Want your bearded dragon to live life like a king or queen? Want the satisfaction of knowing your enclosure is dialed in and on point?
I mean, these beautiful creatures deserve nothing less, right?
Let’s walk through how to setup a bearded dragon habitat like a boss…
One thing – Your main two options for the type of habitat you can setup is a sterile one or a bioactive one. This article focuses on the much more common, sterile habitat.
Bearded Dragon Enclosure Types
The size of the enclosure will depend on the size of your bearded dragon.
A baby bearded dragon can start in a 20 gallon long aquarium (or a cage with similar dimensions) or you can start them in an adult sized 40 gallon breeder. Starting with a smaller enclosure will make it easier for them to hunt their food, but you eventually will need to upgrade.
The bare minimum tank size for an adult bearded dragon is a 40 gallon breeder which is 36x18x18 inch. This footprint works well for an adult, although a 4x2x2 ft or 6x2x2 ft is highly preferred.
A few options to consider:
Glass Terrarium with Screen Top – The most common selection among bearded dragon owners. You can find these at local pet stores, Petsmart, PetCo, reptile shows and used markets like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. These can also come as bearded dragon kit setups.
Exo-Terra Terrarium – The Exo-Terra branded glass terrariums are excellent display units and they have one that comes in the 40 gallon breeder footprint.
Custom Brand Enclosures – These cages look awesome and are usually made out of Melamine or PVC. These custom type enclosures are perfect for display units and with that, are also very costly. I like Vision Cages (V332 and up) and Showcase Cages (the 36x24x24 inch).
DIY Enclosures – There are quite a few owners making great looking setups for their beardies. If you are handy and have the tools, you can save good money going the DIY route.
Bearded Dragon Lighting
Bearded dragons should be given a light on/light off schedule like 12/12 (on/off). You can automate this via a digital timer. Make sure your bearded dragon gets darkness to rest!
The two most common ways to setup lighting for a bearded dragon habitat:
- Basking bulb and Reptisun 10.0 UVB/UVA fluorescent bulb
- Mercury Vapor Bulb
Basking bulb and Reptisun 10.0 bulb
You can use a reptile specific basking bulb or a halogen flood light from brands such as Philips and Sylvania. The bulbs wattage is going to depend on the size and height of the enclosure (keeping basking platform setup in mind). Generally, a 75 watt is good for a 20-29/30 gallon and a 150 watt is good for a 40 gallon breeder size and above. You will need a dome to house the bulb and a stand.
The Reptisun 10.0 UVA/UVB bulb comes in several sizes. Choose one that will fit the length of your tank. You will need a light fixture to house the bulb and some hooks to mount it inside of the bearded dragon cage. I like this fixture for Reptisun bulbs and use velcro hooks to mount. This can also be mounted on the top of the enclosure, but will have reduced effectiveness.
Mercury Vapor Bulb (MVB)
A mercury vapor bulb can provide ample heat, UVB and light for your bearded dragon. These bulbs are generally more expensive and need to be kept further away than a standard halogen. MVBs push out a lot of heat and I find they work best in a larger terrarium. I highly recommend the Mega-Ray MVB and Fluker’s large deep dome fixture for a sufficient and safe MVB setup. Keep the bulb no less than 12″ away from basking surface.
Remember that halogens, MVBs and UVB fluorescent bulbs start to lose effectiveness at the 6 month mark and should be replaced.
Bearded Dragon Temperature and Humidity
Temperature is crucial as these ectothermic creatures need a dialed in “temperature gradient” to allow for effective thermoregulation. Blah bla bla.. they basically need a hot side and a cold side and a nice gradient of temperature in between. Relative Humidity (RH) should ideally be kept at 30-40%.
Your bearded dragon will move from one side of the enclosure to the other to regulate its body temperature.
Light On Ambient Temperatures should be:
- Cool Side – 80-85 degrees F
- Hot Side – 90-95 degrees F
Lights Off Ambient Temperatures should be:
- Full Enclosure – 72-79 degrees F. Under 65 degrees F will need supplemental heat
Basking Temperatures should be:
- Baby Bearded Dragon – 105-110 degrees F
- Adult Bearded Dragon – 90-95 degrees F
*If your bearded dragon holds their mouth open for a long time and often, that may be an indication of a basking area that is too hot. Raise the light or lower the basking platform to find the sweet spot.
Measuring Ambient Air and Basking Platform Temperature
To measure ambient air temperature, you will need a thermometer on each side of the enclosure. A digital thermometer hygrometer will work great and is a much better choice over those circular dial ones that you find in popular bearded dragon kits.
