Bearded dragon tank and cage setup (10 Steps Terrarium Guide)

bearded dragon tank setup

Today, I am going to show you how to set up your bearded dragon terrarium in the most detailed step by step process you will ever find. 

Bearded dragons are popular exotic pets that do not require much attention or maintenance. Apart from their diet, the next most important factor is their terrarium setup. They will require a specific environment in order to live a long life. 

So whether you are an existing or new owner to a bearded dragon, this guide will provide you with adequate knowledge to give your beardie the best home to live in.

Before we begin, you need to understand some facts about bearded dragon habitat to mimic their environment in the wild.

  1. Bearded dragons originate from Australia where there is ample sunlight for at least 12 to 14 hours per day. 
  2. They live in arid environments such as deserts, scrublands and subtropical woodlands.
  3. Bearded dragons also climb a lot onto fallen trees, branches, rocks and bushes to bask in the sunlight. 
  4. They also tend to display dominant behaviour over territories and basking areas.

Now that we know some of their natural traits, here is a quick cheat sheet that covers it all:

Bearded Dragon Terrarium Setup: Quick Cheat list

(table form with images and link to more details)

Suitable tanks or cages for bearded dragons:

  • glass aquarium
  • melamine cage
  • PVC cage

Minimum Tank or cage size requirements

  • Baby or hatchling bearded dragon (10 inches or less): Minimum size of 20 gallon tank/cage.
  • Juvenile to young adult bearded dragons (10 to 16 inches): Minimum size of between 20 to 50 gallons (75 – 190L) tank/cage.
  • Adult dragons (20 inches and above): Minimum size 75 to 120 gallons (280 – 455L) or anything bigger will be even better.

Lighting

  • UVA/UVB 10.0
  • basking light

Temperature range

  • Hot side: 95°F to 110°F (35°C to 43°C)
  • Cool side: 80°F to 85°F (26°C to 29°C)
  • Night time temperature: Minimum 70°F to 75°F (20°C to 23°C)

Humidity

  • Max humidity 60%
  • Minimum humidity: between 35% – 40%

Substrate

  • paper towels
  • newspaper
  • Tiles
  • Reptile carpet
  • Sand/wood 

Supplies: Accessories & Decoration

  • basking structure (wood/rock)
  • hiding place – cave
  • branch
  • hammock

Step #1: Choose the right bearded dragon terrarium

What is the best bearded dragon enclosure?:

Depending on your preferences, there are 3 types of enclosures that makes a great terrarium for reptiles such as bearded dragons. 

The 3 common materials for terrarium are namely:

  • Glass terrarium
  • Plastic terrarium
  • Wood terrarium 

Let’s find out each of their Pros and Cons below. – 

Glass Enclosures and Terrarium

Glass aquariums are commonly used for housing aquatic creatures such as fish but they are also one of the most common choices of housing among reptile owners. 

They can be slightly expensive but they provide great durability and most importantly, they are transparent where your dragons can be viewed at all angles.  

Glass aquarium Pros 

  • Better visibility: your dragon can be seen at most angles.
  • Aesthetically pleasant. Looks great with any indoor decorations.
  • Can be found and purchased conveniently at most pet stores.  
  • Glass vivariums are very easy to sterilise and clean.

Glass aquarium Cons 

  • Larger aquariums may be expensive – But you can go for second hand aquariums from ebay to get it for cheap since there are no water, so you don’t have to be worried about leakages 
  • Glass aquariums are really heavy. – If you plan to keep your dragon at one place for a long time, then glass aquarium is a great option.
  • Lack of insulation and ventilation. This may be one of the causes and reasons for dull color in bearded dragon’s skin. Owners may opt for a screen lid instead to provide more air flow.
  • Reflection from within the glass might trigger “glass surfing”. See more information below.

Why is my bearded dragon clawing at the glass?

If you see your bearded dragon clawing away at the glass, it is an abnormality sign of distress. This frantic behaviour is also known as “glass surfing or dancing”. 

You will find them standing on their hind legs with their belly on the tank wall frantically scratching their front legs on the glass. 

The likely causes of glass surfing?
  1. Seeing their own reflection – Seeing their own self in a reflection might cause them to mistake it as a threat. Do note that bearded dragons are territorial. Check out our bearded dragon habitat article for more information.
  2. They might not be able to differentiate what is within and outside of the glass as the barrier is transparent. 
  3. If the tank is not properly setup, it may cause stress and discomfort to them, they will try to get out of it if they get the chance to. Example: Temperature changes, not having enough heat to thermoregulate.
  4. It may also just be due to hunger or boredom.
  5. Something unfamiliar is stressing them out. Could be a bigger pet on the outside or something new added into their home. 
How to stop glass surfing and scratching? 
  1. Wrap a background around the tank to prevent them from seeing their own reflection.
  2. Get a bigger tank so that they have ample space. 
  3. Make sure they are comfortable with enough heat and UVB/UVA lights. 

Wooden Enclosures and Terrarium

If you love to diy, wooden enclosures are for you. You can craft your own enclosure by using melamine or plywood. Wooden terrariums are also known for being affordable. 

Here are their pros and cons:

Melamine Terrarium

There are more than 1 type of wood material that can be used for reptile cages. But melamine is one of the most common ones that are used for bearded dragons enclosure. They are a type of manufactured wood that are more durable than plywood. They are easy to work with and can be customised to fit any decor. 

Melamine cage Pros
  • Affordable. Cheaper than glass or plastics.
  • Aesthetically pleasant. Can be customized to fit your room design.
  • Easy to modify and expand.
  • Easy to stack up if you have more than 1 reptile cage.
  • Unlikely to break compared to glass cages.
Melamine cage Cons
  • Melamine cages have lower visibility of your dragon. Bearded dragons can usually only be viewed from the window in the front panel.
  • Melamine can be damaged by water or humidity in the long run.
  • Not as durable compared to plastic and glass
  • Harder to clean or sterilise. Dirt and bacteria can get into the cracks.
  • Melamine cages can be heavy.

Plywood Terrarium

Plywood is an affordable manufactured wood that are made up of many thin layers. These layers are glued together to form a stronger wood piece that can be easily customized to suit the size you need. 

