Looking for tips on how to set up your bearded dragon’s enclosure? A proper environment for your beardie is the first step in good husbandry.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What is required in a bearded dragon tank?
- What type of enclosures are best?
- What are the heat and humidity requirements?
- Which substrate should you go with?
- Is it possible to house two dragons?
To properly house a bearded dragon, you must have the following:
- A tank that has a lid with good ventilation
- A substrate that is safe for bearded dragons to put in the bottom
- Food and water dish
- Heat lamps and/or heat pads
- UVB lighting and basking spot lighting
- Perch (like a stick) in the basking spot area for temperature regulation
- A place to hide
- Thermometer and hygrometer
- Decorations with things for your beardie to explore
What size tank should I get for a bearded dragon?
When selecting a bearded dragon enclosure, bigger is always better if you maintain the proper temperatures. Baby bearded dragons under 12 inches should be kept in a tank no smaller than 20 gallons. For juveniles under 15 inches, you should use a tank no smaller than 40 gallons. For adult dragons over 15 inches, a tank should be provided that is between 75 and 125 gallons.
- Baby: 20 gallons
- Juvenile: 40 gallons
- Adult: 75-125 gallons
Bearded dragons are inquisitive and active; having more space allows them the opportunity to explore and get an adequate amount of exercise.
Bearded dragon enclosure styles
There are various options for the materials enclosures are made out of. The most common are glass, PVC, plastic, and screen enclosures. You may also encounter custom-built enclosures made of wood, but be wary.
Although wood enclosures allow for limitless customizations, they can be a dangerous fire hazard in high heat conditions like the dragon’s basking spot. Wood is porous; it can absorb bacteria easily. Wood can be easier to sanitize thoroughly if it is sealed very well with an animal-safe sealant.
Glass enclosures are the most common. They are scratch-proof, so your dragons will not destroy the viewing side of their enclosure. They are often easy to find and most open from the top. Having a screen top is excellent for ventilation and helps ensure there is not too much humidity in the tank; bearded dragons prefer an arid environment.
Glass tanks also do not hold heat because glass is not the best insulator. Still, you will not encounter any issues with the proper heat system. There are also glass tanks that open from the front. This can be helpful when placing and removing your dragon from the tank, as you do not need to move any of the lighting systems when opening it.
|Scratch proof||Not insulated well|
|Good ventilation||Heavy and fragile|
|Cheap and easy to find|
PVC & plastic
PVC and plastic tanks are desirable because they are lightweight and come in many different styles. Unfortunately, there is often poor air flow which can cause humidity buildup. This can be a significant issue for a dragon’s respiratory system, so maintaining the proper humidity level can be an extra job for you.
In my experience, I have found that bearded dragons scratch clear PVC and plastic enclosures, causing a foggy viewing area over time. This can be frustrating because the tanks are expensive and do not look as good over time. There are some options for PVC enclosures with glass doors, this works well, but humidity is still an issue.
|Lightweight||Poor ventilation causes increased humidity (which can be great for other tropical species of reptiles)|
|Sleeker, more modern designs||PVC or plastic viewing areas can become scratched and foggy|
Screen enclosures have a screen on all sides of the tank but the bottom. This can be great for some species, like chameleons, but not for bearded dragons. It is nearly impossible to contain heat in these enclosures. When your bearded dragon scratches, it can break the wire, causing injury. Also, your dragon may try to climb the sides, and their toes can get stuck and twisted, causing bone breakage. I do not recommend housing your beloved dragon in a screen enclosure.
|Lightweight||Does not maintain proper temperatures for dragons|
|Lower cost||The screen can cause injury to your dragon|
|Great for some species of reptile (not dragons)|
Bearded dragon tank setup: Lighting, heating, and humidity
When you put your enclosure together for your dragon, you try to recreate the natural environments they would find in Australian scrublands. They must have proper heat, lighting (UVB), and humidity that cycles as a day. These requirements vary depending on the size of your enclosure because larger enclosures are more challenging to heat.
If their basking area is too hot, it can cause burns. I like using under-tank heat pads to supplement the basking bulbs in my large enclosures.
