BEARDED DRAGON CARE
Water Always provide fresh water for your dragon. It should be in a bowl or dish shallow enough for your lizard to see easily into and drink out of; deeper bowls can be half-sunk into the substrate. Due to the corrosive action of hot water on copper pipes in hard-water systems, use only cool or cold water.
An enclosure should be large enough to provide a wide temperature gradient both horizontally and vertically. Beardeds can be surprisingly quick (trotting with their bodies raised well off the ground), making top-opening enclosures a must. A top to the enclosure is required; this will keep the dragon from taking off on its own and will keep the crickets inside the tank. Tanks must be well-ventilated, yet able to retain heat. Tanks with parts of their top or sides made of screen often work well. Make sure the tank top is large enough and sturdy enough to hold a full-spectrum/UV light and a fixture for supplemental heating. There is some debate about the best substrate. In their native environment, beardeds live in sandy desert areas. Decomposed granite or large grained sand is often used, though there have been reports of intestinal impaction. Other substrates include gravel and aquarium rock (which are more difficult to clean and disinfect), outdoor carpeting (trim loose threads), butcher paper, unprinted newsprint, paper towels and terry towels all making suitable substrates, though there is no question that the proper sand layered thickly on the bottom of the tank, with branches for climbing and basking, and rocky, ceramic, or wooden caves, and perhaps even some nonprickly succulents, make for an attractive, and relatively easy-to-maintain, vivarium. Do not use corn or walnut cob, alfalfa pellets, kitty litter, or wood shavings. Beardeds have a very active metabolic rate, so plan on frequent cleaning. As their fecal pellets are dry and compact, if sand is used a kitty litter scooper may be used on a regular basis, with the tank undergoing a thorough cleaning and disinfecting several times a year. Regular replacement of the substrate assures the environment remains as healthy as possible for the dragon. Beardeds need both basking and hiding areas. Ideally, the tank should be big enough to have a hiding place at both ends of the temperature gradient, plus a basking area closer to the heat source. Provide, at least, a hiding area on the cooler side, with branches and logs for climbing and basking on the warm side.
Although bearded dragons are primarily desert dwellers, they do spend the hottest part of the days in relatively cool areas; as with all desert animals, too much heat can be just as dangerous as too little. The temperature gradient during the day should range from 76 F (24 C) on the cool side to 86 F (30 C) on the warm side, with a basking area ranging from 90-100 F (32-37.7 C). Night time temperatures can drop no lower than the low to mid 70s (21 C) on the cool side. An undertank heating pad under the warm side of the tank will gently heat the substrate. A basking light or heating element should be positioned above so that there is a vertical gradient, with the warmest end at the top. To give yourself as much flexibility as possible to cope easily with changing ambient room temperatures throughout the seasons, consider hooking your heating element or basking light to a thermostat. There are several models available, ranging from those that are hardwired into the tank to plug-in ones with simple dials. An even easier method is to plug the heating element or basking light fixture into a table lamp dimmer switch. Check around for a model that gives you many setting options; some have only three (off-dim-bright) which may be too limiting for your needs. If using a ceramic heating element, you should use a porcelain light socket as the socket part of the fixture can get very hot; the last thing you want is meltdown or fire. If using high-wattage light bulbs, make sure that the light fixture you are using is rated for the wattage of the bulb; some fixtures can safely handle bulbs up to 150 watts, which could be a problem if your bulb is over 200 watts. Use at least three thermometers to check your temperatures: one on the cool side, one on the warm side, and one in the basking area. Place them where the animal spends its time, not just where it is convenient for you.
Beardeds need daily access to a UVB source, either being regularly exposed to direct sunlight, or to UVB-producing fluorescent tube such as Duro-Test's Vita-Lite or Vita-Lite Plus, Zoo Med's Iguana or Reptisun lights (5.0+) or similar UVB-producing fluorescent tube. Incandescent lights, while suitable for use as heat sources, do not provide the full spectrum required by reptiles, including no UVA and never any UVB. Plant lights and many aquarium lights are wide-spectrum rather than full-spectrum lights, and so should not be used other than as supplemental lighting or heating in addition to the full-spectrum lighting. The term "full spectrum" is incorrectly used by incandescent light manufacturers whose lights are suitable only for producing heat and light; they do not produce the UVB required for calcium metabolism. For additional information on the different heat and light sources available, please read the Lighting and Heating article. A UVB-producing tube that also produces white light may also be paired with a fluorescent BL black light (not a screw-in Halloween or so-called poster light) to provide additional UVB, the wavelength that essential in the metabolism of vitamin D3. Some herpetoculturists feel that it is beneficial to provide additional UVB to desert lizards. Make daily lighting easy for you. By plugging the light fixture into an appliance timer, such as those made for table lamps, you can set the light to go on and off automatically. When you use a timer, your lizard won't be left in the dark all day or in the light all night if you work late or have to go out of town for a day. Never use a white light of any sort at night, for lighting or for heat. This will stress your animal, eventually affecting its ability to thrive through the resultant lack of sleep, loss of appetite, and other stress-related symptoms. If you need to provide supplemental heat at night in addition to the undertank heating, use a ceramic heating element or a nocturnal reptile bulb; the former produces no light, while the latter produces a dim bluish-purple light. Your bearded will enjoy a shower now and then: a light misting with water will also help keep the skin humidified to make it easier to shed. The tank, however, should never be damp.
Warning! You must feed very small prey to baby bearded dragons. While the rule-of-thumb for feeding lizards says that it is generally safe to feed prey that is 2/3 the size of the lizard's head, this is not advisable with baby beardeds (0-4 months). When fed prey that is too large for them, serious physical problems often result: partial paralysis, seizures, ataxia (loss of motor control), inability to self-feed, gut impaction, even death. Start with feeding pinhead crickets and tiny, freshly molted worms, moving only slowly and gradually to larger sizes, phasing in day-old pinks when they are ready for them. A significant portion of the Bearded Dragon's diet may consist of leafy greens. Dragons enjoy many types of readily available greens, including: collard greens, spring greens, escarole, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, parsley, kale, and carrot tops. It is also recommended that this portion of the Dragon's diet be supplemented with a variety of finely diced fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Feeding a mixture of these plants ensures a wider variety of nutrients, and variations in texture to aid digestion. As with insects, however, certain plants can be toxic to Dragons. The Avocado and rhubarb are lethal to Dragons, as well as particular greens; iceberg lettuce is mostly water and causes diarhea, which can be fetal. Rhubarb, kale, cabbage, and spinach contain high oxilates which bind to calcium and in large amounts can lead to metabolic bone disease.
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