By Rio Reptiles
Two very essential necessities that play an important role in a Bearded Dragon’s environment are lighting and temperatures. It is also not a good idea to get the idea that they are the same. They may seem to be associated, and can be depending on how you setup your dragon’s enclosure, but have separate functions in how they affect the health of the animal.
Dragons need a hot spot, or the basking area which should be the only area in the cage with a high surface temp. You don’t want to heat the whole cage unless it is winter and you’re trying to avoid temps below 18°C. So you want an ambient air temp between 24°C and 29°C. Dragons are naturally attracted to a beam of bright white light and have a little third eye atop their head for sensing where the sun is positioned and where the light comes from. So a single bright white light is what they are instinctively attracted to; their brains think it’s what they need so it is also good for their wellbeing. This is also how they sense heat and think this is where they need to be to digest their food. I always ask people to test drive their enclosures to make sure the temps are optimum before getting the dragon. The best way to check the temps is with an infrared temperature gun or a probe type thermometer.
Lighting and temps are the most important factors in good husbandry for Bearded Dragons apart from nutrition. It may seem difficult at first, but once you have it figured out its simple and in no time you’ll be a pro. Proper lighting for a Bearded Dragon should contain a high amount of ultraviolet light of the proper wave length, which is the B or medium wave. UVB is measured in nanometres and ranges from 320 nm to 280 nm. All bulbs put out visible light which contains UVA, long wave, but that is not the correct type of ultraviolet that induces the production of Vitamin D in the skin. As you should already know, Vitamin D is what allows the body to metabolize calcium and is more effective in the form which is made by the body from UVB exposure.
The linear fluorescent tube bulbs come in 45cm, 60cm, 90cm, and 120cm lengths to accommodate many enclosure sizes. The pros of these type bulbs is that they are low profile, disperse light across a wide area. Due to their lower output, the UV light from these bulbs must reach the dragon at all times and span the entire length of the enclosure for sufficient exposure. The one thing with the UVB tube bulbs is that their output declines slowly, so that replacement is needed once a year and that their output is less intense so D3 supplementation is recommended. They do not radiate high amounts of heat, so a separate bulb for basking is required. However, they are much safer to use with smaller enclosures that get too hot quickly. The fluorescents seem to be better for adult dragons that bask less and to help control high temps in warmer regions of the country.
An increasingly popular UVB source is the UVB compact fluorescents. These have the same effect as the fluorescent tubes, although the output covers a small part of the enclosure. What is convenient about these is that you do not need a fluorescent tube ballast and starter, all you need is a screw in light fitting. We recommend that you place the compact fluorescent next to the heat bulb so that when your Dragon is basking he is getting the UVB light at the same time he is heating up.
Optimum temperatures for a Bearded Dragon are essential to their body’s digestion process. It also helps circulation and immune system function, and is needed to support all biological functions. Young dragons need to support their rapid growth by eating frequently and digesting almost constantly. This is why babies and juveniles are almost always found basking. Due to their smaller size and inability to retain as much heat, they prefer higher temps that range from 37°C to 43°C. This can also dehydrate them faster so it is good practice to bathe them regularly or drip water on their nose to lick off daily. As they grow older the need for a high protein diet goes away and with less frequency of meals, the need to bask isn’t as important. Adult dragons seem to like their temps in the 32°C to 37°C range, with the ability get out of the heat and cool down where it is 24°C to 30°C. Many adults will only bask in the morning and after eating while spending the rest of their time lounging somewhere between the temp ranges.
Knowing what the temps are in your dragon’s enclosure will help you avoid problems in the long run. Never guess at your dragon’s temps! Make sure you use a digital thermometer with a probe or even better a temperature gun so you can accurately tell what the temps are and where. If a dragon doesn’t get hot enough for long enough, undigested food can cause them to throw up or can rot inside them. Even if their normal temps are a little on the cool side for long periods, it may cause them to stop eating, sleep a lot or even brumate. When temps are too hot or if a dragon can’t cool down when needed, they can become dehydrated and unable to thermo regulate. Dehydration can cause the build-up of toxins, stop digestion and cause the onset of more serious problems such as impaction. This is only the tip of the iceberg, but having a basic understanding will get you on the right track.
Setting up the Lighting
Fluorescent UVB with Separate Basking Bulb
With this setup you will need to find a fluorescent fixture to use inside your enclosure or on top of your tank. If you have a hand built enclosure, you can get a hard wire style fixture and mount it inside. If a switch is desired, it can be wired in or if you decide otherwise, it can be plugged directly into the wall or into a power strip. Fluorescent UVB bulbs will not put out enough heat to promote digestion in your Bearded Dragon so a separate basking bulb for heat is required. The spot lamps are good because they direct the light and heat in a concentrated area below it without dispersing heat over a wide area. If you want to hardwire a fixture of a basking only bulb into an enclosure, either a simple keyless porcelain socket can be used or you can do better by getting the outdoor spotlight fixtures that swivel with a screw in base.
It is also important to remember that if a light is placed on a screen, that screen will filter out a significant amount of valuable UVB rays. It is recommended to remove any screens and replace with a wire type hardware cloth if possible to allow the right amount of UVB to get through.
This setup will ensure you have the proper UVB and heat for a bearded dragon. This lighting setup works very well for adult Bearded Dragons, and the adults will spend less time basking and more time lounging in cooler temps and will still get the right amount of UVB light.