bearded dragon warming up

Pet Bearded Dragons – Species, Cost, Licensing and Care

Bearded dragons are easy to take care of, compared to some other reptiles, this is why they are often referred to as the beginners reptile. However, they are highly dependent on their environment and quality of care for their good health. Their care is vastly different to that of more common pets such as cats or dogs.

Introducing the Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons are of the genus Pogona which is pronounced as poh-GO-na. Pogon is Greek for beard and so the name ‘bearded dragon’.

Bearded dragons, often referred to as beardies, love the sun and warmth. They make great pets for dedicated pet owners who will enjoy the effort they take to care for. Bearded dragons are not cheap to setup for but the costs settle down to food, electricity and other maintenance costs. The initial outlay is worth every penny for those who love our reptile friends with their odd quirks.

bearded dragon mobile phone
Kelly Wilson Mules beardie Blitz on the mobile phone.

Starting as insectivores when they are young, bearded dragons grow into being omnivore by the time they hit adulthood. As such, part of owning a bearded dragon takes you into handling a range of insects and other invertebrate. Once you get over your initial ewww factor, assuming you don’t handle insects already, then you may find caring for insects can be almost as much fun. Or maybe not, might just be me!

Bearded dragons come from a range of habitats from woodlands, to deserts.

The babies (hatchlings) will grow to adults within 2 years and brumation (winter sleep post) will likely take place after the 1st year.

Bearded dragons are generally best kept alone, they don’t need friends. However, there are ways to house them together. See more on that in the post on setting up for successful living together. Males are very territorial and cannot be housed together.

Are bearded dragons good with kids? Bearded dragons are good with kids generally. Starting out with a bearded dragon that already has a good disposition will be helpful. However, there are some zoonotic diseases to be mindful of. See Dr Callista Chinenye Emecheta’s post on Can my bearded dragon make me sick for more on zoonotic diseases.

Are bearded dragons good with other pets? Bearded dragons can be great with other pets but it is dependent on the nature of the bearded dragon that you choose.

bearded dragon with pet cat
Tracey Wellards Norbert and pet cat.

Are bearded dragons good pets for a 10 year old? Bearded dragons are not such good pets for a 5 year old, but can be great pets for a 10 year old and onwards into teenage years.

However, parents need to be aware of the needs of the reptile to ensure their needs are provided for and be aware when a vet is required. Caring for reptiles is not straight forward and they are expensive to own compared to say a cat or a dog.

Bearded dragons live for varying ages depending on their care, but it is well within the boundaries to live for 10 years plus. For bearded dragons intended for teenagers it is worth considering who will be looking after the pet if they live in at college or move out of home.

75% of pet reptiles in the
UK die within their first year. (Fry, 2015)

75%

Quick Facts

How big do bearded dragons get? Bearded dragons can get up to 25 cm from snout to vent, although this varies with species and specialist breeds.

No pet owner can legally keep all the species of bearded dragons at the same time. This is because:

  1. In Australia, only the species naturally available in the state can be kept and the bearded dragons that live in each state can be different.
  2. Not all species of bearded dragons have been exported outside of Australia and they cannot be legally exported out of Australia as pets.

What is a morph bearded dragon? A morph is one of the distinct forms (visually or behaviourally different) within a species. People are constantly coming up with more morphs. Some present more issues than others. There are variations of colours within morphs.

Do bearded dragons bite? Bearded dragons can bite although it is not their first line of defense, typically they would prefer to run away. They can break skin with their sharp little teeth.

Are bearded dragons venomous? Bearded dragons have venom secreting glands on the upper and lower jaws (Fry, et al. 2006). However the are venom is not effective on humans.

Do bearded dragons lay eggs? Yes, bearded dragons can lay eggs once they are sexually mature whether they have been mated or not.

