romaine lettuce veggies for bearded dragon

Diet, Food & Nutrition for Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are generalists in their diet. In the wild the baby bearded dragon diet is mostly invertebrates, the juvenile bearded dragon eats a range of invertebrates and become omnivores by the time they become adults. The adult bearded dragon diet is mostly vegetation.

Nutritional disorders in pet bearded dragons are very common and easily avoided. Nutritional disorders may be caused by environmental factors such as small enclosure size, poor lighting and heating, cohabitants, substrate or directly by food.

What Foods Can Bearded Dragons Eat?

Being generalists, there are a vast range of foods that bearded dragons can eat including invertebrates and vegetation.

Foods high in oxalates and goitrogens do not need to be excluded from the diet, they have some value. However they are fed in moderation. Oxalates bind calcium and trace minerals making them unavailable. This is as much a consideration for humans as it is for any animal.

Foods high in oxalates include:

  • Peas
  • Potato
  • Spinach
  • Beet greens

Foods high in goitrogens include:

  • Cabbage
  • Mustard greens
  • Kale
  • Other cruciferous plants.

Bearded Dragon Food List

Here are the lists of foods for bearded dragons. Some vegetation is referred to differently in Australia as compared to United States, Canada or perhaps even United Kingdom. For example, we referred to bell peppers as capsicum and cilantro as coriander.

All foods are intended to be part of a range. Diversifying foods, providing a range of foods offers a broader range of nutrients and day helps prevent overloading on any particular nutrient or anti nutrient.

Consult your vet when formulating a diet. Your vet will be able to assess husbandry practices, state of health and other factors which influence what is good to feed, or not.

Food lists are broken down as follow:

  • Daily: Can be fed daily.
  • Occasionally: Can be fed weekly.
  • Warning: May be fed in small amounts very occasionally to a healthy bearded dragon. Glucosinolate over 50 mg/100 g fresh weight or high oxalates

What Greens and vegetables can I feed my bearded dragon?

The following is a list of vegetables for bearded dragons for adults and juveniles. Baby bearded dragons (hatchlings) should be on invertebrates rather than vegetables. For ideas on how to get your bearded dragon to eat vegetables see the post how to get your bearded dragon to eat greens.

Leafy Greens and Vegetables Daily List. Nutrient data is based on mg per 100 grams.

FOOD CALCIUM PHOSPHORUS Ca:P RATIO
Beans snap green, raw 37 38 0.97:1
Capsicum, bell peppers, raw 8 17 0.47:1
Carrots, baby, raw 32 28 1.14:1
Carrots, frozen unprepared 36 33 1.09:1
Carrots, raw 33 35 0.94:1
Clover      
Collards, frozen unprepared 201 27 7.44:1
Collards, raw 232 25 9.28:1
Dandelion greens raw (Taraxacum officinale) 187 66 2.83:1
Grape leaves, canned 289 34 8.5:1
Lettuce Romaine or Cos fresh 33 30 1.1:1
Turnip greens, frozen 118 27 4.37:1
Turnip greens, raw 190 42 4.52:1
Turnips frozen 23 20 1.15:1
Turnips raw 30 27 1.11:1
Zucchini inc skin, raw 16 38 0.42:1

Leafy greens and vegetables occasionally list.

FOOD CALCIUM PHOSPHORUS Ca:P RATIO
Alfalfa sprouts, raw 19 65 0.29:1
Beans snap green, frozen unprepared 42 32 1.31:1
Bok choy, Bok choi, Pak choy, Pak choi (chinese cabbage) 105 37 2.84:1
Broccoli leaves, raw 48 66 0.73:1
Cabbage red raw 45 30 1.5:1
Cabbage savoy 35 42 0.83:1
Cabbage, raw 40 26 1.54:1
Carrot tops      
Cauliflower 22 44 0.5:1
Cauliflower frozen unprepared 22 35 0.63:1
Collard greens 232 25 9.28:1
Endive 52 28 1.86:1
Escarole (broad leafed endive) raw      
Kale curly raw      
Mulberry leaves      
Mustard greens, frozen unprepared 116 30 3.87:1
Okra raw 82 61 1.34:1
Peas, green frozen unprepared 22 82 0.27:1
Peas, green raw 25 108 0.23:1
Peas, podded frozen 50 51 0.98:1
Peas, podded raw 43 53 0.81:1
Radish fresh raw 25 20 1.25:1
Rocket fresh raw 214 63 3.4:1
Squash acorn, raw 33 36 0.92:1
Squash butternut raw 18 52 0.35:1
Squash, button raw 6 34 0.18:1
Sweet potato – Cook (see notes on preparing foods above) 30 47 0.64:1
Sweet potato leaves 78 81 0.96:1
Turnip greens      
Watercress fresh, raw 120 60 2:1
Yam, raw 17 55 0.31:1

Leafy greens and vegetables every so often in small amounts.

