The In's and Out's of the Bearded Dragon Diet
Pets don’t come with a manual, and without help, caring for them can be very confusing. And the bearded dragon diet is no exception. When should I feed them? What should I feed them? How often? How much? With nobody to answer all these questions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And although we're impartial to selling you crickets, that should never interfere with the diversity that your beloved pet's health requires.
So don’t worry! We’ve provided all the answers you need below! Or, if you'd prefer a thorough guide on everything you need to know beyond just feeding them, you can always digest the invaluable wisdom from Amazon’s #1 Best Selling “Bearded Dragon Ultimate Video Care Guide.”
Keep reading to get a quick overview of basic feeding times, habits, and nutritional needs to keep your beardie in tip, top condition.
When Should I Feed My Bearded Dragon?
Bearded Dragons live exclusively in warm climates because they cannot create their own body heat, like you and me. Therefore, for proper digestion, it is imperative for bearded dragons to be warm in order to properly digest their food. As soon as you get your bearded dragon, no matter their age, their first feeding of the day must always be 2 hours after their lights first are turned on. Similarly, their last feeding needs to come at least two hours before the lights are turned off for the day. Again, if they’re not warm enough while digesting their food, they will have trouble normally digesting and it can cause problems for them.
While many reptiles are nocturnal (active at night and sleep during the day), Bearded dragons are an exception. To get them on their natural diurnal (active during the day and sleep at night) sleep schedule, you must turn off their lamp every night so that they can establish a regular sleep schedule. If you leave their lamp on 24 hours it would be like putting them through human torture and sleep deprivation. In order to continue to provide enough heat for them (especially in the winter months), you can use a ceramic lamp, which provides heat, but no light.
It is equally important to establish eating patterns throughout the day. There are two ways to do this effectively. First, try to feed them at the same times throughout the day (as infants) or the same time every few days (for adults) so they learn to expect when to be fed. Second, use garden gloves or long-handled tweezers to feed them. This will show them that it is feeding time and not handling time.
Sometimes it can be difficult and time-consuming to hand-feed insects to your bearded dragons. While, it is a little harder for you, it makes it much easier for your dragon, especially if they’re still babies. Sometimes, crickets can even fight back or nip at your baby, causing a great deal of stress. You can also try the dizzying method. This method is done by recycling an old cardboard container or ziplock bag and putting your insects in there with calcium powder before you feed them to your dragon. You shake them just enough to dizzy them, not enough to harm them, and that helps to slow them down when they’re in the tank so it is easier for your dragon to eat them. Remember, your bearded dragons need to be fed live insects.
Why Substrates Are Important
Substrate is the material that covers the floor or your terrarium. Common materials include tiles, contact paper, or something that can be easily cleaned up and replaced such as newspaper or paper towels. Avoid anything that can be accidently ingested during feeding times, such as play sand or calci-sand. This should be an important note for the cricket enthusiasts reading through these tips. Because the vermiculite that crickets love will not make good bedding material for bearded dragons.
The choice of substrate is incredible important, because anything difficult to spot-clean can lead to parasite infections or even premature death. That is why we always recommend newspaper for beginners or even advanced owners. When fecal matter is eliminated in their tank, if it is not cleaned immediately, they can inadvertently track it around the tank, lay in it, or even accidently ingest it later.
Starter Meal Plan
Bearded dragons eat plants as well as live insects. The recommended diet consists of fresh salads and live feeder insects sprinkled with some calcium and a multivitamin. They also enjoy fruit, but do not give them fruit in every feeding. Fruit should only be used as a treat or for training.
Especially for babies, it is important to feed them a few times per day so that they get enough nutrition to help them grow. You should offer them fresh salads daily, including greens such as collards, dandelions or mustard greens as their staple vegetables (should be included in every salad). We recommend 2 greens for the base.
After you have the base of your salad with the above staples, add texture or color with fresh chopped green beans, Konnayu (purple yams), red peppers or shaved butternut squash. This helps make their salads more appealing. Sometimes you can add a few worms as well if your dragon is stubborn at first.
#1 Phoenix/Repti Worms – These are our top recommendation for feeder insects. They are Black Soldier Fly larvae and despite their small size, they are packed with beneficial calcium. They’re also soft-shelled, which makes them wonderful worms for baby dragons!
#2 Silk Worms – These worms are high in protein and low in fat and are enticing worms that most dragons love! They also are recommended for gravid (pregnant) females.
