How to choose the right vivarium

Choosing the vivarium/ terrarium enclosure is actually quite simple, you just need to follow a few easy steps to choose the right one

Female bearded dragon in vivarium

For reference, the term vivarium is actually the collective name for aquariums, terrariums, paludariums etc… but it’s commonly used and understood to mean the same as terrarium, a mostly dry soil/ sand based habitat. The quick answer for a Bearded Dragon vivarium is: get a wooden vivarium of a minimum of 4ft x 2ft x 2ft (l x w x h).

Bearded Dragons need in their vivarium setup:

  • A dry hot/ arid habitat (little to no moisture)
  • A constant temperature gradient with a hot end (basking spot) and a cool end
  • Substrate to dig in
  • Space to climb and perch
  • Plenty of space to run around/ hunt food

That sounds like it might be fairly complex but following the below it’s quite easy to find the right vivarium/ terrarium. If you’re in a hot climate such as California in the US for example then a lot of the time you can keep them outdoors so only need to consider a caged enclosure since they’ll get their heat and UV naturally. If you’re keeping them indoors in a much cooler country such as the UK or Germany then you’ll need a proper vivarium setup and the below is written with this in mind.

Glass Vivariums / Terrariums

For Bearded Dragons you should avoid vivariums made from a lot of glass such as aquariums, this is because the glass traps heat and makes it difficult to regulate the correct temperature and air flow, especially if you plan to keep the vivarium in direct sunlight. So just don’t bother, I’m sure you can set up the tank correctly and I myself am keeping a small dragon in an aquarium but it causes me no end of hassle getting the right temperature. Also another factor to consider is handling, with aquariums you need to put your hand in from the top and this will scare the beardie since it’ll think your hand is a predator making it very skittish. The other glass options are ones made by companies such as Exo Terra which are built specifically for reptiles, generally these are much better suited for lizards such as geckos and are too small for your adult bearded dragon, so again avoid in this case.

Mesh Vivariums

Typically mesh vivariums are made for height and not floor area for more arboreal (lives in tress) reptiles such as chameleons, they also make it difficult to control the ambient humidity & temperature since heat can very easily escape, however if you live in a warm environment this may not be such a concern, however floor space and digging areas are a concern and so it’s best to avoid this.

Wooden Vivariums

This leaves the wooden vivariums which are what I would recommend for Bearded Dragons. Being mostly wooden they are easy to maintain temperature in, they are cheap, there is plenty of floor space for the lizard and enough height. You can get them in flat pack/ DIY kit form, pre-built or you can even build your own viv. They do however require some preparation before they can be used – no matter how it is made.

With a wooden terrarium you need to ensure that the inside corners and edges have all been silicon sealed, this is to stop moisture getting into the wood and also any dirt/ soil escaping. If you’re building your own, you’ll need to make sure that the wood is treated and is moisture resistant to avoid warping. Silicon sealant takes a day to cure properly, it produces acidic fumes and so you can not expect to keep any wildlife in there until the sealant is cured – you also need a well ventilated area to do this in.

Your wooden vivarium should have air vents in it as well, at least one vent per square foot/ 30cm at the top of the back wall. Avoid wooden vivariums that have air vents at the base of the back wall of the tank since dirt and insects will escape through it. Personally I’ve found the best kits so far to be the Vivexotic ones.

Vivarium size

Sizing up your bearded dragons vivarium/ terrarium is very straightforward, just remember that the more space you can provide, the better – If I could give them a whole room then I would. You need to know how big your bearded dragon will get so that you can create a habitat that will allow an adult to happily live in. My rule on sizing is that there is no maximum but for the very minimum the floor space should be 4 times the length of an adult (typically 2 foot/ 24 inches/ 60cm). This means that you need a vivarium with a floor space of at least 8 square feet (4ft x 2ft), a Rankins/ Lawsons dragon which only grows up to 12 inches will need half the size. This minimum size also allows for that fact that the dragon will have some time outside the habitat to exercise and explore.

For height you need to allow about 3-5 inches of substrate, more for a female, less for a male, you also need to allow for the 5 or 6 inches for the heat lamp fixed from the ceiling. Finally you need to allow the dragon spaces to climb since they are semi-aboreal. The minimum height I would suggest is 2 foot/ 60cm, but the ideal would be 3 foot.

In conclusion

You can now see just how much space you need to properly keep a dragon, if your pet shop or breeder suggests keeping them in anything smaller then simply walk away, for young dragons you can keep them in smaller areas until they outgrow it but eventually you’ll need to face up to the fact that they need a lot of space – more than your average rabbit hutch! So you may as well sort it out now. There have been various people suggest that there are problems keeping a baby bearded dragon in large enclosure and that they have problems finding the food etc… I’ve yet to see any problem, although I do provide a heat source at both ends of the setup and use paper towel for babies but other than that I don’t change anything else.