FOOD CALCIUM PHOSPHORUS Ca:P RATIO
Beet greens 117 41 2.85:1
Beets, beetroot raw 16 40 0.4:1
Broccoli, frozen unprepared 56 50 1.12:1
Broccoli, raw 47 66 0.71:1
Brussels sprouts frozen unprepared 26 62 0.42:1
Brussels sprouts raw 42 69 0.61:1
Celery stalks      
Chard, swiss raw 51 46 1.11:1
Coriander, Cilantro raw 67 48 1.4:1
Grape leaves, raw 363 91 3.99:1
Hibiscus leaves      
Kale, raw 150 92 1.63:1
Mustard greens 115 58 1.98:1
Parsley 138 58 2.38:1
Potato 12 57 0.21:1
Silverbeet stems      
Spinach 99 49 2.02:1
Spinach fresh, raw 53 46 1.15:1
Purslane      

Fruit list

Fruit should only be fed in small portions, for example, 5% of the diet or as a treat. Fruit is often soft and mushy, this can lead to periodontal disease which is very common in bearded dragons. In addition, obesity is all too common and fruits contribute to that with their sugar content.

In addition, soft diets, especially where fruit is involved is connected with periodontal disease. The best part of knowing this is that you have control over preventing damage to your bearded dragons teeth.

Damage to your bearded dragons teeth will often show in swellings in the mouth, brown teeth and gums, black teeth and gums and other variations of that. Sometimes it isn’t obvious at all, as the Melbourne Zoo found out back in 1989. For more on protecting teeth see the post on teeth and disease.

What fruits can bearded dragons eat? Here is the list of fruits you can feed your bearded dragon.

FOOD CALCIUM PHOSPHORUS Ca:P RATIO
Apples raw with skin 6 11 0.55:1
Apricots, raw 13 23 0.57:1
Bananas, raw 5 22 0.23:1
Blackberry 30 29 1.03:1
Blueberry 11 11 1:1
Cantaloupe, rockmelon raw 9 15 0.6:1
Cranberries 8 11 0.73:1
Figs, dried 162 67 2.42:1
Figs, raw 35 14 2.5:1
Grapes, red or green 10 20 0.5:1
Kiwifruit gold raw 28 31 0.9:1
Kiwifruit green raw 34 34 1:1
Mango 11 14 0.79:1
Mulberry 20 38 0.53:1
Papayas, raw 20 10 2:1
Pears, raw 9 12 0.75:1
Strawberry, raw 22 24 0.92:1
Watermelon, peeled 5 14 0.36:1

Insects

Without an endoskeleton few invertebrates contain a sufficient calcium, however they have sufficient phosphorus (Divers and Mader, 2005).

Ideally bearded dragon housing is setup to allow insects to be chased and caught which provides natural enrichment (Divers and Mader, 2005). Alternatively a feeding habitat can be set up.

The substrate being used in the housing needs to be considered when feeding in an enclosure. Feeding off loose substrates of any sort can be dangerous in a captive environment.

Uneaten invertebrate should be removed after a set period of time, i.e., 1/2 an hour.

Invertebrates that may be purchased commercially as bearded dragon food included:

  • Locusts
  • Crickets
  • Mealworms and mealworm beetles
  • Superworms
  • Butterworms
  • Waxworms and was moths
  • Silkworms and silk moths
  • Cockroaches
  • Fruit flies
  • Soldier flies and soldier fly larvae (high in calcium)
  • Houseflies
  • Earthworms and red wrigglers (high in calcium if fed on calcium rich soil (Divers and Mader, 2005))
  • Springtails (good for small bearded dragons, not large as they are so small)

Other invertebrate that may not be available commercially but make good reptile food are:

  • Stick insects
  • Lacewings
  • Katydids
  • Snails (calcium carbonate in the shell (Divers and Mader, 2005)
  • Slaters, sow bugs, pill bugs

Nutritional value of selected insects

The nutritional quality of the insects is important. All the insects should be gut loaded to specifically target nutrients required by bearded dragons.