Bearded dragons must have UVB available to them to metabolize calcium properly. Without this, they will develop metabolic bone disease that can ultimately lead to death. This condition directly results from poor husbandry and is easily avoided with the right equipment.
The UVB is artificial sunlight and must be present to the dragons in the same cycles as the sun (12 hr cycles). These cycles are vital to their circadian rhythm, which is responsible for the appropriate release of melatonin in their bodies.
Unfortunately, these UVB bulbs for bearded dragons expire every six months. They will only emit the proper UVB for your dragon if they are replaced. There are mercury vapor bulbs that emit heat and UVB at the same time, and this can be convenient because you do not need to set up multiple dome lamps. Still, they are relatively expensive and must be changed every six months, just like a regular UVB bulb. As long as their basking bulb functions, it does not need to be replaced.
There are varying degrees of UVB output, and different bulbs provide different strengths. Your bearded dragon is a desert species and can handle high amounts of UVB. Still, it must be provided at the proper distance for absorption. Some bulb manufacturers vary them by the tube size for longer strip lights, and others make bulbs varying by point system, for example, 5.0 vs. 10.0. I prefer Reptisun UVB 10.0.
Bearded dragons must have heat. This can be provided via above tank lights or under heat pads. I use a combination of both. I like to keep one heat pad on the cool side and one on the hot side. I have their lighting system set up on a timer to shut off at night automatically. Still, the heat pads stay on, maintaining proper temperatures.
The basking area will be the highest temperature, which should be provided via a light bulb. The size of the tank should determine the wattage of the lightbulb. Still, the best way to determine which to use is to place them in and use a temperature gun to read the area’s temperatures underneath them.
Before putting your dragon in the tank, this should be done because it can burn if the site is too hot. This hot area should be between 104 and 107 °F. For the cool side, it should be around 70-77 °F.
Proper humidity is significant to dragons. They come from an arid environment and do not require the same moisture levels as tropical species. The humidity level can be read using a hygrometer.
Many reptile supply companies make hygrometers that stick to the inside of your dragon’s tank so you can easily read it. It should be maintained at around 30-40% humidity. If it is higher, you may need to use a substrate that dries out faster, or you may not have enough ventilation. If it is lower, it can be remedied by a light misting or providing a substrate with more moisture. It is usually best to put it on the cool side of their tank so the water is not quickly evaporated by the high heat of their basking bulb.
Low humidity can cause dehydration, kidney issues, and dry, cracked skin. High humidity can cause severe respiratory problems.
There is a wide variety of available substrates for reptiles. Some are great, and some are not. The substrate should be spot-cleaned daily to avoid a buildup of waste material. However, the enclosure should be cleaned and disinfected, and the old substrate disposed of every one to two months.
Types of substrates:
- Paper towel/newspaper
- Reptile carpet
- Mulch (forest floor, reptibark, etc.)
- Eco Earth
- Sand (reptile calcium sand or play sand)
Best Substrate to use
The best substrate can be determined by age. For example, loose substrates like mulch and sand can be extremely dangerous to baby and juvenile bearded dragons because consumption can cause impactions.
For juveniles, I recommend paper towels, newspapers, or reptile carpets. Be cautious of reptile carpets because they must be washed often to prevent harmful bacteria buildup. Your dragon’s nails can get stuck in it and ripped out. Suppose you are looking for something more natural looking. In that case, you can use reptile bark but try to get substrate with pieces too large for your little dragon to fit inside their mouth; that way, they do not swallow it by accident, and it should be monitored closely as they grow.
For adults, calcium sand can be a practical choice for beginners because it is easy to clean. Still, it does not reflect the dragon’s natural environment and poses a risk of impaction.
- Play sand can be tricky because it can often contain bacteria. If you want to be sure it is safe, I recommend baking it at 350 °F for 15-20 mins, but the risk of impaction is still present.
- Eco Earth is good because it holds moisture if you are having trouble maintaining the 30-40% range; however, if the opposite is true, this is a lousy option for the substrate.
- Tiles can be great because they hold heat well so your dragon can warm their belly. They are also effortless to clean and disinfect. Ultimately, the safest options are newspapers, paper towels, and tiles.