Plywood cage pros
  • Affordable. Cheaper than glass or plastics.
  • Lightweight compared to melamine
  • Customizable – Easy to modify and expand.
  • Easy to stack up if you have more than 1 reptile cage.
Plywood cage cons
  • Similarly, plywood cages have lower visibility of your dragon. Bearded dragons can usually only be viewed from the window in the front panel.
  • As plywood is made up of many layers of wood, its harder to clean or sterilize completely. Dirt and water can seep into cracks.
  • Wood can be damaged by water or humidity in the long run.
  • Not as durable compared to plastic and glass
  • Edges are prone to splintering when you are working on it.

Setting up DIY wooden enclosure step by step:

Here is a quick step by step guide on setting up your own DIY wooden enclosure: 

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Source: Distinct Dragons

Plastic Enclosure and Terrariums

There are several types of plastic enclosures that are suitable for bearded dragons. The most common ones are PVC or ABS plastic cages. 

Or for those who prefer higher end plastic enclosures, there is the vision cage that is a lot more expensive but worth it.

Let’s check out their pros and cons –

PVC and ABS plastic cages

Both PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) are the most common types of synthetic plastic that are used among reptile owners.

Their look and feel are quite similar to melamine boards except they weigh much lighter and are more durable. 

PVC / ABS plastic cage Pros
  • Aesthetically pleasant. Can be customized to fit your room design.
  • Easier to clean and sterilize compared to wood enclosures. 
  • Lightweight and can be moved around easily
  • Stackable and waterproof.
  • Can be customized to fit your preference.
  • According to some owners, ABS cages don’t produce the plastic odor that other reptile cages have
PVC / ABS plastic cage Cons
  • Plastic cages are expensive compared to melamine or plywood type of enclosures in general. 
  • Limited visibility. Bearded dragons can only be viewed from the front window panel.

Vision cages

Vision cages are professional enclosures that are getting popular among reptile owners. 

They are very similar to PVC except they are molded from one piece of higher grade plastic. They also come with a built-in lighting as well. 

However, good material usually also comes with a higher price tag.

Vision cages pros
  • Easier to clean and sterilize compared to wood enclosures. 
  • Chemical resistant
  • Lightweight compared to all other materials
  • Easy to stack and waterproof
  • Comes with built in lamp
Vision cages cons
  • Lesser options for customization as they are molded and comes as a whole. 
  • Very expensive compared to all other cages. 
  • Limited visibility as the sides are opaque. Only the front window panel is transparent to view your pet.

Step #2: Determine your bearded dragon tank size

How big should a tank be for bearded dragon

Tank Size for Baby and hatchling bearded dragons

Baby hatchling bearded dragon sizes usually range between 10 inches or less. 

They will require a minimum size tank of 20 gallons. If you are building your own DIY cage, a good gauge of the dimensions are 30 inches long X 13 inches wide X 12 inches deep. 

The ideal size for baby hatchling dragons is a 40 gallon tank with the dimensions of 48 inches long X 12 inches wide X 14 inches deep. 

A 40 gallon tank will provide ample space for most baby dragons. 

Tank size for juvenile or young adult bearded dragons

A juvenile young adult bearded dragon can grow between 10 inches to 16 inches. They will require a minimum tank size of 20 to 55 gallons (75 to 190 litres). 

For DIY cages, the minimum dimension that is equivalent to to 55 gallons tank is 30 inches long X 13 inches wide X 13 inches deep.

The ideal size for juvenile dragon enclosure is a 75 gallon tank or 48 inches long X 18 inches wide X 20 inches deep enclosure for those who are planning to DIY. 

Tank size for adult bearded dragons

Adult bearded dragons can grow beyond 20 inches. The minimum size requirements is between 75 to 120 gallons (280L to 455L) and above. 

But ideally, you should just go for a 120 gallon tank or 48 inches long X 24 inches wide X 24 inches deep if you are planning to DIY. 

How big of a tank do you need for 2 bearded dragons?

The size guide you saw above are meant for 1 dragon. Ideally, if you have 2 then it will be 2 of those tanks combined. 

So if you are planning to place 2 adult dragons together, their you will need 2 75 gallon tanks combined together. 

That said, it is not advisable to place bearded dragons together in one cage as they are territorial creatures and will fight each other for basking spot. 

Ensure your bearded dragon have enough room

Having a small size tank will cause stress and obstruct their growth. The full size of a growing bearded dragon will depend on the size of their enclosure. 

If they live in a very small enclosure, their growth in size gets restricted. For example, placing a young growing bearded dragon into a small cage will prevent it from growing beyond their enclosure. 

It is recommended to go for the largest tank that you can get even if your bearded dragon is still a baby. 

They will eventually grow and get larger so rather than having to change tanks every now and then as they grow progressively, getting an adult size setup will be more convenient.

You can visit our bearded dragon size guide for more information about how to determine their age and size.

Step #3: Manage bearded dragon UVB/UVA lighting

Bearded dragons require full spectrum light in order to live healthily. 

Full spectrum is a whole array of electromagnetic spectrum that the sun produces from infrared to visible light and near ultraviolet rays.

full spectrum light chart

Among them, the 2 most important lights for bearded dragons are the Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB). 

What is UVA and UVB for bearded dragons? Why are they important?

UVB is what helps bearded dragons to generate Vitamin D and D3. 

Vitamin D are essential to bearded dragons as it helps to metabolize and absorb calcium from the food they eat to prevent metabolic bone diseases. 

UVA on the other hand does not produce as much Vitamin D as compared to UVB but is another essential factor to help bearded dragons with their daily activities. 

Bearded dragons have 4 retinal cone cells that are able to recognize and respond to UVA. UVA that is not visible to us is visible to them. Without it they are technically color blind. 

UVB Sickness

Another point to keep in mind is over exposure of UVB lighting. The thing that helps them grow strong bones can also cause them harm. 

Too much UVB exposure can lead to UVB sickness or what is also known as photo-kerato-conjunctivitis. 

It is a painful eye condition that is caused by prolonged exposure to too much ultraviolet rays. This can affect both bearded dragons and owners alike.

UVB emission must be consistent and cover at least ⅔ of the enclosure. Or alternatively, you can create a UVB gradient by having one end to emit the highest UVB concentration to lower UVB emission near the middle. However, you should only attempt to do this if you know what you are doing. 

