Bearded dragons love the sun and are only awake during the day. The dragon’s parietal eye (“third eye”) uses bright light to set the dragon’s daily activity patterns and circadian rhythm.
In addition to white lights, ultraviolet lighting is necessary for the lizard to make its Vitamin D.
A heat lamp that reliably gives off UVB light is essential for a bearded dragon’s health. The heat helps regulate circadian rhythm, digestion, activity, and overall well-being. A heat mat cannot replace a heat lamp, but it can supplement needed warmth, especially in winter.
An environment that balances temperature and light is crucial to a bearded dragon’s life in captivity. But providing adequate heat and lighting can be confusing, especially for beginners. This article will help you set up the proper lighting and temperature gradient for your vivarium.
Table of Contents
Why Bearded Dragons Need A Heat Lamp
For bearded dragons and reptiles, in general, heating is vital to life.
Bearded dragons are cold-blooded (ectothermic) creatures. They rely extensively on their environment to control the temperature inside their bodies. They cannot warm up or cool down by themselves or thermoregulate as mammals do.
Without heat, they may incur a lot of health problems. They would not adequately digest food and absorb the essential nutrients they need. For young bearded dragons that eat up to 5 times a day and digest rapidly, heat helps them metabolize quickly and grow.
Heat lamps also help these lizards avoid impaction from poorly digested food blocking the digestive system.
Heat lamps with ultraviolet (UVB)-capable bulbs give bearded dragons a place to bask. Aside from the pleasant, toasty temperature, these bulbs emit the necessary UVB radiation, mimicking sunlight, that the dragons need to process their calcium and vitamin D3.
In The Wild, How Warm Do Bearded Dragons Get?
BeardieVet posted a study on Facebook on the basking, air, and basking substrate temperatures Central Bearded Dragons encounter in the wild. According to it, optimal temperatures are:
|Optimal Temperature Range||°F||°C|
|Basking Body Temperature||107.6-113||42 – 45|
|Basking Substrate Surface Temperature|
(area measured by an infrared thermometer gun was immediately adjacent to the dragon on the surface it was basking)
|113 – 122||45 – 50 |
(In a terrarium, don’t go over 50, as you risk overheating the bearded dragon)
(may be used as a guide for the temperature gradient within the terrarium outside the basking site)
|71.6 – 98.6||22 – 37|
With this data, the study hopes to give bearded dragon keepers the correct temperatures for replication in a captive environment.
This Happens If You Keep Bearded Dragons Without A Heat Lamp
Bearded dragons need precise temperatures to sustain their metabolic processes and overall health. Heat lamps are crucial for their survival.
Bearded dragons can develop a number of health issues if they do not have access to adequate heat lamps. These health issues include:
Metabolic Bone Disease
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is a common problem that can be dangerous for bearded dragons. They can develop MBD if their bodies don’t get enough calcium.
Calcium supports their skeletal structure. But to absorb calcium, bearded dragons need heat.
Without the help of heat lamps, bearded dragons can develop weak bones, have deformities, and experience other health issues.
Aside from the proper diet, bearded dragons also need exposure to UVB radiation from light to keep their bones healthy. That is why they must get enough heat and ultraviolet B light from their heat lamps.
When a bearded dragon’s body temperature is too low, its digestive system can slow down or even stop. It can end up with constipation, bloating, and other digestive problems.
The digestive enzymes in their body function only within a specific temperature range. Without heat, bearded dragons can’t break down their food properly.
Constipation in bearded dragons is serious. It can lead to impaction when food or feces obstruct the digestive tract. Impaction can cause loss of appetite, lethargy, and even death if not treated promptly.
Bearded dragons can also get diarrhea if the temperature in their enclosure is too hot or too cold. Baby beardies are especially susceptible to dehydration from diarrhea.
Bearded dragons are susceptible to respiratory illnesses, and a lack of heat lamps can worsen the problem.
When exposed to temperatures that are too low, their immune system weakens.
They are even more susceptible if they lack UVB light.
These poor conditions make them more likely to get respiratory infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Bearded dragons with respiratory infections show symptoms of coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, runny noses, and lethargy.
Beardies need the right kind of heat source to stay healthy. Owners should make sure that their enclosure is set up correctly, with the right temperature, humidity, airflow, and lighting.
Bearded dragons are diurnal. They are active during the day and sleep at night. They need a regular day-and-night cycle.
If they are deprived of heat lamps, it can mess up their circadian rhythm. They can become sleepy during the day and hyperactive at night. This unnatural condition causes stress and anxiety, leading to several bad behaviors, like aggression.
