Australian native animals – bearded dragons

Learn about care and management of bearded dragons.

Introduction to the bearded dragon

Watch Introduction to the bearded dragon. (1:36)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the characteristics of the bearded dragon.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So, this is the Australian Bearded Dragon.

You’ll notice he’s a spiky-looking lizard. It’s a lizard like as everyone can tell. It’s got four legs.

The Australian Bearded Dragon is the most popular lizard pet in the World.

They breed millions in North America and Europe for the pet trade and it’s an easy animal to keep and it’s got a very gentle nature. So, it’s incredibly popular as a pet all over the World, not just Australia.

But in the wild you’d find them in central NSW, central part of eastern Australia or Queensland, Northern Territory, NSW, Victoria even in the dry, semi-arid areas. So, it lives out there in the semi desert.

It’s mostly, people think they’re aggressive but it’s a very casual and laid back lizard.

They’re often seen on fence posts especially the males in the Spring they’ll sit up on a fence post and they’ll watch other males and stake out their territory.

Often you can approach them very closely in the wild and take a photo and they just sit there on the fence post. So, in the wild this guy would be sitting out in the Sun, any day the Sun’s out, they’re out sitting in the Sun especially in the morning when you see them sitting on fence posts and up on timber.

And people think reptiles are cold blooded but that’s an old fashioned term.

These particular lizards, they like to be about thirty five-thirty six degrees Celsius and that’s really warm. Like humans, our body temperature’s thirty seven. So, these lizards are basically almost the same temperature as us during the day when they’re basking. And that’s a really important point for our keeping them in captivity.

[End of transcript]

Handling the bearded dragon

Watch Handling the bearded dragon. (2:50)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the best practices when handling a bearded dragon.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

Okay, so how do you handle the Bearded Dragon?

Like most captured reptiles in Australia this one was born in captivity and grown up as a little fella so he’s a lot tamer if you like or a lot easier to handle than a wild one you’d see like in the bush.

Basically, like any lizard you want to make it feel secure like any animals you want to make it feel secure so you give its front legs to sit on, back legs to sit on and it feels really happy there. If I was holding it by one leg or something it would obviously struggle and feel very uncomfortable and want to get away. So, they’re really easy to handle.

You can actually put them in one hand and just gently lock the thumb if you think it’s going to jump on the ground because you don’t want them jumping on the ground, it’s a long way for a small lizard it could potentially damage itself, break a leg even. So, you want to make sure that if it’s about to jump you’re holding it quite gently but firmly so it can’t escape but this guy’s not wanting to go anywhere, he’s just very happy to sit in my hand all day probably.

And did I mention why it’s called a Bearded Dragon?

It’s probably very obvious but this species has a little beard around the side of its head and if you see them in the wild and they get annoyed they will put down the beard. In captivity they won’t do this because it’s really a threat display it’s trying to show them having a big head, being fierce and scary.

And they’re often called Frill-Necked Lizards but of course the frill-neck’s a different lizard it’s from the northern tropical areas of Australia whereas the Bearded Dragon is from the more central arid areas.

The Frill-Necks’ beard … the frill goes all the way around but the Bearded Dragon has a small beard mostly under its throat and around the sides.

So, he looks like he wants to go back into his enclosure, he’s had enough of me.

As far as handling, a little bit of handling is really good for most of these reptiles. I wouldn’t say every day but certainly you want to handle them from time to time so they do get very comfortable and they’re not at all worried about being taken out of their enclosure like this guy, he’s very relaxed. But, he’d probably want to go back.

Another problem is what would you do if one of your lizard’s not feeding or looks sick or you know started to blow bubbles from its nose because respiratory infection like colds are occasionally found in these species, in these lizards. So, you’d have to bring it to the veterinarian.

So, the easy way to carry a reptile like a Blue Tongue or any other, you can put it into a soft bag and then tie it up gently, be very careful that it’s in the bottom of the bag and then put that bag inside a hard case or a container and take it to the vet inside a cloth bag. And that would be the safe and easy way to bring it to the vet.

Of course making sure you don’t leave it in a parked car or anything silly like that because they are very susceptible to overheating like all animals.

[End of transcript]

Housing the bearded dragon

Watch Housing the bearded dragon. (5:11)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the requirements when housing bearded dragons.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So, this particular enclosure here at Taronga Zoo, it’s a rather large one. It’s a two metre enclosure. It has three adult Bearded Dragons in it and it’s ideal, it’s better than ideal, it’s got everything a dragon could ever want. It has some nice substrate on the floor which animals can hide in. It has a permanent water bowl there so there’s always a drink of water if it needs it. But it’s got a lot of structural height.

This particular species likes to climb around in low foliage, gets off the ground, likes to be able to look out and around at potential food and mates during the mating season. And so we have lots of branches.

In the wild these guys like to be very warm during the day you’ll see them out basking in the Sun and the reason for that is so that they can get their body temperature up to about thirty five degrees Celsius which is really warm. You pick them up and they feel really hot if they’ve been basking.

To simulate that in captivity we have this area down here which we call the hot spot. So, there’s a strong heat globe just above the roof there. This area gets to well into the low forty degree Celsius. So, it’s really very warm and the lizard can sit there if it wants to and get as warm as it likes and then it can move away.

Because this is an indoor enclosure and so the rest of the enclosure is pretty close to room temperature. So, it can get as hot as it likes but then it can choose what temperature it wants to be at by moving in and out of that hot spot. And that’s really important especially again for Dragon Lizards, as we call them in Australia.

We have a bit of foliage in there. They like to climb up. They sleep at night off the ground normally. They like to climb up and sleep in that foliage. And you’d be surprised just how hard they are to see. They’re pretty well camouflaged, on my hand not so much but in the wild they can hide very, very well in just a bit of bush or underground.

Another aspect of this enclosure is the thick substrate and there’s a rock there so it’s good. Reptiles don’t like to be visible all the time. Most reptiles they like to hide away when they’re not out foraging, feeding or sunbaking they often like to hide away so they can’t be seen in the wild by predators. So, this enclosure is perfect, they can get under this large rock and they can actually shuffle down under the substrate here.

And I don’t know if you can see it but under that log there’s the third lizard in this enclosure and he hasn’t even come out today yet, he’ll come out later, he’s leading the lazy life I think. But he’s hiding down there, his head’s out and he’s looking at us but at night he would shuffle down under that substrate and disappear. And that’s probably where he’s been sleeping last night.

So, this the hot end of the enclosure like I said it’s really warm here and you can see this guy’s sitting here soaking up the heat. But what you can’t see up here in the roof of this particular enclosure there’s a red lamp which is producing all that heat I can feel but also there’s a very special ultra violet lamp. And what this does it acts like the Sunlight.

These lizards are a little unusual compared to most other reptiles or many other reptiles in that they need direct Sunlight to function properly. And that is that it’s the UVB part of the Sun’s rays. And when they’re outdoors sitting in the Sun they get more than they need of that. But here indoors there’s absolutely none of that good quality UV light here.

So, what we do we have to buy a very special lamp and they’re not cheap, they’re quite expensive, a UVB lamp and they’re specifically for reptiles, indoor reptile cages. You can get them in pet shops or online from some suppliers. And there’s one of those up there and it’s on a timer, it’s on for about eight or nine hours a day with the heat lamps. They’re only on to replicate the Sun outdoors and without that your lizard will have lots of serious health problems. They’ll be slow to happen but they will happen.

And the main problem is called Metabolic Bone disease and that’s a lack of calcium being metabolised in the bone. It doesn’t matter how much calcium you give them, they do need this ultraviolet B light to be able to use that calcium to build strong bones and healthy muscles. So, it’s extremely important that these lizards have access to this UV light.

If your enclosure was outdoors that would be different and it had a wire lid or something. But you have to remember the UVB rays that are important for lizards they don’t go through glass. So, it’s really important to know that they don’t go through wire mesh of course so it has to be direct Sunlight and not through glass because glass cuts out that particular wave length completely.

So, yeah like I say up there, there’s the two lamps, one for heat and one for UV light. And these fellows will sit there for several hours a day. So, this is a fairly large enclosure but of course like any animal enclosure it has to be kept clean. We do what we call spot cleaning.

So, several times a week we would go around and we’d pick up any faecal matter that you’ll see on top of the surface and that’s removed with a big lump of substrate and thrown away and then regularly depending on how many lizards and what time of year and how much they’re eating. And we would remove all these logs and take them outside and hose them or scrub them, give them a really good hose outside or even replace them, get a new log as required. So, it has to be done fairly regularly and as required we do it depending on how many lizards are in there.

[End of transcript]

Feeding the bearded dragon

Watch Feeding the bearded dragon. (1:20)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the components of a balanced diet for the captive bearded dragon.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

Feeding Bearded Dragons. Hatchling Bearded Dragons and juveniles tend to be insectivorous, that is they eat mostly live insects. And they need that movement, they won’t eat a dead insect because they don’t recognise it as being a live animal.

So, a little cockroach, cricket they’ll come down and grab it but as they grow older they become more omnivorous, that means they eat just about everything. In the wild they’d be eating the flowers and new shoots and some fruits but they’ll never miss a chance to grab an insect if they see one. So, these are adults. So, here we feed them three times a week.

And today they get their calcium supplement. So, this is all vegetable matter there’s about six different leafy greens in there. There’s espiral and all sorts of other chopped up fruit and vegetables. We give them grated carrot sometimes.

A variety is really important but just about any vegetable or fruit you can eat, you can feed your Bearded Dragon as long as it’s the right size and you chop it up or you grate it.

So, we’d feed them a big amount of green vegetables stuff three times a week and then a couple times a week we’d give them live insects, crickets, cockroaches, mil worms, that’s their protein boost. They do need a bit extra. But the bulk of their food is vegetable matter especially when they’re adults like these ones.

[End of transcript]

Selecting a suitable bearded dragon

Watch Selecting a suitable bearded dragon. (0:34)

A Taronga Zoo keeper discusses selecting a suitable bearded dragon.

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

If you’re about to get a Bearded Dragon it’s important to make sure you get one that looks healthy, not skinny, it doesn’t have ribs showing, preferably stick around and watch them feed the lizards, get one that’s quite active, comes out and feeds readily that would be really important.

Like any pet you’d want to get a vigorous and healthy looking animal. So, yeah that’s really what I’d recommend, just get one that’s a good feeder because the ones that feed readily are always the ones that are easy to keep and have no health problems in the long run.

[End of transcript]


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