When it comes to getting a set-up prepared to welcome your new beardie, it can be soo overwhelming. A correct set-up is very important to ensure the well-being of your new companion. From substrate to light and everything in between, I’m here to break it down for you!
First I will go over tank size. The minimum appropriate tank size for a bearded dragon is 40 gallons. Tanks come in all shapes and sizes. The one your beardie will need should be long in length and fairly shallow in height. That way your beardie has space to roam and correct exposure to UVB and heat. Please note, if you decide to build a custom tank, be careful what materials you use as some wood can be toxic!
Although beardies come from a desert-like environment, they should never have any sand or loose substrate (even if your pet store says its okay, remember, it’s retail and it is their job to sell you as much as they can!). Lot’s of pet stores will say sand or even ground walnut is okay but the truth is, they can cause an impaction which can be serious and even fatal. I recommend slate tile from Home Depot. It’s inexpensive and easy to clean. Repticarpet is OK, but sometimes dragons will try to eat it which can cause digestive issues.
UVB (ultraviolet B). I can’t stress enough how important UVB is. UVB is the artificial sunlight provided for your beardie. Incorrect UVB can be harmful and even deadly. Your bearded dragon needs a 10.0 UVB strip that covers 2/3rds of their tank. There’es two different UVB options, T8 and T5. A T8 fixture and bulb is meant to be mounted inside the tank. A T5 fixture goes on top of the tank. Each fixture needs a bulb that goes with that fixture, for example, a T8 bulb is not compatible with a T5 fixture and vice versa. T5 bulbs are two inches shorter than a T5 fixture so watch out for that when shopping! Recommended brands are Reptisun and Arcadia.
Heat is another important and complicated topic. For baby beardies, their climate should be 80-85 degrees F. The basking temperature should range between 100 and 110 degrees F. The “cool” side of the tank, or opposite side of the basking area should range between 80 and 90 degrees F. Juveniles require similar temps only slightly cooler. The basking area requirement is 100-105 degrees F with 80-90 degrees F on the cool side. For adults the basking temperature can be lowered to 90-95 degrees F with the same 80-90 degrees F on the cool side. At night temperatures should be no lower than 65 degrees F. I have found the most effective way to heat the tank is using flood lights. Pet store bulbs tend to burn out very quickly and don’t quite do the job. For Thor’s tank, I use a 100W flood light bulb and a ceramic heat emitter. Ceramic heat emitters are ideal to keep night time temps warm since they do not give off light. They can also be used during the day along with your regular basking light to help raise the temperature. Colored heat bulbs should not be used as they are not very good for tour beardie. The best and most accurate way to check the temperatures of your tank is using a heat gun.
On top of keeping up with the temperatures it is important to gauge the humidity as well. If the tank is too humid it can cause respiratory issues. The humidity should stay between 30 and 40%. It would be wise to invest in a good quality hydrometer. I use the digital hydrometer from ExoTerra.
Now the fun part! Just like us humans, dragons don’t want a super boring house! This is where you can really get creative and fun. One important thing you actually do need in the tank is a hide. The hide is important for when your beardie starts to brumate. They also make a great napping place too! It’s also recommended you place something under their basking spot so they have a spot to lay. I use a nice piece of driftwood I got from my local pet store. Please remember, if you choose to use sticks or rocks from outdoors that you sanitize them properly. Thor’s tank has a simple natural look to it. His hide looks like a rock cave with a crazy driftwood piece over it. He has two pillows and a fake cactus. Then for his basking spot he has a log perched up o a rock. He has a background taped outside his tank that has tall grasses and logs. For backgrounds you can always pick out some fun wrapping paper to put outside the glass. For the inside you can check out what your local stores have for decor. Sometimes I check the fish isle to see if I can find any cool decor there. Another perfect thing to add is a hammock. Lots of beardies appreciate hammocks. If you want to get really nice with your hides and hammocks, check out BB’s Upscale Loungers and Kats Pet Creations on Facebook. They make fantastic, colorful hammocks and hides.