Every animal has different requirements to stay healthy, alive, and happy; the bearded dragon is not an exception to this rule. The type and amount of light, diet, temperature, and cleanliness are the four main components to keeping these, and many other reptiles as healthy and happy as possible.
Proper lighting for bearded dragons is not only essential for proper temperatures but more importantly for adequate vitamin production within the body of bearded dragons.
In nature, reptiles like our beardies spend most of their day in the sun soaking up the rays. The sun provides UVA/UVB light which produces vitamin D3 in the reptile’s body.
Note: D3 is essential in calcium metabolization which prevents Metabolic Bone Disease, which can ultimately be fatal to our lizards.
To provide this vital nutrient to our loveable lizards, we need to recreate this natural vitamin intake as best as possible to keep them healthy and active.
Understanding bearded dragon lighting and heating requirements can be confusing for beginners – which is understandable. There is a large variety of options available but choosing the wrong fixture can actually be harmful to your beardie’s health.
But you don’t have to worry, this article will teach you everything you need to know about bearded dragon lighting and heating requirements.
Ideal Bearded Dragon Lighting Setup
It’s not as simple as placing the light fixture wherever on the tank’s top. Beginner bearded dragon owners often don’t understand this and place the bulbs in incorrect locations.
Below is a very good illustration of where you should place the bulbs in the enclosure.
We will need three types of bulbs installed in our bearded dragon enclosure.
- UVB Light
- Basking Light
- Ceremic Heatemitter (if needed)
- Cool side Bulb (Not needed)
Let’s discuss each of these bulbs in detail.
UVB fluorescent lighting is the foundation of every bearded dragon set up; without it, bearded dragons will develop a condition known as MDB (metabolic bone disease, which is fatal to them. Below are a few things you should know about UVB lighting for bearded dragons.
What is UVB light and why is it important?
UVB (or ultraviolet-B) light is electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from 280 to 315 nanometers. This may not mean anything to us because our eyes aren’t designed to see this spectrum of light but are essential for bearded dragons and many other reptiles to survive.
UVB radiation is what bearded dragons simply must have, failure to provide a source of this is to condemn your dragon to a slow agonizing death.
UVB provides a way for the reptile (and us Humans) to create vitamin D in their skin – specifically vitamin D3 which is also used to metabolize calcium in the dragon which encourages healthy growth, without this then they would have dietary problems leading to issues such as metabolic bone disease.
Pro Tip: Too much UVB is a bad thing and can cause DNA damage and problems with vitamin A production in bearded dragons.
How to Provide UVB Lights to Bearded Dragons?
The obvious first choice would be to take your beardie outside in the direct sun. However, you and I both know that this is not always possible. Poor weather, predators, parasites, lack of time, and the possibility of an escaped lizard are just a few of the reasons that this option is not always plausible.
So the next best option is to get a light that can produce the same UVB rays that come from the sun.
UVB Lighting Placement and Sizing
Choosing the proper size UVB lamp is critical to the health of your bearded dragon. You want at least 2/3 to 3/4 of the enclosure to be exposed to the UVB rays for at least 12-14 hours a day. This allows your bearded dragon to absorb beneficial UVB rays regardless of where it rests or sits.
When mounting your UVB light, position it completely to one side of the tank (preferably the side with the basking light).
Providing your beardie with 1/3 to 1/4 of the tank with no lighting can help to establish a “cool zone”. This is especially crucial if the beardie needs to regulate its body temperature.
Best UVB Bulbs for Bearded Dragons
These bulbs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and wattages. There are mercury vapor bulbs (MVB’s) that produce UVB/UVA light as well as a good amount of heat. These come in a variety of different wattages to accommodate the size of the tank in which you have, in order to help regulate the temperatures better.
The other (and more preferred) option is fluorescent bulbs. There are the long fluorescent bulbs, like those commonly used in a shop or office setting, and the compact versions which fit into a standard light bulb fixture.
The best UVB fluorescent bulb available is clearly the Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 UVB. Zoo med has a solid track record as a company and their UVB bulbs are highly papular among the bearded dragon’s community.
Zoo Med UVB bulbs are available in two different variants i.e. T5 and T8. Make sure you get the T5 variant because, in my opinion, the T5 is vastly superior to T8.
- Simply the best fluorescent tube for bearded dragons
- 10% of the tubes output is UVB.
- Bearded dragons require more UVB and a 10.0 tube is the better choice
- Fits easily in the enclosure
It is also vital to know that UVB/UVA rays can be blocked by glass or even plastic enclosure/fixture covers. Even wire tops can block some of the light that is produced. Keep this in mind when creating your bearded dragon habitat.
