When my daughter was at university, she reported that she and the girls she shared a house with had got a joint pet, a Bearded Dragon, which they were taking it in turns to look after, and I must admit my curiosity was piqued.

On my next visit I was keen to see this creature, and she casually waved her hand towards the living room, when I asked to see it. By this time, I knew it was a lizard, but didn’t know how big, and mentally I wondered if I needed a chair in front of me like some kind of lion tamer as I pushed open the door. In reality, it actually wasn’t very big, and was kind of, well, cute, as it seemed as if it was grinning at me. And to my relief, it was in a glass tank on the floor in the (obviously unlit) fireplace, under a warming light.

Although Bearded Dragons for pets are bred in captivity, they still need the same natural ultraviolet light it would be familiar with in its native Australia, and in an indoor enclosure, high ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) output light bulbs must be used. Getting the heat right is something beginners often fail on, so it should be researched carefully, as should all aspects of their care.

Bearded Dragons have a broad triangular head, and a spiny skin – rows and clusters of spiny scales. Very reptilian, very dinosaurian. They have a ‘beard’ of spikes under their chins that they can inflate, depending on their mood. Both sexes have a beard, and it’s an

important part of their communication – if threatened it will open its mouth, puff up the beard to make itself look bigger, and will sometimes hiss. They can change the colour of the ‘beard’, and bob their heads quickly, a sign of dominance, whereas a slow head-bob and an ‘arm wave’ is a sign of submission.

These creatures are remarkably hardy and easy to care for compared to other reptiles - as long as they are kept warm (hence the light over the glass tank, or to use its proper term ,’vivarium’), have rocks, logs and branches to explore and space to move around in, they make great pets, especially for kids. Weirdly, they like a hammock to hang around in too!

Their diet is easy, as they will eat lots of different fruit and veg, from raw carrots to melons. Important are live insects (so long as they are pesticide free), and some common bugs and insects to feed your dragon include earthworms, cockroaches, crickets and roaches. The most popular feeder insects are crickets and dubia roaches (available on-line), with some folk preferring crickets over roaches because crickets are less creepy, but roaches have a longer lifespan than crickets. (Can you handle a plastic box on top of your fridge, full of live creepy crawlies? Well, if having a bearded dragon as a pet doesn’t freak you out, then feeding it roaches shouldn’t be too difficult!).

Even stored bugs have to be fed, so it’s all a bit of a commitment, but easy enough once you get into the swing of things.

They are unique creatures as no two will have the same colours, and they will have very different personalities. No two will respond the same way to their caretakers or their environments, and it isn’t recommended to keep two males together in the same tank – they are very territorial, though a male and a female may get along – just be aware of the consequences!

Their lifespan is 4-12 years, and with a full size of 16-24 inches, they are small enough to keep in an apartment but large enough to survive being handled by small children, who will often grow up alongside them.

They aren’t nocturnal so will be awake when you are, and don’t mind it cooler at night, so you can turn off the lamp! and generally are docile, passive and easy to handle.

I would just love the thought of saying I have a dragon for a pet – a great conversation starter!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan