What does a bearded dragon need in its tank?

Bearded dragons make great pets for reptile enthusiasts of all ages. They are generally docile, interactive lizards that can live up to 10 years with proper care. An integral part of providing proper care is setting up the right tank habitat for your bearded dragon. This includes choosing the right tank, outfitting it properly with substrates, hides, and accessories, maintaining the right temperature and lighting, and keeping the tank clean. Read on for a complete guide on how to set up the perfect tank for a happy, healthy bearded dragon.

Choosing the Right Tank

The first step is selecting an appropriate tank for your bearded dragon’s size:

  • Baby dragons under 4 months old: 10-20 gallon tank
  • Juvenile dragons 4-12 months old: 40 gallon breeder tank
  • Adult dragons over 12 months old: 75-120 gallon tank

Glass tanks with screen tops are recommended over wire cages, which do not hold heat and humidity well. For adult dragons, height is less important than floor space, as dragons are terrestrial lizards. Go for the largest tank possible for an adult dragon to give it room to move around.

Tank Setup and Substrates

Here are some guidelines for setting up the tank interior:

  • Avoid loose substrates like sand, as dragons may accidentally ingest it when catching prey. This can cause impaction.
  • Good options include paper towels, reptile carpets, tile, and shelf liner. Swap out paper towels frequently.
  • Adult dragons can have a substrate-free tank with smooth stone or tile flooring, which is easy to clean.
  • Another option is a bioactive substrate mix containing organic topsoil without fertilizer and playsand. This allows plants to grow and creates a naturalistic vivarium.

Hides and Accessories

Furnish the tank with items for environmental enrichment:

  • provide hiding spots at both cool and warm ends of the tank so the dragon can thermoregulate
  • good hides include reptile hammocks, tunnels, tubes, cardboard boxes with cut-out entrances
  • include branches, cork rounds, and rocks for climbing and basking
  • live or artificial plants help the dragon feel secure and provide visual barriers

Temperature and Lighting

Proper heating and lighting is critical for bearded dragons. Here are some key points:

  • Use a reptile UVB light and keep it close to the basking area. This allows the dragon to synthesize vitamin D3.
  • Maintain a basking spot temperature of 95-110 F and a cool side temperature of 70-80 F.
  • Use an under-tank heater on one side of the tank to create a heat gradient.
  • The tank should also have a thermometer to monitor temperatures.
  • Turn off all lights and turn down heat sources at night to create a day/night cycle.

Tank Maintenance

Keep the tank clean to prevent disease:

  • Spot clean poop and uneaten food daily.
  • Disinfect water and food bowls regularly.
  • Completely clean and disinfect the tank monthly using a 3% bleach solution, rinsing thoroughly after.
  • Look for signs of mites, which require treatment.

Juvenile Bearded Dragon Tank Setup

Let’s break down a sample tank setup for a juvenile bearded dragon that highlights these key elements:

40 Gallon Breeder Tank

A 40 gallon breeder tank provides ample space for an active young dragon. It allows for the necessary temperature gradient from warm basking area to cooler hide. The 18 x 18 inch floor space gives room for exercise and exploration.

Substrate

For a juvenile dragon, a textured reptile carpet makes a good substrate. It prevents accidental ingestion of loose particles and provides secure footing for an active dragon. Swap out and clean the carpet frequently to keep the tank fresh.

Basking Spot

Use an overhead basking bulb to create a warm basking area of about 100 F on one side of the tank. Place a climbing rock or driftwood directly under the lamp for basking. The dragon will spend much of its time here, so place it toward the front for easy viewing.

Cool Hide

On the cooler side of the tank, place a hide made from a cardboard box, artificial rock decoration, or reptile cave. This gives the dragon a place to retreat to if it needs a break from the heat.

Accessories

Branches, cork rounds, and artificial foliage make good accessories to create a naturalistic environment and visual barriers. The dragon will climb and explore these items. Live plants can work too as long as they are sturdy and nontoxic.

Temperature Gradients

Use an under tank heater on one side of the tank to maintain about 80 F on the cool end. Along with the basking light, this will create a temperature gradient so the beardie can self-regulate its body temperature.

UVB Lighting

A UVB bulb that spans about 2/3 of the tank length will give the dragon ample exposure to UVB rays for healthy bone and shell development. Place a reflector dome directly above the basking area to maximize UVB exposure when basking.

Thermometers & Hygrometers

Digital thermometers on both the warm and cool sides will let you monitor the temperature gradient. A hygrometer monitors humidity, which should be around 30-40%.

Adult Bearded Dragon Tank Setup

Here is an example setup for an adult bearded dragon tank that ensures proper housing for a full grown dragon:

75 Gallon Tank

A 75 gallon tank provides sufficient room for a fully grown adult dragon to stretch and move about. The 48 x 18 inch floor space allows you to establish distinct temperature zones.

Tile or Shelf Liner Substrate

For an adult dragon, tile or textured shelf liner works well as an easy-to-clean substrate.reptile carpet can also work. Avoid loose particulates.

Basking Platform

Place a sturdy climbing platform under the overhead basking light to create a warm 105 F basking area. Natural stone or stacked slate tiles make a good platform.

Basking Light

An overhead incandescent, ceramic, or halogen heat bulb in a reflector dome provides focused high heat in the basking zone. Maintain the basking temperature at 100-110 F, measured with a probe thermometer at the platform.

Under Tank Heater

An under tank heater covering 1/3 of floor space maintains ambient temperatures of 75-80 F on the cool end of the tank.

Cool Hide

A cool moist hide box with damp moss or paper towels provides a cooling retreat to aid shedding. Having one warm dry hide and one cool moist hide provides options.

Accessories

Branches, cork tubes, rocks, and artificial foliage provide ample opportunities to climb, explore, and feel secure. A reptile hammock affixed to the tank wall is also a good lounging spot.

UVB Bulb

A 22 inch T5 high output UVB bulb spanning 3/4 of the tank will provide ample exposure for Vitamin D3 synthesis. Position it to overlap the basking zone.

Day/Night Cycle

Set timers for the lights to create a 12-14 hour daytime photoperiod. Turn off basking lamps and UVB light at night, but maintain ambient heat in the tank.

Tank Maintenance

Thoroughly clean the tank monthly or biweekly if needed using a 3% bleach solution. Rinse extremely thoroughly after. Spot clean feces daily and replace substrate if visibly dirty.

Conclusion

Setting up the proper tank habitat is crucial to keeping a bearded dragon healthy and happy. Follow the guidelines above on tank size, lighting, substrates, accessories, temperature, and tank maintenance. Key elements include appropriate UVB exposure, a proper heat gradient, ample space to move around, and a sanitary, enriched environment. With the right setup, your bearded dragon will thrive.

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