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The Do’s and Don’ts of Bearded Dragon Light Setup

One of the biggest and most confusing aspect of owing a bearded dragon is the light setup. With all the options available and not knowing which ones are required can be a daunting task.

No worries this article will be going over the dos and don’ts when it’s time to setup your lighting for your bearded dragon.

Let’s Go Over the Do’s and Don’ts

The Do’s

– Do provide two kinds of lights. You’ll need a white light/heat lamp, which can be a simple household bulb, and the proper light producing UVB rays for bone development and maintenance.

– Do some research online to find the best types of lighting for your dragon’s needs. Even some packaging information can be misleading, so it’s best to know exactly what you need before you walk into the store. Research specific brands and specific products.

– Do keep your light/heat source at one end of the enclosure. Your beardie needs both a warm spot and a cool one. This is so that if he gets too hot, he can cool off.

– Do reduce the time your day light is on if your dragon decides to brumate, which is a kind of hibernation.

– Do turn on the light at least an hour before the first feeding. He needs to get his system going in order to properly digest and assimilate his food.

– Do get a UVB lamp that will give off its rays to cover two-thirds to three-quarters of the enclosure. Fluorescent tubes which give off sufficient UVB light are great for this. A T5 fluorescent will give off enough UVB rays.

They should be placed more toward the warm side of the enclosure at a height above the basking surface recommended for your particular bulb, allowing 1-3 inches extra for your dragon’s height. Dragons will move to the cool side if they get too much UVB as well as too much heat.

If you have a juvenile dragon in a smaller tank, you may be tempted to get a smaller UVB light to start with, but a better option is to get the larger size to start with and mount it at a greater distance. Eventually, you’ll need a larger enclosure for your beardie and you won’t have to buy another bulb setup.

– Do use natural objects in your tank for a basking spot if possible. A rock with a relatively flat top, at least with no sharp edges on top, will do nicely. So will a good-sized piece of driftwood.

The Don’ts

Many pet owners are sold nighttime lights with blue or green bulbs, but these are not necessary. A dragon needs heat at night if the temperature will fall below 65 degrees F, but not light. A ceramic heat emitter is a much better choice.

– Don’t just walk into a pet store and buy whatever is recommended for your bearded dragon light setup. While many pet stores have very knowledgeable people, some salespeople are just interested in selling you whatever they can and don’t have any more knowledge about certain things than what is already printed on the item packaging.

This can be very misleading. For instance, a well-known brand sells a UVB lamp for bearded dragons that doesn’t provide much UVB light at all. Do some research before walking into a pet store.

– Don’t use a UVB bulb with any kind of covering, such as a glass or clear plastic protector. These protectors will block the UVB rays. This means not having any enclosure glass or screen blocking the rays as well. With few exceptions, these lights should be mounted inside the tank.

– Don’t get just anything for a basking spot. Artificial rocks, especially plastic ones, can heat up too much. You know what your car dashboard feels like after it’s been in the sun. This is another reason to get a thermometer that will allow you to test specific spots. Even coated ceramic tiling on the floor of your enclosure can get too hot. This tiling is popular for its ease of cleaning, but it shouldn’t get too close to your heat source.

– Don’t be fooled by your UVB bulb. Just because it’s still working, it doesn’t mean it’s still providing UVB rays. These only produce UVB rays for between six months to a year. You should be able to find information on the limitations on the packaging. You can purchase a UVB meter to test your bulbs, but they can be a little on the expensive side.

What Lights Do You Need for a Bearded Dragon?

The main part of your bearded dragon light setup will be a white light that also provides heat. A white light will do this and provide some UVA rays that the dragon needs. Ordinary household light bulbs do well for this.

Pet stores often sell specialized basking lights, but these mostly have a slight coating that alters the color of the light provided. This is not necessary and actually does nothing to help the dragon, they just drain your wallet.

The best daytime light bulbs are clear bulbs, as they are brighter and produce more pure light. Halogen floodlights, which come in several sizes, do well as they provide a lot of heat. The light spectrum they produce is also very good. Floodlights often come with a coating on the sides that steers the light to the front, which gives you a light that is more aimed at the basking spot rather than being diffuse.

Your daytime light should be on for 12-14 hours per day, then turned off. A timer will make this easier. Your basking spot should be kept at 95-110 degrees F. Juveniles will prefer the warmer temperature, while older ones will prefer the cooler ones. Your basking spot should be at one end of the enclosure, providing a cooler side at the other end.

A great tool is a handheld or probe thermometer that can be aimed at a particular spot so you can get an accurate reading of the basking area and not the whole enclosure. A digital probe thermometer works well. The proper temperature enables your beardie to digest his food properly and is necessary for his well being.

A light that provides UVB rays is an essential part of your bearded dragon light setup. You’ll usually need a separate light for this, as there is only one kind available that does it all with one bulb. UVB light helps produce a chemical in the dragon’s body that helps him synthesize vitamin D3. They actually produce it in their skin. For more information read my article What’s The Ideal Basking Temp for Bearded Dragons?

