Breed: Bearded Dragons
Cost: $60 – $400
Lifespan: 10 -15 years
Recommended for: Home units. Those wanting something different.
There are three types of bearded dragons commonly kept by enthusiasts in Australia; the Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona Barbata), the Pygmy Bearded Dragon (P. henrylawsoni) and the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) – also known as the ‘Centralian’ (see pics above). The Eastern Bearded Dragon occurs along the length of the Great Dividing Range and is replaced in more arid areas by the Central Bearded Dragon. Pygmy Bearded Dragons are native to the black soil plains of Central Queensland.
Bearded dragons are terrestrial, sun-loving species and it is not uncommon to see them basking on the road side, on fence posts or logs. Of all the reptiles commonly kept, bearded dragons are amongst the most popular, due to their availability and relative ease of care.
Bearded dragons are named for the distinctive flap of skin which lies below their jaw. When threatened, these lizards assume a defensive posture, opening their mouths and pushing their throat skin forward to make this ‘beard’. This, combined with the strong spikes which line the lizard’s throat and the side of its body serve as a deterrent to would-be predators.
Of the three species, the pygmy dragon’s beard is less pronounced. Measuring 10 -15 cm from head to vent (the anus), it is roughly half the size of the central and eastern bearded dragons (each of which can grow up to 30 cm from head to vent). The tail of each of these species is about the same length as their body. Thus the larger lizards may grow as long as 60 cm. Compared to the pygmy bearded dragon, the head of the central and eastern bearded dragon is much broader in relation to its body.
All three are predominantly grey in colour with some variation towards orange, fawn, brown and black. This variation is largely dependant on locality, temperature, and in the case of the central and eastern bearded dragons, selective breeding. Bearded dragons regulate their body temperature through subtle changes in shades of colour, from light to dark; becoming darker in cooler weather and vice-versa. Colour change can also depend on emotional state, with colouration becoming more obvious when startled or in an aggressive posture. Selective breeding, especially amongst United States based herpetologists, has influenced colour variation such that distinctive oranges, blues, reds, apricot and tiger stripes are apparent in the central bearded dragons and white is known to occur in the eastern bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons are pretty docile and gentle animals, especially the centralian and pygmy. All three species will however be flighty and wary of handling unless they are hand raised and treated with care. Be mindful of open doors, windows or other pets if you choose to let you lizard roam the room.
Diet remains the same for all three species. Bearded dragons are omnivores and require a varied diet of meat and vegetable matter. Crickets and cockroaches are the preferred meat supplement, though domestic cockroaches are not advised. Commercially bred, live woodcockroaches called ‘woodies’ are available at many pet stores catering for reptiles. Live crickets are also commercially available in different sizes. Both cockroaches and crickets cost about $6.50 per container.
Leafy greens, sprouts and even frozen mixed vegetables can be fed and provide a suitable source of vitamins and minerals. Adult bearded dragons should be fed live food about every second day, with vegetables given every third day. A strict pattern of feeding isn’t required. In the wild, lizards are scavengers and opportunistic feeders. If feeding were withheld for three days, just ensure to feed for two subsequent days in a row. Added stimuli is provided by releasing live crickets or cockroaches into the enclosure for the lizards to hunt. Meal worms should not be fed as the carpus is too hard to digest and may create a blockage in the digestive tract. Commercially prepared bearded dragon food and vitamin supplements are also available.
Hygiene is a critically important factor when keeping bearded dragons. It is very important to ensure that food and water are clean and not soiled by faeces and detritus. Provide clean water daily. If you are away from home for a night or two, elevate the water bowl so that it doesn’t become contaminated with faeces. Bearded dragons, like most lizards, will naturally drink from water droplets or dew. To replicate how a lizard may drink water in the wild, use an atomiser to spray the wall of the enclosure, being careful not to saturate the area. You can expect to see a lizard lying in the bowl of water when it is shedding, as the water will help soften the flaking skin.
Bearded dragons can be susceptible to intestinal worms. No commercial wormer is available so consult a specialist reptile vet for worming medication.
One of the most common problems associated with bearded dragons is parasitic mites. The mites resemble very small black dots and if allowed to grow to large numbers, will cause the lizard enough distress and possible blood loss that it may become susceptible to other diseases.
As with other reptiles, bearded dragons are cold blooded animals and require heat to carry out normal metabolic functions. The enclosure temperature should range from a high of 30°C during the day to 20°C at night. Lighting should also replicate day length; around 14 hours of light and 10 hours of dark. Ultra violet light is very important for calcium absorbtion so provide suitable UV fluorescent lighting.