UVB can be measured by UVI or ultraviolet index via a solar reptile meter. The ideal range for desert reptiles like bearded dragons according to ZooMed is 2.6 to 3.5 and higher but not more than 7. 

We will discuss more about the setup of UVB later on (or skip to it here). Let’s move on to the types of UVB lighting next.

Types of UVB bulbs

There are 2 common types of UVB bulb:

  • Fluorescent or linear tube
  • Coil or compact bulb 

Fluorescent or linear tube

It is a longer tube that provides a wider coverage. You will require 2 holders and a hood fixture with the correct length to house the tube. 

Pros of fluorescent or linear tube
  • Affordable.
  • Provide consistent UVB coverage.
  • Provide wider coverage.
Cons of fluorescent or linear tube
  • Must replace every 6 months 

Coil or compact bulb

Coil or compact bulb is similar to the usual bulbs we have. They provide a concentrated but smaller coverage of UVB. They require a dome fixture to hold the bulb. 

Pros of coil or compact bulb
  • Affordable
  • MVB can last a year
Cons of coil or compact bulb
  • Provide concentrated UVB on one spot
  • Inconsistent UVB coverage resulting in dark spots where UVB is low or not present and some concentrated spots where UVB is too strong. Only use this if you know what you are doing. 

Which is better: Fluorescent or compact bulb?

It is still recommended to use a fluorescent tube for beginners and they are most consistent in UVB exposure. Just get the right length that fits ⅔ of your terrarium and you are good to go. 

Compact bulbs such as Mercury Vapor Bulbs (MVB) are really good if you know how to set up a UVB gradient. 

What are some of the best UVB/UVA Brands

There are several brands that are popular among the reptile community. Check them out below:

#1 Zoo Med ReptiSun Linear Fluorescent Tube

Fluorescent tubes come in many different lengths and sizes. There are 2 different distinct types that emit different amounts of UVB: The Zoo Med ReptiSun 5.0 and Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 Linear Fluorescent 

ReptiSun Linear Fluorescent Pros 
  • Affordable
  • Also provides UVA and visible light
  • High output option for higher UVB for mid-day baskers like bearded dragon
  • Consistent light exposure
ReptiSun Linear Fluorescent Cons 
  • Change every 6 months. Please measure UVB output with solar meter as visible light might still be working but UVB (invisible to us) might not.
The differences between 5.0 and 10.0?

The Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 gives off more UVB that the 5.0. It is advisable to only use ReptiSun 5.0 for enclosure of 20 gallon or smaller and reptisun 10.0 for enclosure of 40 gallon and up. 

This is due to the height of the tank. Both ReptiSun covers the same range of UVI of between 0 to 7+. Bearded dragons only require 2.6 to 3.5 so essentially both types are suitable for bearded dragons. It is just a matter of how high you placed them. 

You probably have to place the 5.0 lower to achieve similar intensity of UVB as compared to 10.0. But take note that placing your UVB too close to your dragon will hurt them or result in UVB sickness if not handled properly. Only attempt to do this if you have a solar reptile meter. 

So in a nutshell, it is better to go for ReptiSun 10.0 if you have a larger tank. Use a screen lit and place UVB light above it if the height of the tank is too low. This will help reduce the intensity of UVB. Or place them within if intensity is not high enough.

ReptiSun Linear Fluorescent T5 or T8 bulbs?

Have you noticed a T5 or T8 label printed on ReptiSun fluorescent tube when you buy them? So what are the differences? 

Differences T5 T8
Diameter ~16mm ~26mm
Output High Output Normal Output
UVB Intensity Higher Normal
Energy consumption Lower  Higher
Brightness Higher Normal
Prices Affordable (similar to T8) Affordable

Bottom line? 

Use a T5 instead of a T8 since the price are somewhat similar. Just take note that T5 is definitely stronger than T8. Getting the right distance matters. 

#2 Mega-Ray Mercury Vapor Bulb

Mercury Vapor Bulbs or MVB for short is the strongest lamp for UVB. It provides intense UVB and should never be placed within the enclosure. 

Mercury Vapor Bulb Pros
  • Strongest UVB among other bulbs and fluorescent tubes.
  • Provides not only UVB but UVA and heat as well
  • Change once a year. 
Mercury Vapor Bulb Cons
  • Concentrates in a certain spot forming dark spots where UVB is low to none and pots where there are high UVB. But this can be turned around with the right tools and setup. 

The usual setup for those using MVB is to place a lamp above a screen lid. Distance of light to dragon also affect UVB intensity. On top of that, MVB also provides heat placing it right above the basking spot will be ideal. 

MVB is also used to create UVB gradients that are more advanced setup. 

A ceramic deep dome fixture like this Zoo Med Mini Deep Dome Lamp Fixture will be required to house the MVB. Take note that MVB wattage is usually higher than normal compact bulbs for basking spot. 

They tend to overheat and burn out the wires internally if you are not using the right dome fixture (generally the smaller ones). Check with the sales staff at your nearest home depot on the right dome fixture that can house 160w if you are going to get bulb and fixture separately.

So which is the best lighting for UVB? 

Honestly there is no 1 brand that is better than the other. It really depends on your setup your terrarium. Consider the following questions when getting your bulb:

  • What is your tank size? – larger tanks generally require more UVB light
  • Height of your enclosure. – This is important as the position of your UVB light may determine which light you should get.
  • The type of enclosure you are planning to have. Wood? Plastics or Glass? – This will determine how you mount your light.
  • Will you be using a screen lid? Screen lid will block out part of your UV rays.

UVB Degradation 

Important: Note that all UVB will degrade over time. Both UVB/UVA lights should be checked and replaced every 6 months. MVB bulbs on the other hand can last for about a year. 

But always use a UV meter to get the correct measurement of your bulbs to make sure if they are working fine. Because sometimes, UVB bulbs might still give off light but do produce UV anymore. 

So before you go on to shop for your UVB light bulbs, let’s take a look at some ways to setup UVB lighting. 

How to setup UVB/UVA lights

UVB/UVA setup with Fluorescent tube

What is required:

  • UVB fluorescent tube: Recommended to get ReptiSun 10.0 T5 HO 
  • UVB fluorescent tube fixture

2 simple steps to setup UVB lighting:

Step 1: Place UVB fluorescent tube into the tube fixture. (Fixture should span about ⅔ of the enclosure)

Step 2: Place the fixture at the top of the tank’s screen lid at the left or right side. (Light should be at least 6 to 8 inches away from bearded dragon for high output UVB like ReptiSun 10.0 T5.)

Bonus: Creating UVB Gradient (For advanced users only)

UVB gradient is a more advanced way to setup UVB lighting. Similar to heat gradient (which we will discuss below), a UVB gradient simply means creating a gradient starting from a more intense UVB exposure at one end of the enclosure to a least intense exposure around the middle (hot side). 

Setting up a UVB gradient is no easy task and is only attempted by season owners. So set it up if you really know what you are doing. Here is an example provided by reptile.guide

Bearded Dragon setup

There is another light source that is important and that is heat for basking which will be discussed in the next step so link readers to the next step on setting up heat lamps and regulate temperature.

Step #4: Setting up basking spot and manage temperature

What temperature should a bearded dragon tank be?

Overall temperature for the Hot side of the tank where the basking spot is at should be 95°F to 110°F (35°C to 43°C). While the Cool side of the tank should have an overall temperature of between 80°F to 85°F (26°C to 29°C).

On the hot side of the tank, there should be a focal basking hot spot where your heat lamp or MVB is housed directly above. This focal hot spot should have a temperate between 100°F to 110°F (37°C to 43°C). Based on reptilesmagazine, “If your beardie is not sitting in the hot spot, gaping with its mouth open, then it probably isn’t hot enough”.

Note that the whole tank’s overall temperature should not be as hot as the basking spot. 

Bearded dragon temperature at night

At night, the minimum temperature of the cool side should be in the low to mid 70s (70°F to 75°F (20°C to 23°C) and should not go below 70°F. 

What is the lowest temperature a bearded dragon can survive?

Lowest temperature that a bearded dragon can tolerate is about the lower range of 60°F. However, they will start getting lethargic before shutting down completely. 

Baby bearded dragon enclosure temperature

Baby or juvenile bearded dragons have different temperature requirements. Overall temperature of your enclosure should be between 80 to 85°F. 

The basking area for baby bearded dragons should range between 95 to 110°F. While the cooler end should be 80 to 90°F. 

What is a basking light or heat lamp for? 

As cold blooded animals, a bearded dragon requires an external heat source to help them maintain their metabolic functions. They will need to bask in the heat to digest their food or maintain any physiological body functions. 

Can bearded dragons live without heat?

Nope like all reptiles, bearded dragons cannot live without heat. Without heat, bearded dragons can go into hypothermia. During the process of hypothermia, your dragon might become less active, digestion slows down and their immune system functions poorer thus becoming more vulnerable to infections. 

How long can bearded dragons live without heat?

There is no definitive time as to how long bearded dragons can live without heat. However, it is advisable not to leave them without heat for more than 24 hours or their health will start to get affected. 

Do bearded dragons need a heat lamp at night?

It depends on the overall ambient temperature of your tank at night. The ideal overall temperature should be between low to mid 70s (70°F to 75°F / 20°C to 23°C) and should not go below 70°F. The lowest it can go is around 65°F (18°C). Anything lower than that, you will require a heat lamp at night. 

If it is too cold at night, you can use a Ceramic Heat Emitter or CHE for short. A simple CHE like this from Omaykey will get the job done. 

How to set up basking spot with heat lamps or heat mats

Setting Up Basking Spot with Heat lamps

If you are on a budget: 

The wattage required depends on the distance between your bearded dragon and basking light. But in general, you should go for 100 to 150 watts bulbs.  

Here is a quick general guide:

For lower wattage bulbs, make sure your basking spot platform is higher so that your dragon can get closer to the heat spot. But avoid placing them too high or they might get burnt.

Protip: For 50 watts bulbs, make sure to get the right lamp fixture to go with. The dome of the lamp fixture should be the larger one. This is because the heat bulb may be too hot for those smaller lamp fixtures and burn the wire cords from the inside of the lamp. 

Just double check with the service staff of your nearest home depot for the right size with the right wattage bulb.    

Setting up Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE)

Here is an example to setup your bearded dragon housing with a CHE.

bearded dragon CHE lighting setup

bearded dragon CHE lighting heat zone

You can setup the CHE in the middle to increase the overall ambient temperature of the tank. 

Similarly, you can get a simple CHE like this Omaykey ceramic heat emitter along with a clamp lamp dome fixture

How many watts should my basking light be

Source: https://www.beardeddragon.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=34&t=148006 see under “How many watts should my basking light be?”

Temperature of your bearded dragon enclosure can be based on many factors. They include:

  1. The size of your enclosure.
  2. Distance from your light to your basking spot.
  3. The type of bulbs you use. – Incandescent bulbs or halogen bulbs? 
  4. The material used for your enclosure.

For aquariums, you can use a 50 to 65 watts halogen bulb or a 100 to 150 watts incandescent bulb for a 40 gallon tank. 

Take note that halogen bulbs tend to produce more heat as it is made to focus on a certain spot.

For wooden enclosures, they are more insulated and definitely retain more heat compared to a glass aquarium hence you do not need such high wattage bulbs. A 30 to 45 watts halogen bulb or a 60 to 70 watts incandescent bulb should be more than enough.

To make sure, always check your thermometer to make sure they are at the ideal temperature of between 70°F to 75°F (20°C to 23°C) regardless of which bulb you use.

Alternative: Using Mercury Vapor Bulbs (MVB) for basking spot

Mercury vapor bulbs are another alternative to normal heat lamps. Not only do they provide UVB/UVA, they also give off lots of heat. However, this should not be a replacement for your UVB fluorescent lighting on the other side of the tank.

Protip: Mercury vapor bulbs are made to give off intense heat and UVB, so it should not be placed into your standard dome fixture like your clamp lamp mentioned above or it may burn out. You will require a deep dome fixture with a socket made out of ceramic. One example of this is the Zoo Med Deep Dome Lamp Fixture that can fit any Zoo Med PowerSun MVB Bulbs

Important: Note that the placement of your MVB should not be directly placed above the tank as it can either burn out your bulb or your dragon. Use a height adjustable lamp stand to hold your MVB fixture. This way you can adjust the height up or down while using your UVB and temperature thermometer to get the correct measurements for your bearded dragons. 

For your convenience, here are the ideal temperature and UV range

  • The ideal UV range for desert reptiles is 2.6 to 3.5 and higher but not more than 7. 
  • Focal basking hot spot temperature should be 100°F to 110°F (37°C to 43°C) 
  • Overall temperature:
    • Hot side temperature or basking spot area: 95°F to 110°F (35°C to 43°C)
    • Cool side temperature: 80°F to 85°F (26°C to 29°C)

So be sure to keep the same temperature requirements with MVBs.

Alternative heat lamps if they ever break down

Heat lamps should always be checked once every 6 months if possible. As mentioned above, you only have about 24 hours to replace your bulbs if they break down for whatever reasons. If you can’t find the same bulb for replacement, here are some alternatives that you can use as a makeshift heat lamp:

  1. A household ceramic heater, if you have one to spare at home.
  2. Household light bulb or any common incandescent bulb that gives off a lot of heat.
  3. A normal desk lamp. – Point it to the tank where your dragons are resting. 
  4. Bottles filled with hot water and wrapped around with towels. – Place them where your dragons are resting. 
  5. Heat pad or mat

Once again, always check the temperature via your thermometer to avoid under or over heating. 

Step #5: Set up thermometers to monitor temperature 

How to monitor bearded dragon temperature

To monitor enclosure temperatures, it is recommended to take 2 readings. One to measure the basking “hot” side and another to measure the “cold” side. 

To do that, we can use a few types of thermometers. All of them works but each have their pros and cons:

#1 Zoo Med Standard digital thermometer

#2 Zoo Med analog dual thermometer with humidity gauge

#3 Exo Terra Digital Thermometer Hygrometer

#4 Zoo Med Repti Temp Digital Infrared Thermometer

Where to Place the Thermometer in a Bearded Dragon Enclosure

One thermometer will be placed at the basking spot to measure basking temperature and another thermometer at the cool side of the enclosure to determine if the “cool” side is too warm or cold. 

Here is an example on where to place your thermometer and its probe:

Bearded Dragon temperature placement

Thermometer probe should be placed in the center of the basking area between the light to your dragon. As for the cool side, thermometer probe can be placed any where in the center of the cool area.

Step #6: Manage bearded dragon humidity levels 

What humidity should my bearded dragon cage be?

Bearded dragons come from dry desert areas, they require a low degree of humidity to survive and thrive. Overall humidity inside a bearded dragon’s enclosure should be kept between 30 to 40 percent which is similar to the humidity in their wild habitat.

Having a humidity of higher than 40% can negatively impact your bearded dragon’s happiness and wellbeing. In serious cases, it can also result in respiratory infections. 

How to measure humidity?

You will have to use a hygrometer to measure humidity. Here are some popular choices of hygrometers used by bearded dragon owners: 

#1 Exo Terra Terrarium Hydrometer

#2 Zoo Med analog dual thermometer with humidity gauge

#3 Repti Zoo Terrarium Thermometer and Hygrometer with digital display

#4 Zoo Med digital thermometer with humidity guage

How to lower humidity in a humid room

If you have a humidity level of above 40%, you will need to reduce it to the accept range of 30% to 40%. To reduce the overall humidity levels in your room, you will need lots of ventilation to lower the level of moisture in the air. Here are a few ways to lower humidity in your room: 

  1. Open the windows. This should create a good ventilation and airflow to help lower the humidity levels quickly. However, if you are living in hotter countries or during summer periods, this might not be so effective.
  2. Use an air conditioning: Switch on the AC with dry mode activated. Dry mode in AC helps to reduce humidity in the room fast. If there is no dry mode on your AC, you can also use a portable aircon with a dehumidifier such as the ones here
  3. Use a dehumidifier such as these ones here if all else fail. 

How to lower humidity in bearded dragon tank

Again, reducing humidity is all about increasing airflow. So having good ventilation is also important in your bearded dragon’s enclosure. Here are some of the best ways to quickly reduce humidity: 

  1. Opt for a mesh screen lid such as this one here.
  2. Use a shallow water dish instead of a larger thicker water bowl. If you live in countries with dryer climates, you can leave clean water in their dish and change daily. But if you are living in countries with moist climates, then it is not a good idea to leave water in their bowls. Instead offer your dragons water in smaller amounts more frequently and remove their water dish when they are done drinking. 
  3. Remove the water bowl entirely or move it as far as possible from the basking lights so it doesn’t evaporate so quickly will help prevent a rise in humidity levels. 
  4. Avoid misting your beardie’s cage too often. Spraying your bearded dragons with clean water for them to drink is fine but avoid misting the entire enclosure too frequently as that will increase moisture within the enclosure. 

How to Raise the Humidity in a Bearded Dragon’s Tank

If you have a humidity reading of below 30%, you will need to raise the overall humidity percentage. To do that, simply do the direct opposite of the above points. Instead of removing moisture into the environment, you want to add more moisture into the air. We can do that with the following simple tips:

  1. Place a shallow dish with water in your enclosure. If there is no drinking dish for your bearded dragon you can conveniently use their drinking dish for this.
  2. Place the shallow dish under basking light. This will help to speed up evaporation of the water into the air. Feel free to use a bigger larger dish if needed.
  3. Reduce ventilation. If you have a wire mashed lid for your tank, cover part of it. 
  4. Mist your tank more frequently. The cheapest and fastest way of all is to mist your tank with a spray bottle or a mister from Exo Terra. You can do this every 3 to 4 hours but not too frequently or it may annoy your dragons. 

Whether it is to raise or lower humidity, always remember to double check your hygrometer readings to confirm humidity before and after making changes. 

Step #7: Choosing the best bearded dragon substrate

When setting up a bearded dragon’s enclosure, one of the most common questions is probably what kind of substrate suits them best. Truth is there is no 1 best substrate, each has their pros and cons. But I do have a preference of some over the other. 

So in the next couple of sections, you will find a list of suitable substrates along with their pros and cons to make the right choice for yourself. 

Bearded dragons bedding from A to Z

Loose Particle Based Substrates

Loose substrates are often not recommended by most owners as they are afraid that their bearded dragons get impaction. 

