OK, so they don't breathe fire, they don't fly, and you can't ride them into battle, but bearded dragons are pretty cool pets. They're chill, they come in different colors and patterns, and they get all blissed-out when their heat lamps are perfectly positioned.
Before you become Queen Sarah, the First of Her Name, Queen of Dragonstone, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, there are a few things to consider. For example, how much do you really like crickets?
First, let's talk about bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) in general. They're technically lizards native to Australia. In the wild, they live in rocky and arid regions, and you might find them lounging on branches, sunning on rocks, or chilling in the bushes and shade.
These large lizards have triangular heads and flat bodies, and they're covered with soft, spiny scales. Bearded dragons make great pet reptiles because they don't get too big, they're omnivorous (which means they eat lots of different foods) and they're surprisingly gentle.
Where Do You Get a Bearded Dragon?
Despite being native to Australia, you don't get a pet bearded dragon from Down Under, that's for sure. Exporting any flora or fauna from Australia has been illegal since the 1960s. All of the bearded dragons sold as pets come from stock that has been bred in the United States for decades.
That means there are lots of ways to get one of these animals. Many pet stores have bearded dragons, though the store may not know where the lizard originally came from or how it was raised before the store got it. You can also purchase a bearded dragon at a reptile expo or order one from a breeder. Buying from a breeder lets you to choose the type of dragon you want, even down to its color and markings, and you'll know things like how it was fed and caged since birth. Most online breeders also can ship the baby beardies right to your door.
What Do Bearded Dragons Eat?
Juvenile and adult beardies eat mostly protein, along with a healthy diet of veggies. But the bearded dragon you buy from a breeder or a pet store will be a baby. And baby lizards eat a lot of protein. A lot.
That means in addition to raising a bearded dragon, you're also going to raise crickets — and maybe even roaches — for food. Beardie owner Andrea Windler and her 9-year-old son Parker found that buying bulk crickets for their young bearded dragon, Draca, was far less expensive than buying a few crickets at a time. That's because Draca eats about 30 crickets a day.
As they get older, dragons need brightly colored veggies too. You should give your dragon vegetables every day and reduce their intake of insects to every other day once they're around 9 months old. Most experts recommend chopping the veggies into tiny pieces that could fit in the space between their little dragon eyes. Collette Latimer of Atomic Lizard Ranch says her dragons love colorful nasturtium blossoms, though raw carrots and greens work, too.
Housing Your Bearded Dragon
Depending on their size and coloring, bearded dragons can cost anywhere from about $50 to over $100. But that's just for the dragon.
You'll also need an aquarium that is at least 40 gallons (151 liters) for one dragon. That tank needs to have a screen top for ventilation, a dish for food (well, maybe not the live crickets), a dish for water, a place for your dragon to hide, and some clean branches for him to climb. Don't include heat rocks, though, because they can get super hot.
You'll also need a "substrate," which means a lining for the bottom of the tank. Latimer recommends clean playground sand or kiln-dried all-purpose sand over pet store sand. Pet store sand is very fine and can clog up a dragon's digestive system if he eats it. (Bearded dragons poop, a lot, so you have to clean their home daily.)
Dragons also need a full-spectrum lamp for warmth and UVB rays; the UVB rays help them metabolize vitamin D3. A light with both fluorescent and incandescent light is ideal. If your dragon gets too hot, he'll sit with his mouth open. Just turn off some of your tank's lights and give him some time to chill.
Do Bearded Dragons Cuddle?
This is your chance to be as Mother of Dragons as possible! Yes, bearded dragons like to cuddle. Latimer notes that — like their distant cousins, parrots — dragons can sometimes bond to their people. They can even stop eating if separated from their human. Windler says that Draca likes her tank in the family den where "she can see all the commotion."
Baby lizards can be skittish at first. Latimer points out that "they are at the bottom of the food chain." But once they get used to their people, they're happy to hang out. Parker visits his friends in the neighborhood with Draca on his shoulder. Like all lizards, bearded dragons can carry salmonella, so be sure to wash your hands after your snuggle.
Bearded dragons are a commitment. They typically live 6 to 10 years, though they can live a little longer, depending on care and breeding. Babies are about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long, and at about a year, they're fully grown. Latimer says the typical beardie averages 16 to 19 inches (15 to 48 centimeters) from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail.