How to Provide Proper Bearded Dragon Housing
Bearded dragon housing is the second most important factor when keeping a beardie. Housing your pet in conditions that are suitable is a must for a long time relationship. Remember, the number one factor is providing the proper healthy, nutritious food. So, if you get either of these two factors wrong, the result is an unhappy beardie combined with the sad truth of a very short life.
The Vivarium (Tank)
Bearded dragon owners refer to the tank they keep their beardie in as a lair, den, or cave. While these are all cool names, the equipment and requirements are pretty much the same. The proper term would be vivarium and there are several points to consider before building one for your beardie.
How Many Bearded Dragons?
First, how many beardies are you going to keep? One or a few? Each beardie can range in size from 12 to 24 inches as a full-grown adult. It’s also interesting to note that the bigger your vivarium, the bigger your dragon grows. However, maximum average size is 24 inches (2 feet). So, rest assured he’s not going to become Godzilla.
How to Determine Size of the Bearded Dragon Housing
There are so many recommendations for bearded dragon housing floating around, that it gets very confusing. The size of the vivarium really depends on how big you want your beardie to grow. What your budget is. How large the space is where you are putting the tank.
Base enclosure sizes on measuring your bearded dragon from the tip of the nose (snout) to the tip of the tail. Known as “STL” (snout tail length), the minimum enclosure size for one lizard is:
- Length: 2 to 3 times the lizard’s STL
- Depth: 1 to 1.5 times the lizard’s STL
- Height: 1 to 1.5 times the lizard’s STL
How Often Should You Buy a Tank?
This is only a guideline. Keep in mind, your bearded dragon must be comfortable in the housing you give. If you are willing to buy more than one tank and you have a beardie who is less than 10 inches STL, then begin with the 20 gallon tank. If you only want to buy one tank, decide what size dragon you are comfortable taking care of and buy a tank based on the following recommended terrarium sizes:
- Baby Dragon – at least a 20 gallon tank. This provides space and makes it easier to catch food.
- 10-16 Inch Dragon – at least a 40 gallon tank.
- 16-20 Inch Dragon – at least a 50-75 gallon tank. Larger dragons need larger tanks.
- 20 Inch to Full-Sized Dragon – a minimum of a 75 gallon tank; a 125 gallon tank or larger is ideal.
Anything above these sizes is your choice. The length and depth of the tank is more important than the height. I recommend getting a larger tank. However, planning for a large tank is necessary, so you need to know the part of the house in which you are keeping the vivarium. Ideally, to keep your full-sized beardie comfortable and happy, I recommend a terrarium that is 72″ L x 48″ D x 48″ H. However, you need to custom-make a tank that is this large. If interested in a tank this size, you can have one custom-made for you. Check out these vivariums. They are more like furniture, so your bearded dragon’s lair becomes part of your decor! Very cool.
Gallon Size Chart
Tank sizes are provided in gallons, so they are “specific” dimensions. The following guide provides information about gallons and related size:
(L x W x H)
(L x W x H)
|5 gallons||16″ x 18″ x 10″||30 gallons||36″ x 12″ x 16″|
|10 gallons||20″ x 10″ x 12″||55 gallons||48″ x 13″ x 20″|
|15 gallons||24″ x 12″ x 12″||75 gallons||48″ x 18″ x 20″|
|15 gallons High||24″ x 10″ x 18″||90 gallons||48″ x 18″ x 24″|
|20 gallons High||24″ x 12″ x 16″||125 gallons||72″ x 18″ x 22″|
|20 gallons Long||30″ x 12″ x 12″||150 gallons||72″ x 18″ x 28″|
|29 gallons||30″ x 12″ x 18″||180 gallons
||72″ x 24″ x 24″|
To calculate gallons based on the measurements of the tank, use the following formula:
- L x W x H = cubic inches, where L=length, W=width, H=height of the tank
- cubic inches / 231 = size in US gallons
- For example, if the tank measures 72″ x 18″ x 22″, then cubic inches = 28512 / 231 = 123.428 rounded up to 125 US gallons
The Tank Must Have Two Areas
Bearded dragons are originally from Australia, where the climate is hot and arid. Also, they are reptiles and by nature cold-blooded. So, they need to thermoregulate their temperature. This means the tank needs to have two areas. Provide one side that is hot, 95 F° for adults, and 110 F° for juveniles. This allows an area for basking in the heat. Provide the other side for being cool, 85 F°, so they can cool down. At night the ideal temperature to keep the tank is around 70 F° to 75 F°.
