Bearded Dragons are a crowd favorite among reptile owners. Their gentle and curious nature makes them popular, especially among new owners. As a result, they have reached superstar status in the reptile and exotic pet communities and are extensively bred in the United States.
This popularity, however, comes with some consequences as several myths build around bearded dragons as pets through misinformation, inaccurate tips or tidbits from different owners, and word of mouth.
Myth #1: Bearded dragons can be housed together
Fact: Bearded dragons are naturally solitary creatures, and housing several dragons together can cause fights that can lead to injuries. Fights often occur, especially for multiple male bearded dragons in a single enclosure. Males become aggressive and territorial when close to each other.
Bearded dragons are solitary creatures in the wild, so they don’t do too well when housed with others. A related myth is housing your bearded dragon with a “friend” so it “does not feel lonely.” But, again, beardies don’t need companions in their enclosure. Interaction with their owners and a well-built enclosure with ample stimulation (caves, rocks, etc.) is often enough.
While many owners have succeeded in keeping several bearded dragons together, especially while they are still young, many things should be considered to prevent fighting and injuries. If you wish to house them together, ensure that your bearded dragon enclosure is big enough to accommodate micro territories for each beardie. You will need multiple branches, rocks, caves, and basking spots. Also, avoid housing males together as much as possible.
A caveat regarding domesticated pets: sometimes, individual pets can have certain behavioral traits and a disposition unusual for their species as they learn or get used to these behaviors because of their environment and how they are cared for or trained. Yes, some beardies and other reptiles seem “friendly” or appreciate handling, but this might not be true for most.
Myth #2: Bearded dragons need regular interaction for a “happy” life
Fact: Bearded dragons are solitary by nature, but as pets, they will thrive as long as they receive proper care.
However, it’s also beneficial for your bearded dragon to grow accustomed to your presence so that it becomes relaxed during feeding time or when you need to examine it physically for its health. But in general, reptiles kept as pets are content without the added stress of being forced to interact with others.
Keep in mind that with any exotic pet, do not force anything, and make sure to take things slow when handling these animals, especially if you want to introduce them to other domesticated pets such as cats and dogs.
Myth #3: Feeding mealworms or superworms to bearded dragons are dangerous
Fact: Mealworms or superworms are not dangerous, but you should pay attention to the size of the worms you feed your dragon. Large prey items can get stuck in your beardie’s throat and cause impactions if not properly digested. If your bearded dragon is on the smaller side, feed it smaller worms/prey items.
Mealworms and superworms can be dangerous for beardies because of their size (which can cause impaction for smaller individuals), and their high-fat content can contribute to poor nutrition. Therefore, worms are better as once-a-week treats for beardies. It’s also best to give additional food to provide variety and nutrition (such as vegetables and low-sugar fruits) while you feed your bearded dragon mealworms or superworms.
Myth #4: Sand or loose substrate cause impaction
Fact: This one’s a bit of a “trick myth.” While fine sand substrate, the kind available in pet stores, has been associated with MANY impaction cases, anything small enough that a bearded dragon can ingest can cause impaction.
Anything a beardie ingests but cannot pass through its digestive system or gastrointestinal tract can cause impaction. These can be substrate, food, or anything that it can eat. Even mealworms, a staple food for bearded dragons, are common culprits of impaction.
In addition, while ingested items often cause impaction, it is usually a secondary issue to other underlying health problems such as dehydration, calcium deficiency, and even enclosure issues such as lack of proper lighting.
That said, loose substrate should be used cautiously in your beardie’s enclosure. In their natural habitat in the Australian outback, bearded dragons live on compacted sand with large rocks instead of the fine-grained play sand many owners use in habitats.
While bearded dragons can do well on coarser sand, it may not be worth the risk. Better substrate alternatives include slate, premium reptile carpets, tiles, and newspapers.
Myth #5: A water bowl in your bearded dragon’s enclosure is dangerous
Fact: A wide, shallow water bowl in your bearded dragon’s enclosure will encourage it to bathe and drink.
