Bearded dragons are diurnal creatures, which means like most humans, they are active during the day and they sleep at night. When they are awake and in the wild, it is the sun in the desert that helps them metabolize and see properly.
In captivity and essentially when raising a beardie as your pet, in order to best replicate this environment we must provide Ultraviolet B (UVB) lighting and heat lamps in the cages.. The lighting helps them to generate Vitamin D3 in their skin. They do this in the desert by sitting on a rock or limb in the sun for most of the day. And in captivity we recreate this by purchasing special types of bearded dragon lighting and building limbs and rocks for them to ‘bask’ on.
Vitamin D3 is important because that is how they metabolize various nutrients and regulate the levels of calcium in the dragon’s bloodstream. Being that you sprinkle a bit of calcium each day on their feeder insects, you can see how important this lighting is in terms of helping them properly digest their food. Additionally, without this essential bearded dragon lighting, they can develop different types of diseases including Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). Tragically, the unfortunate end result of MBD is usually death.
There are 3 types of bearded dragon lighting that are available on the market: compact fluorescent, linear tube fluorescent, and mercury vapor bulbs.
Compact Fluorescent: These are small, spiraled lights, and are generally fairly cheap to purchase online or in pet stores. We do not recommend using these as they have a weak UVB output, rarely last more than 3 months, and have been known to cause eye issues.
Linear Tube Fluorescent: These are long (14”+) tube lights and are the best option out on the market for reptile UVB! Not only do they generally emit UVB beyond 6 months but they are also fairly inexpensive to purchase. We recommending Zoo Med’s new ReptiSun T5 HO bulbs and fixtures. You will want to purchase their 10.0 bulb. This is a specific wavelength optimal for desert dwelling species
Mercury Vapor Bulb: These are the industry “All-In-One’s.” They provide UVB and heat in a single bulb, which can be very convenient. Using them is great if you are breeding and have many different baby enclosures to light. The downsides are that the UVB isn’t as strong or long lasting as it is in the tube fluorescents and the bulbs are often fragile. Plus, you run into the same issue that we found with the Compact bulbs – UVB is ONLY in one spot!
If you use the T5 bulb for your dragon, don’t forget to purchase a heat lamp at the proper wattage, to provide a basking spot of 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit.
You need to install all the bulbs we discussed above in your bearded dragon cage. For that you will need a wider cage with enough room. On thebeardeddragons.org, they have listed top cages for bearded dragons that is a good place to start with.