I live near Chicago, and I’m not the biggest fan of the cold we get in the winter. But at least I can put on a coat. As cool as I think it would be if my bearded dragon, Bacardi, could put on a coat when she’s cold, it wouldn’t actually do her any good.
Instead, our beardies rely on us to provide them with a nice warm spot to bask in. The question, though, is how warm that basking spot should be?
The temperature of your bearded dragon’s basking spot should be between 95℉ and 110℉ (35℃-43℃). Baby bearded dragons will require a warmer spot (105℉-110℉), while adult bearded dragons will be better suited to slightly lower temps (95℉-105℉). The best way to check these temps is with a temperature gun.
Bearded Dragons are Ectotherms
Humans are endotherms, meaning that we generate body heat on our own. One of the many functions of that self-generated heat is to aid in digestion. No heat, no digestion. No digestion, no nutrients from food. No nutrients, and, you guessed it. We would not survive!
Our bearded dragons are ectotherms. They cannot generate their own body heat. Their cold-blooded little bodies cannot generate the heat needed to digest their food. That means they need to get that heat from an outside source.
In Australia, where they are from, external heat isn’t hard to find. Bearded dragons come from hot and arid regions in Australia, where the sun shines down on them almost every day. They can commonly be found basking on a rock, letting the heat of the sun warm their bodies and aid in digestion.
When we decided to keep our little scaly friends in an enclosure in our homes, it’s up to us to provide them with the heat they can no longer get from the sun. In fact, it’s important to give them a range of temperatures inside their vivariums.
This is so that they can regulate their body temperatures by moving from spot to spot. If they need heat, they can head to their “basking spot”. If they need a cooler temp, they can move over to the cooler side of their home.
This need leaves many bearded dragon owners wondering how hot each side should be as well as how they should achieve these needed temperatures.
Basking temperatures for bearded dragons
The temperatures you’ll need for your beardie will vary slightly by age. It’s important to provide these needed temps and monitor them regularly.
If it gets too cold, your beardie will not be able to properly digest its food. This may cause impaction or other problems that can be serious and even lead to death. This is why strict temperature control is so vitally important! (Not sure what impaction is? See our complete and helpful article here)
Baby dragons prefer things a little hotter. As bearded dragons age, their need for heat drops just a little. Since babies and juveniles are growing so fast, they will eat more than adults. Especially hard-to-digest insects.
While adults should get insects only a few times a week, babies and juveniles should get them pretty much every day. This means their digestive needs are more demanding, and that means they like a hotter basking spot.
Basking temperatures by age:
How to heat the basking area
Let’s start with how not to heat the basking area. It’s never a good idea to heat the area from underneath. Don’t use a heated rock or an under mount heating pad.
This can cause the surface of the area to be too hot for your beardie. Your dragon won’t realize they need to move until it’s too late and they’ve been burned. Always heat the basking area from overhead with a light.
For a complete guide on lighting for your bearded dragon’s enclosure, see here (article coming soon). I spent a lot of time covering every possible detail, and that includes your basking light options.
In short, you can use a traditional light bulb, a basking bulb, or an MVB (mercury vapor bulb) for this job. Each light has its own unique requirements, so please refer to my lighting guide before choosing and positioning a bulb.
The heating light will hang anywhere from 6” (for standard or basking bulbs) to sometimes 24” above the basking spot (for higher power MVB bulbs). The distance from the spot will help you dial in the correct temperature.
Remember, you aren’t aiming for a bulb distance. You are aiming for a temperature. Reposition your bulb, the basking area, or both until you achieve the desired temp. I like using a hammock for my beardie’s basking spot, as that allowed me to raise and lower it until the heat level was just right.
Once you have what you think is the right setup, leave the bulb on for an hour or so and then measure the temps again. Triple-check, and you should be good to go. You need to make absolutely sure the temperature is right. This is crucial.
