Every animal has different requirements to stay healthy, alive and happy; bearded dragon lighting is not an exception to this rule. The type and amount of light, diet, temperature, and cleanliness are the four main components to keeping these, and many other reptiles as healthy and happy as possible. Below is bearded dragon enclosure requirements.
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Bearded Dragon Lighting Requirements
Proper lighting is not only essential for proper temperatures but more importantly for adequate vitamin production within the body of bearded dragons.
In nature, reptiles like our beardies spend most of their day in the sun soaking up the rays. The sun provides UVA/UVB light which produces the vitamin D3 in the reptile’s body.
D3 is essential in calcium metabolization which prevents Metabolic Bone Disease, which can ultimately be fatal to our lizards.
To provide this vital nutrient to our loveable lizards, we need to recreate this natural vitamin intake as best as possible to keep them healthy and active.
Before jumping into what works best for bearded dragons, lets first understand different types of radiations and its importance for bearded dragons.
UVA, UVB, UVC Radiation
The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation which you’ll probably know about as this is what causes skin tans, skin cancer, and so on. But it’s actually the different wavelengths or types of UV radiation that cause these effects. Your dragon requires a source of UVA and UVB.
UVA is generally harmless and has few known benefits to us humans, although excessive quantities can damage vitamin A production. In reptiles, however, UVA encourages natural behavior such as breeding and basking. Lizards are very sensitive to it and also use it in part to identify food and mates.
Bearded Dragons have a special scale on top of their head that’s thought to be linked to this, more specifically it’s linked to the Pineal Gland which in most reptiles is always close to the brain.
UVB radiation is what bearded dragons simply must have, failure to provide a source of this is to condemn your dragon to a slow agonising death. UVB provides a way for the reptile (and us Humans) to create vitamin D in their skin – specifically vitamin D3 which is also used to metabolise calcium in the dragon which encourages healthy growth, without this then they would have dietary problems leading to issues such as metabolic bone disease.
Too much UVB is a bad thing and can cause DNA damage and problems with vitamin A production in bearded dragons.
UVC is harmful and you don’t want to be providing a source of this to anything living (unless you slowly want to kill it), it’s this type of UV radiation that causes the most damage to living cells and also what creates the ozone layer and our atmosphere blocks out the most of. It’s mutagenic and carcinogenic. Bad for everything living.
How to Provide UVA and UVB Lights to Bearded Dragons?
The obvious first choice would be to take your beardie outside in the direct sun. However, you and I both know that this is not always possible. Poor weather, predators, parasites, lack of time, and the possibility of an escaped lizard are just a few of the reasons that this option is not always plausible.
So the next best option is to get a light that can produce the same UVA/UVB rays that come from the sun.
UVB and UVA Bulbs for Bearded Dragons
These bulbs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and wattage. There are mercury vapor bulbs (MVB’s) that produce UVB/UVA light as well as a good amount of heat. These come in a variety of different wattage to accommodate the size of the tank in which you have, in order to help regulate the temperatures better.
The other (and more preferred) option are fluorescent bulbs. There are the long fluorescent bulbs, like those commonly used in a shop or office setting, and the compact versions which fit into a standard light bulb fixture.
Personally I prefer using a tube fluorescent for my dragons as they cover more area within the enclosure. You want at least 3/4 of the enclosure to be exposed to the UVB rays for at least 12-14 hours a day.
By having only 3/4 of the tank exposed, this will allow the beardie to regulate the amount of light they get on their own by moving in and out of direct contact.
It is also vital to know that UVB/UVA rays can be blocked by glass or even plastic enclosure/fixture covers. Even wire tops can block some of the light that is produced. Keep this in mind when creating your bearded dragon enclosure.
Depending on the specific type of bulb you get, the distance from which it is placed from the lizard will also determine the amount of UVB rays that are received. Usually, 12″-18″ is sufficient, but check the specifications on the box of the bulb you purchased to be sure.
The other issue with UVB lights is that over time the amount of UVB radiation generated decreases and without a rather expensive sensor to detect the UV levels you have no way of knowing when to replace the bulbs. They’ll still be working and giving off light, just not the UVB radiation you need.
The rule of thumb is typically to replace these UVB bulbs once every 12 months. If you’ve not changed your bulb in a while and your dragon is looking sluggish and lethargic, try swapping out the bulb for a new one and see if that improves.