 Rusty Red Cockroach nymphs – Blatta lateralis
Live food crickets
Cricket adult – Acheta domesticus
Live food silk worm for bearded dragon diet
Silkworms – Bombyx mori
Black Soldier Fly larvae – Hermetia illucens

 

(aka Reptiworm)

live food mealworm beetle
Mealworm beetle – Tenebrio molitor
Estimated # per 2.5 g6523018
Moisture1.73g1.73g2.07g1.53g1.59g
Protein0.48g0.51g0.23g0.44g0.59g
Fat0.25g0.17g 0.04g0.35g0.14g
Calcium0.96mg1.02mg0.44mg23.35mg0.58mg
Phosphorus4.40mg7.38mg5.93mg8.90mg6.93mg
 
live food superworm

 

Superworm – Zophobas morio

bearded dragon waxworm

 

Waxworms – Galleria mellonella

live food earthworms

 

Earthworms – Lumbricus terrestris

bearded dragon butterworms

 

Butterworm – Chilecomadia moorei

live food mealworm

 

Mealworms larvae – Tenebrio molitor

Estimated # per 2.5 g4812620
Moisture1.45g 1.46g2.09g1.51g1.55g
Protein0.49g 0.35g0.26g0.39g0.47g
Fat 0.44g 0.62g 0.04g0.74g0.13 g
Calcium0.44g0.61mg1.11mg0.31mg0.42mg
Phosphorus 5.93mg 4.88mg3.98mg5.63mg7.13mg
 Complete nutrient content of four species of feeder insects, Zoo Biology 00:1-15 M D Finke, 2012 Complete nutrient composition of commercially raised invertebrates used as food for insectivores, Zoo Biology 21:269-285, M D Finke, 2002

Can bearded dragons have egg?

Bearded dragons can have cooked egg for protein (Stahl and Donoghue, 2010). Boiled eggs were added to the diet of bearded dragons at the Philadelphia Zoo in very small portions. An entire salad split between multiple reptiles included approximately 9 boiled eggs to approximately 10 kg of vegetation. (Bentley et al, 1997). That is less than 1 egg per kilo of vegetation.

Can I feed my Bearded Dragon Wild Insects?

Yes you can feed bearded dragons wild insects (Stahl and Donoghue 2010). It is part of a recommended diet by some our most influential doctors of veterinary science for bearded dragons and referred to as ‘sweepings’, as you sweep the grass with a net.

It goes without saying that you want to be sure that the insects have not been contaminated with poisons (i.e. pesticides and herbicides). In addition, anything invertebrates poisonous to bearded dragons should not be included.

Can Bearded Dragons Eat Frozen

Bearded dragons can eat frozen vegetables and fruit ( Stahl and Donoghue, 2010). There is some nutrition loss with frozen vegetables and fruit, fresh is best. The food chart provides information on a range of frozen foods.

Bearded Dragon Food

When Should I Feed?

Feed your bearded dragon at the same time that it needs to bask (Stahl and Donoghue 2010). Allow hours in between feeding and when the temperature will go back down for the day to ensure adequate time for digestion.

If you want to provide more opportunities for activity then the feeding can be in the spread out over many hours in the ‘heat of the day’.

For reptiles the POTZ (preferred optimum temperature zone) is very important for the digestion of food. If the temperature is too low it will adversely affect its ability to process the food and could result in malnutrition if not rectified.

bearded dragons are ectotherms and need suitable environment temperature to warm up
When should you feed your bearded dragon?
Ectotherms, such as bearded dragons change their body temperature with the environment.
Endotherms, such as cats generate metabolic heat to maintain their temperature.
Unlike cats (endotherms), you should feed your bearded dragon (ectotherms) when the temperature goes up.

What, How much and How Often Should I feed my bearded dragon?

You should feed your bearded dragon approximately 10% of its ideal body weight, give or take.

As a guide for reptiles as a whole, it is generally accepted that they have 10% of the energy requirements as that of mammals (Voe 2014). This is important to keep in mind when assessing volumes and food types.

Simpson (2015) has raised that the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) has a short gut not suited to fermenting large volumes of fibre. In addition, soft leaves, fruit and soft bodied insects, and even preparation of hard foods by grating them, place bearded dragon’s at risk of periodontal disease. Hard bodied insects and tough vegetation is better suited. The post on bearded dragons teeth and disease delves into this subject more.

Simpson (2015) recommends adding some native Australian vegetation such as Eremophilas sp., Hemiandra pungens, Croweas, Correas and Grevilleas.

Feeding baby bearded dragon’s

Baby bearded dragons can be fed daily (Johnson 2006) to multiple times in a day.

Feed baby bearded dragons (neonates) a range of invertebrates. Some vegetation may be included.

What vegetable can baby bearded dragons eat? Baby bearded dragons (hatchlings) can eat from the same vegetation range as adults in the lists below but are unlikely to eat much of it, if any.

Baby bearded dragons are going through rapid growth and need calcium and to support them. Mistakes at this age with calcium and D3 can quickly lead to metabolic bone disease.

Sunshine without anything in between the bearded dragon and the suns UVB rays negates the need to supplement with oral vitamin D3, and may eliminate any mistakes made in UVB lighting. As always, when it comes to D3, the sun will do more good than any supplement. See the post Guide to Calcium and D3 by Dr Ahmad.

Hatchlings will chase active prey such as grasshoppers. This changes as they move into adulthood where they will be more inclined towards sedate, slower moving prey.

Feeding Juvenile Bearded Dragon’s

Juvenile bearded dragons can be fed daily (Stahl and Donoghue 2010, NC State Veterinary Hospital).

Feed juveniles a range of insects (invertebrates) and introduce vegetation.

The research by Wotherspoon (2007) covered earlier in the post showed that the wild Pogona barbata did not consume vegetation until 80-100 mm (3-4 inches). That is based on the diet in the wild which promotes growth naturally, unlike the captive diet which can often cause rapid growth earlier than nature intended.

Juveniles will chase active invertebrates such as locusts.

Juveniles are vulnerable to metabolic bone disease. For support on preventing MDB see the post on Metabolic Bone Disease and What to do About It by Dr Buchanan. Sunlight is a key to absorption of calcium.

Feeding Adult Bearded Dragon’s

Adult bearded dragons can be fed daily to every second day (Stahl and Donoghue 2010, NC State Veterinary Hospital, Johnson 2006).

By pre-adulthood feed bearded dragons more vegetation and continue with a range of invertebrates. Recommendation for ratio of vegetation to insects range between 50-90%.

Gimmel et al (2017) leans towards the 90% vegetation mark for bearded dragons. This comes post a number of surgeries and autopsies suggesting that gallstones are on the rise in bearded dragons with diets excessively rich in fat and protein. The bearded dragons in the study had a diet high in insects mostly mealworms, superworms, crickets and locusts.

Research by Wotherspoon (2007) shows a lot of vegetation is eaten in the wild by adults, 90% plus. They do not eat active insects as adults but instead select ants and other easy to capture invertebrates. Males in the wild may eat more vegetation than the females.

For the adult bearded dragon diet the recommended proportions of the diet vary:

  • Doneley et al (2018) recommend 60% invertebrates to 40% vegetables.
  • Stahl and Donoghue (2010) recommend 60-75% commercial food with the remainder made up of invertebrates.
  • Oonincx (2015) recommends a variety of invertebrate species and leafy vegetables rich in n3 FA’s.

It is likely there will be days where it will not eat at all, if at all. Some days it may eat less than others.

Be flexible and adjust as required to suit the needs at the time. Daily feeding, providing smaller frequent meals works well for many insectivorous, herbivorous and omnivorous lizards in their active times of the year (Voe 2014). Factors that may influence the quantity and frequency of feeding include:

  • biological state – growing, gravid, shedding
  • brumation
  • environment
  • current condition – health, overweight, underweight

Bearded dragons are ectothermic so they maintain the desirable body temperature through their environment rather than using their own energy. Humans can expend 80% of energy on maintaining warmth.

As pets, bearded dragons are often overfed, mixed with the inability to utilise the additional energy due to environmental restraints, the lizard is only able to deposit it as fat leading to obesity.

bearded dragon fat belly
Belly flop by Justin Peter’s Otto

Obesity is very common in pet bearded dragons. The post on Is My Bearded Dragon Fat or Skinny explores ways to prevent it.

Some folks are inclined to ask “how many crickets do I feed my bearded dragon?”. This statement indicates further understanding of the bearded dragons diet is needed, variety is important. A range of invertebrates are an important part of feeding bearded dragon.

How to Prepare Foods for Feeding

Dusting Invertebrate

Invertebrate should be dusted before feeding. For invertebrate that supplements stick to well they may be dusted in a bag. For invertebrate that powders do not stick to so well, such as mealworms, place them in a shallow bowl with calcium powder and offer to your bearded dragon.

Invertebrate may be coated with a vitamin and mineral power once or twice a week.

