Animal Care/Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are lizards, in the genus Pogona, that are native to Australia. Bearded dragons are often kept as exotic pets, especially the Inland Bearded Dragon (species Pogona vitticeps). These pets are also affectionately called "beardies" by those who breed or raise them. They are a popular breed among children because of their friendly and calm nature.
Bearded dragons have broad triangular heads and flattened bodies with adults reaching approximately 18 to 24 inches head-to-tail. When threatened they will expand a spiny pouch under their jaw and turn it black, as well as inhale air and puff up to make them appear larger. The pouch resembles a beard lending the animal their name. Males are often slightly larger than females with a broader head in proportion to their bodies, but females are often slightly more heavily set. Bearded dragons have a distinctive series of lateral spines (specialized scales) radiating horizontally from the head to the base of the tail. Their color ranges from light tan to dark brown depending on their native soil often with highlights of black, brilliant red, or gold and can change somewhat depending upon their internal condition. Some captive populations have been selectively bred for more brilliant colorations. As juveniles they spend some of their time in trees. Adults are usually ground dwelling, but will climb trees to bask and search for prey. Bearded dragons occupy a large range of habitats in their native environment from the desert to dry forests and scrublands 
All species are from Australia, but they have been exported worldwide and bred successfully in captivity. In the wild, the various species are widely distributed throughout different regions of Australia. In captivity, Bearded dragons usually live to be around 10 years old though their life spans are shorter in the wild.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous consuming many different sorts of plants and animals. In the wild, Bearded dragons live in places that are dry and sparsely vegetated, so food may often be difficult to find. As a result, bearded dragons are capable of subsisting on a wide variety of food sources.
Their stomachs are large enough to accommodate large quantities of food. At a young age, bearded dragons will not eat as much vegetation as their adult counterparts. As a bearded dragon ages it will eat less animal matter and more plants, leveling off at around an 80% plant and 20% animal diet.
These lizards have animated and highly social behavior, a mild temperament, a willingness to breed in captivity, a flexible diet, and a robust nature. Because of these characteristics, bearded dragons are popular among reptile enthusiasts as pets.
Bearded dragons are omnivorous requiring both insects and vegetable food. A typical diet for captive bearded dragons includes leafy greens and vegetables, and regular meals of feeder insects.
Diet includes crickets, roaches, locusts, silkworms, hornworms, butterworms, and phoenix worms. The mealworm has a fairly hard chitin (exoskeleton) and is generally low in the "chitin to meat" ratio making it less nutritious than other feeder insects. Chitin is hard enough that large amounts of it can cause impaction in the bearded dragon's digestion system and can lead to death, especially in younger animals. Waxworms can be given as a treat, but no more than 1 or 2 a week in most cases as they are extremely fatty and in some cases very addictive. The rule of thumb on feeder insects is that the food fed to the animal must not be larger than the space between the eyes. Feeding something larger could make it hard for the animal to swallow the food and can lead to the aforementioned fatal impaction.
Before being offered to the dragon, it is recommended that insects be fed for at least 24 hours in advance, or as they are called "gut-loaded" to increase their nutritional value. Commercial cricket foods for gut-loading are available, but many household food items may be used instead, such as a half a slice of potato or carrot. It is essential that most of the dragon's food (especially livefood) first be dusted with a phosphorus-free commercial calcium supplement, as bearded dragons are susceptible to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) if their calcium and vitamin D3 requirements are not met. A vitamin supplement should also be applied, but no more than twice a week as overuse can also cause health problems.
Insects caught in the wild are not recommended, due to the increased risk of pesticide exposure and parasites. Fireflies and all other animals with bioluminescence chemicals can be fatal to bearded dragons.
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, 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 diarrhoea, which can be fatal. Rhubarb, kale, cabbage, and spinach contain high oxilates which bind to calcium and in large amounts can lead to metabolic bone disease.
A 20-gallon (75 liters) aquarium is the bare minimum for a juvenile bearded dragon, however, they will fast outgrow this within their first year. For an adult the minimum is a 4 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft wooden vivarium with front opening doors, 40 gallons (150 liters) breeder, though many breeders recommend a 55-gallon (200 liters), breeder, instead. This allows the dragon ample space to turn around, lie down, and run to and fro as it chooses.
Bearded dragons bask most of the day, absorbing the heat they need to digest their food. It is important that there are at least one or two good basking spots in the dragon's habitat. Rocks are preferable to logs as they hold heat better, though logs can also provide stimulation for the animal as they will climb it. However, any item taken from the outside must first be boiled or baked to remove contaminants. Electric or battery powered heating devices such as hot rocks and heat mats should never be used these can cause horrific stomach burns or fires if they malfunction, so they are never recommended. A habitat should also include something under which the dragon can hide.