How to measure the temperature
I also recommend checking the temps regularly. Things can change over time. The ambient room temperature will affect your basking spot as well, so seasonal changes are normal and should be accounted for.
The effectiveness of your bulb will wane over time, so regular bulb replacement (every 6 months) is a best practice.
I recommend using a temp gun for this job. While it’s nice to have a thermometer on the wall to see the overall temperature in your vivarium, that thermometer won’t tell you what the actual basking spot measures.
A temp gun is a little gadget with an LCD readout that you aim at the exact spot you want a measurement from. Some even have little laser lights to show you exactly what spot you are checking.
Check multiple points across the entire basking area. Make sure they fall within the needed ranges. I like to recheck this weekly and sometimes do it even more often than that. A temp gun is the best and most accurate way to measure the temperature of your beardie’s basking spot.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on a temp gun. I use one that I bought on Amazon pretty cheaply, and it works great! I’ve had it for years, and it’s still on the original battery. You can check its current pricing by clicking this link.
While I think it’s overkill, my vet recommends a higher-end temperature gun. He feels it’s more precise and can be used from further away. I’m happy with my cheaper version, but if you want to see what a qualified exotic pet vet recommends, you can see his recommendation here on Amazon.
Basking lamp timing
You don’t want your basking lamp on 24/7. Instead, you want to simulate the sun. After all, you are trying to recreate your dragon’s natural habitat. I recommend that you put the light on a timer. Set it to be on twelve hours and off twelve hours.
I have mine set to go on when the sun comes up and go off 12 hours later. That way, my beardie won’t be woken up by the sun coming through the window before her basking light goes on.
Since you will have multiple lights in your vivarium, some staying on all the time and some cycling on and off every twelve hours, I recommend you use an all-in-one timer. I use one by Zoo Med. It has four always-on outlets and four that are on a built-in timer.
It’s compact and perfect for my beardie’s lighting array. It’s much better to automate the lighting than to try to remember to turn it on and off every day. You can pick one up for yourself here on Amazon. It’s well worth the money!!!
The desert in Australia can get cold at night. This is what your bearded dragon expects. The cooler temps will help them sleep and feel more at home.
With the basking light off, you want your vivarium to drop to between 70℉-75℉ at night (21℃-24℃). The lowest it should ever get is 65℉ (18℃). If you think it will ever get lower than that, you’ll need to consider one of a couple of ways to heat your tank at night.
This can be done with either a red bulb or a ceramic heater. Both have their place, and whichever one you use will depend on how cold your house gets at night.
As a general rule, use a red light in homes where the temps don’t get below 65 and use a ceramic heater if they do. We use a CHE (ceramic heating element) and have been really happy with the results. See what ours looks like here.
A well-heated beardie is a happy beardie
Remember, our goal is to simulate their natural home. They need the proper basking temperature to do this. It’s also critical to their digestion. (source)
Once you set up your basking area correctly, you’ll have a happy and healthy beardie on your hands. And isn’t that what we all want?
Sources and Further Reading
My bearded dragon is in their basking spot with their head up and mouth open. Are they okay?
Yes!!! This is the natural response of a bearded dragon who is enjoying the correct basking temperature. If you see your bearded dragon sitting with its head up and mouth gaping open, and your temperatures fall within the listed ranges, there is nothing to worry about.
Want to know more? Check out our full article on this here!
What’s the minimum distance the basking spot should be from the basking bulb?
For standard light bulbs and basking bulbs, you want a minimum of 6”. Anything closer and you risk burning your dragon. My light is right at 6”, and it provides the perfect temperature for my beardie. If using an MVB (mercury vapor) bulb, refer to the guidelines you get with your bulb.
Can I put the enclosure in the sun instead of using a basking light?
No! Your beardie’s vivarium should be kept out of direct sunlight. You have no way to regulate how much heat they get, and the tank could become way too hot. It also would mean they don’t get heat or light on cloudy days. You should always use an artificial lighting setup with bearded dragons in captivity.