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Bearded Dragons (Pogona Complex)
Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) - Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata) - Black soil Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni) - Small-scaled Bearded Dragon (Pogona microlepidota) - Pygmy Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor) - Nullarbor Bearded Dragon (Pogona nullarbor)
The bearded dragon is by far one of the most iconic reptiles in the hobby today. Their popularity has played an important roll in advancing the reptile hobby and winning over the general public, often convincing people to take a second look at our scaly friends as potential pets. There are few reptile groups as suitable companion animals as bearded dragons. With their modern day ease of husbandry these animals have found their way into many homes in both Australia and abroad.
Today the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is probably kept and bred by more reptile keepers in the northern hemisphere than in Australia. Selective breeding and the use of mendelian genetics has resulted in the availability of “Beardies” coming in a range of designer colours. This species is so popular that pet food manufacturers now produce commercial pellet and wet food diets specific to bearded dragons.
Some of the smaller species of bearded dragon are also commonly available to private reptile keepers, and can make an interesting displays in a lounge or bedroom if space is limited.
Its important to remember that Bearded dragons have a relatively long lifespan and the larger species will live beyond 10 years and occasionally into their 20s with the proper husbandry. Bearded dragons are sun loving animals and once they heat up they are very active, this should always be considered before you make your purchase.
All bearded dragon species require high levels of heat and UV light for healthy normal activity. While many people keep them indoors, they will also do well in open outdoor "pit" type enclosures that get full sun for much of the day. Basking sites should approach 40 - 45°C in indoor enclosures, however it is crucial that they are able to thermoregulate their body temperature by providing a cool end of the enclosure if housed indoors or shaded spots if housed outdoors.
Healthy dragons will actively move around the enclosure between periods of basking under the heat source and exhibit very obvious behavior’s while thermoregulating. When trying to warm up they are often darker in colour and will increase their central body area and tilt it towards the heat source. When trying to avoid heat gain, they lighten their body colour and move towards any available shade, if heat becomes too high they can be seen panting with their mouths open during periods of heat stress.
Bearded dragons kept outdoors will be exposed to high levels of natural sunlight and this is the best way a bearded dragon can receive UV. However this isn’t always practical for every keeper and lizards kept indoors also need to be supplied with appropriate levels of UV light. This can be provided with mercury vapour bulbs or UV emitting florescent tubes . If fluorescent lighting is used, replace tubes on a regular basis (see packaging) and provide perching sites (eg, a raised stone slab) close to the tube without any screen or wire mesh between. Fluorescent lighting will also need to be accompanied by a radiant heat source such as a ceramic heat emitter connected to a quality thermostat.
Housing male bearded dragons together is not advisable as they will fight and can cause serious damage to each other and potentially death. A single male can can be kept with several females if the enclosure is large enough. A suitable indoor enclosure for a trio of central bearded dragons and eastern bearded dragons would be 1200mm x 600mm x 600mm. Members of the smaller species can be housed as trios and can be setup in enclosures 900mm x 600mm x 600mm.
The best substrate is sand and despite myths of bearded dragons becoming impacted when being kept on sand this is what they naturally live on. You can also use mulch or a sand/coco pete mix. Hatchlings may fair better if kept on paper for the first 12 months but I have raised many hatchlings on sand with no ill effect.
Adult bearded dragons are omnivores and can be fed a range of food items, vegetable material will feature as a large proportion of their diet. Finely chopped or grated carrot, cabbage, tomato, zucchini and pumpkin are great choices but fresh clover and especially dandelions are a favourite! Treats like strawberry’s, apple, grapes and fuzzy mice can also be given occasionally. Tinned dog and cat food can be offered but should not be fed too frequently. Commercial bearded dragon pellets can be used and appropriately sized feeder insects like crickets and roaches are always appreciated. Adults will feed every day if food is offered to them but good condition will be maintained on 2-3 meals per week. It is important to provide calcium supplements by dusting every second meal . Bearded dragons will happily drink from a water bowl so make sure their water is kept clean and fresh.
Getting bearded dragons to breed is not hard, getting them to stop can be a different story. Please consider if you are truly ready for the responsibility of breeding Bearded Dragons.
First you will need a pair and determining the sex can be achieved by visual examination. Males generally have large heads and a thicker base to the tail. The tails width is due to the two hemipens being housed there and females obviously don’t have this. Hemipenal bulges can usually be seen opposite to the cloaca in the base of the tail by lifting the tail tip. Males rapidly establish territories and engage active displays of head-bobbing after emerging from their period of winter inactivity, most mating activity occurs in spring from mid-August to September.
