A bearded dragon diet is essentially omnivorous, meaning that they share a carnivorous and vegetarian diet. They do have a need and preference for meat and vegetable matter in different percentages as they go through different stages in their life.
Let’s take an in depth look into how bearded dragons eat in the wild, so that we can replicate this at home and keep our beardie as healthy and happy as possible.
Part 1: Bearded Dragon Diet in the Wild
Part 2: Bearded Dragon Diet in Captivity
Part 3: What Can Bearded Dragons Eat
Part 1: Bearded Dragon Diet in the Wild
Juvenile Bearded Dragon Diet in the Wild
During the juvenile and sub adult stage bearded dragons have a predominantly carnivorous diet, with insects forming up to 80% of their diet and the remainder is formed by plant matter.
At this stage they are wired to put on weight and stay hydrated in order to survive, so an insect based diet is perfect, having good moisture content and being highly nutritious in protein value and fats. They also need fiber from vegetable matter to aid digestion, most insects have a tough exoskeleton and if the bearded dragon does not get sufficient fibre, they may get constipated from all the chitonous material in the digestive tract.
In the Australian wilderness where bearded dragons originate, they need to move around and hunt for insects, and their first tastes of vegetable matter are usually when they unknowingly ingest a berry, leaf or piece of grass that the insect was sitting on when preyed upon. Many insects are attracted to the scent of flowers, fruits and berries, so these areas make a good hunting ground for bearded dragons. Automatically juveniles get their vegetable component to their diet this way, however as the bearded dragon grows and seasons change there may be a scarcity of insects at any given stage and the bearded dragon will eat grasses and wild greens.
They will also be used to getting insects from areas rich in fruit or berries and will gladly eat them if there is a shortage of insects.
In nature they will catch crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, termites and many other insects, sometimes adult bearded dragons will even catch small mice and other small lizards as part of their diet.
Mature Bearded Dragon Diet in the Wild
Adult bearded dragons still have a prevalent need for insects as part of their diet, but vegetable matter now becomes very important. The percentage ratio of meat to vegetables drops significantly with age and insects only form about 60% of the diet.
Reasons for this include the fact that in Australia conditions can be tough and a full grown bearded dragon needs to compete with many more juvenile and younger bearded dragons in the season, if you think about it, a 6 inch juvenile needs 80 % insects to eat on a daily basis, now imagine a 24 inch adult having the same need, it would never survive so meat meals become larger, including bigger locusts, small mice and other lizards, and fruits and greens become more important.
Fruits and greens contain important vitamins that adult bearded dragons need to supplement the minerals and proteins received through meat in their diet. Vegetable matter also provides essential fiber and moisture, it gets rather dry in Australia and fresh water is not always available so any fresh green leaves or fruits are the ideal source of hydration for adult bearded dragons during dry times in the wilderness. The different species of bearded dragons occur in clearly demarcated habitats in the southern half of Australia, ranging from desert and arid scrubland to coastal areas where there is more moisture in the environment. These environmental factors will obviously influence the diet and availability of food types for the various species and their needs. In nature they are more inclined to feed on insects and other live food over vegetable foods.
Part 2: Bearded Dragon Diet in Captivity
For obvious reasons we want to replicate as closely as possible the natural diet of our bearded dragons. In nature they are able to eat a wide variety of wild live foods at free will, which we can never do in a captive environment, so it is very important to make sure we provide our bearded dragon with the very best nutrition, taking care that they get the right levels of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy and have good immune systems. This is essential from day one when you start caring for a juvenile bearded dragon, it must receive optimum nutrition while in its early growing stage to avoid health issues and stunting its growth.
Let’s take a look at what we can feed our bearded dragons in their juvenile stage and then the adult stage.
What and How to Feed a Juvenile Bearded Dragon
First and foremost we need to have a constant supply of live food at hand to feed our baby bearded dragons. The breeder or reptile dealer will be able to supply you with live insects on a regular basis, or you can get a kit to start breeding your own insects like crickets, dubia roaches or superworms.
At this stage it is not recommended to catch live insects in your garden or neighbourhood for the simple reason that you can’t be sure if they have been exposed to harmful insecticides that will kill your bearded dragon or you may find a poisonous insect that will make your bearded dragon sick.
It is also important to provide the correct size of insect to feed; a good rule is to not feed anything larger than the distance between your bearded dragon’s eyes.
Another important factor to remember is that bearded dragons need heat and light as part of their metabolic process. Do not feed your bearded dragon at night before putting the basking light or heat source off; rather limit feeding to daylight hours and nothing for 3 hours before turning off the heat and lights. They need the heat to digest their food, if they don’t have this then the food will remain undigested which will make your bearded dragon very ill.
A good way to feed your juvenile bearded dragon is by placing the live food in a petri dish or a small straight sided feeding bowl. The live food should be dusted with calcium powder supplement every second day to provide the bearded dragon with correct calcium levels they would get when feeding on the wide variety of live foods in the wild.
Introducing Vegetable Foods to Your Juvenile Bearded Dragon
Vegetables and fruits can be introduced in small amounts together with live food. The best way to do this is to chop the vegetable matter into small pieces and mix it in with the dusted live foods; the bearded dragon will start ingesting it when he catches the live food from the bowl. Bear in mind that in the juvenile stage live food is more important, so you can add a small amount of vegetable food every second day.
Avoid lettuce and spinach at all costs as these bind to calcium which will cause a tremendous digestive problem for your bearded dragon. Avocado is toxic and citrus fruits are very acidic, so these are also to be avoided.