What is difference between a fancy bearded dragon and a normal bearded dragon? The term fancy bearded dragon is used by some of the big pet stores to indicate that the bearded dragon has something different about it to the normal. It may have brighter or red color, smoother skin and less scaling.

bearded dragon pet sunning itself on a rock
Bearded dragon sunning itself on a rock. Courtesy of Rebelle Robinson.

8 Different Species of Bearded Dragons

There are 8 different species of bearded dragons.

Outside of Australia, the most commonly available is the Pogona vitticeps (aka central or inland bearded dragon). If you are not sure what you have bought, chances are it is a Pogona vitticeps.

Some will be able to get the Pogona barbata (aka common or eastern bearded dragon) and even fewer will be able to get hold of the Pogona minor (aka dwarf bearded dragon).

One hybrid, although rare, is the vittikens. The vittikens is not classed as a species in Australia. The vittikens is a deliberate cross of the Pogona vitticeps and Pogona minor. The vittikens is able to reproduce offspring.

In Australia, you can pretty much own the bearded dragons naturally available in your state.

How much does a bearded dragon cost with everything?

The cost of everything to start up with a bearded dragon can easily reach $500 (£250) onward. Preparing, purchasing ahead of time, rather than impulse buying may reduce the initial start up costs.

Add to that the maintenance costs, your first year between buying the bearded dragon, setting up and maintaining it could easily be heading towards or over the $1000 (£500) mark.

There are some ways to reduce the costs including DIY housing, natural accessories and setting up your own insect colonies. However, keep in mind that keeping reptiles is an expensive passion.

If you were looking at the pro’s and con’s of bearded dragons as pets then the costs are likely to be on the con side. There are three parts to the cost of bearded dragons:

  • How it costs to buy a bearded dragon
  • How it cost to set up for a bearded dragon
  • How much it cost to own a bearded dragon

How much does a bearded dragon cost?

  • In USA and Canada, the cost of a bearded dragon can be anywhere from under a $100 to well into the $400 for some morphs.
  • In England you may be able to purchase them from £20 to well over £100 with some morphs going into triple that.
  • In Australia, some states are more expensive than others (like Western Australia), but generally between $70 to $250.

The cost of buying a bearded dragon is not as significant as the cost of setting up and maintaining.

How much does a bearded dragon set up cost?

The cost of setting up for a bearded dragon is where most of the initial money will likely be spent. At a minimum you will need:

This can easily cost $500 onwards. Some costs can be reduced such as with natural accessories, DIY housing and keeping your own insects for feeding.

Costs that you do not want to go cheaply with is in the lighting and heating. The bulbs lamps to put the bulbs in are just as important as the quality of bulbs to prevent fires which poor wiring unable to truly withstand they heat that it will be subjected to.

How much does a bearded dragon cost to keep?

The costs to keep a bearded dragon are:

  • Replacement lighting and heating bulbs, particularly UVB at least annually
  • Food which includes feeder insects and vegetation (greens/vegetables)
  • Vet (annual visit plus any other requirements)
  • Electricity to run the heating and lighting

The cost of replacement bulbs

The cost of lighting and heating bulbs will depend on what the setup consists of. On the assumption that mercury vapour UVB bulbs are being used, then it is likely to be at around $100 per year. In the UK it will be about £50.

…then the cost of feeding your bearded dragon

The cost of feeding a bearded dragon is mostly associated with the live insects used. Buying live feeders will get expensive as compared to keeping your own colonies. More on feeders here. In addition, there are supplements that need to be provided.

It is very subjective to give an actual figure for the cost of feeding since there are a number of variables. Assuming you are purchasing the insects rather than your own colonies then the cost of feeding a bearded dragon per week could be $20 to $40 or £10 to £20.

…the vet bills

The cost of maintaining a bearded dragon includes vet visits. At the very least, there should be an annual vet visit scheduled in prior to winter each year. This is when brumation can kick in and your bearded dragon needs to be healthy for it. See the post on winter sleep / brumation.