Play sand

Play sand is a loose substrate that doest clump together with moisture. Hence the chance of impaction is lower. But that does not mean it is 100% impaction risk free. Hence, owners with play sand usually still avoid feeding their dragons within their enclosure. With that in mind let check out the pros and cons of play sand:

Pros

  • Does not clump together like most of other loose substrates.
  • Cheap to replace.
  • Mimics natural habitat.
  • Looks good aesthetically.

Cons

  • Like all loose substrates, it is harder to clean. 
  • Can breed bacteria from leftover food or poop.
  • Gets messy when feeding, not forgetting they might eat sand during their feed. Hence, it is safer to feed outside of the enclosure.

Calci/Vita Sands

This calcium substrate also known as vita sand is an all natural substrate made up of calcium carbonate. It is made ultra fine to reduce the chance of impaction (there are some divided opinions on this). They come in a variety of colors which you can use in alignment to the decor of your enclosure.

Pros

  • 5 Stars for aesthetics.
  • Mimics natural habitat.

Cons

  • Moisture can cause it to turn into hard sand or cement like substance. This can result in higher risk of impaction.
  • Vita sand is still like sand at the end of the day. Sand like substrate is known to harbour bacteria left over from their poop. 
  • Gets messy when feeding, not forgetting they might eat sand during feed. Hence, it is safer to feed outside of the enclosure.
  • Not digestible despite claims that they are safe to ingest.
  • Very loose and no traction for bearded dragon.
  • Harder to clean.
  • More expensive to replace.

Eco Earth or Coco Husk

Eco earth coconut fibre substrate is made up of coconut husk. This organic biodegradable substrate is more suited for reptiles or amphibians that love to burrow. Some owners with bearded dragons that love to burrow and dig can use coconut husk as substrate. 

Pros

  • Looks good aesthetically.
  • Absorbs smell and odor.
  • Good if your dragons like to dig or burrow.
  • Mimics natural habitat.

Cons

  • Clumps together with moisture.
  • Moisture in substrate can increase humidity.
  • Gets really messy.
  • Harder to clean.
  • May breed bacteria with large surfaces.

Repti Bark  

Repti bark is made from all natural bark from the tree. It absorbs moisture and releases it to increase humidity. This substrate is particularly good if your humidity levels are low and would like to increase it. 

Pros

  • Mimics natural habitat.
  • Good traction on the ground.
  • Increase humidity if that is needed.

Cons

  • Large surface area to breed bacteria.
  • High humidity can be a disadvantage if not intended.
  • Difficult to clean due moisture.
  • Can increase risk of Impaction.
  • May stain your bearded dragons.

Alfalfa Pellets

This is probably one of the least favourite substrates among bearded dragon owners. One reason is due to its ability to absorb and retain moisture. This may seem great but to most who are trying to reduce humidity, not so much. Alfalfa pellets is also a breeding ground for bacteria. 

Pros 

  • Retains moisture if you need higher humidity.
  • Biodegradable.
  • Lower impaction risk.
  • Low cost. 

Cons

  • Gets moldy with moisture.
  • Retains moisture – So if your tank already has high humidity then this will be a disadvantage. 
  • Really hard to clean.
  • Breeds bacteria.

Ground English Walnut Shells

Made of 100% organic ground English Walnut shells, this substrate mimics a natural desert habitat for your bearded dragons. It helps to stimulate digging and burrowing and retains heat. 

Pros

  • Provide a natural and beautiful desert like environment.
  • Good for dragons that like to dig or burrow.
  • Doesn’t clump as much as vita sand with moisture.

Cons

  • Wide surface area where bacteria can breed on.
  • Chance to cause impaction.
  • Gets messy.
  • Harder to clean.

Excavator Clay

Excavator clay is a clay substrate that can be moulded and formed into hills for climbing or tunnels for burrowing. This provides a safe yet natural habitat for your bearded dragons. 

Pros https://www.beardeddragon.org/forums/viewtopic.php?p=1800805

  • Looks good aesthetically.
  • Stimulates digging and burrowing.
  • Can hold shape and does not collapse easily.
  • Lower risk of impaction.

Cons

  • Small parts on the surface crumble after a while.
  • Can get sandy and dusty.

Bioactive

Bioactive substrate is used to create a self-sustaining natural environment that is able to break down wastes with the help of other living organisms thriving together. However, creating a self sustaining ecosystem can be quite a challenge.

Pros

  • Mimics natural environment
  • Allows burrowing and digging
  • Self cleaning: No cleaning required

Cons

  • Deep understanding of bearded dragons is required. 
  • Expert knowledge required on setting up natural habitat.
  • Expert knowledge required on other organisms and plants.
  • Can result in ill bearded dragons if not set up properly.

Non-Particle Substrate

Tile Flooring Substrate

Tiles are one of the most popular non particle substrates that are used among dragon owners. This is due to the convenience of cleaning and zero risk of impaction. Some examples of tile substrates: Slate, linoleum or ceramic titles are all suitable for bearded dragons.

Slate tiles

Pros

  • Zero impaction risk.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Holds heat well.
  • Good traction for your beardie to walk on
  • Looks good aesthetically. 
  • Super affordable and easy to replace.
  • Help keep your bearded dragons nails trimmed.

Cons

  • Unnatural.
  • Not possible to burrow or dig.
  • Tiles can crack or chip if not handled well.
  • Might not fit nicely into your enclosure.

Ceramic tiles

Pros

  • No impaction risk.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Lightweight
  • Looks good aesthetically. 
  • Affordable and easy to replace.
  • Help keep your bearded dragons nails trimmed.

Cons

  • Unnatural.
  • Slippery – no traction
  • Not possible to burrow or dig.
  • Tiles can crack or chip if not handled well.
  • Might not fit nicely into your enclosure.
  • Don’t hold heat well.

Repti carpet

Repti carpet is made up from recycled plastic. It is cheap and easy to be replaced. Due to their abosorbent nature, bacteria might breed from leftover food and waste. However, repti carpet is still a popular choice among owners due to zero risk of impaction. 

Pros 

  • Zero risk of impaction
  • Cheap and can be replaced easily
  • Emulate grass

Cons

  • Unnatural
  • Can be stained
  • Harder to clean as it is absorbent
  • Faces and left overs remaining can allow bacteria growth.  
  • Get frizzy after a while.

