Bearded Dragons are friendly and popular pet lizards that originate from Australia.
Their popularity is due to them being very easy to care for. However, setting up a great bearded dragon habitat can be difficult for beginners.
First time keepers can make enclosure set-up mistakes such as using the wrong lighting and substrate that can impact the health and wellbeing of their pet.
When provided with a good habitat and the correct size tank, bearded dragons can live for 14 years.
If you want to know how to build the perfect bearded dragon enclosure so that your Beardie can live to its fullest then keep reading!
Bearded Dragon Habitat
Every type of Bearded Dragon species is native to Australia.
There are eight subspecies of Beardies who all live on separate parts of the island. Where they live in Australia determines their habitat. This can be anything from deserts to subtropical woodlands.
This guide will focus on the Pagona vitticeps species as it is the most common lizard to be kept by beginners:
|Pogona barbata||Eastern Australia|
|Pogona henrylawsoni||Western and Central Australia|
|Pogona microlepidota||Northern Australia|
|Pogona minor minor||Western and Central Australia|
|Pogona minor minima||Houtman Abrolhos Islands|
|Pogona minor mitchelli||Northwestern Australia|
|Pogona nullarbor||Southern Australia|
|Pogona vitticeps||Central Australia|
The bearded dragon vitticeps species lives in Central Australia so its habitat is all desert.
In the wild they have over 12 hours of intense sunlight a day with very few lakes or ponds nearby. This creates an environment that is hot and dry (i.e. low humidity).
There are some scrubs, small trees, and rocky areas in Central Australia. This means this species is only semi-arboreal and is not an extreme climber.
Because of the environment they live in Bearded Dragons have many unique adaptations:
- They have a third eye to detect shadows above them.
- Their head is inverted to allow water droplets to slide from the top of their head to their mouth.
- They have spike-shaped scales as a defense mechanism from many desert predators.
Their habitat is the reason why they need UVA and UVB rays for everyday metabolic function. The dry environment is also the reason why they stay hydrated by eating insects and vegetation over drinking.
Because the desert is very hot Bearded Dragons squeeze into small rock crevices to cool down. They also climb plants for higher basking spots to evade predators.
In captivity you must provide climbing and hiding enrichment and replicate the intense sun and low humidity.
First time keepers often buy enclosures that are too small, have coiled UVB lights, use dangerous sand substrates or forget to provide climbing and hiding enrichment.
Below is the perfect bearded dragon habitat.
Best Bearded Dragon Setup
Beardies in captivity should live in an environment that mimics their real desert habitat. Their enclosure should be large enough and have the correct lighting, temperature and humidity. It should also have climbing and hiding enrichment:
|Tank||75-gallons and wooden or plastic|
|Temperature||95-100℉ (high) and 75℉ (low)|
|Humidity||Between 30% to 40%|
|Lighting||UVB tube light and 75w UVA basking light|
|Supplies & Decoration||Branches, Hammocks, Half-Logs, Plants, Hides and Bath Dish|
Bearded dragons are naturally solitary and very territorial of their habitat.
They should not be housed with other beardies – not even for mating. Females store sperm so they do not have to near males more than once per breeding season
This species will at some point fight over food, hides or their territory. They have been known to cannibalize baby beardies.
Types of Bearded Dragon Enclosures
There are three different materials to choose from for a Bearded Dragon tank:
- Glass (cheapest)
- PVC plastic
- Wooden (best)
Plastic and wooden vivariums are usually enclosed and have a glass front panel. They are both the best enclosure types because they are very effective at holding heat in.
However, glass tanks are popular with beginners because of their price and availability. They also provide a more complete view of your reptile. If you decide to purchase a glass vivarium make sure not to place it by any drafty window, radiator or fireplace.
Place their enclosure in the corner of a room to help reduce heat loss.
After purchasing a vivarium you will also need to choose a lid:
- Single or Double hinged lids
- Front panel sliding/lifting doors
The best lid type is a split top where one half is able to slide off and the back half stays stationary. The back half provides enough room for a lamp to stay undisturbed (you can easily burn yourself by touching them accidentally).
Make sure that the lid doors close properly to avoid any injury to your lizard.
What Size Tank Should I Get For A Bearded Dragon?
A Bearded Dragon enclosure must be long, wide and at-least 75-gallons in size. The exact tank size will depend on the age and size of your beardie. You can use the handy chart below to help you find a vivarium according to your beardie’s age:
|Tank Size (gallons)||Bearded Dragon Age (months)|
The emphasis for a Bearded Dragon’s tank should be on floor space. They will most likely spend the majority of their time there hunting, climbing, soaking, and sleeping.
Bearded dragons are large reptiles so they need enough space to walk and climb.
Because reptiles are ectotherms they rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature.
They require a range of temperatures from 100℉ to 75℉ within their habitat and it will need to be large enough to create a real thermogradient (i.e. warmer and cooler areas).
Bearded Dragon Lighting
Your vivarium will need an overhead UVA basking bulb of 50-75 watts. This will mimic the intense sun’s rays.
It is best to use a dome-head lamp that can sit directly on top of the mesh screen lid. Alternatively you can use a hanging lamp fixture. It should be replaced two to three times annually. The temperature of their highest basking spot to be 95-100℉.
