Although no real comparison for that of the wild, the natural habitat of the Bearded Dragon is actually very easy and simple to recreate which is one of the huge benefits of keeping this lizard.
Bearded Dragon Enclosure
An enclosure should be made from wood as it absorbs the heat unlike glass which will trap the heat if in direct sunlight. Also if you end up wanting more reptiles then the wooden vivariums will stack and support more weight than an aquarium. However, there is a downside that if you want to stack them then lighting needs to be fixed inside the vivarium/terrarium.
You can read more detailed information about how to choose the right vivarium for Bearded Dragons on this site.
Bearded Dragon Habitat List of Contents
Bearded Dragons are territorial and given the eventual size that they will reach, each lizard will need a minimum of four by two foot floor space given that they will be given some time outside of the vivarium but the more space that you can give them, the healther and happier they’ll be – bigger is better. If you live in similar climates to their native habitat then you can also keep the dragons outside and even in colder climates on sunny days you can treat them to life outside for brief periods.
Being semi arboreal Bearded Dragons like to climb and any enclosure should allow for this with a minimum of two foot and suitable items from rock to bark and branches for them to climb on.
Bearded Dragons inhabit mostly the dry, arid regions of Australia and so survive with little water/ humidity, this means you only have to provide an adequeate heat source for them to bask under and shouldn’t need to monitor humidity – though it should be noted that humid conditions will create respiritory illness, early signs of which will be coughing. Bearded Dragons like most Agamids detect heat from above rather than below, so under no circumstances should a heat mat be used, nor should there be anyway for your dragon to be able to climb above or the heat source. Avoid adding a cage around the light fitting as they will jump and climb on it if able to (especially the young Dragons).
Like all cold blooded animals they thermoregulate to keep their body temperature constant, in the wild they would move to shaded areas out of the sun to cool down, burrow into the ground and by opening/ gaping their mouths to vent/ cool down. In captivity there is no shade or little space to escape the heat so a graduated temperature zone is needed. This means that you have a basking spotlight at one end of the tank capable of generating 100 -120 degrees Fahrenheit (38 °C) – although in practice 110 °F seems to be about right, they detect heat from above they never spend enough time under that heat to cause damage. The cold side of the viv will need to be at around 75 °F in order to give an area where they can cool down and find a happy intermediary. The average temperature for the vivarium/ terrarium should be around 80 °F.
Heating can be provided by nothing more complex than a lightbulb and if done right you won’t need a thermostat to regulate it – though it depends upon the size of the tank and the wattage of lightbulb used. Remember that this will get very hot and so an appropriate ceramic lamp holder should be used that will be able to withstand the constant heat. Avoid positioning the lightbulb too close to the edges of your enclosure as it will burn anything that it comes into contact with.
Living in the hot sunny areas means that Pogona receive alot of sunlight and the radiation that’s present in it. Like heat, the light is needed to allow the lizard to digest and metabolise its food and due to its climate, failure to do this will result in various illness and defects.
You’ll already have a light source from your heating setup, but if you’re using standard bulbs then this won’t emit the necessary UV light that a healthy Dragon needs, you can read more about Bearded Dragon lighting.
There are multiple types of UV in sunlight and most of the UV radiation that reaches the earth is blocked out by the ozone layer and of the subsequent radiation that reaches us, most of it is UVA with a small part of it UVB. It is the UVB type that is responsible for the production of Vitamn D and regulates the metabolism of calcium not just in Beardies but in us Humans too. This is imperative for good bone growth and development in your Dragons.
So as well as the heat lamp you’ll also require a fluorescent lighting system capable of generating at least 10% UVB to simulate the level of UV exposure they would have in the wild. You can get bulbs that provide both heat and UVB, but in practice I find it better to have a separate strip light for the UVB, although heat bulbs that also emit UVA are a good option so that all ranges are covered.
It’s also a good idea to get a reflector to make sure that as much of the UVB is reflected down the the vivarium floor and that there are plenty of perches where your Beardie can get a bit closer to the light if they want.
Vegetation and Decoration
Unforunately keeping live plants within your vivarium can prove tricky (but it can be done), Bearded Dragons tend to be quite destructive with live plants and you won’t find much that will grow in the limited space and heat. Generally I provide a few hanging fake plants/ vines along with some big pieces of cork bark and some big stones/ rocks. I’ve yet to be able to get plants that will survive long enough to flourish. They seem happy enough as long as they can climb and hide.
Remember that anything you introduce to their environment that you have collected will need to be cleaned to ensure it’s free from toxins and pesticides, to kill any bacteria, you can freeze your decor. Bark and stones can also be baked for a time in the oven.
This is an interesting topic all by itself, there is much opinion on what the best substrate is and here you can read more about Bearded Dragon substrates. From experience I would avoid Calci-sand/ digestible sand products, even though they may be recommended, I have had nothing but bad luck with it and the loss of a Pogona that died from impaction due to eating Calci-sand. I think if it doesn’t occur naturally then don’t use it – if you’re worried about your Beardies getting enough calcium in their diet just use a supplemental calcium powder on their food.
For young dragons just use paper towel, no need for anything else until they’re a few months old. For adults, I’ve found that the best substrate is a 50/50 mixture of top soil and play sand with some vermiculite added in to retain a bit of moisture to aid digging. You can get all this from any garden centre and it will work out far cheaper than any specific pet product. I create a depth around 4 inches/ 12 cm for the substrate which allows for plenty of digging and burrowing under pieces of bark.