Sexual maturity in the smaller species can be reached within the first year and keepers should aim to breed females of the larger species in their second year. Dragons kept indoors will benefit from a 6-8 week winter cooling period if breeding is intended. To achieve cooling start to reduce the length in which the animals are exposed to heat, this should be done slowly over a 6-8 week period and can be paired with the reduction in daylight hours. Ensure feeding has ceased before commencing this cooling period. Once you notice your animals becoming less active and entering brumation you may consider turning off the heat and lights altogether. Once the cooling period has ended the opposite can be implemented until heating and lighting hours have been returned to normal. Once normal heating and lighting has been restored this should stimulate breeding activity.
You will often notice an increase in size in the female bearded dragon and egg lumps can be seen in the abdomen in the later stages of development. The female bearded dragon will require a nest box if kept indoors and this can be constructed from a large plastic tub with a large sized hole in the lid, it can be filled with sand or coco fibre or a 50/50 mix of both sand/coco fibre blend. The nesting media should be slightly dampened and not wet. Females kept in outdoor enclosures will dig relatively deep nest burrows that can extend to 1mtr in length. A wheelbarrow full of brick sand in a corner of the enclosure that receives morning sun is ideal. Females will carefully back fill the and hide the nest site.
Female bearded dragons are capable of multiple clutches and due to the large numbers of eggs, all meals need to be dusted with calcium powder through the breeding season and ensure adequate UV light is provided. The two larger species can lay 3-4 clutches per season and P.henry lawson is known to lay up to five clutches.
Bearded dragons produce relatively large clutches of eggs and the two larger species will usually lay 7-20 eggs per clutch. Large, well-fed females are known to lay more than 30 eggs in a single clutch. The smaller species will usually produce 4-15 eggs per clutch with P.henrylawsoni producing up to 20 eggs. The egg laying period for most captive bearded dragons in Australia extends from September through November and into December but the subspecies P.minor mitchelli will lay as late as March-May. Wild Eastern Bearded Dragons usually lay eggs from August to December and although wild Dwarf Bearded Dragons are usually reproductive from August to February there are records that suggest the females may carry eggs through winter. Female bearded dragons may be able to store sufficient sperm to produce several consecutive fertile clutches from a single spring mating.
Bearded dragons eggs are not difficult to hatch and can be successfully incubated in a range of slightly dampened media including river sand, coarse potting soils, vermiculite and Perlite. The familiar 1:1 ratio of vermiculite and water by weight works well as does the no-media technique where the eggs a simply placed on a grate and suspended over water.
Incubation temperatures should be kept in the mid to high 20's°C. Short periods outside of this range (the low 20's C or into the low-mid 30's C) will not harm the developing embryos. Incubating eggs at constant high temperatures may skew the sex ratio of hatchlings and will result in poor hatch rates. Expected incubation times can be seen below.
P. barbata 75-84 days at 25°C
P. henrylawsoni 48-56 days at 31°C
P. minor 45-54 days at 28-30 C
P. mitchelli 49-51 days at 30-31°C
P. vitticeps 55-86 days at 27-31°C
Hatchling bearded dragons can be setup in simplistic tub style enclosures with a heat source at one end and some bricks or timber for them to get up and close to the lamp, they can be raised in groups with their siblings or in smaller colony’s. Aggression is known between hatchling juvenile P. vitticeps and P. henrylawsoni and keepers should keep an eye on juveniles for evidence of depressed individuals. Any specimens not faring well should be separated from the group and kept alone until they have completely recovered.
Some bearded dragons will grow quicker than their cage mates and it will be necessary to begin separating them according to size, as they reach sexual maturity, male-male aggressive interactions may start to occur. Pinhead crickets are suitable food items for neonates and established juveniles will take the usual range of live food insects available to Australian keepers. Avoid mealworms until juveniles are well established. Finely chopped or grated fruit and vegetables (carrot, apple, tomato etc.) can be offered from 3-4 months of age. It seems particularly necessary to maintain a generous dietary supply of calcium and access to UV light for juvenile Dwarf Bearded Dragons, Provide drinking opportunities by spraying hatchlings every other day. Shallow water bowls should be provided once the hatchlings are feeding well and the frequency of spraying can be reduced as soon as they are observed.