The most common injuries seen are bite wounds from snapping males, resulting in loss of tail tips, or toes. As long as enclosure hygiene is maintained, these injuries will usually resolve themselves. Young males can fight amongst themselves approaching mating season or until a pecking order is established. These skirmishes are usually short lived and cause little serious or prolonged damage.
If introducing a new bearded dragon to an established community, first quarantine it for seven days to determine its health status.
Around 10 -15 years. As the young bearded dragon grows, it will shed constantly. Once reaching maturity, the bearded dragon will shed every six to eight weeks. Shedding skin is lost in flakes rather than one long sleeve, as with snakes. In their natural environment, bearded dragons will enter a state of ‘torpor’ or hibernation during the colder months. Pet dragons will also slow down over these colder months, but possibly not to the same extent, depending on provision of heating lamps and food. Body fat is the primary source of energy at this time and the lizard may still go off its food. It is important to provide a secluded place for the lizard to rest.
Depending on species, bearded dragons will cost from $60 up to $200. Pygmy bearded dragons are most expensive, though strong colour variations will fetch up to $400. Enclosure set-up, including heating lamps, UV lights, thermostats, thermometers, shelter, ornaments and surface material will cost between $500 – $1000. Consult a herpetologist for the most appropriate set up.
Breeding and maintenance
One reason for their popularity is the relative ease of breeding. Bearded dragons settle well into their environment, producing eggs and sperm during the colder months. During the warmer months, when the lizards become sexually active, females may lay a batch of eggs every four weeks, ranging from seven to 21 eggs. Once laid, remove the eggs to a specially prepared incubator. Hatching rates may be as high as 95%. Once hatched, the babies are totally independent and can be fed straight away.
Bearded dragons are a relatively low maintenance animal. Although you need to change their water and remove faeces and damp surface material daily, this is a quick and simple process taking very little time. Feed regularly and just enjoy their company.
Environment and space
A 1.3 metre long cabinet is suitable for a trio of either the central or eastern bearded dragons or up to six of the pygmy dragons. It is ideal to not mix species, though not imperative. Bearded dragons enjoy a bright basking light, rather than a ceramic globe. If you do not have a basking light, one hour of basking is essential in natural sunlight. Due to its natural habitat, the eastern bearded dragon is less susceptible to the cooler conditions of the coast and can be kept in purpose-built, secure outdoor enclosures. Eastern Bearded Dragons will always remain more flighty than the other species.
Anyone who wants something different and doesn’t have much space. Or, those who live in home units or haven’t got a backyard. Bearded dragons are long lived pets which, although requiring an initial costly setup, are easy to maintain and can make a great feature in the house. They don’t smell or make a noise. The flighty nature of the eastern bearded dragon perhaps makes it unsuitable for children though the pygmy and centralian can make great pets for responsible kids. Only buy reptiles from reputable breeders or pet stores so you can be sure of what you are getting. It is recommended that prospective owners join a herpetological society for further information.
All reptiles are protected by law and prohibitions generally exist against the collection of reptiles from the wild. The basic legal requirements vary from state to state and are outlined below. For exact requirements, contact your State or Territory National Parks and Wildlife Service.
New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and A.C.T
All reptiles are protected. It is illegal to collect most reptiles from the wild and licences issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service are required for their keeping. Pet shops are not permitted to deal in reptiles.
Victoria and South Australia
The keeping and commercial sale of reptiles is allowed. Pet shops granted special permits may trade in reptiles. A licence is required for their keeping.
It is currently regarded as a serious offence to keep any reptile for hobbyist purposes. The WA government is considering changes to this law.
Reptiles are not protected in Tasmania. Any non-endangered species may be collected from any area other than within the bounds of National Parks. The importation of native reptiles from other states is not permitted.
We filmed our story with Steve Leisk of Kellyville Pets.
106B Windsor Rd
Kellyville, NSW 2155
Phone: (02) 9629 3282
ACT Herpetology Association
PO Box 1335,Canberra 2601
Herpetological Society of Queensland Inc
Secretary David Sewell
Phone: (07) 2298 2100
Victorian Herpetological Society
Phone: (03) 9437 0755
Western Australian Society of Amateur Herpetologists
Phone: (08) 9444 6412 or (08) 9445 2409 or (08) 9295 3007
National Parks and Wildlife Services
Phone: (02) 6207 9777
National Parks and Wildlife Service
Phone: (within NSW) 1300 361 967 or (02) 9253 4600
Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern
Phone: (08) 8999 5511
Environmental Protection Agency – Customer Service Centre
PO Box 15155
City East 4002
Phone: (07) 3227 8185
Department of Environment and Heritage
National Parks and Wildlife Service
Phone: (08) 8204 1910
Parks and Wildlife Service
Phone: 1300 135 513
Department of Conservation and Land Management, Western Australia
Phone: (08) 9334 0333