Bearded dragons are like any other reptile in that they cannot regular their body temperature as humans and other mammals do. Their body temperature is dependent on the temperature of their environment. Because of this, it’s up to a dragon’s owner to make sure his pet’s enclosure is kept at the proper temperature.
In order to get warm, especially upon waking, a dragon will often want to bask under a heat lamp. They love to do this on a flat rock, which will also be warmed by the heat. A wide piece of wood or other similar object also is welcome.
The ideal basking temp for a bearded dragon is between 92 and 110 degrees F. If the spot gets too hot, over 112 to 113 degrees F, the dragon will get overheated and may eventually have a stroke.
How Do I Know if My Bearded Dragon is Overheated?
If your dragon doesn’t use his planned basking spot or gets close to it but not right under the bulb, this is a good sign that the basking spot is really too hot for him. He’s showing you that he wants to get warm but not that warm. Reptiles will leave the basking spot before they get too hot.
This is one reason that there should be two temperature zones within a reptile enclosure. One zone needs to be cooler than the other, both for sleeping and to cool off if he gets too warm. Some sources encourage three zones, with a separate basking spot inside the warm zone.
Many reptile enclosure kits come with a thermometer that attaches inside the enclosure to give the owner a good idea of the internal temperature. Unfortunately, this just gives the owner a general idea of the overall temperature and does not give an accurate reading of any one spot.
A hand-held infrared thermometer that can be aimed at a particular spot will tell you everything you need to know about your beardie’s enclosure temperature in specific spots. Heat lamp bulbs can create hot spots where the temperature is much higher than indicated.
For instance, if the basking spot is equipped with some sort of artificial rock made of plastic, that plastic will heat up much more quickly and to a much higher temperature than will a natural basking surface such as a real rock or flat piece of driftwood. If your enclosure has tile flooring, which is popular with many owners for its ease of cleaning, the tiles may absorb more heat than you think, especially if they are dark-colored.
How Many Watts Should a Bearded Dragon Basking Light Be?
Usually, for a 40-gallon tank or enclosure, a 100-watt floodlight will provide a good basking temp for a bearded dragon. This varies with the tank size, how the lamp is mounted, how far away it is from the floor of the enclosure, and the general temperature of the room in which the enclosure is kept. For instance, if you have one of the less tall terrarium-type enclosures, you may be able to use a 75-watt bulb.
What is the Difference Between a Basking Lamp and a Heat Lamp?
Actually, the two terms mean essentially the same thing. Bulbs sold by pet stores as basking lamps are often coated with a substance that changes the look of the light, but it doesn’t really change the effect. Any ordinary light bulb can be used as a basking or heat lamp and is much less expensive.
Silvered reflector bulbs or spotlights in the higher wattages emit a more focused light and heat and provide a good basking temp for bearded dragon dragons. The infrared heat bulbs that are used in food service to keep food warm can also be used, although dragons do need white light. The main goal is to provide a warm and cool zone in the enclosure.
Providing light with UVB rays is just as important, as these rays help your dragon absorb calcium from his diet by allowing his system to form a chemical that eventually is turned into vitamin D3. Without this, your dragon will eventually develop one of several possible bone diseases or problems.
Lights that produce UVB rays also produce UVA rays, which are essential to keeping your dragon content. These rays alter the way your dragon perceives colors, among other things, and the lack of these rays can cause a little stress, even keeping him from being in the mood to breed and possibly shortening his lifespan.
Most fluorescent lamps will provide both UVB and UVA and should be left on for the same amount of time as the daytime heat lamp. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find one bulb that provides both heat and the proper UV rays. Need help getting your lights setup? read my article The Do’s and Don’ts of Bearded Dragon Light Setup.
How Long Should a Basking Lamp Be On?
Basking lamps are usually left on 12-14 hours per day in the summer, gradually changing to as little as 8-10 per day in the winter if your dragon wants to brumate. If he doesn’t, you don’t have to alter the lighting schedule. Your UV light should stay on for the same length of time.
Baby and young juvenile dragons usually want a slightly higher basking temperature, but this is achieved by mounting the heat source a little closer to the basking site, not lengthening the hours of use. The optimum basking temp for a bearded dragon that is a juvenile is between 100 and 105 degrees F, while babies under four months old like the basking temperature to be up to 110 degrees F.
How Can I Keep My Bearded Dragon Warm Without a Heat Lamp?
Many people use a ceramic heat emitter to provide heat at night when light isn’t needed. These look a bit like coiled fluorescent light bulbs and are usually black, but they don’t provide light, only heat. The problem is that if your power goes out, so does the heat emitter. What do you do when the power goes out?
One thing that will keep the heat that is already in the dragon enclosure is to put a blanket over the top to hold in the heat. Draping it partly over the sides if you have a glass tank will help as well, as glass will cool off rather quickly. Keep an eye on the enclosure thermometer. If it looks like the temperature is going into the danger zone, which is below 65 degrees F, you’ll have to try other methods.
One good way is to wrap your beardie loosely in a small blanket or pillowcase. Make sure he can still breathe, and “wear” him under your shirt. He’ll probably be comfortable enough and welcome the warmth so that he’ll just lay there, at least for a while.
If your dragon isn’t used to being handled, of course, this may present some problems. Emergencies like this are another reason to make friends with your dragon and get him used to being handled if he isn’t already.
Heat packs or hand warmers are useful as well. Just remember to wrap them in something so that your beardie’s skin doesn’t come into actual contact with the heat source. A self-heating pad, which holds and reflects the body’s own heat, can also be useful.
Putting a couple of hot water bottles inside a foam box and putting the whole business into your beardie enclosure will warm the environment without allowing the dragon to come into actual contact with the bottles, which is what you don’t want. You can also wrap them in a blanket if you don’t have a foam box. Of course, you’ll have to have some way to heat the water, as you’ll have to heat the initial water and also refill the bottles from time to time.
If you live in a place that suffers from power outages, such as parts of the country that suffer from ice storms every winter, you might well look ahead and plan for such an emergency. This will be especially important if your area has experienced long-lasting power outages at times. Neither you nor your beardie will stand for your carrying him under your shirt for three days and nights.
How Long Can a Bearded Dragon Go Without a Basking Light?
Remember that bearded dragons are essentially desert dwellers. They are used to a warmer environment than most humans and can’t regulate their body temperature. Your beardie can go without a basking light as long as he has some source of heat.
Many people use ceramic heat emitters to keep the beardie enclosure warm enough at night. If your power should go out, leaving your dragon without a heat source altogether, he can live without a specific heat source for 24 hours as long as temperatures in his enclosure don’t go below 65 degrees F.
If it gets cooler than that for a significant amount of time, he can get sick or even die. Even if this cooler period is limited, your beardie may recover but suffer some health issues.
Knowing what your dragon needs as far as heat and light are a couple of the things that need to be considered and provided when considering a dragon as a pet. You don’t have to go to a pet store and just buy everything a salesperson might recommend. Do a little research first, and you’ll be able to keep your new pet healthy, happy and warm without breaking the bank.