The Housing, Feeding, and Handling Guide to Bearded Dragon Lizards

Few lizards are as easy to recognize as the bearded dragon. One of the most popular captive lizards in the world, bearded dragons are large, trusting, and engaging pets. 

Bearded Dragon Lizards

They recognize their owners and even communicate using their limbs and heads. Bearded dragons eat a wide range of foods and come in an array of beautiful color morphs.

This in-depth guide covers everything you need to know about caring for bearded dragons as a pet. I discuss housing requirements, feeding, and even handling these gentle reptiles.

What is a Bearded Dragon?

Bearded dragons are a species of agamid lizard native to Australia. Agamids are also found throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. They are distant relatives of iguanas, chameleons, and anole lizards.

There are six species of lizard in the genus Pogona. But the Central, or Inland Bearded Dragon, is the species that is by far the most common in the pet industry. This variety was introduced to the USA in the early 1990’s.

Wild-type bearded dragons tend to be brown, creamy yellow, or gray. But thanks to decades of effort you can find a bearded dragon with true dragon-like colors. Names like “sunfire red” and “citrus tiger” give you clues to the intense colors captive-bred lizards have.

As impressive as they are to look at, bearded dragons are also very social animals. They recognize each other – and their owners – using a variety of signals. 

Arm waving is one such method: your dragon will slowly raise its arm up and then down. “I see you.” This is a sign of acknowledgment and submission in less dominant lizards. 

Head-bobbing, on the other hand, is a sign of aggression. Males do this more often, both to each other and to females. The spiky “beard” these lizards have under their chins may also be inflated. This makes them look even larger and more menacing.

That said, bearded dragons almost never try to bite. They have one of the most relaxed personalities of any pet lizard. All of these qualities ensure they will remain staples of the reptile hobby.

  • Common Names: Bearded Dragon, Central Bearded Dragon, Inland Bearded Dragon
  • Scientific Name: Pogona vitticeps
  • Origin: Australia
  • Length: 16 to 24 inches
  • Tank Size: 55-75 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Bearded Dragon Lifespan: Up to 10 years
  • Ease of Care: Easy

How to Take Care of a Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragon care is very easy. They just need a strong light source for heat and ultraviolet radiation. These are also not small lizards so a larger enclosure is required compared to anoles and other common pet lizards.

How to Take Care of a Bearded Dragon
Reptile Rapture

Bearded Dragon Tank Size

Baby bearded dragons have no trouble living in smaller setups. But adult bearded dragons are medium-sized pet lizards. A 55 gallon aquarium is the minimum, with 75 gallons being more comfortable. 

A 75-gallon tank is 18 inches wide, giving a larger male lizard plenty of room to turn around in. You also have space for more decorations, enriching the environment of your pet.

How Big Do Bearded Dragons Get?

16 to 24 inches is typical for a full-grown bearded dragon. They are small enough to be housed in larger aquariums. Which is convenient compared to iguanas, savannah monitors, and other true giant pet lizards.

Decorating a Beard Lizard Enclosure

Bearded dragons are active pets. They won’t run up and down hard surfaces like geckos and anoles do. But rocks, driftwood logs, branches, and other decorations do give your lizard places to explore and adjust how much lighting they receive. 

When choosing surfaces for basking be careful to check the temperature of the decorative piece after a few hours under a heat lamp. Sometimes a rock will become searing hot, which may burn the sensitive underside of a basking lizard.

Lighting for Bearded Dragons

Decorating a Beard Lizard Enclosure

Like most reptiles, bearded dragons need visible, infrared (heat), and ultraviolet (UVb) radiation. Visible for seeing, infrared for basking, and UVb for vitamin D3 synthesis.

Reptiles need to bask because they are ectothermic animals. Their body temperature is regulated by the environment. Natives of hot places like Australia have little trouble finding heat. The warmth of the sun moderates their digestion, growth, and development of eggs.

The basking zone should be on the warmer side compared to other lizards; 95-105℉ is the favored range for these desert dwellers.

The vitamin D3 that ultraviolet light exposure provides allows beared dragons to absorb calcium from their meals. Without it they will develop bone disorders that end in disfigured bones or eventual death.

It’s also fine to take your lizard outside for UVb exposure. But unless you have an outdoor enclosure for your pet where it will bask for several hours at a time, you need UVb bulbs for its indoor habitat.

What Do Bearded Dragons Eat?

What Do Bearded Dragons Eat?

Bearded dragons are true omnivores, meaning they need to eat both plant and animal matter. In the wild, they prey on insects and the occasional small reptile or rodent. Nests of baby mice and rats are a favorite meal, making pinky mice excellent treats for adult lizards.

