Welcome to the exciting world of bearded dragon ownership! Bearded dragons are fascinating, friendly, and relatively low-maintenance reptiles, making them excellent pets for beginners and experienced herpetologists alike.
One crucial aspect of keeping your bearded dragon happy and healthy is maintaining the proper temperature in its enclosure. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of setting up the perfect temperature environment for your new scaly friend.
A proper bearded dragon temperature setup needs a hot zone with a basking spot, a cool zone, and a cooler night-time temperature. This is done with light sources on a timer, heat sources on a thermostat, and a little bit of tinkering to get it right!
Let’s get into the details of managing a proper temperature setup for your scaly little friend!
Bearded Dragon Temperature Requirements
Before we dive into the details of setting up your bearded dragon’s enclosure, it’s essential to understand their temperature needs. Bearded dragons are ectothermic, which means they rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. Providing the right temperature range is critical for their digestion, metabolism, and overall health.
Specific Temperature Settings
The various temperature ranges can be quite overwhelming for a new bearded dragon owner. Let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks!
An adult bearded dragon needs the following temperature gradient:
Basking spot surface temperature: 108-113°F (42-45°C)
Measure this with an infrared thermometer gun once the light and heat sources have been active for a few hours!
Keeping the basking spot this hot is needed for bearded dragons to properly warm up, according to findings in a study and paper (1).
Air temperature on the WARM side: 95-100°F (35-38°C)
Air temperature on the COOL side: 77-85°F (25-28°C)
Night-time gradient: 60-75°F (16-24°C)
Keep one side of the tank warm and one side cool as usual. There should still be a basking spot that’s a little warmer for self-regulation. This is usually directly beneath the ceramic heat lamp.
Lowering the temperature at nighttime not only mimics the natural environment more closely but also supports a healthy immune system, according to recent research. However, this is only true if the daytime temperatures are warm enough, and if there is a basking spot available for the bearded dragon to warm up again in the morning.
Providing a gradient of temperatures within the enclosure allows your bearded dragon to self-regulate its body temperature by moving between warmer and cooler areas.
This gradient can be achieved by placing the heat source at one end of the enclosure and ensuring proper ventilation for air circulation.
As cold-blooded animals, bearded dragons need to be able to warm up and cool off whenever they need to by moving around their environment. Basking spots, shaded areas, and even covered hiding spots are thus necessary!
Choosing the Right Heating Equipment
Now that you understand the temperature requirements for your bearded dragon let’s discuss the heating equipment options available to create the perfect environment. There are three primary heating options for bearded dragon enclosures:
Heat lamps are the most popular choice for providing warmth in bearded dragon enclosures. They are available in various wattages and can be used with a dimming thermostat to maintain the correct temperature. Infrared heat lamps can also be used for nighttime heating without disturbing your bearded dragon’s sleep cycle.
Keep in mind that you need to keep the lights on in your bearded dragon’s tank at all times during the day – most light sources need to be on a timer, not a thermostat. This means that the primary heat source should be one without light, so it can be turned on and off at any time by a thermostat.
Learn more in our guide about heat lamps for bearded dragons!
Ceramic heat emitters
Ceramic heat emitters (CHEs) are another excellent option for maintaining enclosure temperatures. They emit heat without producing light, making them suitable for both day and night use. Using either a ceramic heat lamp or a heat pad is necessary in most cases to control the temperature with a thermostat, while keeping the lights on consistently.
Heat pads, also known as under-tank heaters or heat mats, are placed beneath the enclosure and provide gentle, consistent heat. While they are typically not sufficient on their own to maintain proper temperatures for bearded dragons, they can be used in conjunction with other heat sources to create a well-rounded heating system.
Learn more about heat pads for bearded dragons in our guide!
However, heat pads are excellent at creating a temperature gradient. For this, place the heat pad below the tank on the side that should become the hot side of the tank, and it will naturally lead to one side being heated more than the other.
Each of these heating options has its pros and cons, so it’s important to consider your specific needs and preferences when choosing the best solution for your bearded dragon’s enclosure. Keep in mind that you may need a combination of heat sources to achieve the desired temperature gradient.
Setting Up a Thermostat
Using a thermostat is crucial for maintaining a consistent temperature in your bearded dragon’s enclosure. There are several types of thermostats available, including on/off thermostats, dimming thermostats, and pulse-proportional thermostats. Dimming and pulse-proportional thermostats are ideal for controlling heat lamps and ceramic heat emitters, while on/off thermostats work best for heat pads.
