What I've Learned From My Bearded Dragon
I've currently owned Atticus, my citrus Bearded Dragon, for about a year now. I have decided to share my knowledge with others, those who don't realize what they are getting into when they buy a dragon. All photos included are of my dragon, Atticus.
First off, it is not a good idea to buy a dragon younger than 6 months of age. Atticus was 6 months when I purchased him. However, baby dragons are hard to raise, and are not eating very well until they are around 6 months old. While pet stores will sell dragons as young as a few weeks old, a majority of them end up dying because the new owner does not have the means to take care of a dragon so small.
Your new dragon will need a habitat to live in. This would consist of a large tank, sand, rocks, a heat pad, and a UV light. A small dragon is fine in a 20 or 30 gallon fish tank, but as he/she grows, a larger tank will need to be purchased. This tank should be 3 or 4 times as long as your dragon, to provide ample exercise room. Fine sand makes a good substrate, and should be about 1 inch deep on the bottom of the tank. Your dragon will dig around it in, and you don't want it to be spread too sparsely.
A heating pad should be placed under one side of the tank, or a special heated rock should be placed inside the tank. It is up to you to decide which you prefer, however I have had the best luck with a heating pad. Also, a special UV light will be needed. The UV rays help to develop a dragon's bone structure, and also help him digest his food properly. The dragon's habitat should be kept around 80 degrees at all times. Only put the heat on one side of the tank, and a cooler side should be allowed in case your dragon gets too warm. Don't be alarmed if you walk in to see your dragon litterally flattened upon the heat source. Atticus does this every day, and it is an efficient way of keeping his whole body warm instead of just his stomach.
A top will be needed for your dragon's habitat. Some pet stores will tell you that it is not needed. DON'T LISTEN TO THIS. I let Atticus out to exercise, and he can jump from my floor onto my windowsills. He can most certainly jump out of his tank. When I first brought him home, he was able to squeeze though the makeshift grating that I used as a top and was sitting on top of the tank when I checked on him. It is much better to pay an extra $20 for a "lid" of sorts than to risk injuring your dragon, or having him lost.
A Bearded Dragon's diet should consist of mostly leafy greens. According to many vets, Approximately 80% of your dragon’s diet should be leafy greens, 10% should be veggies, and the other 10% should be a good protein source, such as insects. However, a young dragon will be more interested in crickets and worms. Don't starve your dragon thinking that he will learn to eat his veggies. Place a small bowl with greens or vegetables in it in the tank, but still feed him his insects. He will become curious and learn to eat the greens as well. If he doesn't eat what you give him, try something else. Atticus is picky when it comes to his veggies. He loves lettuce and dandelion greens, but he refuses to eat carrots.
Crickets and meal worms are an excellent source of protein for your dragon. These can be purchased at your local pet store. Atticus eats about 4 - 5 worms in the morning and about 6 crickets in the evening. During the day, he snacks on his veggies. Vitamin supplements should be added to your dragon's food, especially for the first year of growth. This helps promote healthy bones. The easiest way to do this is to get a fine powder from your local pet store. Sprinkle a small amount into a zip lock bag, and then put a few crickets in. Gently shake the bag, then take the crickets out and place them in your dragon's tank. The powder will stick to the crickets and this will give him his extra vitamins.
Another food source is pellets. These can be bought at your pet store too, and offer extra nutrition and something crunchy for your dragon to eat. Atticus is currently eating "Rep-Cal's Growth Formula, a Juvenile Bearded Dragon Food". This is made with real fruits. Atticus is so picky, he refuses to eat the red pellets (they come in a mixture of red, tan, and green, apparently the colors are flavored like different fruits). He will pick out all the tan and green pellets, leaving a bowl full of reds.
When it comes to watering your bearded dragon, he has a very unique way of drinking his fill. Bearded Dragons are desert animals. As you know, there is a limited water supply in the desert, and you can't just go up to the nearest puddle and get a swig of cool, refreshing water. So, Bearded Dragons have evolved, and soak water in through their skin. Knowing this, you will need a small misting bottle. Put some warm water in it and gently mist your dragon twice a day. A small water bowl should be included in his tank. Though most dragons do not actually drink water, Atticus does, and loves to play in it.
In addition, your dragon should be bathed once a week. If your dragon is not kept bathed, he can become constipated. If your sink is big enough for your dragon, you can put him in there for his bath. I use my bathtub for Atticus, as our sinks are small. You'll want to put warm water in the area you're bathing him in. Not too hot, and not cold. It should be no deeper than your dragon can stand in, not over his head. Many dragons enjoy their baths. Atticus loves "swimming" (more like walking) and playing during bath time. DO NOT use soap on your dragon. Gently rub over his back and legs to remove and sand from the pores in his skin. When he is finished with his bath, place him back in his heated tank right away after drying him. Otherwise, he can become too cold.
Bearded Dragons do molt. I wish someone had told me that when I bought Atticus. About a week after I brought him home, I came down to feed him one morning and saw a large piece of skin hanging off his leg. I thought his leg was falling off! Once I took a better look, I was able to calm down, and I realized he was just shedding his skin. Dragon's do this periodically, especially when they have a growth spurt. However, fully grown dragons still molt.
I'm not sure if this happens with Dragons of every color, but I know it does with Atticus. He is a vibrant, bright Citrus (yellow) Bearded Dragon. However his coloring does change during one particular activity. When he sits on his basking rock, below his UV light, his skin turn a brownish color, and spots appear on his underbelly. Along with this, his beard turns almost black. The first time I saw this, I assumed he was burning and removed the light quickly. After about half an hour, his normal color returned, and he was never harmed. Apparently the UVB rays turn his skin brown when he is under it for long periods of time. My best friend and I jokingly accuse him of working on his tan whenever this happens.
A Guard Dragon?
Atticus is a very loving dragon, and apparently very loyal. He feels he needs to protect me from my boyfriend. I'm a very ticklish person, and when my boyfriend decided to tickle me in front of Atticus he did not like it at all. He assumed that my boyfriend was hurting me, and instantly puffed himself up and started hissing at him. Once he stopped, Atticus calmed down again. Its slightly funny to watch him now, because every time my boyfriend enters the room Atticus stops what he's doing and watches him. When I have Atticus out, he will crawl up on my shoulder to keep an eye on my boyfriend to make sure he doesn't try to tickle me. I'm not sure if this is a typical dragon chacteristic or not, but he's very protective over his "mommy".
A "Pretty To Look At" Pet...
Many people think that Bearded Dragons are meant to be seen and not touched or played with. This is incorrect. When I am around, Atticus is out with me. He will cling to the front of my shirt and ride along with me while I'm doing chores, such as sweeping or laundry. If I'm watching tv, he sits on the couch beside me, or crawls up on my lap. He is very inquisitive, and its adorable the way he cocks his head when he hears a voice, just like a dog would upon hearing something new and interesting. He's just as adventurous and curious as any puppy.
However, Bearded Dragons do not require this amount of attention. So, if you're looking for a pet that takes minimal care, a Bearded Dragon might be right for you!
My Little Boy Is Growing Up.
Another thing I couldn't believe is how much Atticus changed in the 6 months that I had him. When I bought him, the lady in the pet store said he would be citrus, and showed me a picture. But looking at him, he was more of a sandy color, and I thought she was just incorrect. But with each molting, his skin lightened in color, and he is now a brilliant yellow. He's grown an enormous amount too, being only 11 inches long when I bought him and presently measuring 1 1/2 feet in length. Below are some pictures of him and myself, taken throughout the course of his first 6 months with me.