Natural habitat for reptile house

Bearded Dragon Accessories

Branches Adding Decor for your Bearded Dragon

Branches are one of the best accessories for bearded dragons, particularly since they are semi arboreal. Branches are a must to enrich the environment and make it as natural as possible, the taller the better.

Placed upright towards the heating and lighting will allow your bearded dragon to move itself closer or further away from the heating and lighting locating itself at an optimal basking height. It is far more capable at determining where it should bask than us humans, and its needs can vary from one day to the next.

pet shops may sell branches for reptiles
Some pet shops sell large branches suitable for bearded dragons.

The rough nature of the wood is a great surface to rub on when shedding and keep claws a little more trim. Femoral pores will also be rubbed on the wood making it easier for the animal to keep them clean.

branches trim bearded nails and femoral pores
Branches help keep bearded dragon nails trim and femoral pores cleaned.

If you cannot get tree branches then something like rough sawn jarrah from the hardware store might do the trick. f you can’t get rough sawn timber that is suitable then you could use a saw to make 1 mm depth cuts along it diagonally multiple times to create a surface that claws can easily grip on. Won’t be as aesthetically pleasing as natural wood but it would suffice until you can locate something more suitable.

Beach wood can be purchased from pet shops. It is attractive but not easy to get in large sizes.

Branches as decor for your bearded dragon
Branches can be used as decor for your bearded dragon and provide for a number of its needs

Select branches that have some roughness to them that will help little claws to grip, but not enough that it is easy to cause injury. Of course out in the wild they will come across all types of surfaces, but in captivity we can remove unnecessary risks.

Some of the well-known woods to avoid are cedar and perhaps even pine trees may present issues. Susan M Barnard (zookeeper) published a list of plants that are toxic to reptiles in her book Reptile Keeper’s Handbook which is a valuable resource. Susan’s list is not focused on trees, just plants in general that may be dangerous.

There is also a great list online (The Wood Database) specifically created to highlight woods that may cause allergies or be toxic to woodworkers. Of course this is for humans, not directly related to reptiles. But it is likely reasonable to assume that if it is toxic to a human, it is not suitable for any habitat going in your house anyway. Australians are able to research trees and other vegetation naturally occupied by their species of bearded dragon.

Handicapped bearded dragons, such as those missing claws, toes or legs may need considerable adjustments to climbing accessories. Providing extra wide branches or wood planks with sloped ramps made of the same should allow them to continue some natural activity. Vines are unlikely to be suitable for the handicapped.

Vines

Vines for bearded dragons provides more surfaces and textures. Artificial vines are easy to bend and entwine. They easily retain the form created.

Thick ones are useful for climbing on as they are and the thinner ones can be used to bring branches and different elements together by entwining them together. Three or so small vines intertwined will be sufficient to create a single climbing surface or a large bearded dragon.

accessories for bearded dragon vines
Vines can connect elements of the bearded dragon habitat and secure them by intertwining them.

Vines are easily incorporated in any area and can easily be attached to rings and other fittings. Vines can be made longer by tying multiple lengths together.

The coating on vines will split if the bend it must achieve is too great for the material. This can be avoided by loosely bending it overself, do not make it tight.

Vines for your bearded dragon are easily fitted and increase the usable space of housing
Vines for your bearded dragon are easily fitted and increase the usable space of housing. This vine is attached to the housing wall by looping it in a metal irrigation pipe fitting.

Avoid pulling the outer coating of the vine tightly when wrapping it around objects. The coating will separate from the rope underneath.

Tearing of vine casing
Vine casing has a reasonable tolerance to bending and manipulation but harsh handling or bends may result in tearing. This vine in this image will still last for years despite the tearing but care must be taken to ensure it is cleaned or it will become a harbor for pathogens.

Rocks make a big Difference

Can you put rocks in a bearded dragon house? Yes rocks are great for bearded dragons house. They serve as a:

  • basking accessory,
  • valuable abrasive surface useful for rubbing femoral pores on and scratching itches especially when shedding, and
  • they can be stacked together to make a great hiding spot.

Rocks are so easy to get. If you can’t source them from your back yard then they can easily be bought at hardware or landscaping stores.

Rocks have many uses for a bearded dragon including scratching an itchy belly

Rocks have many uses for a bearded dragon including scratching an itchy belly

Clay bricks can also be useful and, like rocks, may be stacked to create a burrow which increases the uses of these easy to source accessories.

The surface of the rocks need to be at least slightly rough, a smooth rock won’t provide quite the same rubbing opportunities. Have multiple rocks at different heights to provide more choices. Additional rocks will also make it easier to switch out for easier cleaning.

bearded dragon cage furnishings such as rocks from nursery
It is easy to source natural furnishings for bearded dragons housings such as rocks from a local nursery or landscape supplier.

Plants for the Habitat

Real plants can make a wonderful addition. A few considerations need to be addressed for the comfort and safety of the bearded dragon and ease of care. Plants can increase humidity. If the humidity is already at its upper tolerance level consistently then real plants are best avoided. Avoid broad leaf plants if humidity levels are high as they will increase the humidity more.

Expect that any plant placed in the enclosure will be climbed on and potentially eaten. That is fine! Don’t provide a plant and then get disappointed if it is cropped at or parts broken, it is a given that this is going to happen. So have multiple plants even if they are the same species, that can be interchanged to give the plants a rest and recovery period. You do not need to use a perennial type plant for this, even annuals will do. Broccoli plants will even be sufficient if grown in a pot. Broccoli will last for more than one year.

Avoid chemical fertilisers and certainly herbicides on any plants used.

A list of safe plants can be found at Anapsid has published a list of safe plants. As mentioned previously, a list of poisonous plants can be found in the Susan Barnard’s book Reptile Keeper’s Handbook.

Artificial Plants

Artificial plants for enclosure
Test small joins on artificial plants to ensure they cannot be separated easily and become a swallowing hazard.

Artificial plants

One alternative to real plants is artificial plants. It does not matter where the plants are purchased from as long as they cannot be pulled apart easily and can be cleaned. The only purpose artificial plants will really serve is to create covered secluded areas for when they want to hide or rest so multiple plants will be best. Some of the pots the plants come in may not be suitable or might not keep it stable. They might provide hiding places for crickets or be difficult to clean. If the plant is worth getting and the pot is not suitable then cut the plant out and secure it to whatever is suitable.

Artificial plants should not have lots of small joints which can be easily broken off and digested. If you notice your bearded dragon nipping at the plants, remove them from the habitat. Licking is fine and expected.

The artificial plants should not be anywhere that they can heat up and cause burns or catch fire.

Hay

Far cheaper than using artificial plants, is hay. Hay is easy to pile up, flatten out, pop it in a box or in anyway set it up to suit the situation it is for.

The post on brumation show its usefulness during brumation. It allows you to gently and quietly lift up the covers (hay) on your sleeping beauty beneath it. Or, it can be a quick and easy way of temporarily covering up a floor surface for feeding on if a loose substrate is being used.

When you are cleaning, just pick the hay up and take it out to your favourite tree in the garden. It’s a natural product unlike artificial plants and it costs just a few dollars for a bag at a pet shop.

Prepare the hay by placing it in a container with water, swish it around and then spread it out to dry in the sun. This will just remove the dust that could potentially be a problem in a confined area.

Hay as added accessory for bearded dragon
Hay makes a good additional accessory for bearded dragon and its cheap!

The cheapest Burrows or beds you can get right now

bearded dragon slate rock burrow
Carla Dolloway’s Norman with his handmade slate rock cave

In the wild bearded dragons are known to rest in trees, bushes, leaf litter, etc. During winter studies on some of the bearded dragon species by Wotherspoon have indicated they actually spend a lot of time in the trees, moving from one side of the tree to another to catch a little sun. They will also move up or down the tree adjusting their height seeking out the warmer levels. Of course Australia is massive and the vegetation is vastly different from one area to another. So for some, there will not be tall trees, they will be lucky if they can find a bush. But the ground will present opportunities to hide.

Clearly you aren’t going to provide a habitat with tall trees, but understanding the sort of environment your bearded dragon is evolved for will help create an environment that supports it. If your bearded dragon likes to rest vertically, then branches will be important. If it likes to rest on the ground then some form of burrow might be better. Providing both gives it the opportunity to change its mind as needed.