Bearded dragons thrive in warm, arid areas (deserts, savannas, scrublands) since they are originally from Australia. While they naturally have a high tolerance for dry environments, they still need some form of hydration, especially when they undergo brumation (similar to hibernation) and during shedding. A shallow water bowl will prevent the risk of your beardie drowning and will provide it with a source of hydration. Be sure to replace the water every day to avoid bacterial build-up.
Myth #6: Water bowls increase tank humidity too much
Fact: A shallow water bowl will encourage your bearded dragon to bathe and drink, which helps maintain optimal hydration for good health. Humidity in bearded dragon enclosures is mainly affected by proper ventilation, heating, lighting, and using a mister.
A small water bowl will not alter the humidity in your bearded dragon’s enclosure to levels that are detrimental to your bearded dragon’s health UNLESS the enclosure is tiny with no ventilation. The recommended humidity is 30-40% which is maintained using a mister or a humid hide with damp moss or vermiculite and a proper balance of heating, lighting, and ventilation in your bearded dragon’s enclosure.
Myth #7: Putting a bearded dragon in large, empty enclosures will stress them out
Fact: Large enclosures should be fine for your bearded dragon because when in the wild, there are no walls, and they can roam freely.
What should be avoided are abrupt changes in their environment. Captive bearded dragons are easily stressed by sudden change. They also need enough hiding places in their terrarium and a thermal and UV gradient they can utilize to thermoregulate their bodies. Captive bearded dragons can also become stressed if they cannot find live prey like crickets in a large terrarium. Captive bearded dragons can also become stressed if they cannot find live prey if they are housed in a large terrarium. Adding live crickets to your bearded dragon’s diet can help alleviate this.
Myth #8: It’s dangerous to put a bearded dragon on its back
Fact: While this may be an uncomfortable position for your bearded dragon since it exposes its belly, it is not dangerous and is often the best position for a physical examination of your beardie.
Veterinarians will use this position to inspect your bearded dragon, especially to look at their femoral pores for any obstructions and inflammation. If you need to hold your bearded dragon in this position, make sure you hold it firmly because it can panic and escape, leading to further injuries.
Myth #9: Normal fluorescent bulbs or compact coil bulbs are enough for a bearded dragon’s lighting needs
Fact: Bearded dragons and most lizards in domestic care have specific UV lighting needs essential to their overall health.
A UV light capable of providing UV radiation with a wavelength between 290-320 nm is essential for adequately absorbing calcium from your beardie’s diet (by helping their bodies synthesize vitamin D3). It is also necessary for a robust immune system and good overall health. UV lighting is also essential in the color vision of most reptiles.
Proper lighting (with a 12h light and dark cycle) is also vital in a bearded dragon’s behavior regulation, including feeding, diurnal movement, and mating.
Regular bulbs that are not appropriately mounted can cause injuries to your bearded dragon. Lighting fixtures in your dragon’s enclosure should be mounted safely from your dragon’s basking spot.
Myth #10: You can’t feed wild caught insects to your bearded dragons
Fact: Though this is controversial, wild-caught insects can provide a good variety to your beardie’s diet and are usually safe if you avoid fireflies and other poisonous insects.
Try to catch bugs using a porch light at night or use an old log or wooden board in your backyard to attract some bugs. Then, turn the wood over the next day to find some bugs you can feed your bearded dragon. These wild-caught insects are nutritious and naturally gut-loaded treats for your beardie.
While store-bought and reared live food is still the safest, wild-caught insects will provide a good variety to your dragon’s diet. These, in addition to low-sugar fruits and vegetables and calcium supplements, will keep your pet in good health.
There is a lot of conflicting information found online regarding exotic reptiles such as bearded dragons, so it’s always best to research thoroughly or consult your veterinarian regarding your pet’s health.
While tips from other owners are constructive, looking at well-researched guides (such as those in the links below) and the advice of your vet is still the best way to go.
Always remember that exotic animals, unlike cats and dogs, have specific requirements for their care to ensure a good life in captivity.