Depending on the specific type of bulb you get, the distance from which it is placed from the lizard will also determine the amount of UVB rays that are received. Usually, 12″-18″ is sufficient, but check the specifications on the box of the bulb you purchased to be sure.
How often should I replace UVB bulbs?
Over time the amount of UVB radiation generated decreases and without a rather expensive sensor to detect the UV levels, you have no way of knowing when to replace the bulbs. They’ll still be working and giving off light, just not the UVB radiation you need.
The rule of thumb is typically to replace these UVB bulbs once every 12 months. If you’ve not changed your bulb in a while and your dragon is looking sluggish and lethargic, try swapping out the bulb for a new one and see if that improves.
The packaging for the UVB bulb will state how often to change and the effective distance e.g. effective up to 20 inches. That means if your UVB bulb is closer to the floor then you can potentially use a lower percentage bulb.
How to measure the amount of UVB your beardie is getting?
To measure precisely how much UVB your bearded dragon is getting, you can use a UVB meter. UVB meters are easy to use and, according to research conducted in 2005 entitled Introduction to the 2005 Lighting Survey, UVB meters provide the most accurate, reliable, and consistent results. These are also very helpful in knowing when to replace your UVB bulbs.
By nature (or possibly design) UVB bulbs only produce sufficient amounts of UVB for around six months before needing to be replaced. Some MVB bulb manufacturers claim to last over a year, but this all depends on the specific type and brand you buy.
Periodically checking how much UVB your light is producing and how much your lizard is getting is the best way to keep optimal conditions.
- High Accuracy Measurement of Erythemally Effective UV Light
- Ferguson Zone Chart on Front Panel
- Measures 280nm to 400nm Erythemally Weighted
- Range from 0-199. 9 UV Index
What fixture should I use?
Choosing the proper UVB bulb for your bearded dragon is a very specific process, as we just learned. On the other hand, selecting a fixture to house your UVB bulb is an entirely different story – you have a lot of options to choose from.
I recommend the SubBlaster NanoTech T5HO Reflector Combo if you’re looking for a truly good fixture. It can be a little expensive than what you might get at a hardware store but because it’s equipped with a great reflector, it’ll significantly boost UVB output.
Also mounting the UVB fixture is fairly simple and straight forward. All you have to do is just pick up a few command hooks and attach them to the back of your tank.
- Simple and easy to use
- built in reflector to maximize UVB output
- Suitable size
A basking light is an essential component of any reptile enclosure. It allows reptiles to absorb warmth and maintain their body temperature by mimicking the sun’s natural heat.
Bearded Dragons require a gradient of heat within their enclosure ranging from 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit in the basking area to 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit on the cooler side.
Best Basking Lights for Bearded Dragons
There is a large variety of basking lights available specifically made for reptiles.
When it comes to the basking light, the most important thing is that it provides enough heat. A simple floodlight with a halogen bulb combined with a Flukers Clamp Lamp works perfectly and is significantly more affordable.
You really only have to feel it out when it comes to wattage and location. I’ve discovered that a 90 to 100-watt bulb set to 20” produces a basking temperature of around 105-110°F for me.
- Made of heavy gauge painted aluminum.
- The perfect lamp for bearded dragons and other reptiles.
- All sizes feature safety clamp
How to Monitor Tank Temperature
Remember to monitor the heat at all times. Ensure that multiple thermometers are placed inside the tank to know and control the temperature on each end.
Digital thermometers are recommended for the most accurate readings, but you can also purchase a temperature gun. This is a handheld thermometer that takes an immediate and accurate reading of anything you put in on or near.
- Highly accurate
- Measure surface temperature ranging from -58℉ to 716℉
- Backlit LCD screen
- Extend the battery life
Ceramic Heat Emitters
Ceramic Heat Emitters use invisible infrared light to heat up your bearded dragon’s tank.
Note: Ceramic Heat Emitters aren’t always required. A CHE isn’t necessary as long as the temperature in your tank doesn’t drop below 70°F at night.
The CHE’s are just that, a ceramic coil that fits into a standard light bulb fixture that produces heat but no light. These are popular for use at night when the temperature may get too low for the dragon.
If you are using an MVB bulb, they should produce enough heat on their own if a high enough wattage bulb is used. With fluorescent bulbs, or in the case of an MVB bulb not providing enough heat, a regular house bulb can produce the additional heat needed.
