The most common reptile species kept as pets are typically medium-sized, non-threatened, captive-bred, and easily obtained. The central (or inland) bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) fits this description perfectly, making it by far the most popular pet reptile in the world.
Common name: central (inland) bearded dragon
Scientific name: Pogona vitticeps
Natural habitat: found in a wide range of arid to semiarid regions from the south-eastern Northern Territory, west Queensland, and NSW to the eastern part of southern Australia. They live in very diverse habitats including desert, dry forests, and scrub.
Wild diet: They are a ‘hunter predator,’ an opportunistic omnivore eating a wide variety of arthropods, worms, small rodents, lizards, greens, fruits, and flowers.
Appearance: They are a medium-sized lizard (250-510g). Bearded dragons have a flattened body, entirely covered by specialised scales. The dragons look rather stout and thorny with large and rounded eyes. The specialised scales form spiny projections, densely covering the flap of their skin. Their legs are long and strong, enabling them to hunt and climb. They are mainly grey with occasional shades of black, brown, fawn or orange. The area around their eyes and at the side of the head is often yellow in colour.
Behaviour: They are not social animals, though sometimes they congregate into groups to feed and bask. These dragons are diurnal (most active during the day) and, and although terrestrial, they are excellent climbers, often seen basking on picnic tables, fence posts, or fallen branches.
Keeping a bearded dragon
Even though these are a common species, you should carefully consider whether a bearded dragon is the right pet for you. For information on what to think about before making that decision, please see this article. You also must have a licence to keep them. There are a wide range of sources from where you can obtain a bearded dragon, but you must not take them from the wild or release a pet dragon into the wild.
The captive bred dragons are often different in colour from their wild cousins. The most common colours are tan, yellow, olive-green, and red, but other colour varieties (morphs) include black, white, and orange. More recently, dragons are being bred for reduced scale size (leatherbacks) and scaleless (silkbacks) mutations. The more unusual and rarer morphs are highly prized and much more expensive.
As bearded dragons are naturally a solitary species, they should not be housed together, as they may fight and injure each other.
Life expectancy for bearded dragons in captivity is 7–12 years. It is best to acquire an adult or a juvenile who is older than 3–6 months of age. By that time, they should be established, feeding regularly, and demonstrating robust growth.
Ecdysis (shedding) in bearded dragons occurs in multiple pieces; shedding frequency depends on growth rate. Watch for retained shed, especially around the digits and tail tip.
- Size: As they are a terrestrial reptile (they live mainly on the ground), the enclosure should be long, rather than tall. An appropriate enclosure for an adult bearded dragon could measure 1.2–1.8m long, 0.6m wide, and 0.6–0.9m high.
- Substrate – newspaper or paper towels can be used and are very easy to keep and are hygienic. Sand, gravel, or recycled paper kitty litter can also be used. Care must be taken to avoid your dragon eating sand or fine gravel.
- Their love of climbing should be catered for by providing some rocks, branches, and posts.
- A shelter should be provided but be careful with providing too many plants, as they may raise the humidity too high for this desert species.
Heating and lighting
- As a desert species, central bearded dragons have a preferred body temperature in the high thirties, low forties. To reach this, they will need a thermal gradient of 27°C to 45°C (meaning that there should be variation in temperature in different parts of their enclosure, so they can choose what temperature they want to be at to help regulate their body temperature).
- As they are diurnal (active during the day), they will need at least 12 hours of light daily.
- They are very reliant on ultraviolet light for the health of their bones, needing either an artificial light source or 4-6 hours of unfiltered sunlight each week.
Field studies have shown that the diet of adult bearded dragons consists of 90% vegetable matter and 10% animal matter, while hatchlings and juveniles (less than 4 months of age) eat 30% vegetable and 70% animal matter, while older juveniles (4-12 months) consume 50% vegetable and 50% animal matter. Live food greater than the width of the dragon’s head should not be offered.
- insects (e.g., crickets, mealworms, ‘woodies’). Note that there are potential welfare and ethical considerations with the feeding of live insects to reptiles to think about; for more information see this article.
- assorted leafy vegetables (e.g., dandelion, Swiss chard, escarole, endive, romaine, beet tops, and Bok choy)
- carrots, squash, and zucchini
Insects should be ‘gut loaded’ and dusted with calcium powder immediately before been fed to your dragon. A multivitamin powder can be sprinkled on the vegetables every two weeks.
The frequency of feeding depends on the age of your dragon:
- Hatchlings (less than2 months) should be fed two to three times/day
- Juveniles (2–4 months) can be fed twice daily
- Dragons older than 4 months can be fed every 1-2 days.
It is best to offer food in the mornings while your dragon is most active and able to catch the food, and so that digestion occurs during the warmest part of the day.
These lizards got their name due to their ability of making their throat look like a beard by inflating and puffing it out as well as the ability of their throat to turn to black when threatened.
The bearded dragon often uses body posture as a signal. For example, standing on three legs and rotating the fourth leg in the air, the dragon can greet members of its group or show subjection to a more dominant male.
When threatened by a predator, dragons flatten their body and enlarge their throat.
These lizards regulate temperature of their body by changing shades of skin colour from dark to light and backwards.
If a leg or tail of a bearded dragon is damaged and lost, it will not grow back unlike other lizards.
Healey M (2023) Bearded Dragon Care Guide on Reptifiles. Accessed 22 Jun 2023
Johnson R, Adwick S (2018) Central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps). In: Yeates J (ed) Companion animal care and welfare: the UFAW companion animal handbook, First. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Sussex, pp 395. – 411
Raiti P (2012) Husbandry, Diseases, and Veterinary Care of the Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps). J Herpetol Med Surg 22:117–131
Sollom HJ, Baron HR (2023) Clinical presentation and disease prevalence of captive central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) at veterinary clinics in Australia. Aust Vet J 101:200–207
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