Outside of that it allows your vet to build up a history of what normal looks like for your bearded dragon to support you when the time comes that you need medical help. No one likes their babies suffering.

Calculating the cost of electrity for keeping bearded dragons

To calculate the cost of keeping a bearded dragon in heating and lighting, start with adding up the wattage of the bulbs you will use. For example, a likely scenario might be that you would use:

  • 100 watt mercury UVB bulb up to 12 hours a day,
  • 75 watt basking bulb (or regular household bulb) up to 12 hours a day, and
  • 2 x 50 watt ceramic heat emitters up to 24 hours a day

Basking bulbs are the reptile pet industry equivalent to providing white light except they add to the heat. There are alternatives that are cheaper to run such as LED. See more in the post on simplifying bearded dragon lighting and heating. Within a 24 hour period this would add up to:

  • A total of 175 watts (for the UVB and basking bulb) every 12 hours, plus
  • A total of 100 watts every 24 hours for heating.

Calculate the watts used per day (as per the scenario above).

  • (175 watts x 12 hours (UVB and basking bulb) = 2,100) + (100 watts x 24 hours (heating) = 2,400) = 4,500 watts per day.

Then multiply the watts per day x 1000 to get the kilowatt hours.

  • 4,500 x 1000 watts = 4.5 kilowatt hours

To calculate the cost of electricity to run bearded dragon heating and lighting per month, add the number of days in the month.

  • 4.5 kilowatt hours x 30 days = 135 kWh per month

Electricity is charged by the kWh unit. Now we know that we will use 135 kWh per month we can simply multiply that by the cost of a kWh unit. Lets just pick an arbitrary number for the cost price of electricity per unit of 0.30 cents.

  • 135 kWh (per month) x 0.30c = $40.50.

Or in pounds, at .15p the cost of running the bearded dragons set up per month would be:

  • 135 kWh per month x 0.15p = £20.25.

If you live in a warm climate where your bearded dragon can be provided outdoor housing during times of sunny weather then the costs will be reduced as the lighting and heating will not need to be run at that time.

Can you have a Bearded Dragon as a Pet in Australia?

licencing Bearded Dragons in Australia

In Australia, in the bearded dragons native homelands, keeping bearded dragons is far more restrictive than elsewhere in the world. Laws and licencing by state governments determine limit what species can be kept as pets and who can have them. All states will only allow the native species of that state to be kept in the state.

Tasmania is an exception to keeping bearded dragons, they are not allowed in Tasmania. Bearded dragons do not naturally occur in Tasmania and they are on the pest invasion list to ensure it stays that way.

In any state, to protect wildlife, the authorities will seize animals that have not been obtained legally and legal action may be pursued. The best course of action is to contact your state authorities prior to obtaining any bearded dragon to confirm requirements.

Where ever a license is required, the seller must ensure you have a license before they sell to you. You will have to provide them with evidence so take your certificate.

Conversely, you need to check the seller has a licence. In any state requiring a license there will also be a requirement to submit paperwork either annually or as bearded dragons come and go from your care.

Getting a license does sound onerous and sometimes it is. On the good side it cuts down impulse buying which is very important for reptiles since there is a lot involved in keeping them healthy.

Just a note that the laws in Australia can change at any time. This section is intended to provide you with information on which government department you need to contact and the licensing that is likely required.

Australian Capital Territory Licensing Requirements

This is the most lenient state of all with no licence required for the Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbatus). Pogona barbatus is classed as Category A meaning captive-bred reptiles that anyone with no prior experience can keep. For the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) you need a Category B licence which requires two years experience in Category A animal keeping.

The licence has a 5 year life, costs about $40 and the application is a little lengthy. Applicants must be 15 years and over. The application will be assessed against the Reptile Policy and they like to see in the application general proof of ability to care for your reptile and competence, include photos.

Find more information at the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate – Environment website.