Thermostat placement is essential for accurate temperature control. Place the thermostat probe close to the basking spot to accurately monitor and regulate the temperature in that area. Make sure the probe is secure and not directly touching the heat source, as this can cause inaccurate readings and potential overheating.
This digital thermometer set includes a thermostat and a timer function, which you can use to control all heat and light sources.
To adjust and maintain the temperature settings on your thermostat, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Regularly check the temperature readings on your thermostat and make necessary adjustments to keep your bearded dragon’s environment consistent and comfortable.
Creating the Perfect Basking Spot
A proper basking spot is essential for your bearded dragon’s health and well-being. In this section, we’ll guide you through setting up the perfect basking area in your bearded dragon’s enclosure.
Basking spot setup: Choose a flat, sturdy surface for the basking area, such as a large rock, a piece of driftwood, or a commercially available reptile basking platform. The basking spot should be large enough for your bearded dragon to fully stretch out on, and it should be positioned close to the heat source.
Using a flat-ish, smooth rock is generally recommended as it can hold heat much better than wood or synthetic materials, and it’s also the most natural as most reptiles use rocks as basking spots in the wild.
Proper enclosure placement: To create a temperature gradient within the enclosure, place the heat source at one end of the enclosure. This allows your bearded dragon to move closer to or further away from the heat as needed to regulate their body temperature. Avoid placing the heat source in the middle of the enclosure, as this can make it difficult for your bearded dragon to find a cooler area to retreat to if needed.
If you have multiple heat sources, place them in a way that leads to the temperature gradient that you try to achieve.
Monitoring and adjusting temperature: Use an infrared thermometer gun to measure the temperature at the basking spot, ensuring it falls within the recommended range. Adjust the heat source or thermostat as needed to achieve the desired temperature. Move the heat lamp further up or switch to a less-powerful one if it’s too hot. If it’s too cool, switch to a more powerful one – never let any lamp hang down into the tank!
Remember to monitor both the basking spot and cooler area temperatures to maintain a proper gradient.
Monitoring and Maintaining Temperature
To ensure your bearded dragon’s enclosure stays within the appropriate temperature range, regular monitoring and maintenance are necessary.
Using thermometers and hygrometers: Place a thermometer in both the basking area and the cooler area of the enclosure to monitor the temperature gradient. For this, you have two options: The first is a digital thermometer with a probe you place inside the tank. This can be more accurate, but does not measure humidity, which means you need an extra hygrometer.
The other option is a thermometer/hygrometer combo which measures air temperature and humidity by being stuck to the glass side of your reptile’s tank. This is often the easier and potentially less intrusive option, and can help you quickly see the temperature and humidity at a glance.
Spot-checks: To test the surface temperature of your basking spot, the warm zone, and the cool zone, you need an infrared thermometer gun. This is the only way to measure the surface temperature, which can exceed the air temperature.
Rocks store heat well, which is why they make great basking spots, but overheating can be dangerous. Always check both surface and air temperature when you change your heating setup!
Regular temperature checks: Check the temperature readings on your thermometers at least twice a day in the beginning, once in the morning and once in the evening. This will help you identify any fluctuations in temperature and make adjustments as needed to maintain the appropriate range.
Also make sure to check for temperature changes when the seasons change – when your room gets colder or warmer, it will affect the climate in your reptile’s enclosure as well!
Troubleshooting common issues: If you notice that your bearded dragon’s enclosure is consistently too hot or too cold, try adjusting the thermostat settings or moving the heat source further away from the basking spot. If the issue persists, consider using a different heating option or consulting with a reptile specialist for guidance.
Sample Bearded Dragon Temperature Setup
This setup is meant as an illustrative example, since many elements are dependent on the size of the tank, the climate you are in, the substrate, the age of your beardie, and other factors.
In the end, the result is what you need to focus on – can you create the proper temperature gradient with the setup you have? Adjust it until you get it right, and you’re set!
#1: A basking heat lamp (75-watt or 100-watt)
This needs to be on a timer, as it provides light and heat. You may have other lamps and light sources above your bearded dragon tank, but they should not impact the temperature as much. Still, don’t finalize the temperature setup before all lamps are installed!
#2: A ceramic heat emitter (100-watt) for general and nighttime heating
Since it’s heat-only, the ceramic heat emitter can be turned on and off at any time. Put this on a thermostat to regulate temperature automatically.
