Bearded dragons are the most popular species of reptile kept in captivity in Australia. They have a curious and friendly personality.
There are 8 different species of “beardies” and the most commonly kept variety is the Inland or Central Australia species. Bearded dragons are so called for their scales and loose skin under their throat, which often may turn darker when they are excited or during territorial displays and look like a beard.
Bearded dragons are a desert species and can live for 7-10 years in captivity.
Bearded dragons are cold blooded like all reptiles, so the set up of their enclosure is critical to keep them healthy. Unlike mammals, which regulate their body temperature internally, bearded dragons rely upon environmental temperatures to provide them with warmth. In the wild, bearded dragons will bask upon sun warmed rocks when it is col, and burrow underground to keep cool in the heat of the day. The preferred body temperature of bearded dragons is 35-39oC and in captivity, stress arises when they are kept in an enclosure with a narrow temperature range that does not meet their requirements. This means they are unable to regulate their temperature by moving to a warmer or cooler area and can lead to an array of health problems. Never assume that the temperature set on the thermostat is really what the lizard is experiencing in the enclosure. Thermostats break and malfunction, so it is important to regularly check the temperature in the enclosure with a thermometer.
Brumation occurs in wild beardies in the southern parts of Australia when winter temperatures drop below 10-12 degrees for more than 2-3 days. Brumation is a state of torpor not dissimilar to hibernation. They become sluggish and have a reduced or even absent appetite for 2-3 months. As the ambient temperatures rise consistently above 12 degrees then they become more alert. Many lizards in captivity do not go into brumation as they are in an environment of artificial temperatures where the thermostat may not be set lower over winter.
Juvenile beardies are primarily insectivorous and prefer to eat crickets and mealworms. However as they get older, they become more omnivorous and need a more varied diet. A lot of health problems such as metabolic bone disease (similar to osteoporosis) and periodontal disease (gum recession) are caused by inappropriate diet. Adult beardies need greens, leaves, berries, fruits and flowers in their diet and actually do best on a 60-90% herbivorous diet.
Beardies have a requirement for exposure to UV light to metabolise calcium and prevent metabolic bone disease (similar to osteoporosis). This is best achieved by exposure to natural sunlight, but may be achieved through special UV lights bought from specialist reptile shops. UV lights need changing every 6-8 moths as although they still produce visible light the UV light (which is not visible to the naked eye) is no longer produced. A natural day-night rhythm should be maintained with the lights on for 12-14 hours a day in summer, and 10-12 hours in winter.
Above is a photo of Veterinary Nurse Lana's baby bearded dragons "Eggy" and "Uno".