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How to Raise a Baby Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons are becoming very popular pets, and it’s not hard to see why. The babies are extremely cute, and the adults are so calm and peaceful that even people who say they would never have a reptile in the house are often forced to change their minds once they have the opportunity to approach them.
Many are bought as pets as an impulse buy – babies are sold relatively cheap and readily available these days, and although some people read up and prepare for their new pet, there are still a large number who take it in with little or no advice at all. Unfortunately, many staff at pet stores and reptile centers do not know proper housing and feeding arrangements, resulting in bearded dragons living unhealthy and often short lives.
If you are tempted to buy a baby bearded dragon, here are some tips to help you raise your bearded dragon properly.
1. Bearded Dragons grow big and fast
While you may be looking at a baby who is only 5 to 6 inches in length, by the time he is twelve months old, he will be 18 to 22 inches long and weigh up to 700 grams. Adults need a 4ft x 2ft x 2ft vivarium and will probably need one by the time they are eight to ten months old. It is therefore a false economy to buy a smaller vivarium with the intention of upgrading as it grows, and it is best to buy the larger size first. Too many people live in vivariums where they can’t properly turn around without banging their nose on the glass and their tail on the background.
Despite the myth, baby bearded dragons do not feel lost in a large terrarium – after all, in the desert, no one gives them a pen for the first few weeks!
Growing at the rate they do means they have big appetites and need to be fed a lot and often like babies. They are not cheap pets to keep – a bearded dragon can cost as much as a small dog or cat to feed each week.
2. Bearded Dragons need the right temperatures
They come from the hot arid desert of Australia and need to have a temperature range in their terrarium that mimics their natural environment. Establishing a mini desert in your home is part of the fun of maintaining them. As cold-blooded animals, they thermoregulate – meaning that when it’s too hot, they should be able to move to a cooler area, and when it’s too cold, they should be able to move around to keep warm. The vivarium must have a heated area under a heat lamp that reaches a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other end of the “cool end” of the vivarium should be no more than 85 degrees. They should be able to see a good drop in temperature at night, so the heat should be turned off until the ambient temperature drops below 65 degrees for infants and 60 degrees for adults. Temperatures should be maintained at the correct levels using a thermostat.
Heat should be provided with a heat lamp – bearded dragons do not absorb heat from below and do not really feel it. Heat stones and heat mats can easily burn them, so they should not be used.
3. Bearded dragons need UVB exposure
In the desert, they bask under the strong rays of the sun, which provide UVB radiation and help them synthesize vitamin D3. This is vital because it means they can use the calcium that is essential to support their growth. Lack of UVB will lead to metabolic bone disease (MBD), which causes limb deformities and is only treatable if caught early and is often fatal. Their UVB requirements are the highest of any captive reptile. A fluorescent lamp along the length of the terrarium ensures that they are exposed to UVB the entire time the light is on. The most suitable tubes are Reptisun 10% or Arcadia 12%.
If they are exposed to UVB for 12 hours in a terrarium they will get enough UVB, but even that is only equivalent to about 20 minutes in full Australian sun. For this reason, bearded dragons should not be provided with skins, as hiding will reduce their exposure to beneficial UVB rays.
Babies are not precise feeders and tend to collect loose substrate with mouthfuls of food. A kitchen towel is the best substrate for babies because it carries no risk. Do not use sand until the baby is six months old and NEVER use wood chips. This is to prevent impact to the stomach, which is usually fatal.
5. Set up the vivarium Before purchasing a Bearded Dragon
Once you have your terrarium, you’ll find that temperatures will fluctuate at first and you’ll need time to play around with the position of the thermostat probe to get the temperature range right. Setting up a vivarium and letting it settle for a week or so before bringing the baby home is the best idea.
6. Bring home a baby bearded dragon
Most babies will travel quite comfortably in a small dark box. Additional heating is not needed unless the weather is very cold. In this case, you can use a heating pad to keep the box warm.
When you first bring your new baby home, you may find that he eats the first lot of crickets you eagerly put in the terrarium, and then refuses to eat. Many new owners worry about this, but it’s just a reaction to the stress of moving. It takes a child up to a fortnight to get used to a normal diet.
To help it settle in, it’s best to resist the urge to take it out and handle it. Please give it two weeks to settle before picking it up. You can start getting him used to it by putting your hand in the terrarium while feeding or cleaning.
When it’s time to start handling, pick it up by putting your hand under it and scooping it up. In the wild, their main predators are birds, so anything that comes their way will frighten them.
From time to time, your baby’s belly will develop furrows like tiger marks. They are stress lines, but don’t be afraid of them. Many things cause a baby momentary stress and most of the time there is nothing to worry about. It could be the dark colored coat they suddenly caught a glimpse of.
In the morning, your whiskers will be cold and motionless. It takes about an hour for them to warm up and start moving, which is the same as if they were in the desert. Just make sure you give them time to wake up properly before offering them food.
7. Feeding your Baby Bearded Dragon
Babies up to 12 weeks of age must be fed 3 times a day with small crickets (first or second instar). Each feed should be as much as they can eat in 10 minutes. One feeding per day should be dusted with calcium to prevent MBD. Finely chopped vegetables or fruits should always be available. As an adult, your beardie will be 80% vegetarian, so he needs to get used to eating vegetables early.
The best live food is crickets because of the amount they eat. You can feed the locusts, but it is much more expensive, and once the locusts are eaten, some will not want to eat the crickets because they are more bitter. Do not feed mealworms a basic diet, as their skin is high in chitin, which bearded dragons cannot digest well. Mealworms and waxworms can be offered as an occasional treat.
Most bearded dragons do not eat dried or frozen food, so you will have to get used to feeding them live food.
8. Join the forum
Baby bearded dragons seem to enjoy confusing and disturbing their new owners. Join a bearded dragon or reptile forum to ask for advice from people who have had the same concerns as you and can give you advice and reassurance.
Keeping a reptile that grows so fast is a great experience and if you provide the right environment and feeding regime, you will have a pet that will live a healthy life of more than 10 years. The first few weeks and months are critical when raising a baby bearded dragon – they are not difficult to maintain if you take the time to understand what they need to grow and develop properly.
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