Meet the Menagerie: Ziggy

Back in the summer, a co-worker of Kenneth’s got herself a bearded dragon (Esme).  Very exciting — until she figured out that Esme was pregnant!  Fortunately, Kenneth and I had already had success breeding our leopard geckos, and had the setup required to take care of some dragon eggs.  When Esme’s eggs were laid, we brought them home and put them in the incubator.  A few months later, we had babies!  They were tiny, and there were lots of them.

We ooh’ed and awww’ed over them for a while, but we couldn’t keep them all.  So we started finding homes for them, through pet stores, friends, and Craigslist.  It took a few months, but they’re all off to other homes now — except for one.

Meet Ziggy (yes, as in Ziggy Stardust — note the pretty orange face stripes).  Ziggy’s just about 6 months old now, and eating and growing fast.  Adults get to be anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2 feet long — Zig’s just about 8 inches now, so there’s still a ways for him to go.  In captivity, beardies can potentially live up to 20 years — but usually 10-15 is a more reasonable estimate.  Unfortunately, early death is a common thing among captive reptiles, as owners (either through having bad information, or through simple laziness) do not always provide proper care for their scaly pets.  Bearded dragons need high temperatures, UV light, and a good diet in order to live a long and happy life.

Bearded dragons are native to Australia, and are omnivorous.  As juveniles they eat a much higher percentage of insects than they do of plants, but as they get older they will develop more of a taste for salad.  At present, Zig’s eating mostly roaches, mealworms and silkworms, with a few leafy greens (dusted with calcium and vitamin D3 powder) thrown into the mix.

Beardies are known for being docile and for tolerating handling very well (especially if they’ve been handled often for their entire lives and are accustomed to it).  They’re very popular pets, and most are now captive-bred instead of wild-caught.  Many different colour morphs have been developed in captivity, and there are lots of exotic trade names for these different colours and patterns.  Ziggy is hypomelanistic — meaning that he lacks the dark pigments found on wild bearded dragons, and has clear toenails instead of dark.  He also has some pretty, orange highlights on his face and back.  But he’s not nearly as bright as some of the “red dragons” that are now being bred.  Based on my research, he could probably be called a “hypo-pastel”, or perhaps a “translucent”.  However, as I mentioned before, there are endless trade names out there for different colours and patterns, and different breeders would probably call him different things.  His colours may also develop further as he gets older, and he could become more (or less) orange as he matures.

As you can see in the picture above, I’ve recently put down sand as a substrate in Ziggy’s tank.  There are mixed feelings on sand-as-substrate in the bearded dragon world.  When they are babies, it’s a bad idea to keep them on sand — especially if you’re keeping many of them in the same tank and they are competing for food.  Babies can be clumsy eaters, and might get a mouthful of sand (which can cause digestive impaction, a potentially fatal and very painful condition).  Some owners feel that there is still a risk as their dragons get older, while others dismiss the risk as extremely minimal (an adult would have to eat quite a lot of sand before impaction would occur, and they’re less clumsy about eating).  I’ve decided that Zig is old enough (and a careful enough eater) to try the experiment, but I will be watching closely during mealtimes to be sure that there’s no sand-eating going on.  If I notice any troubles, I’ll switch the sand out for ceramic tiles, which are less nice-looking and don’t offer the same opportunities for scratching and digging about, but have no risk of being accidentally ingested.

Compared to many other reptile pets, bearded dragons are relatively high-maintenance.  As babies and juveniles, they require food at least once per day (and even more when they’re very small).  As adults they still need to be fed at least every other day, and offered a good variety of insects and vegetables.  Compared to a leopard gecko, which needs only a few insects once or twice a week, or a snake, which only needs to eat every week or two, it’s a lot of upkeep.  But beardies are very active and personable, which definitely makes up for the extra work involved.  And if you’re someone like me, who likes to eat their veggies, it’s not that difficult to buy things that can be shared with the dragon.

Expect more updates on Ziggy in the future, as I’m sure he’ll continue to be a source of interest and entertainment as he gets bigger.


3 Responses to “Meet the Menagerie: Ziggy”

  1. Cool! Thanks for the info. I have a hermit crab that’s about six now, but it needs much less care than your dragon. I love when I clean out his tank, and move his shells around, and he crawls around checking it all out. Do you catch the insects yourself, or buy them at the store? mari

    • Hermit crabs are fun — and very cute.

      Catching wild insects for your captive reptiles is a very bad idea, as you can’t be absolutely certain that those insects weren’t exposed to chemicals of some sort (pesticides, etc). You also can’t be sure what a wild insect has been eating, and whether it will be of good nutritional value. Worst of all, some insects (like fireflies, for example) can be toxic to reptiles.

      If you only have one or two animals, buying bugs from the pet store works just fine. When I only had one lizard, I would buy crickets and mealworms every few weeks and keep them in a plastic “cricket keeper” box until they were needed. But since Kenneth and I have so many animals now, it’s more economical for us to actually maintain colonies of several kinds of insects. Most feeder insects are very easy to maintain in this way, provided you’re working with sufficient numbers. We occasionally buy more insects just to “top up” the numbers in the colonies, but for the most part we’re able to feed our menagerie at little to no cost, and enough of the insects in the colonies will mature, breed, and lay eggs, that the colony just keeps on going and producing more lizard food.

      The best part of keeping your own insect colonies is that you can monitor what they are eating at all times, and therefore you can be 100% sure that these insects are well fed and healthy, and thus will make excellent food for your reptile pets. “Gut-loading” is the term used when you provide your insects with a good, healthy meal before you feed those insects to your lizards — it makes them “loaded” with nutrition.

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