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Along with leopard geckos, bearded dragons are one of the easiest lizards to look after, and a good first choice for the beginner keeper. They are robust, easy to handle, generally non aggressive, and have bags of personality. They grow to a maximum length of around 55 to 60 centimetres, live for up to ten years, and make a great pet for both older children and adults. Bearded dragons are active during the day and rest at night, and can be kept either alone or in small all female groupings, although it is not always easy to tell the sex of a bearded dragon while they are very young and small. Bearded dragons tend to breed in captivity with relative ease, so if you keep a male with a group of females you will generally see eggs before too long.
Bearded dragons are native to the dry, hot deserts of Australia, and it's important that their vivarium is carefully temperature controlled and monitored for humidity in order to provide the optimum environment for them. They also require ultraviolet lighting over the tank for around 12 to 14 hours each day, in order to enable the absorption of calcium, which is an important supplement for your dragons in order to prevent deficiencies and subsequent potential deformities. The vivarium of your dragon(s) should be at least half as long again as the fully grown pet, so an adult dragon will require a tank of 90 centimetres to a metre long, or more for pairs and groupings of dragons kept together. Dragons need a spotlight or heat lamp in one corner of the enclosure for basking, which mimics the natural heat of the sun in the wild. They should be able to regulate their own body temperatures by choosing which end of the tank they are in at any given time. A sand substrate is required in the base of the tank, with rocks for basking in the area under the spotlight or heat lamp. There should also be some shelter, such as ornamentation or plastic decorative plants, in order to allow them a hiding place and to develop a sense of security in their environment. This checklist is a quick reference guide for all of the basic equipment you will need:
Bearded dragons are unusual compared to the majority of other species of lizards, in that they eat fruit and vegetables as well as insects. When feeding adult bearded dragons, they thrive on a wide variety of vegetables such as escarole, kale, parsley, clover, dandelion, turnip greens, mustard greens, spinach, broccoli, okra, peas, green beans, carrot, yam, sweet potato, bell peppers and mixed veg. Dragons also enjoy fruits such as figs, kiwi, papaya, melon, apples, grapes, dates, peaches, apricots, plums and peeled bananas, but fruit should be fed sparingly as a treat rather than incorporating the main part of your dragon's diet. You should vary the selection offered to your bearded dragon in order to cater all of their nutritional requirements and avoid boredom. In terms of live food, dragons like insects such a crickets, mealworms and locusts, which should be in good health themselves and gut loaded prior to feeding to ensure that they fulfil all of your pet's nutritional requirements. Adult dragons should be fed veg and greens on a daily basis, and live food should be given on alternate days. Young juvenile bearded dragons require higher protein food during their growth stage, and should receive appropriately sized live food on a daily basis.
Bearded dragons are fairly robust, and do not often get sick if well cared for and kept in a healthy environment. Make sure that the tank is well ventilated and not damp or humid, and remove droppings from the tank regularly. You should thoroughly clean and disinfect the vivarium and replace the substrate and bedding once a month. Bearded dragons do not welcome changes to their environment, so try not to interfere with their tank more regularly than this unless absolutely necessary. Bearded dragons, like other reptiles, shed their skins on a regular basis, and this occurs in stages with small pieces being shed individually rather than in one large piece as you find with snakes. During the time leading up to a shed and during the shedding process, your dragon's skin may appear dull and patchy- this is not cause for concern, and the new layer of skin growth underneath will appear much brighter once the shedding cycle is completed.
Dragons seem to actively enjoy careful handling once they are used to you, and regular handling, particularly when young, is important so that your pet becomes happy to be picked up. When scared or nervous, bearded dragons can scratch when struggling to get away, but rarely attempt to bite. Lift your pet gently, supporting the body and holding them lightly around the shoulders to avoid dropping them.
Nine out of ten reptiles, including lizards such as bearded dragons, carry the salmonella bacteria. It is recommended that bearded dragons are not handled or cared for by young children, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system. When handling your bearded dragon and equipment from within their tank, take special care to avoid transmission of salmonella bacteria by always following a good hygiene practices including regular hand washing, preventing hand to mouth contact, and carefully cleaning any equipment used for your pet.
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