New South Wales Reptile Keepers licence

New South Wales residents have the greatest choice of bearded dragons to choose from. Absolutely no reptiles are exempt from licensing. Species are separated into classes and the majority of bearded dragons are listed as class 1. The applicant must be over 16 years of age so for children, parents must submit the licence application. The application form is basic. Two years is around $70 and 5 years is around $150. The following species are listed by the Department as being Class 1:

  • Eastern (Common) Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata)
  • Downs Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni)
  • Western Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minima)
  • Dwarf Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minor)
  • Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps)

The following species are listed by the Department as being Class 2:

  • Small-scaled Bearded Dragon (Pogona microlepidota)

New South Wales Department of Environment and Heritage has a Code of Practice for the Private Keeping of Reptiles which has mandatory and recommended guidelines for keeping reptiles.

Northern Territory Wildlife Carers Permit

Under the Parks and Wildlife Commission the Dwarf Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor) and Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is in the Least Concern classification which is related to its conservation status. In other words, they aren’t endangered and the state doesn’t see them at risk.

The Central Bearded Dragon may be kept without a permit as long as they were obtained lawfully.

Victoria – Private Wildlife Licence

The Department of Environment and Primary Industries requires a licence to keep Bearded Dragons. They class the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps) and Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata) as Schedule 3 reptile and the Downs Bearded Dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni) is Schedule 4.

The application will take a bit of time. Does require you to keep a record book which the Department issues.

Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Private Keeping of Reptiles

Queensland – Recreational wildlife licence (birds, reptiles, amphibians)

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection requires applicants to be over 13 years old. The form isn’t overly onerous. No restrictions on which species of Bearded Dragon you can keep but a maximum of 2 under the standard licence. Must maintain a record book which is not difficult. Cost of licence is approximately $70.

Western Australia – Pet herpetofauna keeper’s licence

A licence is required in Western Australia through the Department of Parks and Wildlife to keep the Western Bearded Dragon (Pogona minor minor) which is classified as Category 2, the only one that can be kept in WA. The Reptiles that can be kept in Western Australia are listed in in the Approved Reptile Keeping List 2016.

A record book must be kept which is returned to the department annually.The application form requires a bit of work and goes into personal experience and ability. Requires written reference/s and the referries experience and description of facilities amongst other things. Licences for Category 2 are from $20 for one year to $40 for 3 years. Licence holders must be 14 years and over. For further information on licencing Herpetofauna go to the DPAW website.

Tasmania Herpetology Permit

Can you keep a bearded dragon in Tasmania? Not as a pet. Bearded dragons don’t live in Tasmania naturally and they are a prohibited import. For more information go to the Parks and Wildlife Services Herpetology website page.

South Australia – Permit to keep and sell protected animals

Under the control of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources 1 bearded dragon can be kept without a licence, for more a licence is required.

Requires a record book to be kept. Reasonably easy form. Three options for licence duration are 1 year $65, 3 years $190 and 5 years $320.

This information has been provided based on research and direct contact with state authorities, it is not guaranteed to be accurate. Contact your state authorities prior to obtaining your Bearded Dragon.

Perfect names for Your bearded dragon

Can my bearded dragon make me sick?

Building trust and friendship with your bearded dragon

Should I get a friend for my bearded dragon?

References and Further Reading

  1. Fry, B. 2105 Venomous Reptiles and Their Toxins: Evolution, Pathophysiology, and Biodiscovery.
  2. Fry, B.G.; Vidal, N.; Norman, J.A.; Vonk, F.J.; Scheib, H.; Ranjan, S.F.; Kuruppu, S.; Fung, K.; Hedges, S.B.; Richardson, M.K.; Hodgson, W.C.; Ignjatovic, V.; Summerhayes, R.; and Kochva, E. 2006. Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes. Nature 439, 584-588.
  3. Stauber, A. G., and Booth, D. J. 2003. Allometry in the Bearded Dragon Pogona barbata (Sauria: Agamidae): Sex and Geographic Differences. Australian Zoologist. Vol: 32 (2) pages 238-245

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.