Giving our beardies a wonderful place to live should be a primary concern for all bearded dragon owners. That starts with picking out the right size vivarium (terrarium or enclosure). Healthy, captive bearded dragons can grow to be up to 24” (61 cm) long. Being cramped in an enclosure that is too small will make for an unhappy, stressed, and possibly unhealthy beardie!
The ideal size for an adult bearded dragon’s tank is 48” x 24” x 24”. The minimum is 36” x 18” x18”, but as long as the lighting and heating setup is good, there is no maximum. Even young beardies should have homes this size. It’s best to use a front access reptile enclosure instead of an aquarium.
If you are having trouble finding the right size enclosure for your bearded dragon, check out the highest-rated enclosures on Amazon. They get amazing reviews and come in sizes that other manufacturers don’t make… The right sizes! See all the Carolina Customs enclosures here on Amazon.
Bearded dragons in the wild
The natural habitat of a bearded dragon is the desert and arid regions of Australia. Due to wildlife restrictions, almost all beardies in captivity are bred. They are not captured in the wild and then imported.
Despite the fact that our beardies were bred in captivity, they are still considered wild animals. In order to be happy and healthy, they need to live in an environment that’s as close to their natural habitat as possible.
This means they need several things:
- Room to move
- Places to hide
- Things to climb
- A wide range of temperatures
- Somewhere to dig
In our opinion, if we are going to keep a wild animal in captivity, we also take on the responsibility of raising it in an optimal manner. We see a lot of people online talking about what they “get away with”.
Sure, your bearded dragon probably won’t immediately die if it’s in a crappy enclosure that’s too small. But it may have stunted growth. It won’t be very happy and will instead be constantly stressed. It won’t have the best possible temperament. It will most likely develop health problems.
It certainly won’t be living in an environment that even closely resembles where it is genetically designed to live! A tiny tank is nothing like the Australian desert.
Do smaller beardies need smaller enclosures?
Obviously, we can’t fit a replica of the Australian desert in our homes. We can, however, approximate and do our best to give our beardies enough room to move and climb and dig and enjoy life!
But what about a baby beardie? Or a juvenile? Do these smaller dragons need a smaller place to live? The short answer is no, they don’t. The Australian desert does not shrink when a baby dragon is hatched.
So why do so many websites give tank sizes broken down by age? They want you to buy more than one tank!!! There is absolutely no reason to do this. Our recommendation is to buy the right size tank up front.
Your baby or juvenile beardie will not mind having the extra space. They can explore and move around and really get to know their new home. They also won’t have to get used to a new one at each stage of growth.
Yes, you can put a baby beardie in a smaller terrarium than the properly sized 48” x 24” x 24” (122cm x 61cm x 61cm). But they will outgrow it. And they will outgrow it faster than you can imagine! Buy the right size up front. It will save you a lot of money and time in the long run, and your beardie will thank you!
There’s an old saying, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. There is nothing harmful about having a little extra room for your beardie to move around in, even if it’s young.
Why do bearded dragons need a larger vivarium?
So far, We’ve only mentioned not cramping your beardie. Giving them room to move and live like they should, at least somewhat close to how they would in the wild.
While our beardie’s happiness is a primary concern, we gave her a large space for a different and very important reason— her health.
Bearded dragons are ectotherms. This means that they cannot regulate their own body temperatures. They rely solely on their environment for this.
If they need to warm up (extremely important to aid the digestion of their food), they have to find somewhere hot to bask. If they want to sleep or need to cool down, they can only do so by finding somewhere cool to hang out.
It’s not just a matter of hot or cold, either. Much like how humans adjust the thermostats in our homes by individual degrees, beardies enjoy the ability to do the same with their environment. You will find that your beardie is constantly moving around its home, always in search of a comfortable temperature for their current needs.
The larger the enclosure you use, the more gradations in temperature you can offer your dragon.
An enclosure that is too small will often be too hot for your beardie. This leaves it no way to escape the heat when it needs to.
This can result in a stressed and possibly unhealthy dragon. Imagine if it was you. Trapped in a glass box. One side is hot, the other is even hotter. You can’t escape. What a terrible life! This is the disservice we do to bearded dragons when putting them in an enclosure that is too small.