Bearded dragon sleeping upright on his branch underneath artificial foliage
Bearded dragon sleeping upright on his branch underneath artificial foliage

Burrows can start off as cheaply as a cardboard box. Stuffed with a little hay and it is a fabulous hiding place. Cardboard box hides are fabulous during for any new bearded dragons which will be in quarantine to start with as the boxes can be switched out for new during cleaning and the old one popped in the bin. Going a little further and something more natural could be a combination of rocks and branches brought together perhaps with a little plant coverage.

Branches, rocks and dried vegetation brought together to create a hide-away
Branches, rocks and dried vegetation brought together to create a hide-away

Burrows can also be simply a collection of branches or artificial vegetation clumped together to provide solitude. Rather than use artificial vegetation, natural dried out vegetation (hay even) can make a great hideaway.

Another simple burrow can be made from rocks and branches stacked. The configuration is as unlimited as one’s imagination.

If you are not convinced to make your own from natural accessories then purchase a half log hut from Amazon.

Charlene Crowe's bearded dragon in his log burrow
Charlene Crowe’s bearded dragon in his log burrow

Burrows should be placed on the cool end of the habitat. If the bearded dragon remains in the burrow and does not seek time under UVB light then it could be going into brumation, it could simply want some time resting, it could be quite stressed and in need of a better environment or it could be ill. Removing the burrow when it is being used is not conducive to its emotional well being. Seek veterinary assistance if you believe it could be ill (including with parasites) or just allow it to rest if it is well. It is capable of regulating its own UVB if it is healthy. If it is not behaving normally, then review what you are doing.

Dishes for food and water

Another place to save money is the water and food dishes. The water dish can simply be the base of a pot plant. It does not need to stay in the habitat, simply offer water during the hottest parts of the day and remove the water later. Or if the habitat is suitable and care is taken then water can stay in the habitat.

Bearded dragon drinking from dish
Bearded dragon drinking from a pot plant base purchased to be used as a water dish

Food dishes are easy, you don’t need one. Using one can create problems by reducing activity, it is a risk of getting fat or perhaps just chips away at the need to move at all until it does little but stay in one spot for most of the day. Spread the food out, let it move around to eat, don’t lose a huge opportunity for environmental stimulation.

Can you put Water in your Bearded Dragons house

You can put water in your bearded dragons house, if suitable housing has been provided. It doesn’t need to stay in there all day but if you want to keep it in there all day then buy the right sized housing and keep it clean. Far too often people buy tiny glass tanks and issues occur. In small housing the habitat becomes too humid, the water isn’t kept clean, or it is kept closer to heat than it should be and increases the rate pathogens and parasites multiply. When it comes to habitats, go big and keep it clean.

Environmental Enrichment

bearded dragon basking on rock
Bearded dragon basking on a rock in an outdoor house.

Make this a cheap exercise, there are plenty of places to spend money on with pets, but this doesn’t need to be one of them, or at least not a lot. Other accessories that can add to the basics are artificial vines and plants. Live plants may be used in situations where it is practical.

cage furnishings for bearded dragons
Cage furnishings such as well placed branches, rocks and natural style burrows add to the environmental enrichment.
Helping your bearded dragon shed naturally with accessories
Providing natural rough surfaces for your bearded dragon to rub on will help with shedding

The basic enrichment accessories will be used to encourage and support natural behaviours such as climbing, digging, hiding, drinking, eating, basking and resting. Not only will the right accessories support their health and wellbeing indirectly, but also directly by keeping femoral pores and nails in check, and support shedding.

bearded dragons housing furnishings
Bearded dragons in a petshop given natural furnishings in their housing.

Keep in mind that accessories should not be able to trap or injure your pet. Some accessories may require securing in the habitat to provide stability.

All materials should be cleaned and prepared prior to use to ensure parasites (i.e. mites), dangerous chemicals (i.e. pesticides and herbicides)  and other harmful bodies are removed if present. This is also the case for any housing or accessories being transferred from another animal whether that is within your own collection or purchasing second hand.

Environmental Stimulation-changing life in captivity for the better

Natural habitat for reptile house
Providing natural habitat for your reptile encourages normal behaviours and can be quite aesthetically pleasing.