Calcium supplementation is dependent on multiple factors including age, gravid and so on which is covered in depth in the post on creating healthy bearded dragons – guide to calcium and D3 with DVM Amna Ahmad. For those curious, that post also covers why we dust insects for bearded dragons when they don’t get it in the wild.

How small to chop food for my bearded dragon?

Chop food for your bearded dragon in slices rather than cubes. The slices should thin enough that it can get its teeth through it but big enough that it cannot swallow it without taking a few chews on it first. This will help with:

Shredded or grated carrots, potatoes and other hard foods

Can bearded dragons eat grated or shredded carrot, potatoes and other hard foods? Yes but they shouldn’t. Grating and shredding softens foods, making it easy to swallow without mastication and puts them into the ‘soft’ food basket that can contribute to periodontal disease. More on that in the post on bearded dragons teeth healthy.

Do I need to Cook for my bearded dragon?

Can bearded dragons have cooked pumpkin or squash? Yes can bearded dragons have cooked pumpkin or squash. However the bearded dragon doesn’t need pumpkin or squash cooked (pumpkin is a type of squash).

Providing rougher and crunchy foods helps with keeping periodontal disease at bay (post on keeping bearded dragons teeth healthy here). Cut the pumpkin into slices thin enough to easily get its teeth through.

Why do I need to cook sweet potato for my bearded dragon? While you do not have to cook squash for bearded dragons, you do need to cook sweet potato. Sweet potato has trypsin inhibitors which need to be deactivated.

Trypsin is an enzyme involved in the breakdown of many different types of proteins including as part of digestion.

Trypsin inhibitors occur in a wide range of foods such as chickpeas, legumes and soybeans, despite that the foods offer many nutritional advantages. Many of these are used for dietary protein, in particular for animals.

Trypsin inhibitors are easily addressed in sweet potato. Cooking at 90°C (194°F) or higher for several minutes is sufficient to inactivate trypsin inhibitors (FAO 1990).

For context, water boils at 100°C (212°F) (with some minor variation for where you are at compared to sea level).

The sweet potato can be cooked in the microwave, oven or in a pot. Only use water for cooking, do not add oil.

Foods Dangerous for your Bearded Dragons

Foods Dangerous for your Bearded Dragons

FoodDescription
Foods High in FatFoods high in fat impede calcium metabolism.
Acacia eriolobaExceedingly high in Oxalates. Raw 476 mg/100g. All parts toxic. Known to have caused the death of human infants after consumption. May cause mutations and birth defects.
Acacia glaucescensAccumulates nitrate. May rise to toxic levels dependent upon growing conditions. 'Very high' nitrates bracket.
AsparagusExceedingly high levels of Oxalates, boiled 675 mg/100g. Contains saponin considered toxic to ectotherms, levels unknown.
AvocadoAll parts toxic. Do not feed. Contains persin. Seek veterinarian treatment immediately if consumed.
Bamboo ShootsContain high levels of cyanogenic glucosides, sweet varieties can contain up to 50 times less HCN than bitter with some as low as 20 mg per kg.
Beets raw and boiled (beetroot)Contain saponins considered toxic for ectotherms, estimated 3.1-3.5 g/kg.
Beet GreensExtremely high in oxalates with varieties differing from 777.1 to 1224.0 mg 100g.
Blue Couch (Cynodon)Contains saponins considered toxic to ectotherms, 0.14-1.3 g/kg. Nitrate data unknown, however considered to be in the 'very low' bracket.
Broad BeansKnown to accumulate sufficient quantities of cyanogenic glycosides to resulting in poisoning of livestock.
Cassava (Yucca) root rawKnown to accumulate sufficient quantities of cyanogenic glycosides to resulting in poisoning of livestock.
Hollyhock (Althaea rosea) leaves and flowersFrom the Nightshade family. Glycoalkaloid levels higher than that of tomatoes and aubergine. Contain caffeic acid and proteinase inhibitors.
Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense)Contains saponins considered toxic to ectotherms, 0.14-1.3 g/kg. Nitrate data unknown, however considered to be in the 'very low' bracket.
LambsquartersFrom the Alliaceae family. Contains saponins which are considered toxic to ectotherms. Esimated 1.0 g/kg.
LeekKnown to accumulate sufficient quantities of cyanogenic glycosides to cause poisoning of livestock.
Native Couches (Brachyachne)Risks of high oxalic acid (1.5 mg/g) and cyanogenic glycoside with young shoots being as high as 7700 mg HCN/kg. Cooking aids reduction. Processed and canned shoots are likely to have low to undetetable traces.
OkraKnown to accumulate sufficient quantities of cyanogenic glycosides to cause poisoning of livestock.
OrangeCitrus fruit are not recommended.
PokeweedHigh in Oxalates.
PotatoesKnown to accumulate sufficient quantities of cyanogenic glycosides to resulting in poisoning of livestock. Small portions may not cause issues, however not recommended.
PurslaneOxalic acid levels extremely high. Some studies averaged leaves at the 16 leaf stage up to 45% lower than the younger 8 leaf stage. Phytates are exceedingly high (8.236 mg/g). Best not fed or fed with extreme caution.
RhubarbExceedingly high levels of oxalate. Do not feed. Stewed 860.0 mg/100g. Canned 600mg/100g.
Sorghum spp.Contains saponins considered toxic to ectotherms, 0.14-1.3 g/kg. Nitrate data unknown, however considered to be in the 'very low' bracket.
Soybean & products including TofuSoybeans contain saponins considered toxic to ectotherms, between 0.9-43 g/kg. High in phytates. Tofu is high in fat, approx 7% and 1.3 mg/g oxalates (very high). See research article link for further information on Soy from humans perspective. "...trypsin inhibition decreases with processing. The problem is that the methods used to remove or decrease the isoflavones can create troublesome side-effects for man..." Cambridge International Institute for Medical Science, The Physician's Concise Guide to Soy Fiction
SpinachExceedingly high levels of oxalates. High in nitrates, caution required. 5064 mg/kg leaves, 5910 mg/kg stalks.
Sudan GrassContains saponins considered toxic to ectotherms, 0.14-1.3 g/kg. Nitrate data unknown, however considered to be in the 'very low' bracket.
Swiss ChardKnown to accumulate sufficient quantities of cyanogenic glycosides to resulting in poisoning of livestock.
feeding big insects to bearded dragons

