About Baby Bearded Dragons
So now you have made up your mind to get a baby bearded dragon. Your next stop is at the pet store or bearded dragon breeder. You can pick your bearded dragon, it pay for it, but you should make sure you first buy the right terrarium and have it already set up before collecting your baby. Do not go and buy a baby bearded dragon and arrive home and then put the terrarium together!
You need to know what to look out for at the pet store or breeder, and what kind of care you need to give to your baby bearded dragon. In this section we take a look at the basics about bearded dragon babies and their care.
Step 1: Preparing the Habitat
Step 2: Buying your Beardie
Step 1: Preparing the Baby Bearded Dragon Habitat
Size of the Bearded Dragon Terrarium
For starting out with a baby bearded dragon, a terrarium of 3 feet in length is adequate, but bear in mind that your bearded dragon will grow quickly and within a year you will need to upgrade to a larger terrarium. It’s also more difficult to regulate temperatures in a small enclosed environment and this is crucial with bearded dragons. With that stated, a great size that can work throughout your bearded dragons life is a 40 gallon terrarium that measures around 4 foot in length X 2 foot height X 2 foot depth.
This gives your bearded dragon ample space to run around and also has a good height so that you can provide climbing spots and perches off the floor because they do like to climb and perch above ground level.
Setting up the Bearded Dragon Terrarium
There are two types of terrariums which are available for bearded dragons. The first is a wooden frame with sliding glass doors on the front and the next is an “all-glass” container, similar to an aquarium, that is fitted with a special lid that allows for ventilation and light fixtures. The choice is really up to you.
In a controlled environment, am all glass terrarium is much more visually appealing, however there are also some benefits to the wooden terrarium. Temperatures are a little easier to control if you live in an area that experiences vast changes between seasons. Naturally wood insulates very well and sustains stable temperatures, whereas an all glass terrarium can get cold from the outside even when you have good heat from lights in the terrarium.
Your terrarium should be equipped with adequate perches and climbing spots such as branches and a few rocks as well as a shelter or hiding spot. Make very sure that any rock features you add are totally stable and cannot fall over, to avoid the risk of the baby bearded dragon being crushed or injured.
Lighting and Heating for a Bearded Dragon Terrarium
We need to replicate the natural sunlight outside inside a terrarium, bearded dragons need all the beneficial light that the sun provides to survive, so let’s take a look at how to do this in a terrarium.
There must be a good UVA light for the bearded dragon to bask in and provide the heat needed for digestion, and UVB lighting that facilitates the absorption of vitamin D3, which in turn allows the bearded dragon to absorb calcium. Reptile dealers or breeders will be able to supply you with correct light setup for your terrarium.
Types of Lighting
UVB lighting usually comes in the form of fluorescent tubes or mercury vapour lamps, while UVA lighting is available in halogen lamps and are usually fitted above one half of the terrarium, the other half of the terrarium being the cool area. The wattage of these lights will depend on the size of the terrarium.
The lighting provides the crucial heat needed by the bearded dragon in order to digest its food properly and absorb the necessary vitamins and minerals from its food. If you have inadequate heating the food will ferment in the stomach and cause illness and death of your bearded dragon.
The temperature must be monitored closely and the best way to do this is to use a thermostat that regulates the output from the basking light, keeping the temperatures stable in the terrarium during daylight hours. Temperatures during daylight should be between 100 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit at the basking area, and temperatures at night time should be between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter time, when ambient temperatures in your home cause the terrarium to get colder than 65 degrees at night, you’ll need a ceramic heat source to maintain the temperature when the daylights are off.
If your bearded dragon gets too hot or no longer wants to bask in the heat, there should also be a cool area in the terrarium, away from the basking area, so that thermoregulation can take place naturally. In the “cool” zone temperatures should be between 82 and 87 degrees Fahrenheit.
Be sure to follow the recommendations on heating, lighting and temperature that your reptile breeder prescribes for your baby bearded dragon as they are much smaller than adults and can overheat much faster because of their smaller mass.
Your lighting fixtures should preferably be ceramic fixtures that don’t get hot as metal fixtures do. Make absolutely sure that the lighting fixtures are isolated so your bearded dragon can’t have contact with them… otherwise your baby could easily get a nasty burn.