Bearded dragons also need places to bask to keep their bodies at the right temperature and stay healthy. Without enough heat lamps or spots to bask, they can become lazy and uninterested in their surroundings. This lack of stimulation can cause boredom, stress, and even depression.
Bearded dragons without heat lamps are in danger of dying.
Without a heat lamp, a bearded dragon’s body temperature can drop to unhealthy levels and slow its metabolism.
When it becomes hypothermic, it may stop moving altogether and go into hibernation or brumation to conserve energy. This means it stops eating and drinking and eventually becomes dehydrated and malnourished.
Furthermore, cold beardies are susceptible to infections, resulting in death if adequate heating and treatment are not provided.
How To Properly Heat A Bearded Dragon’s Tank
Creating A Temperature Gradient In The Tank
Reptiles need a range of temperatures, from high to low, to thrive. Since they regulate their body temperatures using their environment, their terrarium must be divided into 3 different temperature zones: hot, warm, and cool.
In captivity, bearded dragons need an enclosure offering a temperature gradient that goes from hot at one end to cool at the other.
Depending on their current thermal needs, areas with different temperatures allow bearded dragons to move between hot, warm, and cool places.
Let’s look at an average enclosure from left to right. The coolest temperatures should be on the left and progressively increase to the hottest on the right.
Consider these ideal temperature gradients for an adult bearded dragon on the chart below. These temperatures are based on the study mentioned above and posted by Beardievet.
|Areas||Temp. Range ℉||Temp. Range ℃|
|Surface temp. of basking spot (hottest)||108 -113||42 – 45|
|Surface temp. of warm area||90 – 100||32 – 38|
|Surface temp. on coolest area||75- 85||24 – 29|
|Air temp. range||72 – 99||22 – 37|
|Nighttime temp.||55 – 75||13 – 24|
Accurate Temperature Measurement: Your Equipment
Infrared Temperature Gun
Use an infrared temperature gun to get accurate temperature measurements.
To measure the temperature of the hottest part (the basking temperature), take the temperature of the surface where the bearded dragon will bask. To determine the warm and cool areas of the tank, use the air or ambient temperature.
When using the temp gun, ensure that the basking temperatures cover an area at least as big as the dragon’s whole body, tail and all. Hot spots can be dangerous.
Take temperature readings after the basking light has been on for about 3 hours. Readings taken before or after this period will be inaccurate.
Also, remember that your dragon’s head and shoulders are a few inches closer to the heat source than the basking surface. This means the dragon will probably feel temperatures higher than the thermometer shows.
Pro Tip: Stone is the best material for bearded dragons to use as a basking surface because it is most effective at absorbing heat.
Air temperature is as important as surface temperature.
A heated basking surface is useless if the air is too cool. Conversely, excessive air temperatures might cause a heat stroke in your dragon.
A digital thermometer can determine the correct ambient temperature.
Using a thermal gun and a digital thermometer together is vital to ensure that the tank’s surface and air temperatures are within the required range.
Do not rely on one without the other.
Check temperatures periodically. An acceptable temperature range is crucial to a bearded dragon’s health.
This video shares how to gauge the temperature of your reptile’s tank properly.
Proper Lighting And Heating For A Bearded Dragon
Light and heat are essential components of a bearded dragon’s health.
The goal of setting up heating and lighting is to replicate the animal’s natural environment as closely as possible.
Bearded dragons get the vast majority of their body heat from the sun. Bearded dragons benefit from a basking area that concentrates heat and UVB along their entire body when kept in captivity.
This is why UBV fluorescent lighting is the foundation of any bearded dragon setup. Without it, bearded dragons develop MBD and other health problems. They won’t be able to make enough vitamin D3 or take in enough calcium, either.
When basking, a bearded dragon should receive enough UVB light to cover at least its entire body, including its tail.
UVB radiation should not extend the entire length of the enclosure. The tank should be large enough to allow for escape when necessary.
Bearded dragons have the ability to control their own UVB needs. If you don’t give your bearded dragon places to hide or get away from the heat and UVB light, it could get too hot and overexposed to UVB light, which can be bad for its health.
UVB Light: Length and Positioning
The UVB bulb should ideally cover between 2/3 and 3/4 of the tank’s length. This enables your bearded dragon to take in healthy UVB rays wherever it chooses to rest or perch.
Mount your UVB light entirely on one side of your tank. This site should also be where you should position the basking light.
You can leave about 1/3 or 1/4 of the tank free of illumination to create the “cool zone.”
Do not forget: Replace UVB bulbs every six to twelve months. As bulbs age, their ultraviolet output degrades.