This is also the reason for the minimum size recommendation of 36” x 18” x 18” (91cm x 46cm x 46cm). At that size, you can still get a nicely varied temperature range for your bearded dragon.
You can get their basking spot properly hot (preferably 90℉-110℉ | 32℃-43℃ depending on their age) while leaving a cool side that gets down to the recommended temperatures (75℉-85℉ | 24℃-29℃ degrees).
Thermal regulation is also aided by tank height. Having a nice, tall tank allows your dragon to move a greater distance from the basking lamp if needed. Since heat rises, it gives your beardie more options than a shorter enclosure.
18″ (46 cm) is the minimum height needed with 24” (61 cm) being ideal. Some of the best vivariums we’ve seen are a full 36” (91 cm) or taller. This not only provides for a wide range of temperatures, but it also gives the bearded dragon inside room to climb.
Bearded dragons are semi-arboreal (they spend much of their time in trees and bushes if they can). Giving them this option in their enclosure is one more way we can simulate their natural habitat while in captivity. The more we can make their artificial home like their natural home, the happier our beardies will be!
Matching your dragon to your enclosure
48” x 24” x 24” (122cm x 61cm x 61cm) enclosures can be much harder to find and are more expensive. 36” x 18” x 18” (91cm x 46cm x 46cm) is much more common and is notably cheaper. While the first size is what we really should be working with, it’s just not always going to work out that way.
One thing that will help in this case is considering the beardie you get to go inside the enclosure. While a full-grown male can get up to 24” (61 cm)long, that’s not the case with females. They will typically be a little smaller and will usually top out at around 18” (46 cm).
A 24” (61 cm) beardie really does need a 48” (122 cm) tank. But the smaller females can comfortably live in a 36” (91 cm) vivarium.
Another thing you might look for is a rescue. Many rescues are stunted in growth due to not being properly cared for when young. When you rescue a beardie like this, you are providing a good home for a dragon that may not otherwise find one.
Rescuing a stunted beardie also means that the 36” (91 cm) enclosures will work great. Putting some thought into the dragon you are getting will be important if you aren’t going to end up with the proper size tank.
That’s how we got Bacardi, our beardie. She is a stunted female rescue and measures under 12” (30 cm) long. She is a sweetheart and we love her, but she will most likely never get close to 24” (61 cm) long. She is happy in her 36” x 18” x 18” (91cm x 46cm x 46cm) enclosure with plenty of room to live and move around!
Take it up a level
One last tip that can help if you end up with a smaller enclosure is to build levels within the space you do have. Giving your beardie plenty of areas to explore by building up is a great little hack that makes a smaller enclosure seem much bigger.
Our favorite way to do this is with magnetic ledges by Magnaturals. These cool little accessories stick right to the glass sides of your vivarium and give your beardie places to climb and move around not possible otherwise. Check out all the cool Magnaturals options here on Amazon, they really are awesome!
A stress free beardie is a happy beardie
Something we learned very early on is that bearded dragons are highly susceptible to stress. They are a small and somewhat delicate animal. We are big and noisy and have huge hands from a beardie’s perspective.
Lots of things can cause stress for your bearded dragon. Stress not only causes your dragon to be miserable, but it will shorten its lifespan and cause serious health issues as well. It’s up to us to introduce as little stress as possible into our little friend’s lives.
This starts by giving our pets a proper place to live and thrive. And this means giving them enough room to move and grow and not be cramped. This means the right size vivarium! Make sure you are taking the time, money, and space to give it to them!
What if I don’t have room for the right size tank?
We hate to be harsh, but then you also don’t have room for a bearded dragon. It’s not fair to cram a beardie into a too-small area just because you want one. It’s important to provide a good life for your pet or simply don’t get one in the first place.
What if I don’t have room for the right size tank?
There are two types of tanks. One is like an aquarium and can only be accessed from the top. Others have doors on the front that allow access in addition to being open on the top. We prefer the second and we think the dragons do too.
Big things reaching at them from above mimic predators and cause stress. Having front access means you can reach in on their level. This is less stressful for the dragon. It’s also much easier to clean, feed, and otherwise set up the habitat this way!
Can I keep more than one beardie in a tank?
The short answer is no. Of course, there are exceptions, but on the whole, bearded dragons are solitary animals and are perfectly happy living alone. Having to share their home is stressful and they generally don’t like it.