Natural habitat for reptile house

Bearded Dragon Accessories and Enriching Life

Bearded dragon accessories range from food bowls to burrows to branches. Many accessories can be as simple as something sourced from our backyards.

Environments that provide enrichment and encourage natural behaviours have been linked to more activity, leaner body condition and longer lives (Rossi, 2006).

Environment Affects Behaviors

Captivity creates stress (Denardo 2006). Stress can be caused by many factors such as being confined and being dominated by a cage mate (Denardo 2006). The factor stressing the animal does not have to be real, it only has to be perceived to be real.

Frequent changes, high levels of disturbance (handling and passing by) and unstimulating environments can result in stress responses in reptiles which may decrease the effectiveness of the immune system and as such, increase disease (Wilkinson 2015). Reptiles kept in small housing are more likely to have greater loads of parasites (Wilkinson 2015).

There are three main goals for enrichment:

1. To promote species-appropriate behaviors
2. To provide behavioral opportunities
3. To provide animals with control over their environment

Fleming and Skurski, 2014

Well thought out environments that more closely resemble natural habitat and provide natural stimulation are an important element of good care.

Here are 7 natural behaviors that the right bearded dragon accessories can encourage:

  1. Thermoregulating
  2. Resting at night in the dark
  3. Brumation
  4. Foraging
  5. Drinking
  6. Sheltering
  7. Digging
  8. Climbing
cage furnishings for bearded dragons
Cage furnishings such as well placed branches, rocks and natural style burrows add to the environmental enrichment.

Environmental enrichment doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, natural accessories are about the cheapest accessories you can provide. Bearded dragon accessories can be as simple as branches, vines and rocks. When well placed these natural accessories can provide an extraordinary amount of enrichment.

When the right bearded dragon accessories and environment are not provided, negative behaviors will likely surface. Studies with reptiles are limited, but the evidence so far is clear that their behaviour and well-being is affected by their environment. Here are 7 behaviors mammals respond with when provided an inadquate environment:

  1. Repetitive behaviour
  2. Lethargy
  3. Aggression
  4. Fear
  5. Destructive behaviours
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. Self-mutilation

Zoos Getting Reptiles Actively Engaged

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 a well designed 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.

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.

Basic accessories will 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. Some accessories may require securing in the habitat to provide stability.

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.

All items intended to be bearded dragon accessories should be cleaned and prepared prior to use to eradicate parasites (i.e. mites), dangerous chemicals (i.e. pesticides and herbicides) and so on. This is also the case for housing or accessories being transferred from one animal to another even in your own collections. See the post cleaning branches from outdoors or general cleaning house and accessories.

Super Useful Branches and Wood

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

Here are 3 uses and benefits of providing bearded dragons branches and wood.

1. It is Natural for Bearded Dragons to Climb

Bearded dragons naturally climb, they are semi arboreal. Providing branches upright will promote natural climbing behavior and it increases the available surface area the enclosure offers.

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.

2. Choose your Own Basking Position

Bearded dragons know the best position to be at, the right distance from heat and light, for thermoregulation. Placing branches upright towards the heating and lighting allows the bearded dragon to choose an optimal basking position. 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.

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

3. Branches are Useful for Personal Grooming

Bearded dragon accessories really should include branches. Branches provide a great surface to rub on to help remove skin when shedding.

Helping your bearded dragon shed naturally with accessories
Providing natural rough surfaces for your bearded dragon to rub on will help with shedding

Branches are handy for rubbing femoral pores on keeping them cleaner. Branches are even useful to help keep nails trim as rough surfaces wear down nails.

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

Choosing Branch and Wood Accessories

Select tree branches that have a rough surface. A branch at least as wide as the reptile provides more stability and ease of use.

I have personally used branches from Australia trees and shrubs such as Grevillea, Banksia and Jarrah. If it is not clear if the species of trees and shrubs available in your area are suitable then the safer option is to buy branches from the local reptile shop.

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

If you cannot get tree branches then something like rough sawn jarrah or untreated garden stakes from the hardware store might do the trick.

If the surface is not rough enough for claws to grip well then gouge the wood with a saw, claw of a hammer or a axe/hatchet. Garden stakes may not be as aesthetically pleasing as branches, but it would suffice until you can locate something more suitable.

wooden stakes can be turned into climbing accessory for bearded dragons
Rough wooden stakes can be turned into climbing accessory for bearded dragons if branches are not available.

Beach wood can be purchased from pet shops. It is attractive but not easy to get in large sizes. Branches are available in some pets stores, but rather expensive.

natural branches for bearded dragons
Natural branches are available in some pet stores.

There is a great list of wood 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. However it is reasonable to assume that if it is toxic to a human, it is not suitable for any habitat going in your house anyway.

Some of the well-known woods to avoid are cedar and perhaps even pine trees may present issues.

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

Rocks Make Super Useful Bearded Dragon Accessories

Rocks are great in a bearded dragons house. Combined with branches they can create so many benefits. Here are 3 great reasons to use rocks in a bearded dragons house:

1. Basking Accessory

Rocks make a great basking accessory.

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

2. Personal Cleaning Station

Rocks make for a personal cleaning station for bearded dragons. They can rub their femoral pores on them, scratch off shedding skin and the rough surfaces help keep sharp nails in check.

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

3. Hiding or Burrow Accessory

Rocks can be stacked together to provide a basking station on top of them and a place to hide underneath them.

Best Rocks for Bearded Dragons House

The surface of the rocks need to be at least slightly rough. This will help the bearded dragon grip and provide a good surface for rubbing on. Smooth rocks will not provide sufficient grip or abrasive surface.

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.

Rocks with sharp edges can be smoothed slightly by chipping off pieces with a hammer, using a metal file or even a grinder. As long as you cannot cut your finger on the rock edges then they should be fine.

If suitable rocks are not available in your area, then they can easily be bought at hardware or landscaping stores. Most natural rocks are fine to use.

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.

Vines Create Activity and Look Amazing

One of the best bearded dragon accessories for both getting them active and add to an appealing enclosure display, is vines.

Artificial vines are easy to bend and entwine. They easily retain the form created. Vines add to other climbing accessories such as branches. Vines can be intertwined with branches to provide more stability for both the vines and branches.

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

Thick vines are useful for climbing on as they are. The thinner vines can be used to bring branches and different elements together by entwining them together.

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.

Plants for Bearded Dragon House

Bearded dragon accessories can also include live plants.

Any plant placed in the enclosure will be climbed on with the grace of a bull in a china shop and may also be eaten.

Keeping multiple plants will enable swapping the plants out as they become tired and need a rest and recovery period. If eating the plants is part of the plan then vegetables such as broccoli plants can be deliberately grown to be part of a rotation that allows them to be eaten and recover.

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.

The well known Zookeeper Susan M Barnard published a list of plants that are toxic to reptiles in her book Reptile Keeper’s Handbook. The book was initially published in 1996 but the lists remain useful.

A list of safe plants can be found at Anapsid has published a list of safe plants.

Fake Plants Can be Safe and Much Easier

One alternative to real plants is artificial plants. 3 benefits of fake plants are:

  1. They provide a hiding place when grouped together.
  2. Great for another thing to climb on if they have a strong stem
  3. Aesthetically appealing to humans, makes things even more enjoyable.
fake plants enhance a bearded dragon cage
Bearded dragon accessories that can enhance the look of the environment include fake plants. Fake plants need to be strong, able to withstand being climbed on, cleaning and sturdy enough to withstand being bitten.

Keep artificial plants away from heat to reduce the risk of fire.

When selecting fake plants check they cannot be pulled apart easily by the bearded dragon and can be cleaned. If the plant could be given to a 2 year old child to play with and not present a hazard then it probably passes the test for a bearded dragon.

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

Burrows and Hiding Spots

Burrows and hiding spots 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.

sand box and branches for bearded dragon
Sand box and branches for Otto the bearded dragon. Courtesy of Justin Peter.

Hay is really cheap, easy to get hold of and great for piling up for a hiding spot.

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.

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 slate rock burrow
Carla Dolloway’s Norman with his handmade slate rock cave
Bearded dragon sleeping upright on his branch underneath artificial foliage
Bearded dragon sleeping upright on his branch underneath artificial plants

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.

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

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.

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

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

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 a good solution and could well result in further stress. Seek veterinary assistance if you believe your bearded dragon is sick or just allow it to rest if it is well. It is capable of regulating its own UVB if it is healthy.

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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.

Heated rocks should not be used. Heat rocks are often associated with burns (Wilkinson 2016).

The Life of a Wild Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragon’s in the wild can travel long distances for their size. Thompson and Thompson (2003) found that 19 Pogona minor that they tracked, travelled around 115 meters a day. Some days there was little movement and others they could travel more than 225 meters. They were tracked climbing into and over bushes just under 0.5 meter to 1.5 meters. It was estimated that for every 28 meters traversed, a bush or pile of logs was used, perhaps for foraging or cover.

Thompson and Thompson (2003) found the Western Bearded Dragon would either forage or bask in saltbush and bluebush. The Western bearded dragon would be found asleep in the early mornings on top of the bushes, under the bushes in leaf litter or at the top of large bush branches.

In the warmer parts of the day, Thompson and Thompson (2003) located the Western Bearded Dragons out in the open and they seemed to have a love of eating bull ants. Some were found to either frequent lots of different bull ant mounds or found with a mouth full of bullants.

Thompson and Thompson (2003) concluding discussion in their study noted that the Pogona minor has a wide foraging range and travel large distances compared with most other lizards.

In the post on the wild bearded dragon’s habitat we explore the natural environment.

  1. Almli, L. M., & Burghardt, G. M. (2006). Environmental Enrichment Alters the Behavioral Profile of Ratsnakes (Elaphe). Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Vol 9(2): 85-109.
  2. 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. Animal Acts. The Shocker
  3. Rossi, J. V. 2006. General husbandry and management. In: Mader DR, editor. Reptile medicine and surgery. St Louis: Saunders. p. 25–41.
  4. Smithsonian Zoogoer. (2012, Sept-Oct). Retrieved 2014 from http://nationalzoo.si.edu
  5. Thompson, S., and Thompson, G. G. 2003. The western bearded dragon, Pogona minor (Squamata: Agamidae): An early lizard coloniser of rehabilitated areas. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia ECU Publications. 86 (1)
  6. Wilkinson, S. L. (May, 2015) Reptile Wellness Management. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice Vol 18(2): 281-304

4 thoughts so far, whats yours?;

  1. We have had our Bearded Dragon Fuego for over 11 years. We adopted him when he was a bit over one year old. He has slowed down a lot and we have to hand feed him at this point but he is happy, especially when in the CA sun. He enjoys his green leafed veggies with the occasional cricket or blueberry and loves to take his daily walk around our supervised yard. He loves his warm water soaks and hanging out with his humans. Think what has been most important to his life is our daily interactions. Fuego loves to be handled and held. He thrives when talked to and included. He knows our dogs and will climb on one of them to sunbathe in the afternoon.

    1. Thank you for sharing that Sabina. Such a mutually rewarding experience for Fuego and yourselves. Bless you for taking such good care of Fuego.

  2. 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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