To measure the basking platform surface (where the dragon’s belly will lay) it’s best to use an infrared thermometer temperature gun. Point it at the basking surface and adjust the basking platform or light height to reach the correct temperatures. You can also use the temperature gun to sweep across the enclosure to get an idea of the temperature gradient.
If ambient temperatures go below 65 in the room you keep your bearded dragon in, you will want to consider supplemental heating. You can use a non light emitting bulb such as this one or an under tank heater (UTH).
Bearded Dragon Substrate
Bearded dragon substrate is sometimes a controversial subject. To use sand or not to use sand, that is the question.
With a baby bearded dragon, you can use floor covering such as paper towels, newspaper or reptile carpet (my preference). Do not use sand when your beardie is at a young age.
For adult bearded dragons you can use reptile carpet which is preferred, or you can use a substrate like play sand (commonly found for cheap at local hardware stores). Reptile carpet is easy to clean and swap out and there is absolutely no chance of impaction.
The worry with sand is impaction due to ingestion of the substrate when catching food, which is possible. While a healthy dragon shouldn’t have an issue swallowing a bit of substrate, there is no reason to use sand unless you’re doing a bioactive habitat setup.
Bearded Dragon Habitat Decor
Hides – You should have at least two of these to provide a hide on the warm side and the cold side. Bearded dragons will use these to get away from the heat, light and any activities happening outside of the tank that may stress them out. They may also use their hide during brumation. Hides can be caves, log tunnels, etc.
Grapewood and Manzanita Branches – Grapewood and Manzanita branches provide climbing opportunities and can also be used as a basking platform. You can find them in various shapes and sizes. Adds a great look to the tank
Water and Food Dishes – You can go for deep food dishes that will keep smaller dubia roaches and superworms from crawling out. You can use a larger water bowl so your beardie can take a dip (and probably poop) in it.
Tank Background – You can either paint your enclosure on the back and sides or tape a nice background to it. Tank backgrounds are fairly cheap and can really liven up an enclosure. You can also add some cork bark to the inside of the enclosure to cover the back which will really add life to a bearded dragon habitat.
Hammocks – Bearded dragons LOVE lounging around on hammocks.
You should break down your bearded dragon tank every 30 days to do a thorough cleaning. Clean the tank with a vinegar and water solution and allow to air out before placing items back in. Hose off plastic accessories and allow to soak in a vinegar and water solution. Hose off any wood branches and allow to air dry (or you can bake them to dry quicker).
Stay vigilant with picking up feces to keep the cage tidy in between heavy cleanings.
My Bearded Dragon Tank Setups and Supplies
Here are the two setups I have below for my bearded dragons and the supplies I use
Baby Bearded Dragon Enclosure Setup
- 29 gallon long aquarium with reptile screen top
- Reptisun 10.0 UVB 18″ fluorescent bulb with GE 18″ light fixture
- Sylvania 70 watt halogen flood light with Exo Terra wire cage bulb holder
- Zoo Med reptile lamp stand
- 1 piece of a medium sized grapewood branch (highly recommended to find these in person so you can see if it the shape of the branch will fit the dimensions of your tank).
- Plastic reptile cave that sits on top of a slab of brick.
- Reptile hammock
- Reptile water dish and a dog food bowl (keeps smaller dubias from climbing out)
- 29 gallon reptile carpet
Adult Bearded Dragon Enclosure Setup
- 40 gallon breeder glass tank with mesh lid
- Mega-ray Mercury Vapor Bulb 100 watt
- Fluker’s Large Deep Dome Light Fixture
- Zoo Med reptile lamp stand
- Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Light Fixture – Used for boosting ambient temps during the day and a grow light for any live vegetation in the enclosure.
- Slabs of different size brick stacked up to make the basking platform
- Large black hammock
- Food and water dish
- Thermometer Hygrometer combo
- Desert theme background (36×18 inch)
- Substrate is a mixture of top soil, play sand and coco coir (this is a bioactive setup)
- Greenery – I usually have some kind of greens planted in here like mustard or collards for the dragon to munch on.
- Backup heat bulbs for replacements
- Plastic feeding tongs
- Temperature Gun for basking platform surface temperature measurement
- Digital Programmable Timer (for setting light schedules)
And that is all there is to setting up a habitat like a boss. You’re in the know now, so take action if your husbandry is lacking! Don’t settle for less and give your dragon the best…. ok I’ll stop now. Hopefully some of my setups will inspire your setups!
Feeling confident about setting up a bearded dragon cage now? Any questions or feel like sharing your experience, drop a comment below!