Do Bearded Dragons Chew Their Food?

Understanding the data in the food tables

The data comes from national food databases and research. However, use data on food lists as a generalisation only. You cannot pick up foods from the supermarket or even from your garden and get the same figures.

The gem is, that having access to data means you can make informed decisions, backed up by data. This helps reduce confusion and uncertainty in your decisions.

There are many factors that can influence the level of nutrients and anti nutrients recorded for any fresh produce including:

  • the way in which it was tested,
  • fertilisers used,
  • the condition of the soil,
  • the time of day it was picked,
  • conditions of transportation,
  • whether it is new leaves or old,
  • the cultivar and so on.

One example of this is the oxalates that can be found in spinach which is commonly considered to be too high in oxalates to use as a feed. Research shows there can be a huge range between cultivars with the Winter Giant containing 400-600 mg/100 g fresh weight (Mason et al, 2000) whereas others came in at double, 700-900 mg/100g (Gontzea and Sutzescu as cited in Mason et al, 2000).

National food databases used for the data include The Australian Food Composition Database and US Department of Agriculture.

What Do Bearded Dragons Eat in the Wild?

My bearded dragon doesn’t eat greens is a common complaint of pet owners. Looking at the diet of the wild bearded dragon gives may give clues as to why. Bearded dragons eat in the wild a range of leaves, flowers, fruits and invertebrates.

Research has shown us that the Pogona barbata and Pogona vitticeps start out life eating a range of invertebrates and become omnivores as they enter into adulthood. What’s more, in some research males ate more vegetation than females. This could go at least part ways to explain why some people are successfully able to feed vegetation in large proportions and others just can’t.

The same is not necessarily so for the Pogona minor which may prefer a higher ratio of invertebrate throughout its life than plant matter.

Research by Oonincx et al (2015) showed that in the stomach contents of 10 adult bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps), just over 60% was made up of invertebrates with 95% of that being termites. Invertebrates that made up the remainder included spider, locust, centipede, dragonfly and mosquitos.

Interestingly the research by Oonincx et al (2015) also showed a very small portion of indigestible material (2.3% of stomach content) in the stomach. The indigestible material included plastic, grit and degraded bone. It was proposed that the degraded bone could potentially be an aid for how bearded dragons get calcium in the wild. The post on calcium covers more on the subject of why we dust insects for bearded dragons when they don’t get it in the wild.

Research by Thompson and Thompsons (2003) on the Pogona minor noted that some of the bearded dragons were moving between bull ant mounds and one was found with a mouth full of bull ants it was eating. Their study did not delve into the stomach content.

Wild Pogona minor minor bearded dragon in Western Australia
Wild Pogona minor minor (bearded dragon) in Western Australia.

