Merry Christmas everyone. This month I want to talk about an animal that would actually make a good pet for someone asking for a reptile for Christmas, the bearded dragon. You've probably heard of them or seen them in pet stores. If you haven’t, don't let the name fool you. Bearded dragons are super friendly and make really cool pets for the right person.
Bearded dragons are medium sized lizards that are native to Australia. They are found across the outback deserts because they like a hot and dry climate. They really do look like a dragon with a huge head and a rough, spikey skin. Their beard is a bunch of scales under their jaw that puff out and change color to scare off predators or signal mates. They grow to just over 2 feet long and are omnivores, which means they’ll eat anything, but they mostly prey on insects and sometimes small mammals.
Bearded dragons are totally harmless to humans but Australian scientists discovered a few years ago that they are very mildly venomous. But don’t let that scare you if you’re thinking about getting one as a pet! Their venom is only strong enough to stun a small mouse. Even if one did bite you, it would only make the area a little sore for a while.
Bearded dragons really do make great pets and I’ve had mine for 6 years now. His name is Loki and we love him. We got Loki as a baby from Patriot Pets in Cape Coral, which is my favorite pet store in Cape Coral. He was bred by the shop’s owner and none of the dragons for sale anywhere in the US are caught in the wild. Australia made that illegal over 50 years ago. People have been breeding them in captivity for so long now that they come in all sorts of beautiful colors. These kinds of dragons are called “morphs” and some can be really expensive. A normal beardie will usually cost about $50.
Loki was a cute little 6-inch lizard when we brought him home but he didn’t stay little for very long. Bearded dragons grow very fast and are full size in about 8 months. Over that time, they’ll eat almost anything you put in front of them. They like fruits and vegetables, especially berries, but really love crickets and super worms, which are not worms at all but a kind of beetle larva. Most pet stores sell these bugs and they’re not expensive.
Dragons are also super friendly and really like being held. They will learn to eat right out of your hand and are not aggressive unless you scare them. If that happens, they just puff up their beards and hiss a bit. Loki has never once tried to bite me and I've even dressed him up for Halloween. The Santa Dragon in the photo is someone else's pet we photographed at a reptile shop a few years ago. You can buy those outfits on Amazon.
A full-grown bearded dragon will need a large glass enclosure and special lights for heat and vitamins. Most pet stores have all this for sale as a kit for around $150, not including the animal. They do poop a lot when they’re little and you’ll need to clean it up every day but once they’re full grown they only go about once every week or two. That's a good thing because dragon poop really stinks, which is the only bad thing about them. Beardies can live up to 10 years so they’re more work than a goldfish but a lot cooler and more fun.
Also, we don’t have to worry about bearded dragons getting loose and becoming a problem here in Florida like pythons or iguanas. We get too much rain and that’s not normal for the desert climate where they’re from. There have been several of them spotted in the wild but these are definitely escaped or more likely released pets. They are a great first reptile and I’ve learned a lot by owning one. Live animals aren't toys so definitely do your research before adding one to your Christmas list. See you next month with another scaley creature.
Oasis Middle School, Cape Coral