What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Baby Bearded Dragon Care – August 2013

By Erin Lane
All Photos by Author

What to Expect

In the last few issues of the Retile Times we have looked at the various steps involved in breeding bearded dragon lizards. From mommy care to egg incubation, we have discussed tips of the trade that have hopefully helped you in your own current breeding endeavors.  In this last installment, we will cover the basics of baby care, from what to do when they first hatch, how to house them, and what, when, and how much they eat.

Breaking out

As you approach the end of incubation, it can be hard to know just when the eggs are going to hatch.  There are a few signs that can tell you when hatching is immanent, but there is often little way of knowing exactly when it will take place.  Bearded eggs incubated in the low to mid 80’s F will typically hatch between 60 and 75 days after being laid.  I usually start checking the incubator once a day or every other day as they approach the 2 month mark.

As the eggs get closer to hatching, you may notice that they begin to dimple.  This will also happen if there is not enough moisture in your egg substrate.  However, if you know that it is moist enough, and you notice dimples, then it may mean that your eggs are about to hatch.  The same is true for condensation on the eggs.  Although this often indicates too much moisture, this can be a sign that you will have some new hatchlings in the next day.

Newly hatched bearded dragon

Hatchlings will typically be worn out from the hatching process, and may not seem responsive at first.  While beardies are hardy, remember that these are neonates.  Leave them alone while they are hatching, and do not attempt to ‘help’ them out of the egg.  Even after they have emerged from the shell they will typically appear lethargic.  Leave them alone for 24-48 hours.  It is probably best to leave them in the warm humid egg box inside of the incubator for a while until they have recovered from hatching.  Anecdotally, the movement from the new hatchlings may help stimulate clutchmates to hatch as well.

New digs

Once your new hatchlings have had a chance to rest a while, you can move them to a more permanent enclosure.  While a baby dragon can more or less be set up as an adult, there are a few tricks that make the transition a little easier.  I have found that babies tend to become dehydrated more easily than adults.  It is important not only to soak or spray them daily, but I also like to provide them with a cage substrate that helps increase humidity.  Pulverized coconut products, such as Exo Terra Plantation Soil, or Zoo Med Eco Earth work well.  I prefer the bricks, as they are easy to store and you can buy them in a three pack.  When working with any moist substrate make sure that you don’t add too much water.  You don’t want the cage floor to be boggy, just slightly moist.  These substrates also seem to hold up better to frequent misting, and can be swallowed without a significant chance of impaction.  Babies can also be kept on sani-chips, though I usually wait until they are a few weeks old before I do.

New hatchlings will often be lethargic after first hatching.  Best practice is to leave them in the egg box in the incubator for a couple of days.

Just like adults, baby dragons appreciate something to climb on.  A sturdy piece of wood, diagonally placed piece of cork flat, or a basking platform are an important addition to the cage.

Keep in mind that crickets like to hide in nooks and crannies in pieces of wood, and even underneath flat cage furniture—the last thing you want is an army of crickets hiding in your baby cage. Look for pieces that don’t have cracks or gaps, or use a basking platform or rock that will make it harder for them to hide under.

The size of the enclosure should be dependent on the number of babies you have.  I have found that smaller clutches (10-15) can be kept all together in a 20 gallon long tank until they are 4-6 weeks old.  A larger clutch should be divided into 2 or more smaller groups to ensure that they all have access to food and a good basking spot.  Keep an eye out for babies that look smaller than the rest, seem weak or tired often, or have tail and toe nips.  These can be signs that there are too many dragons in the enclosure, and that some are not getting what they need.

Light the way

Good lighting is extremely important to new babies.  The lighting scheme should be similar to what you have for your adult dragons, keeping in mind that a smaller tank heats up faster than a larger one.  Be careful to not over-do it on the heat.  Before you set up your babies, make sure that your lighting is right, and that you have temped out the cage.  You still want nice hot basking spots like you do for adults (around 110 F), but you also need to keep a good temperature gradient.  The cool side should be no hotter than the low 80s F, preferably a little cooler.  To keep an eye on temperature, have a thermometer in the cage at all times.  I prefer one with a digital probe that I can move from one side to the other relatively easily.  A temp gunis also useful, and has the benefit of being fun to use.

A 10.0 UVB florescent bulb, such as the Zoo Med brand, is the best way to provide UVB to your hatchling bearded dragons.  If you decide to go for the newer and sleeker Zoo Med T5 high output bulbs, a 5.0 will be sufficient.  I have in the past avoided compact florescent bulbs for baby beardies as you need multiple bulbs to run the length of the cage.  However, if they are placed horizontally, and you use a few, these will also work.  Mercury vapor bulbs are another option that provide both heat and UVB.  The Zoo Med Powersun is an excellent product that I have used for both adult and baby dragons alike.  Regardless of which lighting option you choose, be sure to purchase a higher end brand—when it comes to UV, not all bulbs are created equal.

It is also important to remember that UV bulbs may still be putting out visible light as they age, but the amount of UVB will decrease over time.  A UV radiometer is a great tool to have when you keep reptiles, and it can allow you to monitor the UV output of your bulbs.  However, they are expensive, and may not make sense if you only have a few adults, and babies once a year.  In that case, it is best to replace your bulbs every 6-12 months.  Unless you have a set of bulbs you only use for baby dragons once a year, it is probably best to get a new set every season.  In the end, having healthier baby dragons will outweigh the expense of new bulbs.

Baby dragons should be kept on substrate that hold humidity.

When and how

Neonate reptiles will often take a few days to a week to ‘discover’ their appetite.  They have some nutrients left in their system from their yolk just prior to hatching, and will generally show little interest in food.  Don’t be alarmed if it takes a few days for them to start chasing crickets.  Offer a few small prey items a few days after hatching.  If they don’t go after it, try again the next day, being sure to remove the uneaten insects.  Keep this up until they begin to go after the prey item.  From then on, carefully add feeders, a small quantity at a time, until they have eaten their fill, or when they stop chasing them.  Babies are best fed small quantities of insects throughout the day.  If you can manage to feed them 2-3 times a day, they will be in better condition for it.

Dark leafy greens can be offered every other day, in addition to daily insects. This will help keep your babies better hydrated, and supply additional nutrients.  However, greens are not enough to keep a young dragon from drying out.  Make sure to mist the babies and enclosure a couple times a day.  An alternative is to soak the babies every day or every other day in shallow luke-warm water in addition to occasional misting.  This way they will be sure to get enough water without making the cage too wet.

As mentioned earlier, be careful that feeder insects are not hiding in the cage.  For this reason, I only keep one climbing apparatus, and nothing else, in the enclosure. There is nothing more heartbreaking than finding a baby dragon that has been mutilated, or even killed, by crickets.

On the menu

There are unfortunately few good feeder insects available for baby dragons in the US.  While adults can eat just about anything, babies are limited due to their size.  Crickets have their downside (e.g., low calcium to phosphorus ratio, predation on babies), but they are still the most widely available feeder insect on the market for baby beardies.  Unlike mealworms that can lead to impaction in small animals, crickets are more or less easily digestible and can be purchased in a number of sizes.  Just remember that a varied diet is best, and that gutloading and dusting with vitamins and calcium is key.

Put only as many crickets into the enclosure as can be consumed in a short period of time.  Feeder insects can wreak havoc on baby beardies if left in the cage unattended.

Many people erroneously believe that ‘pinhead’ crickets are the most appropriate feeder for neonate dragons, not realizing that 1) pinheads are as small as they sound, and 2) babies will have a hard time catching something that tiny.  Go for ‘small’ crickets, which will usually run between ¼” and ½” in size.  In most cases, babies will be ready for ‘medium’ crickets in 3-4 weeks.

Roaches have become increasingly popular feeders in the past year, and are more readily available now than ever.  B. dubia (a.k.a. dubia roaches) have been touted as the new big feeder.  They don’t jump, climb glass, prey on baby reptiles, or smell bad, making them ideal to keep and feed off.  They are also more nutritious than crickets, and induce as much excitement (if not more) as crickets in baby beardies.