Sand Mat

Similar to repti carpet, sand mat is popular due to zero impaction risk, these mats are also made to look like a natural desert habitat of your bearded dragons. 

Pros

  • Zero risk of impaction.
  • Cheap and can be replaced easily.
  • Emulate the desert environment.

Cons

  • Poop gets stuck due to uneven rough surface.
  • Difficult to clean.
  • Parts of the sand can fall off after a while.

Paper towel or newspaper

Paper towel is one of the cheapest and convenient substrates that is popular among owners. Once they are dirty, simply discard them and change to a new one.

Pros

  • No impaction risk.
  • Cheap and affordable.
  • Easy to clean. Just discard after use.

Cons

  • Not environmentally friendly.
  • Looks ugly
  • Sometimes bearded dragons might burrow under it
  • Easily torn.

Sources:

So what is the best substrate for a bearded dragon?

Each substrate has its pros and cons however, there are some that have a higher risk and some low risk of impaction. 

In general, most owners tend to avoid loose substrates because they are often viewed as high risk for impaction. 

impacted Bearded Dragon

However, some might argue that sand or loose particle substrate is part of bearded dragon’s natural habitat in nature. There are also owners who have used sand or other loose substrate for many years with no problem.

So if you plan to use loose substrate, play sand will be a lower risk option as they do not clump together like other loose substrates. 

Non particle substrates on the other hand tend to feel unnatural and look ugly but they are a safer option. As for recommendations, reptile carpet or paper towel will still stand out due to their affordability and convenience during cleaning (just throw and change to a new sheet).

Step #8: Add in bearded dragon tank supplies, decors and accessories

Basking spot: Setting up with log, branch, rock or any platform

Accessories such as log and rocks can be used as a platform to elevate your dragons and bring them closer to their basking light. 

bearded dragon basking spot

Here are some suitable accessories for your basking spot

Basking Rock

Rocks enhance the overall look of your enclosure and at the same time mimics a natural habitat of a bearded dragon. They are also good at retaining heat (depending on the type of rock). 

Note that most rocks you buy online are not real. If you prefer to pick up natural rocks do remember to disinfect them. 

Here is how you can disinfect your rocks:

  1. Boil rocks for 30 to 45 minutes in water 2 inches higher than the rock
  2. If your rock is not porous, you can also soak it in bleach water (90% water, 10% bleach) for 30 minutes.
  3. Let it cool down for about 30 minutes to dissipate remaining water
  4. Bake them in the oven at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes. 

Large Branch (Driftwood)

Driftwood is another common basking platform that enhances the look and feel of your dragons habitat. It also helps bearded dragons to exercise while climbing up to bask. 

Pro Tip: Do note that while it is convenient to buy natural driftwood online, you won’t know the exact shape or size of the driftwood that you are buying from till it is delivered to your home. it will be different from what you see in the picture from the seller unless driftwood you are buying is man made. 

So if you want the right size and shape, the alternative way is to pick one up from nature itself. Driftwood can be found along riverbanks, beaches or at the edges of lakes. But always bear in mind to disinfect everything that you pick up from nature as they may contain parasites or other nasty stuff. 

Here is how you can disinfect your driftwood:

  1. Prepare bleach water (90% water, 10% bleach)
  2. Scrub it with a brush using bleach water for about 20 to 30 minutes. You can also soak driftwood in bleach water for 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Leave it on the counter or under the sun to air and dry for a few hours. 
  4. Bake it at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes for additional disinfection. (please watch your oven as you bake to avoid any burning)

Basking ramp

Basking ramp is another popular option among owners. It allows your dragons to climb up closer to their basking light easily and at the same time act as a hideout beneath the steps. It is also a good exercise for your dragons to climb up to the top. It also looks good and can be use as a decorative feature in your enclosure. 

Hideout

Having a hideout such as a cave is not necessary but good to have for your dragons to cool down or hide when they are stressed. That said, there will be some bearded dragons that will not use the hideout at all. So it really depends on your dragon. 

Here are some hideout examples:

DIY hidebox

You can create your own hide box using a shoebox, styrofoam box or literally any types of boxes. 

Pros

  • Cheap or free.
  • Convenient

Cons

  • May take some time and effort to make.
  • May not last long depending on the material used.
  • Looks unnatural

Cave hideouts

Miniature caves are another good hideout option for bearded dragons. They also enhance the look of your enclosure to create a more natural habitat for your dragons.

Pros

  • Mimics real environment.
  • Looks good aesthetically
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Cost slightly more.

Here are some examples cave hideouts that are suitable for bearded dragon:

Exo Terra Reptile Cave

Zilla Reptile Shale Rock Den 

M.Z.A Reptile Rock Hideout 

Log hideouts

Logs that are empty within are a great decorative hideout for your bearded dragons. They are also not expensive compared to other hideouts. 

Pros

  • Mimics natural environment
  • Looks good aesthetically
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Cost slightly more

Here are examples of suitable log hideouts.

Zoo Med Natural Cork Bark

Zilla Reptile Bark Bend Hideout

Food and water dishes

While having food dishes are beneficial to your bearded dragon’s well being. It is not compulsory. Especially for food dishes, some owners might opt out of it entirely by doing scheduled hand feeding outside of their enclosure. 

Water dishes on the other hand are more important and it is good to provide your bearded dragon with constant 24/7 access to clean water. 

However if the humidity in your enclosure is high, a water dish can be emptied/removed and refilled again with clean water when necessary. 

You also do not want to use large bowls or dishes as it can further increase your humidity. 

If the humidity is low, it is good to always have a dish filled with clean water for your bearded dragon to access at any time. 

Note that you should always try to use a small and shallow bowl or dish to prevent an increase in your humidity or prevent your dragons from drowning in it. 

For food and water dish, there are many options but here are a few that i have personally used:

These mentioned below are all shallow dishes can be used for both food or water:

Exo Terra feeding dish

Exo Terra water dish

Zoo Med reptile rock food dish

Reptile food bowl

Zoo Med reptile ramp bowl

Zoo Med corner water dish

Protip: 

If you plan to place these dishes or bowls in the enclosure, make sure you place them away from the basking light to reduce evaporation and humidity. And bring them closer to the basking spot if you want the opposite effect. See Humidity section above for more information.