This is essential for both bone growth and bone health. While giving vitamin D3 in the food does help to a certain extent, the UVB light is still a must to keep your beardie from developing Metabolic Bone Disease.

There are three kinds of UVB lamps: mercury vapor bulbs, fluorescent/linear tubes and compact or coils. The compact or coiled bulbs are not good at all for dragons. They won’t produce UVB rays for more than a month or two, even though the bulb itself keeps working, fooling the dragon owner into thinking he’s providing the necessary light when in fact he isn’t.

Add to that, even some reputable companies selling these lights specifically for reptiles have had their products linked to various health problems. These bulbs shouldn’t even be considered.

Mercury vapor bulbs provide the highest UVB output, comparable to a sunny place. They also provide white light and heat, and so are the all-in-one daytime lamp. They do tend to be more expensive, but they last longer and are stronger than fluorescent UVB bulbs. The dragon will move in and out of the basking area to regulate his exposure to the UVB.

They should be placed a foot away from the dragon hung on the outside, but the distance will vary with the particular light you get. Be aware that they are suitable only for larger enclosures. They usually need to be replaced yearly.

The most popular choice is the fluorescent tube. They provide a relatively good UVB output, comparable to a shady area on a sunny day. They also supplement the UVA rays put out by your heat lamp. Since the tubes are long, they provide evenly distributed UVB light. They can be used in any size enclosure and should be kept about six inches away from the dragon. They do need to be replaced every five months or so.

When choosing one, it’s best to pay attention to the microwatts of UVB they are listed to put out, rather than a percentage of the total light output. Dimmer bulbs will have a higher percentage of UVB light output, but that doesn’t tell you how much UVB you’re actually getting.

Night lights are really not necessary for your bearded dragon light setup. What your dragon needs at night is heat if your home’s temperature will get below 65 degrees F. Ceramic heat emitters are the best. Heat pads and hot rocks can cause burns on your dragon, so these should be avoided.

Timers are great for managing the lighting for your dragon. Many can run more than one light on one timer. That way you don’t have to rush home from a fun evening to turn off your daytime lights.

What is Metabolic Bone Disease?

Metabolic Bone Disease, also known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyrodism, is complex, and is the most common health problem that vets see in bearded dragons. It is especially prevalent in juvenile dragons, as they are experiencing a swift growth rate, including their bones.

The disease most often is caused by a diet high in phosphorus and low in calcium or vitamin D3, and/or a lack of exposure to UVB light. Signs to watch out for include lower jaw swelling, softening of the bones in the face and jaw, and swelling in the hind limbs.

Shaky legs are also a symptom, as many dragons with this disease can no longer push and hold themselves up in the normal stance. As the disease worsens, it dragon may also display muscle twitching, appetite loss and energy loss. The disease will eventually produce soft bones that are susceptible to greenstick fractures, or even broken bones.

How Many Lights Do You Need for a Bearded Dragon?

Actually, you just need two lights. You need a lamp that provides white light and heat. Fortunately, common household lightbulbs do just that. You also will need a light that specifically provides UVB rays. These should be on 12-14 hours per day. You don’t need a night light unless this is how you provide heat should it be needed at night.

How Close Should a Bearded Dragon Be to the Basking Light?

This depends on the size of your enclosure and the wattage and heat output of the light. Typically, a foot of distance is considered a good starting place. This is where having a thermometer that can be aimed at specific spots is a good investment.

The important thing is getting the right temperature in the basking zone without getting your light source so close that your dragon can touch it and potentially burn himself. Many people with screened tops on their enclosures will put their light fixture face down on the screen. Experiment with various placements until you get the temperature between 95 and 110 degrees F on the basking surface.

Can a Regular Light Bulb Be Used as a Basking Light?

It most certainly can. These bulbs provide white light and heat. You don’t need to spend extra money for a pet basking light, which really only changes the light color. Clear light bulbs are even better. Some floodlights have a coating around the cone-shaped sides which directs the light to one place.

What Wattage Bulb Does a Bearded Dragon Need?

Usually, a 100-watt bulb will do fine for a 40-gallon enclosure. With halogen bulbs, you can use a bit less wattage, such as 75 watts. With UVB lights the microwatts are the important measurement, not the percentage of UVB vs total output the bulb emits.

Can You Use a Chicken Heat Lamp For Reptiles?

Many people are intrigued by the idea of using the type of lamps that are used to keep chicks warm. This is because these lights are usually less expensive than those specifically touted for reptile use. They do work for heat, but many of them produce light more in the infrared range, so your dragon won’t get the kind of UVA rays he needs from these. It’s better to stick to ordinary light bulbs for daytime use.

Conclusion

The proper lighting is essential for your dragon’s growth and health. Remember that beardies are essentially desert creatures not made for living in your home without some help. Once you get your setup in place, you won’t have to think about it much, especially with a timer, except for monitoring the life of the UVB bulb. Keep your beardie healthy and happy.