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How to Tame Your Dragon

Bearded dragon feeding

Well, maybe not "tame" exactly - you see, it's the bearded dragon we're talking about and they're a bit smaller than in the movie. But "taming" sounds cool and let's not beat around the bush - most bearded dragon wanna-be-owners have a hefty dose of the cool factor. And there is a lot to love about a bearded dragon; just looking at one takes you back to the era of knights and castles and damsels in distress... or maybe just to the days you spent playing Dungeons and Dragons at university . Either way, beardies are cool, and here are some things worth knowing before you embark on a hero's journey with your magical beardie by your side.


The Background

Pogona is a genus of eight different reptile species, known to us commoners as bearded dragons. Not difficult to guess where the "beard" part comes from - they've got skin around their throats (called a gular pouch) that expands to look like a beard if they're challenged or excited. Pretty nifty, eh? Originating from the land down-under, Australia, they're now found all over the world. They grow up to two feet long (61cm), live for up to 6-10 years (or even longer sometimes!) and are popular - they are the number one most kept pet lizard in the world.


The Dragon Cave

We recommend setting up beardie's terrarium before bringing him home so he can immediately luxuriate in the beautiful "dragon cave" you've created. Okay, not much decor needed, true, as bearded dragons are at home in a desert-like landscape, but getting the sizeand temperature of that terrarium correct is key because, as you know, they are reptiles (i.e. cold blooded).

  • Be size-wise. It might be more cost effective to get a large adult habitat from the start; although bigger, and therefore more demanding, to keep heated, you can compartmentalise at first and then open up the closed section to your beardie as he grows. For young 'uns, a 40 litre tank is fine but an adult needs a minimum space of 200-230 litres, but in fact preferably one of 280-450 litres. If you're going to DIY the whole thing (very brave and cool of you!), this translates into making an enclosure for him which approximately 120cm long x 60cm wide x 50cm high.
  • Beardies need temperatures of 25-31 C° during the day and 21-26 C° at night. There are lots of suggestions on how to heat things up, from reptile-specific incandescent bulbs (expensive) to a heating pad under the cage. And they need some RVB (ultraviolet) light to produce Vitamin D. So, as you can see, the dragon-cave pre-set-up is important. Invest in a thermometer to check that you've got the day/night temperature thing right.
  • Your dragon's "decor" should consist of the correct floor-cover for his age and some "furniture" for beardie to bask on. Younger dragons will eat more insects, so think along the lines of newspaper or paper towels - think: happy to be messed upon, cheap and easily replaceable. For the older dragon, you can lay some non-silica sand, use tiles or, if you're feeling creative (and wealthy), a synthetic reptile "carpet".
  • So, the fun part: plants and furnishings. Artificial plants are probably best as they are likely more towards your aesthetic leanings than beardie's. Furnishings range from a simple piece of wooden branch to "baking rocks" to special bearded dragon Hyde Boxes. So much to choose from but really, beardie just needs an elevated spot to bask on, in some warmth, so that he can look ancient and all-knowing, as he is.


Food and Beverage

We've written a tasty little article right here, on What to Feed Your Bearded Dragon. So why the hell should we repeat ourselves here?!! Geeeezzzz... what's the matter with you, eh? Expect all the information in one place?! Geeezzzz... (Hugs and kisses, of course.)


Love and Hygiene

Do love and hygiene go hand-in-hand? We're not certain. But clean out beardie's dragon-cave regularly and he's sure to love you (more). Clean his tank (as well as water and food bowls) thoroughly once a week - you can use a 1:10 solution of bleach and water in a spray bottle, which should do the trick.

Beardie himself also needs a delicious aquatic bathing experience once a week, helping to keep him hydrated and assisting with his shedding, if that's what he's up to at the moment. Just wash him gently in lukewarm water. Also invest in a small mist bottle and give beadie a gentle squirt or two a couple of times a day - this helps skin stay moist and hydrated.



Did someone say shedding? Yes, but for beardies it's not terribly dramatic, especially if you're doing the bathing and misting thing. As your dragon grows he will shed his skin, more often as a baby when growth is rapid. There are no hard and fast shedding rules. Keep a close eye on beardie for loss of appetite and colour changes (darkening or dulling); these are signs that shedding could be in progress. To help your little phoenix while he's shedding, give him more loving attention with the mist-spray bottle but don't try and remove the skin yourself - it will all happen in good time.


Lucky In Love

Bearded dragons are quick, curious and usually charmingly affectionate (or rather, charming at receiving affection) if well-socialised. Handle/play/stroke/etc. your beardie at least once a day. Regular touching and excursions outside of the "cave" keep him engaged and it's good (for both of you) to entertain beardie outside his enclosed habitat - but take him out of his enclosure only for short periods of time (up to an hour) as his temperature needs are always paramount.


In Sickness and in Health

Sometimes knowing if your beloved beardie is okay can be tricky, what with shedding and (yes there's more) brumation. This is a hibernation cycle that your dragon may go through during autumn or winter when he responds to changes in temperature or light. Beardie might nap a lot more or sleep for longer, or do nothing different at all. Confused? Don't be! Being aware and sensitive is the key to keeping tabs on these cycles.

Beardies are generally healthy creatures, but sensitive too. When problems do arise they tend to be from dehydration, malnutrition, mites and parasites and dragon-specific diseases. Signs to watch for are a dragon off his food, abnormal pooping, lethargy and changes in personality. If you have any misgivings about your beardie's health, take him in to the experts for a check-up - mini-dragons (and the maxi ones too) are always very welcome in the Vet Kingdom.


Your Mission

So, now hopefully you're a little more set for your epic hero's journey with your fearless beardie bravely by your side (warm and well-fed) - just grab that suit of armour and find someone to rescue (no, not your other pets - beardie won't be a threat to them at all!) and you're good to go!

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