Bearded dragons in their native habitat (the hot, arid regions of Australia) spend their entire lives outdoors. When we build them homes in which to live their lives in captivity, we should always do what we can to simulate their native environment.
As good beardie parents, we will always do what we can. We set up basking lights and UV bulbs to emulate the sun. We give them rocks, branches, and logs to climb on and hide beneath. But no matter what we do, living in a tank is just not the same as being outside in nature under the sun.
So it’s normal for a caring bearded dragon owner to want to take their beardie outside. But is that a good idea? Should you take your bearded dragon outside for some playtime under the sun?
Bearded dragons can and should spend time outside. As long as temps are above 70℉ and humidity is below 65%, time outdoors is healthy and enjoyable for your bearded dragon. Make sure to always use a harness, never let them eat wild plants or bugs, and always keep an eye out for birds and other predators.
It only makes sense, right? Here is an animal that has evolved over thousands of years to live and thrive outside. It can climb and burrow and hunt for its food. It can avoid predators. It can mate and raise baby dragons.
Bearded dragons can do all of these things outside without human help. But when it comes to bearded dragons in captivity, things are a little different. They’ll need some help from you.
Should bearded dragons be outside?
We feel that not only can your bearded dragon go outside, but it should go outside. There is simply no substitute for natural sunlight, fresh air, and new and exciting things to climb and explore.
Let’s start with sunlight. Even the highest quality mercury vapor bulb pales in comparison to the warmth and UVB rays emitted by the sun. No light bulb that you would ever put over your beardie’s tank can do the same thing that the sun can.
You’ll see immediate evidence of this if you start taking your beardie out in the sun, and it’s really cool to watch! First, their skin will turn dark all over. This is them changing color to absorb as much of the sun’s UVB energy as they can.
At some point, they will change in color again to a much lighter, yellowish-orange. And with that, their energy levels will go up dramatically!
Some beardie owners joke that taking their bearded dragons outside is like “charging them up.” You’ll be amazed at the behavior and color changes that take place out in the sunlight!
This, in itself, should be enough to encourage you to take your beardie outside. But there are other benefits too.
Exercise is a big one. Most beardies tend to be pretty inactive in their tanks. They won’t move around near as much as they would in the wild. Getting them outside where they can roam and climb and play is good for their health.
Along with sunshine and exercise, mental acuity, dexterity, and a calmer demeanor are all results of regular time outside. There are few, if any, drawbacks as long as you follow a few basic guidelines when you take them outside.
Guidelines for being outside with your bearded dragon
With bearded dragons, it’s not at all like having a dog. You can’t simply open the door and shoo them out into the yard for a while. There’s more to it than that.
It’s not hard, but there are some basic rules and guidelines to go by when taking your beardie outside. Not following these could lead to injury, illness, a lost bearded dragon, or even death.
Use a harness every time!
Before we get into the specifics of taking your beardie outside, we need to address one essential rule. Always use a harness! There are a ton of them out there. You can even get them with little dragon wings on them.
We prefer a harness like this one that you can get inexpensively on Amazon. But regardless of the type of harness you use, use one every time!
Your bearded dragon may be the most docile, slow, easy-to-catch thing ever when inside your home. Once that bearded dragon is outside, it’s a whole new ball game. Outside, their instincts kick in, and they become hyper-vigilant for predators.
If they think they see a bird, a cat, or any other large thing they consider to be a threat, they will bolt. Your slow, lumbering beardie who never did more than walk when inside is now doing their best Usain Bolt impersonation and tearing across your yard to the closest thing they think might keep them from being eaten.
Even once you think your bearded dragon is fully adjusted to being outside, use a harness every time then too. It only takes one time for them to get spooked, and you have a lost bearded dragon on your hands.
If you’ve never used a harness before, we prepared a full instructional article that walks you through how to do this, what kind of harness to use, and how to train your bearded dragon to learn to love being on a harness and leash. You can read that article here!
Only take them outside at appropriate times.
Since bearded dragons are exothermic (they get their needed heat from external sources), it’s important to avoid two key times when deciding if it’s a good time to take them outdoors. The first is first thing in the morning, and the second is after they’ve eaten.
