Every animal has different requirements to stay healthy, alive and happy; bearded dragon lighting 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 is not only essential for proper temperatures, but more importantly for adequate vitamin production within the body. 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 the vitamin D3 in the reptiles body. 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. 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 UVA/UVB rays that come from the sun. These bulbs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and wattage. There are mercury vapor bulbs (MVB’s) which produce UVB/UVA light as well as a good amount of heat. These come in a variety of different wattage to accommodate the size of tank in which you have, in order to help regulate the temperatures better.
The other (and more preferred) option are 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. Personally I prefer using a tube fluorescent for my dragons as they cover more area within the enclosure. You want at least 3/4 of the enclosure to be exposed to the UVB rays for at least 12-14 hours a day. By having only 3/4 of the tank exposed, this will allow the beardie to regulate the amount of light they get on their own by moving in and out of direct contact.
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 enclosure for your beardie. 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.
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 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.
The other major purpose of bearded dragon lighting is temperature. 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. There are several ways in which the proper heat can be provided.
If you are using a 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). 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 temperature may get too low for the dragon.
Remember to monitor heat at all times. Ensure that multiple thermometers are placed inside the cage 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.