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The Basics of Bearded Dragon Care – Terrarium Setup, Diet and Handling

bearded dragon
bearded dragon

When you think of pet reptiles, bearded dragons are usually one of the first ones that come to mind, and it’s for good reason. Bearded dragons are an all-around great pet that are enjoyed by many reptile enthusiasts around the world. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, bearded dragon care is fairly basic. 

The aim of the article is to give you a solid foundation for taking care of your new cold-blooded pal.

Basic bearded dragon care

Although there are many things to take into consideration, bearded dragon care is still fairly straightforward.

Setting your bearded dragon up for success from the start is incredibly important. They come from Australia where the temperatures are hot and the air is dry, with that in mind, especially depending on your location, setting up their terrarium in such a way that mimics that naturally hot and arid landscape is vital. 

Bearded dragon size and life expectancy

From the egg, bearded dragons are no more than a few inches. However, they grow to an average length of 18 to 20 inches, some even reaching upwards of 2 feet.

In addition to getting fairly large, bearded dragons can comfortably live for 10 to 15 years. That being said, owning one is a long commitment that should not be taken lightly.

Bearded dragon terrarium setup

When we think of an Australian bearded dragon habitat, we usually think of sand, stones, and the occasional dried out plant.

You have to find a way to replicate that environment for your new friend. It might sound a little daunting, but it’s actually quite easy, and all the components you might need are typically readily available.

Terrarium size

There are many starter kits for bearded dragons that come with a 20 gallon terrarium. While this is perfectly fine for a smaller bearded dragon, it will definitely need to be upgraded eventually. Since adults can reach up to 2 feet in length,  a minimum terrarium the size of 40 gallons is recommended, but many bearded dragon care experts recommend around 75 gallons.

We’ve created a full guide to the beaded dragon terrarium setup that you can check out.

Lighting and heat

One of the most important aspects of the cage setup and bearded dragon care in general is the heating source and lighting. 

Bearded dragons like to have a nice basking spot of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 C). A basking light is recommended to achieve these temperatures. The best setup for the basking area is to give the bearded dragon the option to get closer to the light if it needs to. A simple rock or branch will do, but make sure they’re cleaned properly and secured before using them.

On the opposite side of the terrarium, there needs to be a cool side. A place where the bearded dragon can go if they feel like they’re too warm or need a break from the light. This side is the best place for a water dish, as it needs to be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 C). As long as there is no heating element on this side, this temperature is easily achievable. 

In addition to the basking light, a source of UV should be provided. An ultra-violet bulb (UVB) is vital for bearded dragon care, as it provides the essential vitamins that would normally be absorbed through natural sunlight. 

Even if the terrarium is positioned near a window, a UVB bulb needs to be present. The bulb can sit right next to the basking light. Both bulbs should be turned off during the evening, which will allow the temperature inside the cage to go down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 C). Please note that these are night-time temperatures only. The basking light and UVB will need to be turned back on in the morning.

Additions to the heating and lighting in your bearded dragon cage setup should consist of a thermometer and hydrometer, to accurately measure the temperature and humidity. 

If you’re not achieving the temperatures that are suggested, try adding heat tape applied to the setup to help trap escaping heat. Just make sure that you don’t cover important ventilation holes. 

If proper temperatures still aren’t being achieved, stepping up to a higher wattage basking light will bring those temperatures back up. Use caution when upgrading wattage, however, as it may drive temperatures above the desired mark.


When it comes to bearded dragon substrate, you have a lot of options out there. Some people will have their own preferences, but a vast majority of experts agree that there are some substrates that are suitable, and some that aren’t suitable at all.

Suitable bearded dragon substrates include:

  • Ceramic and stone tile
  • ZooMed Excavator Clay
  • Natural “Desert” substrate

Each of these substrates is considered a great option for your bearded dragon. As we said before, it really is a matter of preference. You will want to be very careful, however, when choosing a “natural” substrate. 

Many brands like ZooMed, ExoTerra, and BioDude provide healthy, natural solutions for your substrate needs. These are substrates that, if your dragon ingests them, won’t cause any harm. However, something like pure sand can cause significant harm, and can even be fatal if ingested.