Before you collect your baby bearded dragon make sure that all the lights and heat sources are working properly, and that the terrarium maintains stable temperatures and doesn’t overheat. The last thing you want is to have issues with your terrarium setup while settling the baby.
Substrate for Your Terrarium
Never use sand or gravel substrates because the baby may ingest a pebble or sand grains that can cause a blockage in its digestive tract.
Kitchen paper towelling or blank newsprint is advisable while the baby is growing, and is ideal to keep clean as you can easily remove the soiled paper and replace it with a fresh sheet when necessary. When your bearded dragon is older than a year you may want to use a nicer looking substrate than newspaper, and reptile dealers will have suitable substrates available.
The problem with using sand type substrates is that they constantly need replacement to keep the terrarium hygienic, and if you have to buy new sand substrate every week or two it ends up being a costly exercise as well as being a disturbance to the terrarium environment as everything in the terrarium will need to be removed to replace the substrate. Also, don’t ever use substrate that you collect yourself as it may harbour parasites or other particles not suitable for your bearded dragon.
Step 2: How to Buy a Baby Bearded Dragon
Finding a Bearded Dragon Breeder or Dealer
A good start would be to find out where there is a reputable pet store or reptile breeder, unfortunately there are inexperienced “breeders” around and the best advice is to rather get your baby from an experienced breeder or dealer. Find out from your local pet store where there are breeders or reptile dealers local to your area and who they would recommend.
Choosing Your Baby Bearded Dragon
When choosing a baby bearded dragon you need to be observant of the following traits and health symptoms.
The babies offered by breeders or dealers should be no less than 8 weeks old and babies will generally be housed together in small groups in enclosures. You will need to choose one out of a group, so be on the lookout for any babies that show signs of ill health or of being bullied by other babies. Sometimes baby bearded dragons may nip at one another’s tail tip or feet, although they should heal quickly and completely from these type of injuries, it is best to avoid any baby with a recent injury or open wound, as this poses a risk of infection.
Baby bearded dragons should be alert and their eyes should be wide open and crystal clear, avoid any baby that seems to be lethargic with drooping eyelids, milky eyes or has a discharge from the eye or nose, this is a clear indication that something is not right. Also be aware of visible spots around the eyes and mouth of the baby, these may be mites and will be a sign that the breeding facility and enclosure is not up to hygienic standards.
The baby bearded dragons should be well fed and look nice and filled out, avoid the ones that look skinny or have bones visible under their skin. They should be alert and respond to touch or being picked up, but they shouldn’t want to run away or hide from you, this is a sign of being frightened or bullying from other babies in the enclosure.
It is also acceptable to ask the dealer to feed the babies, choose one that eats readily and avoid any that don’t show an interest in feeding.
Remember, if you have any concerns or suspect that there is a problem at a dealer or breeder, it is better to say thanks, but no thanks and find a different breeder that you are comfortable with.
As a general rule, look at good health and hygiene at the breeder and make sure that the baby bearded dragons are active, alert, happy and healthy individuals.
Step 3: Introducing Your Baby Bearded Dragon to its New Home
It is now time to release your baby bearded dragon into its new home. It would be fair to assume that the baby will be a bit unsure of its new surroundings in lieu of the fact that it has spent its first weeks with siblings in an enclosure, so it is up to you to ensure that its introduction into a new environment is stress free and comfortable.
The breeder or pet dealer will put your baby bearded dragon in a small box or carrier crate for the ride home, so don’t attempt to open the box in the car or when you get home, the last thing you want is for the new baby to be on the loose in your vehicle while driving. Place the box in the terrarium and open it, allowing the baby bearded dragon to climb out on its own time, avoid coaxing it out the box or handling it at this stage. Close up the terrarium so that the new arrival cannot get out and then keep disturbance to a minimum in its new environment.
The baby should spend most of its day exploring its new surroundings and will probably not be interested in eating anything yet, however make sure that you have water available if it gets thirsty. Don’t attempt to handle or pick up your baby bearded dragon right now, let it settle in and explore for a day or two and then you can slowly start introducing it to being handled and picked up. You can learn more about looking after your new baby bearded dragon by getting the “guide to bearded dragons” here.