Other Decor

Hammock

Why do bearded dragons need a hammock?

A hammock is a great way to spoil your dragons. Though it is not compulsory to use a hammock, it is a great option to have for bearded dragons to climb, bask or rest on. And more importantly, it is not easy to get on the hammock so having one actually can help to stimulate activity as a form of exercise.

It is convenient for washing and is easy to set up. However, you have to take into consideration the size of your tank to make sure the hammock fits in the right position under the basking light. 

Popular options of hammock for bearded dragons:

Penn-Plax Lizard Lounger

This is a durable hand woven hammock made from 100% natural seagrass fiber. Suction cups on the hammock can be used to steadily hold the hammock in place.

Triangular Lizard Lounger with Jungle Climber

This is also another hand woven hammock made from natural seagrass. It is shaped in a triangular shape and can fit into corners of your enclosure. This lounger also comes with a jungle climber with vines to make them look aesthetically pleasing.

Mesh Reptile Hammock

The mesh hammock is made of a breathable soft nylon and comes with suction cups for easy setup. They are also made in a triangular shape to fit nicely into corners. 

Costing breakdown for a bearded dragon terrarium

Average cost for enclosures

Aquarium 

Aquariums generally cost between $300 to $500 for larger setups (example: 48Lx18Dx18H). This type of setup is usually for adult bearded dragons.

For a 10 gallon bearded dragon starter kit, it will cost around $100+. 

PVC cages

PVC cages can cost between 100 to 300 dollars for adult bearded dragon setups.

Vision cages

Vision cages can be very expensive. They can range between $1,000 to $2,000 and above for an adult setup. 

Average cost for UVB/UVA lights

  • Fluorescent tube UVB will set you back at about $25 to $30 
  • Compact Fluorescent UVB will cost about $11
  • Mercury Vapor bulb will cost about $40 to $50

Average cost for heat lamps

  • Ceramic Heat Emitter will cost about $20. 
  • Basking Bulb will cost about $15

Average cost for thermometers

  • An analog dual thermometer and humidity gauge cost about $6 to $7.
  • A digital thermometer humidity gauge cost about $25. 

Average cost of substrates

  • Paper towels can cost less than $5 dollars per roll that can last you a long time. Buying in bulk saves you more money. 
  • Reptile carpet cost about $13 dollars per roll 
  • Sand mat cost about $29 dollars per roll
  • Tiles can cost between $20 to $100 and above depending on their type. 
  • Bioactive Reptile Substrate cost about $60 and above.
  • Excavator Clay will cost around $17 to $20
  • Walnut Shells cost $7 for a 5 quart bag
  • Alfalfa Pellet cost about $35 to $60 depending on brand
  • Repti Bark cost $8 for a 10 quart bag
  • Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate such as eco earth or coco husk cost about $7 to $8  for a bag of 8 quarts
  • Vita/calci sand cost about $15 for 10lbs.
  • Play sand cost $50 for 50lbs.

Average cost for accessories and decor

  • Basking rock cost between $20 to $30 
  • Natural Malaysian driftwood cost $8 to $15
  • Basking ramp cost about $15
  • Reptile cave cost about $16 to $25
  • Hammock cost about $8 to $15
  • Water and food dishes cost about $5 to $15 depending on size.

Bonus: How to clean a bearded dragon tank?

Keeping up with hygiene is very important. Especially when a bearded dragon goes through a shedding process, it will usually mess up your enclosure.

If you have a young bearded dragon, the frequency of shedding can be higher. So cleaning their enclosure should be more frequent. 

Spot cleaning

Spot cleaning is a quick clean of the dirty areas in your enclosure. 

Frequency of spot cleaning: daily

Steps to spot clean:

  1. identify areas with poop, pee or shedded skin
  2. Removal of waste 
    1. For non particle substrate: Wipe poop or pee with a moist paper towel, pick up any shedded skin. If shedded skin is too flaky, bring your dragons out of the enclosure and use a mini vacuum .
    2. For those with loose substrate: Use a litter sifter scoop or sand scooper to remove waste without removing the substrate. 
  3. Remove any leftover food and water in dishes, wash them up. And refill the water dish with clean drinking water. *Do take note of your enclosure’s humidity. Please see the humidity section above.

Hard surface cleaning

Hard surface cleaning is to clean all hard surfaces that your dragons came into contact with.

Cleaning frequency: Weekly

Items required:

Steps to prepare:

  1. Prepare solution: 1 part bleach 10 part water and mix them up. 
  2. Fill up the spray bottle with bleach solution and spray on cleaning cloth.
  3. Wipe down surfaces where your dragons come into contact most often. 
  4. After cleaning, allow the cleaned surfaces to dry or wait for the bleach smell to be gone before placing your dragons back into the enclosure.

Deep cleaning 

Deep cleaning is to clean all surfaces and accessories that your dragons came into contact with.

Cleaning frequency: Monthly

Items required:

Steps to prepare:

  1. Bring your dragons outside of their enclosure in another secure location
  2. Remove all accessories and soak them in warm water.
  3. Prepare a solution in a plastic wash basin: 10 parts warm water, 1 part bleach.
  4. Cleaning of substrate:
    1. If you are using tiles, you can simply wipe it down with a cleaning cloth along with a bleach solution prepared in step 3. Or you can just replace the substrate if you are using paper towels, reptile mats etc. 
    2. If you are using loose substrates, you can just simply replace it or [lace them in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with tap water. 
  5. Completely wipe the inside of the enclosure with cleaning cloth and bleach solution. Leave the enclosure to dry.
  6. Scrub accessories that were soaked in warm water till they are clean and rinse them before placing them out to dry. 
  7. Once there is no bleach smell in the enclosure and it is fully dry, replace the substrates and accessories. 

Conclusion: What is the best terrarium for bearded dragons?

There is certainly no best terrarium but it is mostly based on personal preference. Some owners prefer it to look good or fit their home decor, some prefer it to mimic a natural habitat of bearded dragons. While many others look at affordability. 

What about you? What sort of terrarium or enclosure would you prefer? 

Let us know in the comments below! And if you like our guide please share it!

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