Bearded dragons also need proper lighting. A UVB light is needed with two options being available, fluorescent strip bulbs or mercury vapor bulbs. These bulbs will need to be kept within 8 inches of the basking spot so your lizard can properly absorb the rays and need to be replaced every 6 months. Without a sufficent UVB light source, Bearded dragons may develop metabolic bone disease (MBD) and not eat as much. A dragon needs between 12 and 14 hours of daylight; much less or more causes problems with their circadian rhythms and makes them lethargic and sick
For heating, bearded dragons need bright white light during the day. Do not use a red light at night. It has been proven that bearded dragons can see this and their sleep may be disturbed. Under tank heaters should not be used as a beardie can only feel the heat from above. Low wattage ceramic heat emitters are best. If your basking lights and low-end temps are correct during the day, then your pet should not require any night time heating as in the wild they sustain much lower temps than 65F. If your house is exceptionally cold at night, then you should use a low wattage ceramic heater.
Temperature is one of the most important health factors. A dragon needs the correct temperature to digest, so a good thermometer is essential. Analog, round, stick-on, and other non-digital thermometers do not measure basking temperature properly as they do not measure the actual basking spot just the temperature of the air or glass. A digital thermometer with a probe or an Infrared thermometer are two recommended types of thermometers. Temps need to be 101F-110F [basking spot] during day and 60F-65 at night (the higher end of this range for babies; the lower portion of the range for adult dragons). If the dragons do not receive the proper heat, then they will become lethargic and will eat less. Eventually, the lack of proper heating will become fatal.
The substrate is another very important factor in keeping a healthy dragon. Babies and juveniles are particularly at risk of impaction and are often kept on paper towels for ease of clean up and disposal, and low risk of substrate ingestion. Tile is another popular choice as is reptile carpet. As the dragon gets older it can be put on finely sifted play sand. Calcium sand is often used and widely recommended but is also reported to be a cause of impaction due to 'clumping' in the gut if ingested, while play sand will pass straight through a well-fed individual. Walnut shells, wood chips, and anything else of that sort are never to be used. They are large with sharp edges and can be swallowed. They are not digestible and will swell and clog the gut causing a very painful fatal impaction.
Bearded dragons are known to be very docile and trusting, outgoing and curious lizards.They may make faint clucking noises. If you scare them they may make a loud hissing sound. Their behaviour includes body language such as head bobbing and leg waving. However, it is not recommended to try to arouse this behaviour as it is territorial in nature.
Pogona vitticeps is one of the more docile and friendly lizard species in the lizard pet trade. Unlike many large monitor lizards and smaller lizards like anoles, bearded dragons tend to enjoy human contact and being handled by humans. They rarely bite, scratch, or otherwise attack a human. They are likeable and get the owner lots of attention, especially if taken out and about for a walk (providing it isn't too cold). In fact, civilians have been known to stop people walking their beardies to take pictures. As a result, bearded dragons are a suitable reptile for a house with children provided hands are washed after contact.
Bearded dragons can be perfectly happy when kept singly and in general don't live very well together. But they may do well if kept in pairs or even small groups with just one male. However, keeping two males together above six months of age is a recipe for disaster inevitably, as they will almost certainly fight, and there may well be bloodshed and even fatality.
In pairs and groups one dragon may become bullied and lose-out with regard to food, so well-being should always be monitored. In poor and stressful conditions there may be minor skirmishes and it is possible, though rare, that they will nip at each other, causing the loss of toes or even the end of the tail. Some of this can be worked around by having a larger tank and feeding the dragons separately, such as in a feeder tank outside of the main one.
Dragons may brumate, a period similar to a mammal's hibernation. The animal will become lethargic and not come out that often eating less if anything for a period of two to three months. Brumation is often a concern to those unfamiliar with it, as lethargy and lessened appetite usually mean illness. When brumation starts to happen, it is suggested to go to a veterinarian with a fresh fecal sample for inspection for illness and parasites.
Due to selective breeding dragons have begun to exhibit rather distinctive colorations. These "designer" dragons display brilliant hues of pastel oranges, violets, and reds. The most popular morph thus far has been the "Sand Fire" dragon, which exhibits a bright red-orange color with black stripes. A more unusual sub-breed is the Leatherback, and another is the Silk-back. These dragons have reduced or no scales respectively, creating a smoother appearance. Much like designer dogs, the price tags of these customized pets are many times that of dragons without a specific morph.
To sex a dragon, one must hold the tail up and look above the cloaca, also known as the vent. Males have two hemipenal bulges just above it, creating an hourglass shaped indent. Females have only a single lump. Males are also known to have large femoral pores along the inner thigh. Dragons can lay up to 50 eggs a clutch. Females have been known to eat the eggs that are stillborn or unfertilized.
When provided with the proper habitat, temperatures, and UVB lighting, bearded dragons are hardy lizards. They are also pets who do their best to hide health problems when becoming ill (as do most reptiles). This is probably an instinctual behavior, since a sick dragon in the wild would probably not live long. Their most common diseases are: mites, terminal ingestion, thermal burns, calcium deficiency, impaction, hypovitaminosis A, respiratory infections, dehydration, stomatitis, internal parasites, coccidia and other parasites, dystocia (egg binding), and MBD.
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