Feeding Your Baby Bearded Dragon
Your baby bearded dragon has started settling in and should want to start eating a day or so after being introduced to its new home. Baby bearded dragons have an insatiable appetite for insects at this stage of their life, a built in instinct to get optimum nutrition in their growing stages. The best way to achieve this is to have a constant supply of crickets or feed insects available and most dedicated pet stores or reptile breeders will be able to supply you in this regard. Don’t attempt to go and hunt insects in the backyard to feed with; the risks are high that a poisonous insect or an insect exposed to insecticide is fed to your bearded dragon with dire consequences.
General Feeding Guidelines for Baby Bearded Dragons
A good feeding guideline is to let the baby eat as many insects as he wants during a ten minute period, twice a day. Any insects fed at this stage should be no longer than the distance between the bearded dragons eyes and avoid feeding mealworms in the first year as they are tough to digest.
Every second day add some finely chopped vegetable matter to the bowl with the insects and lightly dust the food with calcium supplement powder.
To facilitate feeding, use a small straight walled bowl and put about 20 insects in the bowl. You can put the bowl down in front of the bearded dragon and may tilt it up slightly so he has a better vantage over the food.
Now let him eat as much of the food offered in a ten minute period. As an example, a baby bearded dragon can easily consume between 40 and 60 crickets in a day!
Vegetable foods include greens like kale, cabbage and mustard greens; veggies like carrot, broccoli and green beans as well as fruits like apple, grapes and melon. Avoid lettuce at all costs. There is a more detailed overview of food types in the bearded dragon diet section on the site.
Bonding with Your Bearded Dragon Baby
Each and every bearded dragon that is kept as a pet will develop its own quirkiness, behaviors and attitude. This will all depend on the way that you look after and care for the baby bearded dragon from day one.
Its development is clearly determined by a good diet, good hygiene and of course the role you play in handling and bonding with your bearded dragon.
Baby bearded dragons have the curious trait of “waving”, this looks super cute and interactive and it’s a way for bearded dragons in nature to recognise one another as a species, as if to say “Hello, I am a beardy! What are you?”
When your new baby has settled in for a day or two start by offering a cricket or insect with your fingers when feeding from the bowl and get it used to being fed by hand. This shouldn’t be a problem as the baby will keen to eat any wriggling insect without question.
Holding Your Baby Bearded Dragon
You can also pick up your baby bearded dragon by placing your open hand in front of it and then gently but deliberately sliding your hand under its chin and chest. It should by nature climb onto your hand. If it doesn’t climb up of its own accord, you can lift him up beneath his belly so that it is cradled around its belly in the palm of your hand and may be so comfortable with your touch that it will climb up your arm and feel at ease.
Once the baby is used to being held it will enjoy being stroked on its side or belly and will even doze off into dream world.
The most important thing about bonding is your bearded dragons happiness and comfort during handling times. If at any time your bearded dragon seems frightened or uncomfortable during handling, rather put it back in the terrarium.
What Not To Do
Avoid fast movements or bringing your hand down on it from above, in nature there are birds of prey that will attack from above so this will stimulate its instinct to escape. Rather bring your hand closer on its eye level so that it is completely aware of your presence. It’s fine if your bearded dragon doesn’t allow you to pick him up in the beginning, just give it time to settle in and get accustomed to you and your movements.
It’s also not a great idea to remove your baby bearded dragon from the terrarium to roam around the house in the first few months. They will be very aware of their environment at this stage and being territorial creatures will walk around to explore their surroundings and could get lost or escape to the outside of your home.
Bonding with the baby bearded dragon should be progressive, start slowly and as it grows make it part of your daily routine.
Always be present if your bearded dragon is outside of its terrarium. If there are other pets in your household like cats or dogs, you will have to leave the bearded dragon in its terrarium unless the cats or dogs are excluded from the area. Cats being hunters and dogs being curious will likely be interested in a baby bearded dragon and this will only spell trauma and disaster, so please bear this in mind.