The addition of well thought out environmental stimulation for any captive animal is an important element of good care. The effects of keeping animals in environments lacking suitable stimulation in mammals is well known resulting in responses such as:

  • Repetitive behaviour,
  • Lethargy,
  • Aggression,
  • Fear,
  • Destructive behaviours,
  • Loss of appetite, and
  • Self-mutilation.

Studies with reptiles are limited, but the evidence so far is clear that their behaviour and well-being is affected by their environment.

A Nile soft-shelled turtle that was intent on self-mutilation was provided with multiple objects including balls, sticks and hose made into a hoop to distract it from harming itself. This was successfully achieved as the turtle focused significant attention to interacting with the objects and spent more time being active (Burghardt, Ward, & Rosscoe, 1996). Snakes provided an enriched environment were found to explore and habituate new environments quickly, and to have greater problem solving abilities (Almli & Burghardt, 2006). At the National Zoological Park in Washington Komodo dragons have displayed playful activity where they participate in play with zoo keepers including tug-of-war with objects, playful interaction with objects such as boxes, and removing notepads from the keepers pockets. (Smithsonian Zoogoer, 2012)

Dr Emily Weiss (Animal Behaviourist) and zoo curators worked on enriching the environment of lizards at the Sedgwick County Zoo removing them from standard box type enclosures and introducing ‘habitrails’ consisting of tubes and shoots. To add to stimulation the tubes and shoots are dismantled and reassembled in new configurations varying the environment. This resulted in increased activity with at least one lizard active at all times. (Jones, 2003)

For pet bearded dragons we often see stress responses such as glass surfing, banging noses on cages and deliberately eating substrates.

The goals of the environment include increasing behavioural diversity whilst reducing abnormal behaviour, improving the ability to cope with changes and increase the environments utilisation. These goals can be met by providing a large enclosure, accessories that encourage natural interaction and making changes that add diversity over time.

What are the best bearded dragon accessories? The best bearded dragon accessories are cheap and natural accessories such as rocks and branches. Placed in a well thought out design can make all manner of basking, climbing and hiding spots. This saves money buying unnecessary gimmicky furnishings such as hammocks while making the world of difference to your bearded dragon’s psychological and physiological well-being.

You can collect rocks and branches from anywhere they are available. If there are no areas close by to collect natural materials from then they may be sourced from landscaping yards or even firewood and clay bricks may serve some purpose.

  1. Burghardt, G. M., Ward, B., & Rosscoe, R. (1996). Problem of reptile play: Environmental enrichment and play behavior in a captive Nile soft-shelled turtle, Trionyx triunguis. Zoo Biology, 15 (3), 223-238.
  2. Almli, L. M., & Burghardt, G. M. (2006). Environmental Enrichment Alters the Behavioral Profile of Ratsnakes (Elaphe). Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 9(2), 85-109.
  3. Smithsonian Zoogoer. (2012, Sept-Oct). Retrieved 2014, from http://nationalzoo.si.edu/JoinFonz/Join/Zoogoer/Zoogoer_September_October_2012.pdf
  4. Jones, K. (2003, Summer). Animal Acts. The Shocker

2 thoughts on “Accessories and Enrichment”

  1. We have had our Bearded Dragon for six months, our baby Hercules. He’s a little longer than my fingertips to my elbow now (with his tail) and lives in an EXO TERRA Front Open Terrarium 36 x18 x18 inches. He’s held and cuddled everyday sometimes for an hour or two at a time! Is that too much? His UVB light is on about 13 hrs a day, I should research how many hours he’s supposed to get of UVBs. But he’s been getting restless and glass dancing a lot. He’s really curious and wants to get down and explore the house but we’re afraid he’ll get lost or stuck somewhere. We got him a leash and heard you can train them so we’ll look into that. Also someone gave us a wire guinea pig pen they used for their beardie but he doesn’t relax in it for long, her investigates and tries to climb the sides. I think we’re going to work on branches to climb and more to do in his terrarium. Any suggestions?

    1. I would recommend you research more on what their natural environment should be. Letting him loose could be an issue as you have suggested and certainly easy to lose them. Large outdoor enclosure and a bigger indoor one would be better. He should have climbing accessories, big branches are ideal. He will likely want to rest up high as well. If you want to provide the best for him then understand his nature and provide the environment that encourages natural behaviours. For more on UVB settings go here https://beardeddragonsworld.com/bearded-dragon-heating-and-lights/

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