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 October 21 is Reptile Awareness Day (RAD), a day of recognition for reptiles and education about them. From Brookesia micra—leaf chameleons who are quite possibly the smallest reptiles—to Crocodylus porosus, the saltwater crocodile, reptiles are an important part of both wildlife and domestic companionship worldwide. In honor of RAD we’re happy to present “All About Bearded Dragons.”

It was only in the 1990s when bearded dragons were introduced to the United States, although our friends down under had been living alongside these wild ones for ages. Bearded dragons are indigenous to southeastern Australian deserts but over the last few decades their popularity here has exploded. There are plenty of reasons for their demand, including their relaxed temperament, low-maintenance lifestyle, and sociability. Additionally, bearded dragons are considered one of the better pet choices for first-time pet parents and even children because they’re so easy to care for!

In terms of diet, bearded dragons are quite flexible because they are omnivores. Among the best foods for them are crickets, earthworms, and leafy greens! They’re relatively sedentary so don’t worry about making extra efforts to provide exercise opportunities for them. With that said, bearded dragons can enjoy going on walks with their pet parents. Some might even allow you to dress them up for your outing, like this cosplay diva! The habitat for your new, scaly friend requires the most attention to detail in terms of their care. Temperatures in their tank must range between about 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to do plenty of research and shopping around to get the perfect habitat for your new family member before bringing them home.

“Beardies,” as they are affectionately called, live about a dozen years although some may live longer. According to the Guinness Book of World Records the oldest bearded dragon we know of was named Sebastian. He lived to be 18 years old! Because of their long life spans, getting a bearded dragon should not be an impulse decision. While they’re easier to take care of than numerous other pets they still need regular check ups, time and attention, and dedication. There are also a couple of risks involved with having reptiles.

The main risk in having any reptile as a pet including a bearded dragon is Salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a list of considerations and safety guidelines for handling that pet parents ought to be aware of and take into account before bringing a reptile into the home.

After weighing the pros and cons of keeping a bearded dragon as a pet and deciding that you’re ready for that commitment then you’re ready to go get one. Your best bet will be a reptile show where you can meet the beardies you’re interested in, interact with them, and learn about their upbringing. Other options do include breeders and pet stores. Once you’ve found the right companion, call NOVA Pets Health Center at (703) 378-9791 to arrange an initial checkup and care consultation!