Leafy greens and shredded veggies are the foundation for the plant portion of a bearded dragon diet. Kale, dandelion, lettuce, and other greens are the salad base. You then top it with grated carrot, diced squash, fresh fruits, and other items.

Baby bearded dragons eat almost nothing but animal matter. Small insects like crickets, mealworms, waxworms, and roaches should form the bulk of their diet. With just a small amount of salad per day.

As fast as they grow, a young bearded dragon (3 months old or less) needs to be fed 4-5 times per day. The feeder insects should be vitamin dusted and gut-loaded (fed with fresh vegetables). 

Baby bearded dragons eat 80% animal protein and just 20% plant material. As they grow older, you should adjust this proportion to match their age. 

A 50% animal and 50% plant-based diet is the standard. Some keepers prefer offering a 20% animal and 80% plant ratio. Both are acceptable for adult bearded dragons.

The frequency of feeding also needs to go down. Subadult bearded dragons (1-2 years old) need to eat twice per day. Older lizards just eat once per day – any more and you may see fat deposits start to form. This happens most often when you don’t provide enough vegetables.

Bearded Dragons Health Issues

Bearded dragons are very hardy animals but they are prone to a few health problems. The most common is metabolic bone disease caused by a lack of UVb exposure. 

The cure is simple: adding UVb lights to the enclosure and making sure your lizard has plenty of calcium in its diet. But a bearded dragon that is already showing signs of bone disease may be scarred for life. Bone injuries may not heal properly, causing kinks in limbs, spines, and tails.

Bearded dragons will sometimes become constipated from eating too much of their substrate. These lizards will sometimes swallow mouthfuls of dirt when catching fast insects like crickets. 

An adult lizard will pass this dirt with ease. But a baby dragon may get a fatal intestinal blockage.

Most bearded dragon keepers prefer sand for its ease of cleaning and the authentic desert vibe it presents. So I recommend using calcium carbonate-based Vita-sand by ZooMed. Vitasand is not just digestible – it also provides calcium enrichment to your lizard’s diet.

Bearded Dragon Temperament

The bearded lizard dragon is one of the most docile lizards you could own. They enjoy being handled as long as you are gentle with them. A subadult or adult lizard will even perch on your shoulder. 

Once trained there is little danger of a bearded dragon trying to flee or leap. Bearded dragons also like being cradled in your arms, against your chest. 

Adult bearded dragons are even leash-tolerant. You may then take your lizard on exploratory walks around the yard. Just stay aware of cats, hawks, and other potential outdoor dangers.

Do Bearded Dragons Bite?

A bearded dragon that does not want to be held will give you obvious signs. They will inflate their beard, stand tall, and open their mouths wide. An angry dragon may even hiss, flatten its body, and whip its tail in agitation.

If you still try and hold it, a bearded dragon will then try and bite. Male dragons are larger so they tend to have a stronger bite. 

Since almost all dragons as pets have been captive bred for generations they are very tame and relaxed lizards. Wild bearded dragons are frequent biters, though. Even Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, was not immune to their anger:

A bearded dragon bite does not often draw blood. But it can be painful if a large adult takes a nip. They will let go right away, however.

Bearded dragons may also bite by mistake. A finger might remind them of a pinky mouse or wriggling worm. These bites happen when there are no signs of aggression or threat. Your lizard will let go when it realizes its mistake.


These pet lizards are not expensive to house and eat items that are easy to find in pet and grocery stores. Bearded dragons are also mild mannered and not only tolerate but even enjoy being handled. Overall, they are ideal pets and will provide you with years of enjoyment. 

More Frequently Asked Questions About Bearded Dragons

Are Bearded Dragons Hard to Take Care Of?

I often recommend bearded lizards as pets because they are one of the easiest types of lizards for beginners. They are undemanding, hardy, and handleable. So long as you offer a diverse diet bearded dragons make few demands on their keepers.

Do Bearded Dragons Like to be Pet?

Bearded dragons are one of the best pet lizards you could own if you want an animal you can hold. They have a relaxed and docile temperament. Unlike smaller lizards they won’t race around or climb up walls. Gentle strokes along the back and rubs under the “beard” are all enjoyable. Some keepers even leash-train their bearded dragon to walk it.

Where Do Bearded Dragons Like to Be Pet?

You should gently stroke your bearded dragon along its back and the crown of its head. Light rubbing under the lizard’s beard is also enjoyable. You will know if your lizard likes being pet in a particular place when it relaxes and closes its eyes.