Pianka (2005) published observations of Pogona minor (Dwarf Bearded Dragons) that he had spent 6 years collecting over a period of almost 40 years. His observations of what the Dwarf Bearded Dragon eats in the wild included grasshoppers, beetles, termites, insect larvae, ants, wasps, phasmids and other bugs.

Grasshoppers made up the majority of the diet at 30%, beetles 17% of the diet and termites almost 12% of the diet (Pianka. 2005).

Plant matter of the Dwarf Bearded Dragon was as low as 21% of the diet being a mix of grass, seeds, bark, flowers and other plant material that was not identified (Pianka. 2005).

The stomach contents of 5 wild Pogona barbata killed on the roads included a range of cockroaches, grasshoppers, locusts, weevils, ants, bullants (Myrmecia gulosa and Myrmecia tarsata), katydids, matchstick grasshoppers, dung beetles, christmas beetles and bees (Rose, as cited in Wotherspoon 2007). The vegetation was not described.

Wotherspoon (2007) studied the stomach contents of 89 free ranging Pogona barbata (wild bearded dragons) and found for the invertebrate that just over 50% was ants and the rarest of the invertebrates were centipede, grasshopper, locust and caterpillar (total of 7 in the entire range). Dandelion and clover were the main vegetation. Both of these are introduced species, not native to Australia. Other vegetation included flowers, Kangaroo grass (Themeda australis), Glycine spp and Xanthosia spp.

Incidentally dandelions are very high in protein. Research by Ghaly et al (2012) found dandelions to contain 4.70% protein. As a guide, apples had 0.26% and sweet potato 2.57%. Would be fascinating to know if this somehow influences the bearded dragons preference to it.

Wotherspoon (2007) found adults bearded dragons eat mostly plant matter and the majority of animal matter being ants, beetles and other invertebrates that were easy to catch. The vegetation was not chewed but found in pieces of 3-5 mm long. Juveniles were found with plant content only after reaching a snout to vent size of 80-100 mm (3-4 inches). They also ate a wider variety of invertebrates including active species like grasshoppers and locusts than adult bearded dragons.

Research by Wotherspoon and Shelley (2016) was able to find differences in diet between females and males and even further, differences within males based on size. Females fitted within the typically omnivore type of profile and ate ants. Juvenile bearded dragons would eat active prey including flying invertebrates. The males ate a large proportion of vegetation, with the larger the male the higher the proportion of vegetation to a point of being herbivores. None of the vegetation had been chewed and the main insect eaten by any adult was ants (unlike juveniles).

In a previous study by Wotherspoon (2007) he found the vegetation content of some adults was so high (90% or more) that it was suspected that the odd insect was consumed (mostly ants) by accident while eating vegetation.

Wotherspoon and Shelley (2016) found that juveniles require a high protein diet that supports growth. Females need higher levels of protein and fatty acids than males for reproduction purposes.

The Wild Bearded Dragons Diet

Here is the summary of what insects bearded dragons eat in the wild from the studies mentioned earlier and the vegetation. In the wild, their range of foods will extend past this list, particularly in the what vegetation bearded dragons eat.

VEGETATION INSECTS (INVERTEBRATES)
DandelionTermites
CloverAnts
FlowersDragonflies
Grasses (Kangaroo grass – Themeda australis)Mosquitos
Glycine sppCockroaches
Xanthosia sppWeevils
Caterpillar
Locusts
Grasshoppers
Katydids
Matchstick grasshoppers
Beetles (including dung beetles and christmas beetles)
Bees
Wasps
Spiders
Centipedes
Insect larvae

