacterial wipes too. Her food dishes were washed in soapy water, rinsed well and dried.
Now that Journey is a year old, I use the crushed walnut shell substrate or I have also used the "bed a beast" substrate in her tank. I change that out completely every two months. I scoop out any poop that I find with a scooper. I still wash down plastic plants with an anti-bacterial wipe when I see she defecated on them. Otherwise, they get a washing in soapy water when I change the substrate. I wipe down poopy areas on the driftwood but sanitize them every couple of months with the bleach/water solution. Dishes are cleaned weekly.
I find that she chooses certain spots to "potty" as she has gotten older. This makes tank cleaning a bit easier.
I also take a wet cloth and wash down the inside walls of her tanks when I change the substrate. Then, I dry it well.
Dragons are desert creatures but don't worry if you spill some water on the substrate. A little bit of humidity won't hurt your dragon. Remember, it gets cold at night in the desert and it also rains! As long as your basking/heat lamp is on 24/7, your dragon can warm up when they need to.
The UVB light however needs to be set on a timer. Twelve hours on. Twelve hours off. This allows your dragon to get sleep. Within 5 minutes of the timer going off, Journey is out for the count. She will often crawl into the cool substrate at the bottom to sleep. She also turns a gray-white color at times before she sleeps. Perhaps to camouflage or to lower her body temperature for sleeping.
When a dragon molts, it can cause discomfort to them. Think of a bad sunburn that is peeling. I give Journey a bath weekly. This not only allows her body to absorb moisture and hydrate her, it helps her molt faster. Never peel the molting skin off of a dragon's body! It can leave skin underneath sore or raw and possibly cause burning from the basking lamp.
I use warm tap water and either fill my tub to where she can still stand with her head above the water or I run warm water in the sink and let it shower over her. Baths/showers last about 10 minutes. I then wrap her in a thick towel and take her to bask in her tank. I don't want her to get chilled or catch a cold, which can happen to reptiles if they get chilled and they are wet.
Journey loves the water. I notice that molting takes just a couple days with this routine. Before I gave her baths, her molting would take over a week. Dragons do not lose all of their skin during molting. Parts at a time will shed off. Don't be alarmed if her head looks like it is twice its size or if you find something that looks like a leg in her tank! The skin comes off in large pieces typically.
Fruits-as a treat
Baby= very small every day
Baby= no loose substrate/clean weekly
Juvenile= small every day
Juvenile= no loose substrate/clean weekly
6 months= medium 1-2x week
Young adult= can use looser substrate/clean well monthly
Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti squash
7 months/older= large 1-2x week
Adult= loose substrate/clean monthly or as needed
Caring for your Dragon
Dragons are very social and loving creatures. My dragon will tilt her head and listen to conversations in the room. She recognizes my voice and comes to the front of her tank to greet me when she hears me enter the room.
Dragons love to be held but they do have sharp claws so I wear a towel on my shoulder when I carry her around. I also take Journey outside with me sometimes and hold her while sitting in the sun. Never put your dragon down on the ground unless you want the chase of a lifetime! They are super fast!
Just know that dragons can not be "housebroken". If they have to go, they will go where ever they are. Even if it's while they are on you! Another reason for the towel!
Some people allow their dragons to walk around on the floor in the house. As long as you are supervising, your dragon will love it! They love to explore and will often lick items to check them out.
They are awesome pets and pretty easy to care for. Initial costs are high but later, the biggest expenses are crickets (about 8.00 a week) and vegetables (about 2.00 a week).
Journey does well in my classroom too. She loves being pet by the children and sitting on their shoulders. She also loves basking in the natural sunlight on my classroom windowsill during the day.
I'm glad I made the decision to get a Bearded Dragon. With so much personality and such intricate and beautiful body features, she give me great joy.