At both of these times, your bearded dragon needs time under their basking light. Allow them this time to soak up some heat. Particularly after a meal.
The heat from their basking light helps them to digest their food. If you don’t give them a chance to do this, this can cause some gastrointestinal issues.
You also don’t want to take them outside when it’s cold. Technically, they should be fine in temps as low as 65℉, but a good rule of thumb is only to take them out when it’s in the mid ’70s or higher.
Humidity is also important. If the humidity level is 65% or more, don’t take them outside. This level of moisture can cause problems with breathing and can also lead to respiratory infections.
We would also recommend only taking them out on sunny days. A huge part of the reason going outside is good for them is so they can get direct, natural sunlight. There isn’t a whole lot out there for them if it’s overcast or rainy.
Take special care the first few times you take your bearded dragon outside.
If you remove a bearded dragon from the comfort and familiarity of their tank and head outside into a big, bright, noisy world they aren’t used to, they will probably freak out at least a little bit.
The first time we took our beardie, Bacardi, outside, she did just that. She wanted no part of being out there at all. She was scared, and it showed!
The trick is to ease them into it. We advise starting by holding them near a window or the glass/screen of a storm door and just hanging out there for a while. Do this several times before ever heading out the door.
This is also when to start getting them used to wearing their harness. The smaller the increments you can move while heading in the direction of taking them outside, the better. Start the harness now, and it won’t be a big deal once you get out the door!
Once your beardie is comfortable in a harness and leash, you can calmly walk outside while holding them. The first few times outside, do not set them down. Just be still and hold them. Cover them with your hands to make them feel secure.
Hang out for a few minutes and then head back in. If that goes well for a few tries, the next time you head out, sit down and set them in your lap.
Getting on the ground should be their decision. They will eventually crawl down off of your leg and cautiously explore. The first few times, they may crawl right back in your lap or under your leg, where they feel safe and protected.
If they start to get stressed at any time in this process, try calming them down by talking to them. This works great with our little Bacardi. She’s very used to us talking to her, and it calms her right down.
Once they’ve climbed down and started exploring, you’re home-free! There are a few more things to be aware of, but you’re most of the way home when this happens.
Be careful of what they try to eat.
Beardies check out the world around them in large part with their tongue. They are known for eating, or at least trying to eat, anything that comes close to fitting in their mouth.
This means you need to be careful with what they try to eat while outside. Some things can be toxic, and others can contain parasites or bacteria. Others can cause death.
The first rule is no wild bugs or vegetation. Even trace amounts of herbicides, fertilizers, or pesticides can be harmful or fatal. Even if you don’t apply these things to your yard, your neighbors do.
Rain and wind blow what’s in your neighbor’s yard into yours. You never know what wind, rain, or foot traffic has carried into your yard from other spaces.
The same goes for wild insects. You have no idea where those insects have been or what they’ve been eating. Not to mention, bugs found outside can be laden with parasites. These aren’t things you want your bearded dragon ingesting!
Do not let your bearded dragon eat lighting bugs!!! These are highly toxic to your beardie, and eating them is usually fatal.
Bottom line, pay attention! Watch what your scaly little friend is doing, and don’t let them put things in their mouth that don’t belong there. It’s a lot like watching a small child.
Watch for predators!
While your bearded dragon is your cute little family member to you, they are a light snack for many things that make their homes outside. Hawks, cats, coyotes, and a myriad of other animals will all happily eat your scaly little friend if given a chance.
Ingrained in your bearded dragon is a deep knowledge that they are prey. They have eyes on the sides of their heads to better allow them to see threats. They have a “third eye” on top of their heads that sense changes to light and shadow. This is specifically to alert them to birds overhead.
Not only are they equipped to detect predators, but they have evolved to evade and hide from them as well. They will run (faster than you’ve ever seen your beardie move) and hide at the first hint of trouble.
As we mentioned before, a harness is a must. If your bearded dragon decides to bolt, you’re going to have a tough time catching them if you aren’t using a harness.
You will also want to make sure there are 1-2 hides available to them while outside. Whether it’s under your leg or a log, they’ll want someplace to hide if they feel threatened.