If this is still not providing adequate temperatures you may want to look into getting a ceramic heat emitter (CHE).
- Long life (Lasts up to 5 years)
- Water resistant
- Can installed in almost all kinds of tanks
A lot of bulbs now have specific reflectors in them to provide a tight cone of light which also helps. Avoid placing this on the side of the terrarium as the dragons (especially the young) will climb on this.
Also avoid adding a cage over the light as, again, they’ll climb on it, and either way they end up with burns. Instead, mount it from the ceiling of your setup.
Note: Because of the way bearded dragons sense heat, this is why you should never, ever, under any circumstances use anything that provides heat from underneath the beardie such as a heat rock or heat mat as they can’t tell how hot it is and will burn themselves.
The “Cool Side”
A bearded dragon tank must have a “cool side”. Providing a spot for your bearded dragon to escape the heat and cool down can help them control their body temperature.
Note: The temperature in the basking zone (hot end) should be somewhere between 100 to 110F, in the cooler end, you need to ensure that the temp is at about 80-90°F for them to cool down in.
Bearded Dragons regulate their body temperature by moving between different temperate zones such as basking in the sun to hiding in the shade – they even gape (open their mouth) to let heat out.
That is why achieving a proper temperature gradient is important in any bearded dragon tank.
Do you need a light on the cool side? No. it’s not necessary. However, If your room is dark, it can be beneficial (since beardies tend to like visual light). It can also help increase their appetite.
If you do want to use a light on the cool side, we recommend using a simple household bulb. But make sure it doesn’t increase the temperature too high. You can also use an LED bulb as it doesnt produce too much heat.
A simple household bulb should be fine for the cool side lamp – just make sure it doesn’t bump the temperature up too high. If it does, try switching to an LED bulb as they put off much less heat.
Creating a Temperature Gradient
A proper lighting setup should have overlapping zones.
Creating a proper temperature gradient allows your bearded dragon to choose a comfortable temperature by moving in the tank.
You will still need some adjustments to achieve the right temperature gradient even if you buy all the best lights.
The easiest way to fine-tune the temperature inside the enclosure is by moving the lights up or down. The height of the bulbs has a direct impact on the temperature inside the tank.
Also, you can control temperature by the furnishings/decor in the enclosure and how you place the light in it, using a reflector to help reduce the area heated by the heat lamp.
Lighting at Night
Bearded dragons, like humans, don’t like bright lights when they’re sleeping. They prefer to sleep with no light at all.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about this. There are a plethora of red and blue “night lights” on the market that may appear attractive but can disrupt your Bearded Dragons’ sleep cycle
Simply, no lights should be turned on in your Bearded Dragon’s tank at night.
Another reason people turn on lights at night is to maintain a comfortable temperature. Invest in a nice ceramic heat emitter If the temperature falls below 70 degrees.
CHEs generate heat without using visible light, making them ideal for heating your tank without disrupting your dragon’s sleep cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
A few of the most frequently asked questions about bearded dragon lighting and heating.
UVA vs. UVB – What’s the difference?
UVB (or ultraviolet-B) light is electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from 280 to 315 nanometers. UVB provides a way for reptiles as well as humans to create vitamin D especially D3 which helps bearded dragon digest calcium. Without UVB bearded dragons will have health issues such as MBD metabolic bone disease).
UVA is generally harmless and has few known benefits to us humans, although excessive quantities can damage vitamin A production. In reptiles, however, UVA encourages natural behavior such as breeding and basking. Lizards are very sensitive to it and also use it in part to identify food and mates.
Bearded Dragons have a special scale on top of their head that’s thought to be linked to this, more specifically it’s linked to the Pineal Gland which in most reptiles is always close to the brain.
Should I mount my UVB light inside or outside the tank?
The UVB tube bulb should ideally be placed within your tank. Because glass/mesh tops screen blocks a considerable amount of UVB rays.
How many hours should I run my lights?
We recommend running your lights 12-14 hours a day. Bearded dragons can be very sensitive to lighting schedule changes so we recommend automatic process through some sort of timer. Read more on how long you should leave the lights on.
Do I need to heat my tank at night?
You don’t generally need to bother about heating your tank at night if the temperature in your house doesn’t drop below 70°F. However, if the temperature drops into the 60s, you might consider investing in a ceramic heat emitter.
Your beardie might go to brumation if the temperature falls below 70.
- A UVB tube light is a must.
- A basking light is equally important.
- Ceremic heat emitter is required only if the tempreture drops below 70 degrees.
- A cool side lamp is not required but can be helpful.