Worms (wax, super, and meal) can be used as a significant part of an adult bearded dragon diet, but are not preferred for hatchlings.  Waxworms make a good treat as they are loaded in fat and soft bodied.  However, mealworms and even small superworms tend to cause issues with impaction.  I have experimented over the years with feeding mealworms and even cut up superworms to young dragons with mixed results.  While small amounts of either under ideal conditions (e.g. hot basking spot, good hydration) are usually okay, youngsters that over indulge will in the best case regurgitate, and in the worst die of impaction.  It is best not to chance it—steer clear of meal and superworms until your beardies are juveniles.

Hatchling next to eggs from the same clutch

Greens can include any that you would offer to an adult.  Small amounts of fruit are okay to mix in, but shouldn’t be a large part of the diet.  Although many greens contain oxalates, which can interfere with calcium absorption, providing a varied mix is more ideal than providing only one or none at all.  Stay clear of iceburg lettuce, as it can cause diarrhea when fed in large quantities.

Dietary supplements can also be given to babies as they would to adults, though you may increase the frequency.  While an adult dragon may only need to have every other meal dusted in calcium (calcium with D3 for animals housed indoors), babies should probably have every meal dusted.  Since they will often eat multiple times in one day, if you want to dust only the first meal, that is probably sufficient.  Too much of anything is, by definition, bad—and that includes calcium.  However, if you keep your babies well hydrated, it is probably fine to go a little heavy on the calcium when they are small.  Only use vitamin supplements once or twice a week.

In conclusion

Breeding bearded dragons can be a fun experience that will teach you more about your animal than you could have anticipated.  In the last few editions of The Reptile Times we have discussed how to prepare your female for breeding, care for her eggs, and successfully raise hatchlings.  Although it can take time and effort, it is hopefully worth it in the end when you find yourself with a healthy bunch of tiny dragons.  While baby care is similar to adult husbandry, it is important to keep in mind that they are still fragile, dehydrate easily, and have a much quicker metabolism.  Regular misting and feedings, good light and heat, and enough room are essential to raising up healthy babies.  Hopefully your breeding endeavors are well on their way for the season, and that you have lots of little mouths ready to be fed.

The Basking Spot: Canned Diets

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

ZOO MED CAN O’ PRODUCTS

This month we take a look at canned whole-feeder products from Zoo Med.  These diets make feeding your herps easier and more exciting than ever.  Now you can offer your pets all sorts of insects, snails, and even shrimp!
All Zoo Med canned insects are cooked whole in the can to ensure the highest level of nutrition and palatability.  This unique cooking process also softens the exoskeleton, making the food more easily digested by even young animals.
Zoo Med Can O Diets
WHOSE FOOD
One of the greatest things about canned feeders is that most any herp will learn to eat them.  Some animals, such as bearded dragons or blue tongue skinks, will readily consume canned insects or snails straight from the can or off of a feeding plate.
Herps that normally hunt live prey may need to be enticed to try canned foods at first by moving the food around in front of them.  Use a pair of feeding tongs to gently wiggle food, giving it a life-like appearance.  Plastic tongs, like Zoo Med’s Plastic Feeding Tongs, are ideal, as the plastic tips are less likely to injure an over zealous eater!
Aquatic turtles will quickly learn to accept nearly any type of food offered to them, and Can O’ products are no exception.  Dietary variety is a cornerstone of aquatic turtle husbandry, and with Can O’ products, turtles can be offered a much wider range of prey than would be available as live feeders.
Zoo Med Can O Diets
Reptiles and amphibians are not the only animals that will enjoy Zoo Med’s canned insects.  Freshwater and marine fish will also eagerly eat these diets.  They can be free fed or even trained to accept individual pieces from feeding tongs!  Other small pets such as hedgehogs and sugar gliders will also eat Zoo Med canned insects as an alternative to, or in addition to, live foods.
CONVEINIENCE SAKE
 
For some reptile keepers, watching their pets hunt is all part of the thrill.  However, others would rather not have to deal with finding, caring for, and handling live food.  For these individuals, canned insects make keeping some insectivorous herp species a viable option for the first time.
Zoo Med Can O Diets
Additionally, by purchasing feeders in a can, there is no need to “gutload” prey items to increase their nutritional value.  In fact, they do not need to be fed or watered at all.  They can just sit on the shelf until you are ready to feed your pet.  Once opened, these products remain good for up to a week if refrigerated.
PICK YOUR FLAVOR
 