- Mulch is a medium level but can hold moisture easily, increasing humidity too much, and the small pieces pose a threat to impaction.
Substrate to avoid
- Any gravel or small stones should be avoided. This material will likely cause an impaction in your dragon, which could be fatal.
- Sand should also be avoided for the same reasons. Over time, your dragon can ingest sand, which can build up in its digestive system, causing a massive blockage. Typically by the time symptoms of impaction arise, it is too late to remedy without vet assistance.
- Small/fine mulch should be avoided if the bits are small enough for your dragon to consume or if you have trouble keeping your dragon’s humidity level low.
Cohabitation: Can multiple bearded dragons live together?
For any novice keeper, I highly discourage housing multiple bearded dragons together. Sometimes, if the tank is large enough, you get away with keeping a male and female together. Still, they should be closely monitored, and the tank should be enormous. Most people cannot provide a tank that large, so I recommend keeping them house separately. Males are incredibly territorial with one another, and housing them together will ultimately lead to bloodshed.
Even housing two females together is risky as they can become aggressive. If this happens and you are not present, you may return to only one dragon in the tank (the strongest one).
Enclosure placement tips
The most important thing about the location of your dragon’s enclosure is to ensure they have access to a place where there is complete darkness at night. You do not want to put your dragon too close to a window in case of a draft.
- Do not place them directly next to a window
- They should be in a location that is dark at night
- There should not be too much foot traffic
- Quiet places help them maintain a low-stress level
Also, if the tank is directly in front of a window, your dragon could overheat from natural sunlight and artificial heat sources. You can put your dragon close enough to catch some natural sun for a portion of the day but closely monitor your temperatures to ensure they are not overheating.
It is also crucial that you are reading signs from your dragon. If they are particularly feisty, it could have something to do with the location of their tank. Dragons may feel overstimulated in an area with much commotion or foot traffic. This can be stressful for them, and they may need to be moved to a quieter place or provided with some privacy.
To give your bearded dragon privacy, you can cover the viewing side of the tank with opaque material on the outside, preventing them from seeing out. This should not be a permanent fixture, but if you notice some stress-induced behavior, it may help.
You want them to have darkness at night to match their natural cycles. Make sure they are in a dark and quiet space during nighttime so they may rest peacefully as they would in the wild.
What about bioactive enclosures?
Bioactive enclosures can be a fun way to keep your dragon’s home clean. Essentially, you are creating a mini ecosystem that can include plants and macroinvertebrates like isopods and springtails that act as decomposers.
It requires research and some experience, but some hacks can help you get started, like premade bioactive substrate. Some companies provide bioactive substrates that are ready to go, or you can create one yourself by mixing sand, coconut fiber, and earthworm castings.
Once you layer your soil in the tank, you can place plants in it. Be sure the plants are not toxic and can live in an arid environment like succulents. Add some springtails and/or isopods, and you’re ready to go!
Do not be surprised if your dragon uproots or knocks over your plants. This is common, and it may take a while until they are rooted strongly enough to maintain their location with your dragon walking over them.
Is a bioactive enclosure right for you?
Bioactive enclosures require more maintenance than others as you keep your dragon alive and plants and insects.
Ultimately, it can keep the waste level down, but use the proper invertebrates, plants, and soil to keep your dragon safe.
|Removes waste||Higher maintenance because you must mist the plants|
|It makes the tank more aesthetically pleasing||Dragons could destroy your layout easily|
|Enriches your dragon||If you chose toxic plants, your dragon could get sick|
How big of a tank does a bearded dragon need?
Baby bearded dragons should be in a tank of at least 20 gallons, juveniles should have at least 40 gallons, and adults should have between 75 and 125 gallons. Bigger is always better.
What do I need to set up a bearded dragon tank?
To set up your bearded dragon’s tank, you will need an enclosure of your choosing with good ventilation, a safe substrate, food and water bowls, UVB lighting, basking spot heat, under-tank heat pads, perches or logs, a place to hide, thermometer, hygrometer, and decorations that keep your dragon curious.