The packaging for the UVB bulb will state how often to change and the effective distance e.g. effective up to 20 inches. That means if your UVB bulb is closer to the floor then you can potentially use a lower percentage bulb.
How to Measure The Amount of UVB Your Beardie is Getting?
To measure precisely how much UVB your bearded dragon is getting, you can use a UVB meter. UVB meters are easy to use and, according to research conducted in 2005 entitled Introduction to the 2005 Lighting Survey, UVB meters provide the most accurate, reliable, and consistent results. These are also very helpful in knowing when to replace your UVB bulbs.
By nature (or possibly design) UVB bulbs only produce sufficient amounts of UVB for around six months before needing replaced. Some MVB bulb manufacturers claim to last over a year, but this all depends on the specific type and brand you buy. Periodically checking how much UVB your light is producing and how much your lizard is getting is the best way to keep optimal conditions.
Bearded Dragon Temperature Requirements
The other major purpose of bearded dragon lighting is temperature. Bearded Dragons require a gradient of heat within their enclosure ranging from 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking area to 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit on the cooler side.
There are several ways in which the proper heat can be provided.
How to Provide Right Heat to Your Bearded Dragon?
If you are using an MVB bulb, they should produce enough heat on their own if a high enough wattage bulb is used. With fluorescent bulbs, or in the case of an MVB bulb not providing enough heat, a regular house bulb can produce the additional heat needed.
If this is still not providing adequate temperatures you may want to look into getting a ceramic heat emitter (CHE). The CHE’s are just that, a ceramic coil that fits into a standard light bulb fixture that produces heat but no light. These are popular for use at night when temperature may get too low for the dragon.
Choosing a Heat Lamp For your Bearded Dragon Enclosure
This depends on two things, the area of the terrarium and it’s height, or rather how far away the heat lamp will be mounted.
I once went into one reptile shop and asked about which light to use and what would be right giving them the dimensions etc… of my setup and the shop owner told me to take anyone and ‘suck it and see’. I’ve not been back there since!
On any light bulb for a reptile, the packaging will have some level of rating on the side and the lux and heat given off at set distances from the bulb.
For Bearded Dragons you want a bulb that will give you 110F / 45C for the hot end, it can be higher as the Agamid family of lizards senses heat from above them so they’ll move out if too hot. However you need to ensure that the other end of the vivarium is at about 80F / 27C for them to cool down in.
You can control temperature by the furnishings/decor in the enclosure and how you place the light in it, using a reflector to help reduce the area heated by the heat lamp (also reflecting all heat and light downwards).
A lot of bulbs now have specific reflectors in them to provide a tight cone of light which also helps. Avoid placing this on the side of the terrarium as the dragons (especially the young) will climb on this.
Also avoid adding a cage over the light as, again, they’ll climb on it, and either way they end up with burns. Instead, mount it from the ceiling of your setup.
Bearded Dragons regulate their body temperature by moving between different temperate zones such as basking in the sun to hiding in the shade – they even gape (open their mouth) to let heat out.
Because of the way bearded dragons sense heat, this is why you should never, ever, under any circumstances use anything that provides heat from underneath the beardie such as a heat rock or heat mat as they can’t tell how hot it is and will burn themselves.
You can use ordinary incandescent household bulbs and these will work fine and are much cheaper, however, the reptile bulbs have better light spectrums for the lizards. They are also a much better source of UVA which helps promote natural healthy behavior connected with their Pineal Gland (that weird scale on top of their heads!). Worth the price in my opinion.
You want a bulb that produces the full spectrum of light, so not infrared, green, blue etc… something that does all spectrums and wavelengths since that replicates the sun.
In the minimum 4ft x 2ft x 2ft bearded dragon cage size, a 75 Watt bulb should be hot enough, if the cage is already in your house. The substrate will also carry and distribute much of the heat.
In a 2ft x2ft x2ft tank a 60 Watt bulb should be enough, anything smaller will be a 40 Watt bulb or thereabouts. That should give you a basking spot of around 110-120F. An energy-saving bulb won’t provide much heat at all before you think about using one to save money on your electricity bills!
How to Monitor Cage Temperature
Remember to monitor the heat at all times. Ensure that multiple thermometers are placed inside the cage to know and control the temperature on each end. Digital thermometers are recommended for the most accurate readings, but you can also purchase a temperature gun. This is a handheld thermometer that takes an immediate and accurate reading of anything you put in on or near.