Then they will also need a UVB tube light. You should use a tube shape UVB light not coil shaped.
Fit the UVB light using a tube light hood that secures underneath the mesh lid. You do not want the light sitting on top of the mesh because it blocks out 40% of the rays.
Many coil lights are ineffective in delivering the appropriate amounts of UVB. Like the UVA bulb it will need to be replaced every six months as its UVB production wears out.
Timers are especially valuable for lighting.
Bearded Dragons need 12-hour day and night cycles. Use a light timer for at least two plugs and program it for 12 hours daily from 7AM to 7PM.
Feed your bearded dragon at the beginning of the day to give them enough time to digest their food before lights out.
Infrared night heat lights are not recommended as they disturb your beardie’s circadian rhythm.
Bearded Dragons rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. They require a temperature gradient that moves from an intensely hot 100℉ to a cool 75℉.
A bearded dragon’s behavior will indicate if their body temperature is too high or too low:
- When they feel hot they hold their mouth open and are brightly colored.
- When they are cold they will turn their darkest possible shade to absorb any heat source available.
Their habitat needs to have a range of temperatures to keep them healthy so their tank should have both a cool side and a hot side.
The hot side should include the basking lamp.
Your Bearded Dragon will need different decor and landscaping to get as close as they need to the basking lamp. The highest height of basking should be six inches from the top of the tank. You can use strong branches or reptile hammocks to achieve this.
The cooler side of their habitat should be far away from the basking lamp and have hides and shading plants.
To measure the habitat’s temperature you should use a digital thermometer and probe. Stick-on thermostats are not reliable.
If temperatures drop below 65℉ at nighttime then use a ceramic heater.
Bearded Dragons require low humidity levels because of their native desert habitat. The ideal humidity level ranges from 30-40%.
If humidity is too high then your dragon will be susceptible to developing medical issues and respiratory infections. When humidity levels are lower than 30% your lizard will dehydrate.
The best way to maintain humidity is to include a soaking water dish in their tank and let it evaporate.
A water dish can be a plastic container (without toxic dyes/paint) and should be large enough to fit their body. The best size is 2″ deep, 7″ wide and 10″ long. Do not fill the dish any deeper than their ear level – this will prevent any chance of drowning.
They are unlikely to drink directly from the water dish as most of their water intake comes from the vegetation and insects they eat.
Sand is a major part of their habitat in the wild. However desert sand is not like the commercial sand sold for reptiles. Sand in their native habitat is rich in calcium and other minerals and they will ingest small quantities that provide them with just the right amount of these precious nutrients. Commercially-available sand is often poor in calcium, so the instinct for a calcium-deficient dragon is to keep eating it and get a blocked intestine, a condition called impaction.
In the wild Bearded Dragons easily hunt insects without ingesting sand particles. The issue with impaction seems to be caused by calcium deficiency. The idea that dragons eat it by mistake seems to apply only to young and inexperienced dragons.
These sand particles are tiny but can cause huge medical problems for your bearded dragon’s intestines and cause impaction. Impaction is a very common health issue for reptiles and is fatal.
The best substrate is reptile carpet made of felt, fake grass or hardened desert ground. Sand can be safely used with adult beardies, only if sufficient sources of calcium are provided: the most common way is through supplements in their diet, but some people like to put a sepia bone (or shed some small pieces of it) in the enclosure, since these would be calcium rich and readily available. The benefit of using sand is replicating conditions similar to their natural habitat and allowing them to dig: one of their favorite activities.
You can also use 12×12″ ceramic tiles to cover 30% of the tank to help keep your bearded dragon’s claws short whilst providing a nice area for them to cool down.
Supplies, Decor, and Landscaping
You should aim to build a habitat that has climbing and hiding enrichment for your pet with lots of logs, hides and caves. In the hot side of the tank you should add:
- Reptile hammock(s).
- Strong branches.
- Rock decor.
If you find rocks and branches from the wild then soak them in boiling water to remove any potential bacteria or parasites.
For the cool side add half-logs, cave hides and vine or bush-like plants that are pesticide-free.
Making the best bearded dragon habitat requires you to think through the eyes of your bearded dragon:
- What will provide them with the most engaging landscape?
- How can you make their tank as healthy and appealing as possible?
Bearded dragon habitats are commonly desert-themed, with fake cacti, a desert background and sand-like reptile carpet.
Bearded dragons are some of the most fun reptiles to keep and have very simple husbandry requirements after setting up their enclosure.
A perfect Bearded Dragon habitat should have:
- 75-gallon wooden or plastic tank.
- 50 watt dome-head UVA basking bulb.
- Tube shape UVB light secured underneath the mesh lid.
- Felt reptile carpet.
- Two dishes for food and water.
- Lots of plants, decor, hides and caves.
When purchasing their supplies remember not every product is 100% guaranteed to be reptile safe. The pet reptile industry is not regulated so do your research, take caution and read lots of reviews.
If you follow all of the steps in this article you will be sure to have a healthy beardie.
After you have finished building their habitat don’t forget to take them out for daily handling!
Have you ever owned a Bearded Dragon before? How did you setup their enclosure? Let us know in the comments below.