Bearded Dragon Care – How to set up a bearded dragon vivarium

As bearded dragons are our most common reptile companion it’s important that we know the correct way to care for them. This blog post will show you how to turn your vivarium into a bearded dragon setup.

One of the most important factors in ensuring good bearded dragon health is their environment. To provide the correct environment for our beardies we have to master setting up a bearded dragon vivarium. That is what we will be covering in this blog article.

The Vivarium

The vivarium in which your beloved beardie will live must be up to the job. I do not recommend anything smaller than a 4′x2′x2′ vivarium for bearded dragons, even one being kept on it’s own. It’s not just a matter of space, it’s all about creating the right environmental conditions. We need to create quite a long temperature gradient along our bearded dragon’s environment, 110oF at the basking end that needs to drop to 80oF at the cool end. It’s extremely difficult to achieve this gradient in a vivarium less than 4′ long.

Besides, forgetting the temperature gradient for a moment, bearded dragons can grow to over 20″ so give them the space they deserve!

Heating

As I mentioned earlier we need to provide different temperatures within our bearded dragon vivarium. We will also need to provide a lower night time temperature for our beardies too. The table below shows the levels that we need to be aiming for and the equipment we use to do it.

The Temperatures in a Bearded Dragon Vivarium (4′x2′x2′)

Basking Area During the Day – 100-110oF

2x 60w basking spot bulbs at one end of the vivarium will generate a temperature between 100-110oF which is exactly what we want. This will vary slightly depending on house temperature but is extremely unlikely to ever overheat. If you’re the ‘worrying sort’ you can use a dimming thermostat, but I personally have found it unnecessary on all of our bearded dragons.

Cool End During the Day – 80oF

Because our vivarium is 4′ long, our cool end will naturally settle around this temperature without any additional equipment.

Through the Night – 80oF

1x 100w ceramic heater is enough to radiate a nice even 80oF throughout the vivarium. Because 80oF is a relatively low temperature, it is possible for them to over heat so we always use a suitable thermostat with our ceramic bulbs. Also, always have a guard over it, it’s not easy to tell these bulbs are on until you burn yourself!

UVB Lighting

Bearded Dragons are diurnal Australian dessert animals which means they are naturally exposed to sun-light, and lots of it. That’s why we have used such precise, high temperatures in our vivariums. But, the sun provides more than just heat. It bathes wild beardies in UVB that they use in their bodies to create vitamin D3. Without getting too ‘sciencey’, vitamin D3 is essential in bearded dragons being able to utilize calcium, without calcium they can suffer from illnesses including metabolic bone disease (MBD).

We can create the correct amount of UVB our beardies at home get by using, and selecting, the correct UVB tube in their vivarium. Bearded dragons require at least 10% UVB fluorescent tubes, my personal opinion is that the Zoo Med Reptisun 10 is the best tube but I also like the Arcadia 12% tube (I test light-tubes with a radiometer). The tube should run along the back of the vivarium and be positioned so that it is no more than 12″ from where the beardies will be basking. In our 4′x2′x2′ a 36″ tube is perfect. Fluorescent tubes should always be replaced every 6 months, regardless of any manufacturer’s claims on the box. The UVB content after that time is seriously reduced.

Substrate

This is always the topic with the hottest debate. I like to use extra large beech woodchips, and I’ll try to explain my reasons. Firstly, no loose substrate is 100% safe, there is always a small chance that at some point it may get swallowed. I find this happens extremely rarely with the extra large chips (and we keep and breed 1,000s of beardies every year, all on woodchip). Beech woodchip is also extremely dry, so doesn’t not make the vivarium humid. I also quite like the smell, totally irrelevant to benefitting the dragons, but thought I’d put that out there.

Some people like to use sand because they believe it is more ‘natural’ (beardies actually live on hard, rocky clay), and whilst I don’t necessarily recommend sand, I don’t have a huge problem with it as long as it is a good quality calcium sand. This is far more likely to be digested if accidentally swallowed. Whatever you do, do not cut corners and use normal ‘play pit’ sand as this may get stuck in their digestive system (impaction).

Decor

Decoration in the vivarium can pretty much be split into two categories;

  1. Decor for the bearded dragons.
  2. Decor for us.

Bearded dragons are not shy animals, they are happy to be out on show all the time. For their benefit, I like to give them some java wood to climb on and a decent lump of rock to bask on (I like how the rock gains heat during the day to make the basking area really nice!). Apart from that, they only really need a food dish for their daily veg and a water bowl (keep these at the cool end).

If you’re like me, you’ll also need your vivarium to look good. I like to cover the harsh edges of a vivarium by using a lot of artificial plants. I prefer trailing plants as I can hang them from the corners without taking away any of my beardie’s floor space. I may, if I’m feeling adventurous, use one or two free standing plants to break-up the landscape but this decoration is purely a matter of personal taste.

OK, so we’ve set up a bearded dragon vivarium. It looks good, but most importantly the temperatures are ‘spot-on’ and our beardies will receive essential UVB. I know there may be things I have forgotten to mention, or questions you may like to ask so I invite you to use the comments section below and we’ll try to get everything covered. Or call one of our bearded dragon experts on 01604 753823, seven days a week.

Below is a video we produced last year showing how the components of the bearded dragon setup fit together, I hope you find this useful too.

Click here to buy a bearded dragon vivarium.

Click here to buy a bearded dragon setup.

Click here to buy an extra special bearded dragon setup.

 

About Gary Rolfe

Gary has worked with fish and reptiles for 15 years and has a degree in marine biology and coastal ecology. You can follow him on Twitter at @GaryRolfe.

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2 Responses to Bearded Dragon Care – How to set up a bearded dragon vivarium

  1. scott February 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    Do you have an E-mail which i can ask questions about my beardie, ive had him 5 months now, brought him from a lady who said he is 6 years old and she has kept him in a 3ft vivarium all his life

    thank you.

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