Creating the perfect place for your bearded dragon to live is essential because just one mistake can affect its health. You need to have an enclosure setup that combines the aesthetical and physical benefits of their natural habitat with the comfort and nutrition of a terrarium.
In tandem with my previous points, this article discusses must-have items that every bearded dragon setup should have. I have outlined the things that you have to have and do so that you have the best bearded dragon setup.
So, if you recently adopted one of these lovely pets for yourself and you’re thinking of creating a nice home for them, I’ve got exactly what you need to know.
What is a good setup for a bearded dragon?
Just like the comfort we seek from our homes, bearded dragons in captivity also need the right place—one that looks similar to their natural habitat. Now, what does that look like?
Bearded dragons originate from Australia, and they live in the desert with only a few lakes or ponds nearby, which means the perfect enclosure for your pet needs to have a desert-like temperature and humidity. But let’s get this right: the most important thing in their terrarium is getting the lighting right, because a mistake could have serious repercussions, including, in the worst-case scenario, death.
To avoid making these mistakes, here is a list of things you need to do to welcome your pet home:
- Temperature and Humidity levels plus lightening: UVA basking light, UVB light, digital thermometer, hygrometer, ceramic heat emitter
- Food and water bowls
This is the first thing to get for your bearded dragon, and luckily, there are three types to choose from depending on the features and your preferences.
Three types of terrariums:
- Glass tank
- Wood and Glass
- PVC Plastic
- Glass Tank: The glass tank is the most popular and affordable for beginners. It provides a 360 view of your dragon as you can closely watch and observe them. Most of these are sturdy, maintain good airflow in the tank, and dirt is easier to spot so you can clean the tank quickly and properly.
The downsides to using glass are that it’s fragile and it doesn’t retain heat compared to other options on the list.
- Wood and Glass: These are terrariums made from both wood and glass, and they benefit from wood’s insulation capability. But these are also heavy, meaning that moving them is a bit laborious.
Another disadvantage is that wood absorbs water, which can cause mold, and that could cause infections. The good news is that there’s a way of combating that issue. All you have to do is get a pond shield, which gives your terrarium a nice coating. This helps make the tank less susceptible to water, and the terrarium can last longer.
- Plastic Tank: This is the best option on the list. Plastic terrariums are made using either PVC or ABS. Plastic is lightweight and a better insulative material compared to metal, so a lot of heat is retained in the terrarium.
The problem with plastic terrariums is that it is hard to control the humidity.
Let’s talk about sizes.
Although bearded dragons grow fast, you don’t want to get them a tank much bigger than their size. This can lead to stress from moving around from the basking spot to other areas in the tank.
For a month-old bearded dragon, a 20-gallon tank is usually advisable, and for a month-old, a 30-gallon tank. You can get your baby beardie a 40-gallon tank now and watch them grow in it till they’re four months of age. However, bearded dragons of six or eight months will do fine in a 75-gallon tank, and if they’re very much older, a 120-gallon tank would be enough.
Above everything else, getting a great enclosure is important as they’ll be spending most of their time there. Also, if your dragon is still growing, be prepared to keep changing the tank.
There are lots of substrates on the market, and while some options are harmful or toxic, others might be just what your bearded dragon needs.
Sand: Sand is the natural substrate found in their natural habitat and it contains lots of nutrients, but that’s desert sand. Now, the problem a lot of pet owners have is wanting to replicate this in their dragon’s enclosure, which is great for adult beardies, but not so much for baby bearded dragons or dragons in general.
Here’s why: most sand sold in stores doesn’t contain the same nutrients as the ones in the desert, and that can generate issues for your beardie. For instance, in an attempt to eat their insects, your bearded dragon can end up ingesting sand, and the sand can cause issues for its gastrointestinal system. Some insects can hide in the sand and bite your beardie. The sand can also get into their eyes, so there are just too many risks involved.
Reptile Carpets: Reptile carpets have become more popular with bearded dragon owners, and they are available in different patterns. Unlike sand, reptile carpets are plush and feel great on your beardie’s skin. They’re machine washable and can be reused and they can also be cut up according to the tank’s size.
One of the negatives that make some of these products not reptile-safe is that your beardie’s nails can get caught up in this. Therefore, exercise caution when making your purchase.
Newspapers or paper towels: Newspapers or paper towels can be another option in your terrarium. They easily absorb water and stay in place when wet. It’s very affordable and won’t make a mess.
The issue with using newspapers or paper towels is that you have to change them every time, and after a while, it becomes expensive, and they also don’t look too good in the terrarium.
Ceramic tiles: Ceramic tiles are great because they prevent your beardie from tripping compared to other kinds of tiles, and they’re easy to clean as all you have to do is spray them with some cleaning agent and wipe dirt off. It’s also great for helping them file down their nails, and you can get these in different patterns to achieve the look-alike of what can be found in their natural habitat.
However, the size of your tank to the tiles might be difficult to get since you have to cut it off and measure it to get the right fit, but it still looks great and could be the best choice for your dragon.
For the temperature in the tank, you will need three different temperature levels:
- The Basking spot
- The warm spot outside of the basking spot
- The Humid/cooler area
Another thing that’s needed for the temperature in the tank is the UVA basking light and a UVB light.
The UVA Basking light: This should be placed underneath the mesh lid and it has to be set as the setup’s artificial sun, so a bulb of 50-75 watts will be preferable. You can also get regular bulbs used in the house; it doesn’t have to be a product with reptiles drawn on it. Bearded dragons rely on heat, so the basking light is extremely important.