Now, what are some substrates that aren’t that great for your bearded dragon? Believe it or not, there are a few things out there that are widely sold and suggested by chain stores that aren’t the best options. Those substrates include:

  • Reptile carpet – Breeding grounds for bacteria
  • Calcium sand – Can lead to impaction because it contains calcium carbonate 
  • Vitamin sand – Can also lead to impaction because it contains calcium carbonate
  • Wood chips/bark – Can be very dusty and cause respiratory issues
  • Nutshell – Can also be very dusty and cause respiratory issues
  • Linoleum flooring – Contains VOCs, which are harmful chemicals that are used to preserve houses
  • Shelf liners – Also contain VOCs

As long as you steer clear of these “substrates” and things like them, you’ll be fine.

Terrarium decoration

One of the most fun parts of owning any sort of reptile is watching them interact with the environment that you’ve provided for them. 

Bearded dragon terrarium decorations can range from anything like natural stone and driftwood (so long as it is sanitized properly) to artificial plants and caves. Whatever you choose, make sure that it does not have sharp or pointed edges, make sure that it is not so smooth that they can’t grip it, and make sure that it is sturdy enough for them to climb.

Bearded dragon diet

Being omnivorous, bearded dragon diets consist of both vegetation and other animals. With that in mind, there are quite a few things they can eat, but in order to achieve proper bearded dragon care, their diet should always be varied. 

Fruits and veggies

Bearded dragons, just like humans, will choose their favorite foods. The key is to choose vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. A few good options are:

  1. Veggies (Romaine lettuce, zucchini, and carrots)
  2. Greens (Mustard greens, collard greens, and dandelion)
  3. Fruits (Kiwi, banana, mango, strawberry, and blueberry)

Each one of the listed options provides lots of healthy supplements that will help your bearded dragon grow and thrive. That being said, you should avoid feeding things like iceberg lettuce and celery. Neither one of those options provides many nutrients.

Insect options

It is very important for your bearded dragon to have insects in their diet. In the wild, bearded dragon diets consist of a variety of different insects, but the most readily available to the average bearded dragon owner are:

  1. Crickets
  2. Mealworms
  3. Dubia roaches

Before every feeding, lightly dust each insect with powdered calcium. This will give your dragon the boost it needs to grow and be healthy.

We mentioned briefly above the positioning of the water bowl. It is essential to the health of your bearded dragon that you provide constant, clean water. In addition, you can also lightly spray the cage walls with a water misting bottle, and allow them to lick the water. Don’t spray too much, though, as it can drastically raise the humidity, which is something we don’t want. 

How to handle your bearded dragon

Bearded dragon care means handling them with care, too. We’ve all seen those cute videos online of bearded dragons just being relaxed. While this is mostly true for bearded dragons, they should always be handled with care. Their temperament is very docile, which means that they will be your best friend if you let them.

Signs of a sick bearded dragon

Although bearded dragons are very hardy animals, they do get sick sometimes. Here are a handful of illnesses that can affect a bearded dragon:

  1. Metabolic bone disease
  2. Mouth rot
  3. Various parasites
  4. Respiratory infection
  5. Hypervitaminosis D

Each one of these illnesses contains their own set of symptoms. The biggest indicator of a sick bearded dragon is deviation in normal behavior. If you notice that your bearded dragon is acting strange, not eating normally, or hasn’t alleviated itself in a while, you might have a sick bearded dragon, and a vet visit is the absolute best option you have.

Bearded dragon morphs

All-in-all, there are numerous different kinds of colors and patterns that a bearded dragon morph can have. And while most morphs don’t affect the overall bearded dragon care required, it’s still worth mentioning.

