They exist in the wild across most of Australia, thriving in deserts, subtropical woodlands and savannas, and while the export of wild bearded dragons has been banned since the 1960s, breeders in the United States have ensured that bearded dragons are available for pet owners who wish to call one of the lizards their own.
Bearded dragons are covered with spiny reptilian scales, which include spikes under the chin that the dragon can puff up to resemble a beard, hence the name. They require a warm habitat where they can move about to regulate their body temperature, which relies on external heat sources. In the wild, they bask in the sun for heat and burrow underground when they are too warm, or to hide from predators.
Drew Wetzel, 14, of Lapeer got her bearded dragon for her 10th birthday after she went to the fair and spent all her money trying to win a lizard at one of the carnival games. She didn’t win, so she did the next best thing and asked her grandma to take her to the pet store.
“I ended up coming home with a lizard,” she said, with a smile. “His name is Steve. At the time I got him, I was obsessed with Minecraft, and Steve is the main character.”
Steve, she said, is really a low-maintenance pet. Once they got a habitat set up for him, which is a long glass tank with a heat lamp at one end and a log he can bask on, there wasn’t much else to do aside from keeping his water bowl cleaned out and feeding him.
“He eats crickets and cut-up peppers,” said Wetzel’s mother, Erin. “His favorite is red bell pepper, and crickets are his protein.”
Steve spends most of the time he’s in the tank perched on his log, though Drew said he also bathes in his water bowl.
Bearded dragons can be taken out of their habitats and held, allowed to roam with supervision, and even taken for walks on leashes, if they’ll comply. Drew said she tried that once, but Steve wasn’t interested. They did, however, win the lookalike contest in a local Pet Parade one year, by dressing in matching tutus.
When Drew first got Steve, Erin said, he would lie next to her in bed every night and she would read to him. He probably would have stayed there all night, but they would return him to his habitat so he wouldn’t get injured overnight. Drew even made him his own little sleeping bag at one point.
Steve is also popular with visitors to the Wetzel home.
“People come over and they want to see him and touch him,” said Drew.
“He’s very interesting for people who have never been around a bearded dragon,” added Erin, adding that Steve’s spines look sharp but they aren’t.
Bearded dragons’ main party trick is the way they will puff out the spines on their neck when they are frightened or threatened. Steve didn’t feel threatened by the Pet Press reporter, though he was interested in the Nikon camera, as well as the calculator inside her notepad. He kept trying to eat the red button, which must have looked like a chunk of his favorite food.
Bearded dragon owners might find they have a new kind of accessory, as Drew has discovered Steve likes to hang out – literally – on her clothing.
“He can stick to my shirts,” she said. “He sits on my shirt and just hangs out there while I walk around and do my chores.”
Bearded dragons have a life expectancy of around 12 years in captivity. The Wetzels have had Steve for almost five years, but with five kids, three dogs and two cats, they’re starting to think about finding a new home for Steve, as their schedule has become more demanding with the kids’ activities. People who are considering a bearded dragon should be prepared to keep their pet for a decade or more.
They’re definitely not as common as cats or dogs, but these lizards certainly make an interesting pet.