References and Further Reading

  1. Aly R. Abdel-Moemin. 2014. Oxalate Content of Egyptian Grown Fruits and Vegetables and Daily Common Herbs. Journal of Food Research; Vol. 3, No. 3
  2. Akhtara, M. S.; Israrb, B.; Bhattyb, N.; Alic, A. 2010. Effect of Cooking on Soluble and Insoluble Oxalate Contents in Selected Pakistani Vegetables and Beans. International Journal of Food Properties. 14: 1, 241 — 249 DOI: 10.1080/10942910903326056
  3. Bentley A, Toddes B, and Wright K. 1997. Evolution of diets for Herbivorous and Omnivorous Reptiles at the Philadelphia Zoo: From Mystery Toward Science. In Proceedings of the Second Conference on Zoo and Wildlife Nutrition, AZA Nutrition Advisory Group, Fort Worth, TX.
  4. Divers, S. J., and Mader, D. R. 2005 Reptile Medicine and Surgery – E-book. Elsevier Health Sciences
  5. Doneley, B., Monks, D., Johnson, R., and Carmel, B. 2018. Reptile Medicine and Surgery in Clinical Practice.John Wiley & Sons
  6. FAO. Roots, tubers, plantains and bananas in human nutrition. 7. Toxic substances and antinutritional factors. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1990. Accessed July 2019. http://www.fao.org/3/t0207e/T0207E00.htm#Contents
  7. Gimmel, A., Kempf, H., Öfner, S., Müller, D., and Liesegang, A. 2017. Cholelithiasis in adult bearded dragons: retrospective study of nine adult bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) with cholelithiasis between 2013 and 2015 in southern Germany. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 101 (Suppl. 1)(2017) 122–126. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpn.12616
  8. Johnson, J. D. (DVM) 2006 Exotic DVM. Care of Bearded Dragons. DVM Vol 8 (5). pages 38-44. Zoological Education Network
  9. Lemm, J. M., Lung, N. (DVM), and Ward, A. M (MS). Husbandry Manual for West Indian Iguanas
  10. McNaughton, S. A., and Marks, G. C. 2003. Development of a food composition database for the estimation of dietary intakes of glucosinolates, the biologically active constituents of cruciferous vegetables. British Journal of Nutrition, 90, 687–697 DOI: 10.1079/BJN2003917
  11. NC State Veterinary Hospital Exotic Animal Medicine Department. Caring for Your Pet Bearded Dragon. www.ncstatevets.org/exoticanimal/ Accessed July 2019
  12. OECD. 2015. Novel Food and Feed Safety. Safety Assessment of Foods and Feeds Derived from Transgenic Crops. Vol 2. OECD Publishing
  13. Oonincx, D. G. A. B., Leeuwen, J. P. van., Hendriks, W. H., and Poel, A. F. B. van der. 2015. The Diet of Free-Roaming Australian Central Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Zoo Biology 34:271-277. Wiley Periodicals Inc.
  14. Peterson, M. E. (DVM), and Talcott, P. A. 2012. Small Animal Toxicology. Elsevier Health Sciences
  15. Pianka, Eric, R. 2005. The ecology and natural history of the dwarf bearded dragon Pogona minor in the Great Victoria Desert Australia Draco, 6(N): 63-66 Nr 22.
  16. Savage, G. P., Vanhanen, L., Mason, S. M., and Ross, A. B. 2000. Effect of Cooking on the Soluble and Insoluble Oxalate Content of Some New Zealand Foods. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 13, 201-206. DOI:10.1006/jfca.2000.0879
  17. G. Sarwar Gilani, Chao Wu Xiao and Kevin A. Cockell. 2011. Impact of Antinutritional Factors in Food Proteins on the Digestibility of Protein and the Bioavailability of Amino Acids and on Protein Quality. British Journal of Nutrition 108, S315–S332. DOI:10.1017/S0007114512002371
  18. Simpson, S. Dragon Breath… Peridontal Disease in Central Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Proceedings of the 2015 UPAV Conference, Sydney. p 47-50
  19. Stahl, S., and Donoghue, S. Nutrition of Reptiles. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, et al, editors. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. Topeka (KS): Mark Morris Institute; 2010.
  20. Thompson, K. S. 2016. Applied Nutritional Studies with Zoological Reptiles. (Doctoral Dissertation) Oklahoma State University
  21. Thompson, S. A., & 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, 86, 1-6.
  22. Voe, R. S. Nutritional Support of Reptile Patients. Vet Clinic Exotic Animals 17 (2014) 249–261 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cvex.2014.01.009 vetexotic.theclinics.com
  23. Wotherspoon, D., and Burgin, S. 2010. Allometric variation among juvenile, adult male and female eastern bearded dragons Pogona barbata (Cuvier, 1829), with comments on the behavioural implications. Zoology (Jena, Germany) 114, 23–28.
  24. Wotherspoon, D., and Burgin, S. 2016. Sex and ontogenetic dietary shift in Pogona barbata, the Australian eastern bearded dragon. Australian Journal of Zoology 64, 14-20. doi.org/10.1071/ZO15019
  25. Wotherspoon, A. D. (2007). Ecology and management of Eastern bearded dragon : Pogona barbata. Thesis, University of Western Sydney, Richmond. Retrieved from University of Western Sydney Library.
  26. Ed: Aucone, B. and Peeling, C. Regional Collection Plan. Association of Zoos and Aquariums. AZA Lizard Advisory Group. Revised 2012

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