The UVB light: For the UVB light, get a tube-shaped one, not the coiled version, as the tube-shaped one not only lights up the entire tank, but it’s also more effective. What’s a UVB light useful for? UVB is essential for Vitamin D and metabolizing calcium. If there’s no UVB in your dragon’s terrarium, it can lead to metabolic bone disease. (MBD)
This occurs when they can’t get enough calcium in their diet, and to enable that, they need UVB light. Without it, their bodies make use of the calcium in their bones, thereby weakening them. Also, ensure that their diet consists of calcium supplements so they don’t develop hypocalcemia (abnormally low levels of calcium). On the other hand, too much UVB light also causes Hypercalcemia (too much calcium)
In terms of light placement, make sure there’s a safe distance from the light to your dragon to avoid burns. Also, ensure the bulbs are changed every six months because just because it’s working doesn’t mean it’s effective.
At night, UVB and UVA lights should be turned off as beardies only get 12-14 hours of sunlight in the desert, but when it goes dark and your house drops to less than 65°F, then there’s one more thing you might need.
Other items to ensure the safety of your bearded dragon
Bearded dragons rely heavily on their environment to regulate their body temperature, which means the tank’s basking spot needs to be between 90-110°F, the warm spot needs to drop 10°F less than the basking spot, and the cooler side of the tank can be between 30 and 40% humid.
To make sure this is accurate, use a digital thermometer to measure the basking area and a hygrometer to measure the humidity for the other section of the tank. These tools help you create an environment with conditions similar to their natural habitat. Remember that too much heat causes dehydration, and too much humidity enables slow metabolism and the inability to properly digest food.
Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE): Lights get turned off at night in the tank, which is normal, but if the temperature in your house drops by less than 65°F, then you’ll need the heat emitter to provide the heat required. This provides the heat they need without lights, but if the temperature doesn’t drop lower than this, you might not need this.
Hygrometer: This is useful for measuring the humidity level in the tank and also to make sure you stay on track with everything else. If it goes higher than expected, then you know you have to do something about the tank.
Digital Thermometer: Important for the basking spot because, as much as they need heat, once it blows out of proportion, your beardie could start to feel uncomfortable, but as long as you have your thermometer gun, you will avoid any mistakes as far as tank temperatures are concerned.
Timer: This helps with when lights should be turned on and off in a bearded dragon’s tank. This means that they get light and heat automatically and that not only saves you the stress, but it also helps your dragon stay healthy as they don’t need to wait for you to manually turn it off.
To add more beauty to your tank, you might want to get plants, basking logs, or a hammock, but as much as that makes your terrarium look great, your pet should be the topmost priority.
Plants: When it comes to plants, make sure they’re non-toxic. Examples of safe plants are basil, aloe vera (your dragon consuming too much of this can lead to diarrheal reactions, so you need to keep an eye on it), dwarf jade plants, parsley, oregano, mulberry, hibiscus, and many more.
The only reason you can’t get any real plants is that your dragon can eat those plants, so to avoid issues, check what plants you have before placing them in the tank, and to be on the safe side, consider getting quality plastic plants. They can’t eat that unless they are hungry, and it makes your tank look great. Besides, real plants require watering, which, if you don’t have prior experience, means you need to juggle taking care of your pet and a plant. Again, it could increase the humidity in the tank, so going with plastic plants is much better.
Hammocks and Hides: Bearded dragons love hammocks to relax or play in, and it’s also useful whenever they’re shedding, as they can just rub against them to relieve themselves. They also need hides when they go into brumation.
Basking log: This is where they climb in the morning to get the heat before eating breakfast. This makes your dragon feel like it is in its natural habitat, so it is essential to the tank.
If you find anything outside, ensure that it’s safe to bring into the tank because your pet’s overall health matters more than the visual outlook of your terrarium.
Food and Water Bowls
At some point, your dragon needs to eat and/or drink. Get them shallow ceramic food and water bowls so that they’re unable to get into them or tip them over. Whenever you fill up the bowls with water, make sure it’s not too deep so they can’t get into it, but be prepared to change the water often as your beardie can also get their droppings into the water.
For food, bearded dragons eat live crickets, insects, and vegetables. They’re not vegetarians, which can be a bummer if you’re one, but if you can’t provide them with live insects, get them some dried ones, and if you can, get yourself a pair of tweezers to protect yourself from getting stung by an insect.
Do Bearded Dragons do better in pairs or alone?
In the wild, you hardly see them as companions. This is because they’re pretty much solitary animals.
If you keep the males together, they will turn aggressive and can end up killing each other.
When females are together, there will always be one dominant one, taking all the food and claiming the best basking spot while the other one ends up with nothing.
And if you keep a male and female bearded dragon together, be prepared for more bearded dragons. The bottom line is that bearded dragons thrive alone.
Do you turn the heat lamp off at night Bearded Dragon?
Bearded dragons don’t need a lamp at night, so you need to switch it off. Most of the time, pet owners get colored lights and leave them on, but your dragon doesn’t need that.
They’re diurnal creatures who need optimal rest at night, so don’t mess with their sleep routines by turning on the light.
They need both the UVA and UVB off at night because they only need it for 12-14 hours, and remember, it does get dark in their natural habitat too. So your beardie needs the darkness to sleep and get energized for the next day.
A bearded dragon needs the following to feel comfortable and stay healthy: a tank as its home; a good substrate; a UVA basking light; a UVB light; basking logs; enrichments; and food.
Above everything else, put their health first. I cannot emphasize this enough, and I hope it’s one of your important takeaways from this guide-like article.
Start with the first step and take it from there to create the best environment for your bearded dragon.