This lizard gives you the chance to touch the living creature that’s closest to the mythological dragon.

Photos by Jeffrey Lim

The bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) looks like the stuff of legends, what with its intimidating appearance. This large lizard that grows from 16 to 18 inches in length is native to Australia.

Hobbyist Lester (who declined to give his last name for privacy reasons and who owns the ‘smiling’ fellow on Animal Scene’s cover this month), explains, “Bearded dragons are considered among the best pet lizards because of their manageable size, docile temperament, and a diet that is readily available on the market.”

Its name comes from the spikes on its neck which resemble a spiky beard, explains fellow hobbyist Sherwin Adao; it also has a gular pouch on its neck that can be distended, and when this happens, the spikes extend outwards, “…making them look much bigger and more threatening. They also change the color of their throat to a dark grey. Combined with the [gular] enlargement, it makes them look as if they have a beard.” This desert lizard is now a fairly common pet, easily tamed if you have had it from a hatchling to an adult, adds hobbyist Edwin Peruelo.

A Surprisingly Easy Pet to Care For

At first, the Bearded Dragon scared him, Sherwin admits, but after two friends, Ed Peruelo and Mailyn Ong, showed him their bearded dragon, he realized it was a gorgeous creature, not the scary monster he’d been expecting. “It’s a good pet for beginners because they are sociable and easy to tame,” he says, adding that their oddly endearing appearance and color appealed to him most.

Like Sherwin, Lester says he “…was mesmerized by the bearded dragon’s wide variety in morphs, calm demeanor, and prehistoric-like appearance.” Lester explains that the care of a bearded dragon is not for the ignorant or squeamish. “They eat insects so they are not for those who are afraid of roaches and the like.”

Also, “They need to take into consideration the following: regular basking is needed,” hence the need to let it bask under the sun outdoors or under UVB bulbs. Heat is crucial, adds Sherwin, because it “…helps them digest their food and absorb calcium.”

Lester expands on this, saying, “Dragons kept indoors should have a basking lamp and UVB lamp to ensure that they digest their food and absorb vitamin D3. Make sure to provide a cool spot in the enclosure―preferably half of the whole area―so that your dragon can regulate the temperature to his or her comfort.

Regarding food, Lester has some valuable advice: feed them insects and vegetables dusted with reptile calcium and multivitamins. “There is also food available on the market especially formulated for them. Rule of thumb is to never feed insects that are wider than the space between your Dragon’s eyes because it may cause impaction.”

Also, if you feed it insects, “…never leave live and uneaten insects inside your dragon’s enclosure so that your pet won’t be bitten.” What advice can they give to someone who is interested in keeping a bearded dragon as a pet? Both agree that you need to do your research first; Sherwin advises you familiarize yourself with their needs and what should not be done or fed to them.

He adds that it’s very important to find a feeder breeder who can supply you with insects like crickets, roaches, and supperworms “…that are high in proteins.”

Bearded dragons also eat green leafy vegetables and the occasional non-citrus fruit. Keep garlic, onions, and citrus fruits away from them.

Edwin agrees, and adds that caring for a bearded dragon is almost like keeping a dog. Feed them green leafy vegetables like mustard greens, lettuce, and pechay. “Avoid giving them too much supperworm because it may cause impaction,” he cautions.

He likes to feed his bearded dragon crickets, dubia roaches, silk worms, lobster roaches―any insect you can find in a pet shop is good for a bearded dragon, he says.

Bearded dragons need a habitat lined with newspaper, says Lester, especially if you feed it in the same enclosure. “They also need a water dish for drinking and soaking.” A simple aquarium or terrarium will do, adds Sherwin, so long as it’s big enough.

All four believe the bearded dragon is for anyone who loves pets, “…most especially those who enjoy taking care of reptiles. They do not need a large yard (or) plenty of time. Food can be given every other day when they are adults,” says Lester.

Practical Advice

Just be careful not to over-handle them, he cautions. “Gentle and regular short handling is advised in order to build trust. Long handling can cause stress to your bearded dragon.” He also cautions owners against picking them up by the tail, because while it is a powerful weapon for the animal, it can also be easily injured if the tail is mishandled.

How do you know if your Dragon is healthy? “They are voracious eaters. Dragon’s should chase insects that you provide and eat veggies.

Take note that young dragons may not eat veggies on the early stages,” says Lester. Conversely, if your Dragon is lethargic, refusing to eat, and inactive, it may be time to head for a specialist veterinarian. Sherwin adds that you should also watch out for a swollen mouth, watery eyes, and a watery stool or one in which undigested food is visible. Also watch out if its eyes are always closed; it can be an early indication of illness, Lester cautions. “Bubbles on the nostrils may also be a sign of respiratory

What if you have more than one? Ideally, you should house them alone, says Lester, “…especially if you have males because there are cases where they show aggression and even eat smaller Bearded Dragons. As much as possible, housing two dragons should be done if ever you want to breed them but they need close supervision in order to assure your pet’s safety.”

Sherwin agrees, and comments that females can live together so long as they have ample space and enough food to keep them from biting each other’s feet and tails.

Edwin shares a cautionary tale about an owner who left his dragon outdoors, basking in direct sunlight, for over five hours. “Too much exposure to heat may lead to a dragon’s death; [this has happened] many times to other keepers,” he says.

The top misconceptions all four hobbyists are tired of hearing include stories about how Bearded Dragons are “venomous” and “aggressive.” Also, that a Bearded Dragon’s beard and spikes on the body are sharp; they aren’t.

What are the best things they have learned about how to care for bearded dragons? “They are very nice to look at; when frequently handled, they will stay with you when you do your usual errands like working.

Mine stays on my lap when I watch TV,” Lester smiles. To this Sherwin adds that as long as you can spare 30 minutes a day to feed them and give them heat, then you can keep a
bearded dragon.

This appeared as “The Gentle Dragon” in Animal Scene’s January 2016 issue.