Lastly, you’ll need to keep an eye out yourself. For example, hawks and owls won’t care that you are standing there next to your bearded dragon if they are hungry. Once they lock in on their prey, they will swoop silently in and carry your beardie off before you know what happened.
It’s important to be aware of what’s going on when you are outside. It’s also crucial to never, ever leave your bearded dragon outside unattended! Letting your bearded dragon wander around the yard unsupervised is being an irresponsible owner for a variety of reasons.
Can bearded dragons live outside?
A bearded dragon can be kept outdoors in a mostly sunny, warm, and low-humidity climate. Keep them in a well-ventilated cage with a secure lid (no glass tanks) with several hides and places to climb. It is also a good idea to have an indoor tank set up for times they need to be brought inside.
For most people, though, this simply isn’t possible. Weather, predators, or even neighborhood kids make keeping a bearded dragon outside something that shouldn’t be considered.
For example, we live near Chicago, and there’s just no way we could even dream of letting our beardie live outside. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of days when a trip outside isn’t the highlight of our beardie’s day!
Should you bring bearded dragons with you out in public?
Bearded dragons are unusual pets that naturally attract a lot of attention. We’ve seen quite a few owners bringing their pets with them in public for precisely this reason.
These people love the attention that their bearded dragon gets them. Kids and adults alike will come up to them and ask questions. They will want to pet or touch the dragon. It will be quite a show!
This is exactly why it’s a bad idea. A bearded dragon is not a fashion accessory. It’s not a way to get attention. It’s not a method of appearing cool or hip. A beardie is a living animal that, for the most part, does not like a lot of action going on around them.
Taking your bearded dragon out in public won’t be any fun for your beardie, regardless of how much fun you have doing it.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. There are bearded dragons who have been highly socialized and are used to a lot of people. So maybe it’s not stressful for these select few beardies. But even then, we feel it’s a bad idea.
It only takes one rough kid or anxious moment to end in a bite. This is not a good situation to find yourself in. You could get sued. You could have your pet taken away. Your beardie could even get hurt. It’s just not worth it.
Keep your ventures outdoors in your yard, in a quiet park, or by taking them on a secluded picnic. It will be a better experience for them and for you!
Make a safe outside hangout for your bearded dragon.
If you start taking your beardie outside a lot, you may want to put together a small area for them to explore. One that is specifically for them.
This can be anything from a blocked-off corner of your yard to a custom outdoor enclosure that you build. You can go as simple as a converted hamster or birdcage or as fancy as a hand-built, multi-level structure.
If you like this idea but aren’t sure what to do, one excellent solution is the Exoterra Flexarium (seen here on Amazon). It’s a tightly woven mesh vivarium that is portable. It’s easy to put up and take down. It will keep your beardie safe from predators.
You can see the available sizes and pricing of these here on Amazon. If you plan on spending regular time outside with your beardie, they aren’t a bad idea at all!
Please keep in mind that even with an enclosure like this, it is never a good idea to leave your beardie unattended outdoors.
See you outside!!!
Even though it might be slow going at first, it’s worth putting in the time and effort to take your bearded dragon outside occasionally. There really isn’t a substitute for some time spent in direct sunlight.
Just remember to use a harness, keep an eye out, and make them feel safe when needed. Once you get that down, it’s good times from there!
Sources and Further Reading
My bearded dragon ate some insects outside. What should I do?
It’s a good idea in this instance to see a vet for a fecal test. This way, they can test for parasites that may have been picked up by eating wild insects.
My bearded dragon just took off running on two legs! Is that normal?
It is! Bearded dragons can and do run on their hind legs when they are feeling threatened. They actually run slower on two legs than they can on four, but by exposing their bellies to the breeze as they run, they can stay cooler and run longer when on two legs.
In either case, they are fast! We can’t remind you enough of the importance of a harness!
Can I let my beardie climb a tree?
Yes! Ensure you are there to catch them if they slip or fall, but beardies love to climb! They spend a good deal of their time climbing trees, bushes, rocks, and anything else that gets them up off the ground in the wild.