Bearded Dragon Lighting Guide
In the wild, bearded dragons are exposed to the intense light from the sun, however once our bearded dragons are moved into captivity we need to make sure that we can simulate their natural environment and provide the necessary UV lighting our bearded dragons need to thrive.
In this article we will be focusing on the lighting requirements, the heating aspect we will discuss later in another article in much more depth.
What are the lighting requirements for a bearded dragon? Firstly we need to provide UVA lighting, this allows our bearded dragon to thrive, stay in good shape and maintain a healthy appetite.
We also need to provide UVB lighting which enables the bearded dragon to synthesise vitamin D3, this is required by the bearded dragon to utilise calcium which he extracts from his diet.
In the wild, our bearded dragons would receive the UVA and UVB lighting directly from the sun during daylight hours.
It’s especially important our bearded dragons receive the correct amount of UVA and UVB lighting, without vitamin D3 and calcium our bearded dragons can develop a metabolic bone disease which can cause a range of problems for your bearded dragon’s health in the future.
When it comes to simulating this lighting within the enclosure we need to take into consideration a few things, we first need to consider the size of the space we are providing, it will need to be big enough to house our bearded dragon, but will also need to be large enough so that we can provide a range of lighting which our bearded dragon needs.
We will need to pay close attention to the height of the enclosure, bearded dragons need to be a certain distance away from a UV light source at all times, too far away will mean your dragon isn’t getting the correct UV lighting, and too close could potentially harm your bearded dragon’s eyes.
We also need to consider what lights we need, some are used as a means to provide UV light only, others are used to provide heat only and we even have special mercury vapour bulbs that are used to provide a mixture of both UV light and heat.
Let’s take a deeper look into how we can set up our bearded dragon enclosure to facilitate the lighting requirements needed.
When it comes to selecting a UVB light source, the most common option is a fluorescent tube, however, we can’t just pick up any old tube from the local hardware store, we need to select one which is suitable for our vivarium size and for our bearded dragons requirements.
We also need to make sure that we pick up a specific reptile tube as these will provide the necessary UVB which standard household lighting will not be able to provide.
When selecting a tube we need to make sure that it is able to extend all the way across the top of the enclosure, we don’t ever want to position this lighting just at one side of the enclosure as this will not provide enough UV light.
For bearded dragons, there are two types of fluorescent tubes which can be used in slightly different circumstances, in general, we select either a T5 or a T8 UV source.
A T8 fluorescent tube is thicker and less powerful, this means that this type of UV light is suitable for tanks with a lower depth, so 24 inches and under, the reason we opt for the less powerful light with lower vivariums is that we could potentially damage our bearded dragons eyes if he is exposed to high-intensity UV light at a short distance, so we want to make sure that we pick the correct lighting source based on the depth.
A bearded dragon under T8 lighting should have an area of the enclosure where they can get 6 to 8 inches away from the UV light source but no closer.
On a side note, we also need to take into consideration any high points in the vivarium that our bearded dragon will bask in, ideally, these high points also want to be free of any dangerous levels of UV exposure.
The other type of fluorescent tube is a T5, these are much more powerful and provide a much more intense dosage of UV light, these are particularly useful for much larger bearded dragon enclosures, typically around 24 inches and larger in depth.
A bearded dragon under T5 lighting should have an area of the enclosure where they can get 12 to 15 inches away from the UV light source but no closer, if the bearded dragon is unable to do this then you are exposing your bearded dragon to intense UV radiation which it simply can’t escape, and this could damage his eyes.
When it comes to positioning the UV light, this should start from the basking spot and extend all the way across the enclosure to the cooler end, it’s also a good idea to provide a little hiding spot where our bearded dragons can completely escape the UV source for a while if they wish to, I tend to place this on the cool side which will give them an option to escape intense light and heat if they prefer.
Lastly, a few more points about UVB lighting, always be sure to use a reflector, these will make your UVB light sources much more resourceful as the UVB light will be all directed into the enclosure, and secondly always make sure that you replace your fluorescent tubes once each year, even if it still appears to be working fine. Florescent tubes will lose their effectiveness over the course of a year, and after 12 months they are no longer providing the amount of UV needed.
Inside your enclosure you will also need to provide a basking spot for your bearded dragon to use, this is an area of heat that is focused in one spot and will provide heat for them when they want to bask.
This basking spot should be on the warm side of the enclosure and will provide the greatest area of heat and will gradually become cooler as you move from the hot side to the cooler side, basking bulbs come in various sizes and fittings, but in general, most enclosures have a mesh roof where you can place this heat source.
Also, if you have a wooden vivarium then you can get a bit handy and mount the bulb using some kind of holder onto the side of the enclosure and pointing down to create a basking spot.
You want to make sure that the bulb is positioned so that your bearded dragon can’t actually touch the heat or burn himself, but at the same time make sure that it does indeed provide the necessary heat for basking.
Just make sure that you have a warm side with temperatures around 100F to 110F in the basking spot, to 75F to 85F in the cool side of the enclosure, everything else in between should be in the spectrum of heat between these ranges.
There is also the option of mercury vapour bulbs, these bulbs produce both the UV radiation that your bearded dragon needs as well as heat, this can sometimes prevent the necessity of having to use several bulbs at once in the enclosure.
Mercury vapour bulbs also tend to last a little bit longer than fluorescent tubes, so quite often you will get a bigger bang for your buck.
Automated Setup for UVB Lights
When it comes to UV lights, your bearded dragon typically will need to be exposed to this for 12 hours per day, in real simple terms this means that you switch it on at 9 am, and switch it off at 9 pm (duh!), however, you are also able to automate this process so you don’t have to worry about it.
In general you have a few options here, the first option would be to use a timer plug which you can pick up from Amazon, this simply lets you set up a schedule and controls the power to another device that you plug into the timer, with a timer like this you can just set up the timer and leave it to switch on for 12 hours and then back off again.
Another option is to use something like the Hive Active Plug, this is exactly what I do with my vivariums, as I can then set up a schedule to switch on at 9 am and off at 9 pm, with the added benefit of being able to switch on or off my vivarium lighting if I am away from home.
This is a bit more high tech, but it’s nice to be able to set these timers and forget them, but it’s also nice knowing that you don’t have to be at home to control your vivarium lighting should you forget once you’re out and about.
Whatever method of lighting you choose, we always need to make sure that we provide a light cycle, just as humans lives are centred by the rising and setting of the sun, so are bearded dragons who also need this light cycle every single day at the same time, so make sure your schedules are in a timely manner each day.
As mentioned above, timers are a great method of providing this light cycle at exactly the same time every day.
Overnight, we don’t want to leave on any lights, all lights go out at bedtime, however depending on where you live, you might want to provide a ceramic heater to provide a little extra heat for your bearded dragon through the night.
These ceramic heaters do not produce any light, and a simply a source of warmth, these are always handy to have on standby if you need to just create that extra bit of heat.
How can I tell if my UVB light needs replacing?
Basically, you can’t, your fluorescent tube may look like it’s working perfectly since the visible light will look fine, however, the amount of UV that it can provide will diminish over the course of a year, so set a reminder in your calendars and just buy a new one every 12 months.
How can I monitor the temperatures of each area of my tank?
The best way to measure the temperatures within your enclosure is simply to have multiple thermometers at each end of the vivarium, or in some cases, you can use a digital thermometer that has multiple sensors which you can place at either end of your enclosure.
The latter is exactly what I do, and at the press of a button, I can simply select which end of the vivarium I want a temperature reading from.