Zoo Med offers a wide variety of food items in their Can O’ products line.  Large grasshoppers (a bearded dragon favorite),caterpillars,  crickets,  mealworms,  superworms,  shrimp, and snails (great for skinks and box turtles) are all available.  The mealworms and crickets are available in two different sizes to meet the needs of herps of all ages and sizes.
LONG STORY SHORT
 
If you have any insect-eating or omnivorous herps, you really should give Zoo Med Can O’ products a try! They are readily accepted by most species, and the variety of types available allows for the provision of a naturally diverse diet.  Next time you go feeder shopping, pick up a can or two.  Your lizards, turtles, and fish will thank you!
Check out the following video showing the product in action:

The Basking Spot: Reptariums

The Basking Spot

This month, the Basking Spot is on…Reptariums!  These lightweight, easy to clean, easy to move mesh cages are a fantastic product with a range of uses.  They have an easy to put together frame that requires no extra tools for assembly, and the mesh screen is durable and stands up to regular cleaning and use.  Even if your screen does become worn or frayed, replacement screens are inexpensive and super simple to order.

reptarium cage

A fully assembled Reptarium cage

Uses for reptariums range from setting up temporary housing for arboreal animals such as chameleons, climbing geckos, or small lizards, to actual large cages ideal for larger chameleon species.  They also make it exceptionally easy to set up an outdoor enclosure for your diurnal pets (such as the Bearded Dragons in this month’s Reptile Times), giving them the option to enjoy some natural sunlight in a secure manner.  The mesh and plastic framework are completely rust proof, so when it comes time to clean your reptarium – you can simply hose it down!  Removing the animal first is recommended, of course.  😉

Reptarium Parts

Reptariums are an easy to put together plastic tube frame, with a simple arrangement of parts that are easy to figure out even without a set of instructions.  The mesh slides over the plastic tube framework, and is quickly oriented around the frame.  Lastly, included with the reptarium are cord holders, small plastic clips that hold cords in place when light fixtures are resting on top of the reptarium.  As long as the light bulb does not directly touch the mesh, it is safe to rest the fixture on top of your reptarium.

Reptarium Soft Tray

You can also add a soft tray to your reptarium for the option to add substrate to your cage, or to catch water if using the cage indoors.  For increased humidity in your reptarium, use multiple soft trays on the different sides.  Each reptarium size has 2 soft tray size options to allow you to orient your cage whichever way you’d like.  Yet another perk to the reptariums – you can orient them any direction you’d like.  There’s no top or bottom to them, it’s just whichever way works best for you!

Reptariums also disassemble quickly for easy storage when not in use, so they can be used seasonally as needed.  Live in an area with wild fires, tornados, or hurricanes?  Keep a few reptariums on hand as emergency evacuation cages!    There are only minor limitations in the use of your reptarium.  One minor limitation is that the mesh cannot withstand strong claws attached to a heavy animal, and larger lizard species may be able to rip the mesh.  Reptariums also are not ideal long term housing options for snakes, but if used short term (in the case of evacuation or moving), use of a soft tray and substrate is recommended.

Harness the Sun: Outdoor Housing of Bearded Dragons

Harness The Sun

By Jonathan Rheins

INTRODUCTION

The awesome power of the sun plays a tremendous role in the lifecycle of nearly all reptiles and amphibians.  While some species bask in its glory, even those that avoid its brilliance rely on day length as a seasonal clock. Whether in nature or in the terrarium, solar wavelengths and intensity play an integral role in basking behavior, brumation schedules, and reproduction among herps.

Indoors, we must make every possible effort to mimic outdoor conditions for our charges, doing our best to ensure that appropriate photoperiods and lighting type and intensity are provided.  However, in certain climactic zones, select species have proven quite content to enjoy the region’s outdoor weather.

Case in point is the Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps).  Perhaps the most popular and beloved pet herp across the globe, Bearded Dragons are personable, attractive, and love getting some sun!

Bearded outside

Pugsley soaking up some rays.

HABITAT TYPES

During much of the year throughout most of the United States, Bearded Dragons will be maintained indoors, with outdoor housing reserved for impeccable weather.  However, in Mediterranean and desert climates, such as Southern California, ‘beardies’ will thrive outdoors from late spring into late summer if certain preparations are made.

Outdoor habitats for any species should first and foremost be secure.  It is our responsibility as the keeper to do everything in our power to ensure the well being of the animals under our care.  Protection against escape and rural predators should be high on the priority list.  Thoughtful habitat construction and careful husbandry routines will reduce the risk of either worst-case scenario.

Glass-walled enclosures or aquariums should never be placed in direct sunlight for any reason.  Animal overheating is likely to occur.  Even when outdoor ambient temperatures are relatively cool, the light of the sun can be magnified through the tank walls, creating a see-through oven!  Herps housed outdoors for anytime period should be in screen or mesh type enclosures.

Custom-built enclosures are an option, but one must consider the time, efficiency, and cost of such endeavors on a small scale.  Zoo Med Laboratories manufactures two fantastic products that are both equally well-suited for the occasional sunning or seasonal housing of one or two mature dragons.  Granted, they are geared towards keepers of tortoises, but Bearded Dragons are equally happy to make a summer home of either enclosure type.

The Zoo Med Tortoise Pen is a medium sized outdoor sunning enclosure that is ideal for getting one or two adult dragons outside when temperatures are acceptable.  A built-in shelter is provided to allow for thermoregulation so as to help prevent overheating.  The floor is open, which allows for placement over organically grown grasses and dark, leafy greens such as kale, dandelion, and romaine–all dragon favorites!

Also from Zoo Med is the Tortoise House, a slightly larger and expandable take on the Tortoise Pen.  With the Zoo Med Tortoise House, more Bearded Dragons can be kept per enclosure, and a solid floor is incorporated should escape by digging be of concern.  Additionally, these units can be combined in a linear fashion, and the built in shelter is larger, allowing for lay boxes or heating devices.

Beardeds in Reptariums

Some of the author’s Bearded Dragons basking in Reptarium Screen Cages

I have found that for small to moderately sized dragon collections, Reptarium brand mesh enclosures are quite acceptable, and perhaps preferable, when a larger number of animals are being maintained.   They are modular, easy to clean, and allow for a maximum amount of “leg room” for each dragon.  Furthermore, acceptable amounts of heat and UVB easily transfer through the heavy duty replaceable mesh cover.

HABITAT PLACEMENT

Once the overall design and attributes of the outdoor habitat have been determined, physical orientation to the sun must be taken into consideration.  A fair amount of observation, measures, and experimentation may be necessary before an acceptable configuration is adopted.

Obviously, it is important that the area selected for your outdoor enclosure receive a good amount of sunlight, but also offers the animal(s) some refuge from the heat of the sun.  I try to locate outdoor habitats in areas that receive nearly direct sunlight for a few hours in the morning and afternoon.  This correlates to the general activity patterns for most dragons.  And, during these hours, the sun is lower in the sky, providing a constant but not overly intense amount of exposure.

Natural features around your property can also be utilized as a natural shade cloth.  I have found that the citrus trees in my yard provide partial shade to my Reptariums during the hottest parts of the day, allowing dappled light to reach the enclosures.

bearded in cage

No reptile of any species should ever be housed outdoors for any period of time without access to water and a shaded area.  Even though most reptiles like it hot, it is still vitally important that they have the ability to cool down if needed.

By ensuring that no outdoor habitat is placed in direct constant sunlight, both shaded and illuminated sections within the enclosure can be established at the same time.  This allows for easy thermoregulation of the dragons as they move in and out of shaded or sunny areas.

TEMPERATURE CONSIDERATIONS

While the primary reason for housing Bearded Dragons in the backyard is to allow access to natural sunlight and high levels of UV light, air temperature must be considered before animals are placed outdoors.  If Bearded Dragons are placed outside when the temperature is too cool, they may become stressed or ill.  Furthermore, reptiles can only effectively utilize the beneficial UV rays of the sun when they are within their preferred temperature range.