Simulating a Hot Environment
You need to simulate a hot environment in your vivarium for about 8 to 12 hours a day so your beardie can bask in the heat. Do this by installing one of the following to keep your dragon warm:
- A reptile basking light (red, white, or blue)
- A ceramic heater
Take care to install it in a way where the beardie cannot come into contact with any wiring and cannot accidentally burn himself. Burns occur most often when the bearded dragon has access to lie on a heat source. DO NOT ever allow this!
WARNING: DO NOT USE a heated rock inside the vivarium for your dragon. Heated rocks can easily burn your beardie’s skin. A herp vet must immediately treat all burns. I have seen some really nasty burns due to this type of heat source. To avoid this kind of inflicted pain, just don’t use one!
You need an accurate thermometer to make sure the temperature within your bearded dragon’s tank is ideal. For larger tanks, you need two thermometers, one for the hot side and one for the cool side. Smaller tanks are generally fine with one thermometer. Your beardie walks around the tank to heat up and cool down as he feels like.
Substrate (What You Put on the Inside Bottom of the Tank)
The substrate – flooring – depends on the age of your dragon. You feed younger dragons more insects and give a vitamin, mineral, and calcium supplement more often than you do older dragons (refer to How and What to Feed Your Dragon to Keep Him Healthy and Happy for more information). Hence, you must be careful about the substrate you use since young beardies eat a bit of it when catching their prey. Therefore, I recommend white or organic unbleached paper towels or reptile carpet for young beardies. For adult bearded dragons, provide reptile carpet or herp sand.
You also need rocks, branches, and hiding places in your bearded dragon housing. This setup needs the feel of a natural setting for your beardie to explore.
Provide a water bowl. Size depends on if you want your beardie to bathe in it. This is totally up to you. If you choose a big bowl for bathing, you must make sure the water level is never too deep. Why? Your beardie could drown.
You must clean water bowls daily.
If you choose not to have a large water bowl, then you need to periodically bathe your beardie. Refer to Tips on Grooming and Handling Your Bearded Dragon for more information.
Hiding Places and Relaxing Spaces
You can also buy or design your own hammocks, reservoirs, rock backgrounds, and other interesting items to place in your bearded dragon housing. This is not only for your beardie, it’s for you. Design and make your own items; be creative and have fun with it. Be entertained as you watch your beardie explore and enjoy his habitat.
Purchase or Make Your Own?
You have choices for your vivarium. After all, you are providing your bearded dragon housing. You can create your own by building it from scratch or you can buy one. There are benefits and disadvantages to both. It’s way cheaper to build your own vivarium but it takes time, effort, and planning. Purchasing one can set you back by about $60 to $200 or more but it’s more convenient and faster.
I recommend, unless you are super handy, to buy one if your budget allows it. This is a one-time investment if you buy a large tank. This affords you the benefit of not needing to re-purchase a larger tank and all the accessories to fit it once your bearded dragon outgrows a smaller one. Also, the UV-lights and all other equipment you set up in the vivarium are consistently perfect for your beardie. Your little friend spends at least half of his life in the vivarium, so doesn’t he deserves the best?
I recommend checking out the following testimonials for Custom Cages. Their products are of high quality and very sturdy to provide you years of wonderful housing for your beardie. They also have supplies for your reptile cage so it is a one-stop-shop!