Depending on the rarity and demand, these bearded dragon morphs can cost as little as $50-100 or as much as a couple thousand dollars. Depending on what you like, you have quite a few options:


  • Normal – The normal bearded dragon morph is exactly what you would find in the wild.
  • Leatherback – Leatherbacks have varying colors, but what makes them so unique is the lack of spikes along their backs. 
  • Translucent – The word “translucent” refers to this bearded dragon’s almost see-through appearance. Babies have an almost completely see-through belly, and the adults tend to have brown eyes, and even blue eyelids.
  • Dunner – Named by Kevin Dunn, this morph has quite a unique pattern that runs all over the bearded dragon’s body, and even tail. Their scales seem to have no clear pattern, however, and seem to grow in all directions.
  • Hypomelanistic – this morph is unique in the fact that it is unable to grow dark patterns. They all have a pastel appearance and clearer nails compared to all other bearded dragon morphs.
  • Silkback – the silkback morph is a completely scaleless animal. They’re soft to the touch, but require special care.
  • German Giant – The German giant morph almost always resembles a normal. The only real difference is the fact that they grow much larger than normal. 
  • Witblits – The Witblits dragon is a very sought after morph in the bearded dragon world. They can exhibit a few varying colors, but always express light, almost white colors, and no pattern.
  • Zero – The zero dragon is completely patternless and colorless. Throughout their entire life, they maintain their solid white look.
  • Wero – The wero morph is very new to the world, as it’s a combination of the witblits and the zero. The only real difference between the wero and the zero/witblits is that it can sometimes have a slight pattern near the beginning of the tail. 


  • Red – The red bearded dragon is one of the most sought after because of its vibrant color. The red can vary anywhere from a light undertone, all the way up to a fire red. 
  • Orange – This color is often confused as a “normal” bearded dragon, but it’s not quite normal. A real orange bearded dragon can be just as vibrant as the red, and definitely stands out amongst normals.
  • Citrus/yellow – Again, this color morph can vary in shades. You can find anything from a light pastel to a bright lemon color.
  • White – The white dragon is one of the most prized bearded dragons out there. The color is considered rare, and it’s quite a unique addition to anyone’s home.
  • Brown/tan – The brown/tan morph is what most people consider to be normal. They are the most readily available, but are still quite a beautiful animal. 
  • Blue – The blue bearded dragon is the product of breeding two translucent bearded dragons together. Although they are quite rare and beautiful, they don’t seem to keep their color into adulthood. Bummer.


Typically speaking, there are only 2 real classifications for patterns in bearded dragons:

  • Tiger – This pattern, as you can probably guess, is identified by the horizontal stripes going across the back.
  • Others – For right now, there aren’t any other universal patterns that breeders and enthusiasts agree on. So anytime a varying pattern comes up, the breeder will typically give it a new name, or classify it as “other.”

There is one important point to make when talking about morphs in bearded dragons: patterns and colors may not hold as the bearded dragon grows. Most often, the color and pattern that the dragon is born with will not look exactly the same when it’s fully grown.

Average cost of a bearded dragon

As the industry grows, prices will fluctuate dramatically. Depending on the colors and morphs you’re after, the price could be as little as $30 or as much as a couple of thousand. 

This, of course, does not include the start-up costs for the terrarium, terrarium supplies, food, and so on. Make sure you have the entire setup ready to go before making a bearded dragon purchase.

The conclusion

In conclusion, bearded dragon care can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. If you provide the basic requirements for your dragon, you’ll find yourself a friend that can live to be 15-20 years old. As mentioned at the beginning of this bearded dragon care sheet, you’ve made a good choice in choosing your own personal dragon. Congratulations, and good luck!

Bearded Dragon CareFAQs

Are Bearded Dragons easy to take care of?

Taking care of a bearded dragon is like tending to a miniature dragon that needs attention and care, but with the right knowledge and effort, it can be like having a well-behaved pet dragon that thrives under your care.

Do bearded dragons need to be held every day?

Bearded dragons are social creatures and enjoy being handled, but they don’t necessarily need to be held every day. However, regular interaction and handling can help strengthen the bond between the dragon and its owner, as well as provide mental stimulation and exercise. It’s important to ensure that the bearded dragon is comfortable with being handled and to handle it safely and properly to avoid any potential injuries or stress.

Are bearded dragons high maintenance?

Now, some may wonder if they’re high maintenance, but I assure you, they’re quite the opposite. Bearded dragons are actually quite easy to care for, making them a popular choice among reptile enthusiasts. They require a simple diet of insects and greens, a clean living space with plenty of heat and light, and some social interaction. With the right care and attention, these charming creatures will thrive and make wonderful companions.

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