Once your juvenile bearded dragon is used to eating from the feeding dish and used to seeing your hand at the feeding dish, you can start offering a cricket or worm from your fingertips. Hand feeding is obviously a joy for the handler and is part of trust building between you and your bearded dragon. A good rule of thumb with juvenile bearded dragons is two feedings per day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. Live foods are fed every day and vegetable foods every second day.
NB: Always provide your bearded dragon with a shallow dish of fresh water in the terrarium. Bearded dragons can also be misted with a spray bottle every second day, and at first they may seem alarmed but as soon as they realise that they are getting water they should start licking themselves and also licking water off the substrate or perch they are sitting on. This misting is quite important and keeps the environment from drying out completely, obviously you don’t want to over mist the terrarium or your bearded dragon, so it’s a matter of experience that will determine how much to misting to do.
What and How to Feed Your Adult Bearded Dragon
By now your bearded dragon has grown into a full size lizard and its dietary requirements would have changed slightly over time. Live foods are still fed to the bearded dragon at free will and now you can offer fully grown insects without having to worry about the size of the food item so much, the bearded dragon’s jaws by now are very strong and will crush any insect without hassle.
Vegetables and fruits now make up a higher percentage of the diet and can be provided on a daily basis. Your bearded dragon should also be accustomed to hand feeding by now and you may go ahead and feed insects, fruit or vegetable items whenever you feel the need. The food items may be greater in size and the frequency of feeding, more often. Still follow the rule of dusting the food every alternative day with calcium supplement powder. Reptile breeders or dealers will also recommend a reptile multi-vitamin for your bearded dragon.
Part 3: What Can Bearded Dragons Eat
Below is a list of suitable live foods for your juvenile and adult bearded dragon:
- Dubia cockroaches
- Locusts and hoppers
- Baby mice (this might not be acceptable in some people’s point of view, but in nature adult bearded dragons do eat mice and they are very rich in calcium and nutritional value. It is not essential though)
Vegetable foods and fruits for adult bearded dragons are the same as for juveniles but may constitute a larger percentage of the diet. Always wash and rinse fruit and vegetables in fresh water before feeding them to your bearded dragon.
An important point here is to remove any uneaten food after a feeding session, left over fruits and vegetables will quickly start to ferment or rot in a heated terrarium, and you don’t want your bearded dragon to ingest something that will cause digestive illness or make its environment unhygienic. Fermenting fruit will also attract gnats and flies into your home or into the terrarium.
Below is a list of suitable vegetables and fruits to feed your juvenile and adult bearded dragon:
- Collard greens( this includes cabbage and brassica leaves)
- Dandelion leaves ( excellent source of vitamin C)
- Butternut squash cooked
- Turnip leaves
- Prickly pear
- Peeled cucumber
- Green beans
- Lentils cooked
- Mustard greens
- Gem squash cooked
- Bell peppers
- Baby marrow cooked
Frequently Asked Questions
Can bearded dragons eat apples?
Apples can be fed to your bearded dragon as long as you peel them and cut them into small pieces. Avoid feeding any pips that are in the apple. Apple has moderate levels of vitamins in and has good water content.
Can bearded dragons eat spinach?
Spinach has a high calcium content however it also contains a chemical that binds with calcium already in the bearded dragons system, meaning that it renders the calcium indigestible and if fed regularly can lead to metabolic bone disease. It is not a recommended food source for your bearded dragon.
Can bearded dragons eat strawberries?
Strawberries are very nutritious with loads of vitamins and have high water content. They can be chopped into small pieces and bearded dragons love their sweet taste.
Can bearded dragons eat banana?
Banana can be fed on the odd occasion in really small amounts, they are high in phosphorous which will bind with calcium and have the same effect as spinach. But it can be fed as a treat irregularly; bearded dragons enjoy the sweet taste of fruits.
Can bearded dragons eat tomatoes?
Tomato is rich in vitamin A but at the same time is a very acidic fruit, so it is recommended that you peel the tomato, remove the seeds and juice only feeding the fleshy part to your bearded dragon occasionally. Tomatoes are a very good source of vitamin A and easily digested and absorbed by bearded dragons.
Can bearded dragons eat grapes?
Grapes are an excellent source of the vitamins A and K and have good iron content. They also provide a good source of fiber and are loaded with water. Peel the grapes and remove the seeds. Avoid feeding sour and unripe grapes and make very sure that you rinse them well in fresh water before peeling them as grapes are usually laced with pesticides during the growing process.
Can bearded dragons eat carrots?
The humble carrot is an excellent source of vitamin A and fiber. The root of the carrot can be grated with a large grater into edible pieces as it is quite a hard crunchy vegetable and the bearded dragon won’t be able to chew it, so to avoid choking or impaction in the digestive tract it is best fed in small pieces or slivers. The leaves or tops of carrots can also be fed as a green food in small amounts.
Can bearded dragons eat blueberries?
Blueberries can be fed occasionally to your bearded dragon. Blueberries have about the same nutritional content as apples but are richer in vitamin K and have high water content. It is best to cut the berries in half before feeding.
Things to Avoid Feeding Your Bearded Dragon
As with all animals that are cared for in a captive environment, there are certain things we need to look out for and avoid when it comes to feeding.
Don’t ever give your bearded dragon sweets, chocolate or anything that contains refined sugar. These food types are not acceptable and will make your bearded dragon ill.
There are natural foods that are also toxic to bearded dragons that should be avoided such as Avocado and Rhubarb. Spinach and Beet greens are nutritious however they have a chemical that binds to calcium making it impossible for the bearded dragon to absorb the calcium. This can lead to metabolic bone disease if the bearded dragon eats too much of these to vegetables. Don’t allow your bearded dragon to walk around unattended, this is the time it may likely eat something that it shouldn’t.