#3 Crickets – Baby bearded dragons should be offered “pinhead crickets,” which are very small, about ¼ in size. Juvenile and adult dragons can be fed full-sized adult crickets. An advanced tip is to “gut load” your insects before you feed your bearded dragons. Gut-loading is when you allow the crickets to eat your throw-away fruits and vegetables to increase the nutritional value of your dragon’s future meal.
#4 Superworms - Bearded dragons will enjoy superworms. They are slow enough, making them an easy target. And fatty enough that bearded dragon's won't have too much hesitation to eat them. Yet, all the fat that they offer isn't always the best for your scaly friend. So superworms should be used as a treat, similar to hornworms or fruit. So whenever you stumble past some superworms for sale, keep in mind that they should be used sparingly, and not be used as a stable for their diet.
No matter what insect (or variety) you decide to feed your dragon, we recommend dusting them with top-quality calcium supplement or multi-vitamin (but not both at the same time, because they can sometimes counteract one another).
Here are some feeder insects you should avoid:
Hornworms – Hornworms are best when given as a treat. Dragon’s DEVOUR these vibrant green worms! How fatty are they? They have the nutritional equivalent of about 20 crickets and are quite fatty.
Mealworms – Though mealworms can be a popular feeding insect, they are essentially empty calories, giving almost no nutritional benefit to your dragon. They also have hard outer shells, which can make them difficult to digest. It is NOT WORTH it to put your bearded dragon’s health in danger.
We cover worms and their nutritional value in this article dedicated to Alternatives to Bearded Dragon Mealworms.
A good practice is rotating salad vegetables every few weeks to ensure your bearded dragon is receiving all their essential vitamins and nutrients.
New to bearded dragon ownership? Consider the “Bearded Dragon Ultimate Video Care Guide" to increase your knowledge and pet's health.
How Often Should I Feed My Dragon?
This is often referred to as feeding frequency. Frequency is most often determined by age, but sometimes health can play a factor. Another factor is the time of year and what is happening in the life or development of the dragon. For example, when a bearded dragon is in bromation, or shedding, they may eat less regardless of their age just because their body is going through natural changes. Bearded Dragons in the wild often store up food and can live off their fat during times of bromation. Captive bred dragons are similar in some regards, meaning they are ok if they go off food and not each as much as they might normally eat.
During bromation, it is important to give them warm soaks or baths to keep them hydrated and help with their shed. You also should give them droplets of water on their snout through a baby dropper to help keep them hydrated.
The main rule you need to remember when feeding your dragon is as babies, they should receive 80% insects and 20% vegetables. Adults eat the complete opposite, with 80% vegetables and 20% insects. This is because babies need all the extra fat and protein to grow, and as they get older, they need all the extra nutritional value to stay healthy. Additionally, babies need to eat much more frequently as they grow, but adults only need to eat once every two-to three days.
Female bearded dragons are special because they can do things that males cannot, such as reproducing. When they are gravid, their eating habits will need to change a little bit. A fascinating thing about females is they can be pregnant with infertile eggs without having been with a male. They still need the same environmental and nutritional support as if they were laying live eggs, includes providing them a dig box; increasing their warm soaks; increasing their calcium; and moving them to silkworms as their primary feeder insect. She will effectively lay the eggs which will look squished and a yellowish-brownish color, but they will not hatch since no babies will be in there.
Improperly caring for your gravid female bearded dragon can cause her eggs to rupture inside her and she could die prematurely as a result. If you see your female dragon digging this could be the first sign, so seek out a vet immediately.
Another factor which can impact their eating frequency is sickness. A bearded dragon with an infection/parasites may not eat as much. Colloidal silver is a homeopathic remedy which is safe and can help rebuild their immune system. Increasing the heat in their terrarium at night helps them sweat out infections. And warm soaks help increase their circulation and loosen their bowels to help them clear up any impaction. Just remember after their soaks to dry them thoroughly before putting them in their terrarium. Otherwise, a moist dragon will lead to fluctuating humidity in their tank and this commonly leads to more sickness and immune infections.
Well, we hope that you were able to learn something useful or new in this article on the latest in bearded dragon husbandry. Raising Bearded Dragons produces an entire series of specialty bearded dragon care guides if you are interested in more hands-on support.
Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of feeding bearded dragons in our “Bearded Dragon Ultimate Video Care Guide.” The guide includes:
- A Pre-Made Reusable Shopping List Template
- Over 100+ Beautiful But Deadly Toxic Household Plants
- The feeding and proper storage of feeder insects
- And More…!