We cannot see UVB light, so an old bulb could still look good. But by this time, it won’t give off enough UVB light for your bearded dragon to make enough vitamin D3.
Very Important! Remove any glass or plastic “protecting” the bulb in your fixture! Glass and plastic deflect UVB rays, making your bearded dragon susceptible to MBD. Effective UVB bulbs are naked bulbs.
The Reptile Doctor posted on Facebook that they have traced the cause of a bearded dragon’s MBD to its acrylic-protected light fixture.
The basking light should mimic the natural heat of the sun.
A full-spectrum basking light makes an excellent option, as this includes UVB light.
Halogen bulbs make a good choice too. They are more powerful than ordinary incandescent bulbs.
Use a high-wattage halogen bulb inside a dome heat lamp with a ceramic socket.
Ninety watts should generate the temperature required for a typical 48″ x 24″ x 24″ enclosure.
Place the basking light toward the end of the enclosure, where the hottest part should be.
Raise the basking stone or another surface closer to the heat source if you need it to be hotter. Make sure you’re considering the dragon’s head and shoulder height measurements. It can be too close to the heat source when climbing onto the raised basking spot.
Use a plug-in lamp dimmer to lower the heat output if you need it to be a little cooler. Be careful that the basking temperature does not exceed 120°F (50°C).
Warning: Never buy colored or artificial-looking heat lamps. They do not provide UVB lighting and do not mimic natural sunlight. As such, these only create an unhealthy environment for a bearded dragon.
Learn how to set up the basking temperature in your terrarium with this video.
Ceramic Heat Emitters
Ceramic heat emitters do not emit light, only heat. If the tank temperature drops to 65 °F (18°C) and below, you will need these, especially at night.
These CHEs will help bring nighttime temperatures up to the optimal 70s range.
It’s best to use several bulbs. For instance, instead of one 150-watt ceramic heat emitter, use two 75-watt ones. This will even out the temperature in the bearded dragon’s home.
It is essential to use high-quality heat lamps. Learn about our recommendations for the 4 best heat lamps for bearded dragons.
Watch this video for more information on setting up heat and lighting for your bearded dragon enclosure.
Does Your Bearded Dragon Need A Heat Mat?
A heat mat is an excellent auxiliary heating tool for a vivarium, especially in cold winters.
During this time, UVB lamps and ceramic heaters may not be enough to set an enclosure’s temperature to optimal levels. Heating mats can boost the temperature of your beardie’s habitat.
Heat mats, however, cannot function as the only heat source for your bearded dragon. Its function is only supplementary.
Heat mats can only add to the heat that comes from any of the primary heat sources. They cannot replace UVB lighting, ceramic heat emitters, or the basking lamp.
Stick flat heat pads to the bottom or side of a tank, as they give off low, steady heat.
Avoid putting the heat mat inside the tank. It may burn your bearded dragon’s sensitive underbelly.
Warning: Set up an under-tank heater only on glass enclosures. Avoid using these on terrariums made of wood or other flammable materials.
Do Bearded Dragons Need Heat At Night?
Bearded dragons do not need heat lamps at night in tropical or warm climates.
But it is safer to turn on the ceramic heat emitters in climates where your home temperature drops as low as 65°F (18°C) or lower at night.
As CHEs do not emit light, these will not disturb your bearded dragon’s sleep.
Although the previously mentioned study says that bearded dragons can stand nighttime temperatures as low as 55°F (13°C), it’s best to err on the safe side. Set your maximum allowable cold temperature at 65°F (18°C) for the night.
Keeping a heating mat outside the tank can also help you manage the temperature at night.
Take care that the temperature does not drop too much at night in your pet’s enclosure. If the temperature gets too cold for your bearded dragon, it will “shut down.”
It won’t be easy to wake them up. Even in the morning, your bearded dragon might continue sleeping or show signs of being very tired.
You will need to address your pet’s lethargy urgently.
Bearded Dragons Without Heat Lamps: How Long?
A bearded dragon can survive as long as 24 hours if the temperature does not drop below 65°F (18°C). But this estimate is pushing it.
Expect the lizard to start experiencing complications, such as indigestion, after some hours without heat.
Unless something can be done quickly, they are even less likely to survive if their heat suddenly stops working in freezing weather.
Heat lamps are critical to the health and well-being of bearded dragons. Bearded dragons are at risk of acquiring various health issues, including metabolic bone disease, digestive problems, respiratory ailments, behavioral issues, and even death if not adequately heated.
It is critical to provide suitable heat sources, like heat lamps, basking areas, and temperature-regulating equipment, to keep a healthy and happy bearded dragon.
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