#3: A thermostat that controls the main heat source (ceramic heat emitter)
#4: A timer that controls all light sources (basking lamp)
#5: UVB fluorescent tube light (for providing essential UVB radiation)
This needs to be on a digital timer to control the day and night cycle
Step-by-Step Setup Guide
#1 Basking Spot: Attach the basking heat lamp to one end of the enclosure, either by clamping it onto the side or hanging it above the enclosure. Ensure it is securely fastened to prevent accidents.
#2 Heat sources: Install the ceramic heat emitter on the same end of the enclosure as the basking heat lamp. You can use a separate fixture or a dual fixture designed to accommodate both the heat lamp and ceramic heat emitter. If they are close to each other, make sure to measure the temperatures thoroughly throughout the day to make sure they don’t give off too much heat!
For a bigger tank, you may need to use two heat emitters, one on each side of the tank.
#3 Lighting Timer: Set up the timer for the basking heat lamp. Plug the heat lamp into the timer and set it on an appropriate cycle (depending on the season).
#4 Thermostat: Set up the thermostat for the ceramic heat emitter. Plug the ceramic heat emitter into the thermostat and place the thermostat probe near the basking spot. Don’t put it directly into the light, but place it a few inches away at most.
#5 More light sources: Install the UVB fluorescent tube light across the top of the enclosure. Ensure that it covers about two-thirds of the enclosure’s length to provide adequate UVB exposure. Plug it into the same day-night cycle timer.
#6 Thermometers: Place a digital thermometer with a probe in the basking area and another in the cooler area of the enclosure. This will allow you to monitor the temperature gradient.
Alternatively, you can also use a digital thermometer/hygrometer combo that you install on both sides of the tank, usually with a suction cup on the front or side glass panel.
#7 Testing the Setup: Turn on the heat lamp, ceramic heat emitter, and UVB light. Monitor the temperature readings on the thermometers and adjust the thermostat settings as needed to achieve the appropriate temperature range in both the basking and cooler areas.
#8 Testing Temperature Hot-Spots: Before you are satisfied with the setup, you also need to take out your infrared thermometer gun and measure various areas in your beardie’s tank. Specifically, the basking spot needs to be tested thoroughly. If the rock beneath the basking lamps gets too hot, your little reptile could get dangerous burns on its belly!
#9 Observe and adjust: Observe your bearded dragon’s behavior and make any necessary adjustments to the temperature setup. If your bearded dragon is consistently seeking out cooler areas, the basking spot may be too hot. Conversely, if they spend most of their time near the heat source, the enclosure may be too cool.
Remember to check the temperatures regularly and adjust the thermostat settings as needed to maintain the proper temperature gradient. Additionally, replace the UVB light every 6-12 months or as recommended by the manufacturer to ensure your bearded dragon receives adequate UVB radiation.
Seasonal Temperature Adjustments
As the seasons change, so do the temperature needs of your bearded dragon. Here’s what you need to know about seasonal adjustments:
Brumation is a period of reduced activity and metabolic function in bearded dragons, similar to hibernation in mammals. It typically occurs during the winter months when temperatures naturally drop.
During brumation, your bearded dragon may eat less, become less active, and even sleep for extended periods. You can reduce the enclosure temperature slightly during brumation, but it’s essential to maintain a consistent temperature gradient to allow your bearded dragon to self-regulate its body temperature.
Summer and winter changes
During warmer months, you may need to adjust your thermostat settings or use lower-wattage heat sources to maintain the proper temperature range in your bearded dragon’s enclosure.
Conversely, in colder months, you may need to increase the wattage or adjust the thermostat settings to keep the enclosure warm enough. Always monitor the enclosure temperatures closely during seasonal changes and make adjustments as needed to ensure your bearded dragon stays comfortable and healthy.
Congratulations! You’re now well-equipped with the knowledge you need to create the perfect temperature environment for your bearded dragon. With a little planning, attention to detail, and regular monitoring, your scaly friend will thrive in their new home.
Remember, temperature management is crucial to your bearded dragon’s overall health and well-being. By providing the right temperature range, a proper temperature gradient, and an ideal basking spot, you’re setting the foundation for a happy, healthy pet.
Don’t be afraid to seek advice from experienced bearded dragon owners, reptile specialists, or online forums if you have questions or concerns about temperature management. The reptile community is passionate and supportive, and there’s always someone willing to help.
Happy bearded dragon keeping!