It should be noted that air temperatures and surface temperatures within the enclosure can vary greatly.  A high quality digital thermometer with a minimum/maximum feature should be included in every enclosure.  I also highly recommend the use of an infrared temperature gun that can be used to easily measure surface temps of basking surfaces and the animals themselves.  Temp guns are perhaps the most useful tool in herpeteculture today, and will prove truly invaluable when establishing outdoor housing for any herp.

When given a variety of basking and hiding areas, Bearded Dragons are incredibly adept at maintaining a body temperature between 90 and 100 degrees F, almost regardless of air temperature.  As long as ambient temperatures are above 75 F, dragons with access to full sun will quickly and efficiently achieve their preferred thermal range.

Only when conditions are optimal should animals be left outside overnight. Keep in mind that while wild dragons can and do thrive when nighttime temperatures drop into the 50’s F, pet dragons are usually not acclimated to such changes in temperature. It is good practice to bring your pet indoors after dark, unless lows hover around 70 degrees. In most cases, the threat of predators (such as cats and raccoons) and the risk of chill greatly outweigh the advantages to keeping Bearded Dragons outside over night.

Beardeds basking

Beardeds basking on wood inside a reptarium.

FURNISHINGS AND SUBSTRATE

Just as with any indoor habitat, some attention must be given to the choice of enclosure floor covering, as well as decorative and functional decor.  Outdoor habitats are subjected to different extremes in temperature and humidity, so what may work wonderfully indoors may or may not be an acceptable outdoors.

Products that are conducive to easy cleaning and replacement are ideal for use in backyard herp enclosures.  I have had much success keeping larger dragons on a substrate mix of cypress mulch and large grade redwood chips (Repti Bark).  These products combined are aesthetically pleasing, easy to spot clean, and hold up well when exposed to weather.

When housing small groups of hatchlings or juveniles outdoors, coconut husk type beddings are ideal.  The small particle size makes accidental ingestion practically a non-issue, and it has the same weather-resistant properties of other substrates.

All bearded dragons housed in outdoor enclosures must have multiple basking areas, either of wood, rock, or both, to ensure that each animal being housed has access to its own basking area.  Large pieces of driftwood,African mopani wood, and slate slabs work well.  One of the newer products to hit the market (and a personal favorite of mine) is bamboo root.  This all-natural product is very funky in appearance, having all sorts of angles and branches.  One main advantage of bamboo root is that unlike grapewood, it has no cracks or crevices in which crickets and other feeder insects might hide.  Additionally, when it comes to cleaning large numbers of enclosures, anything with a smooth surface is easier to clean and disinfect.

Whatever cage furniture tickles your fancy, make sure that you give your pet a couple of basking and shade options. A few pieces of strategically placed wood perches and a nice warm basking rock can turn a ho-hum screen cage into a comfy outdoor vacation spot for your scaly friend.

Bearded

Ferrari, a translucent Italian leatherback.

IN CLOSING

Harnessing the power of the sun for herpeteculture is not only natural, but self-sustaining. While special UV and heating bulbs will likely constitute the majority of your pet’s basking media, take advantage of the terrific weather that we usually enjoy in southern California. Bearded Dragons are especially well suited for outdoor housing in the summer as they love to soak up the rays in what we would consider unusually hot weather.

When considering outdoor housing options, remember that your pet’s safety and comfort come first. Make sure that your pet is secure from escape as well as from your inquisitive pet tabby.

Placement of your enclosure is also equally important. Too much sun is as bad as too little. Make sure that it receives some direct sunlight, but also has a naturally shaded area, like that of a nearby tree, to give your pet a temperature gradient. Just like indoors, you want to give your pet the option to get away from the heat.

Appropriate furniture and substrate can help by providing lots of heating and cooling spots, which can also be aesthetically pleasing.

In the end, it is our responsibility to keep our herps happy, whether indoors, or out. With a little thought and creative use of resources, your Bearded Dragon can enjoy its own summer getaway spot right in your own backyard.