So, you’ve got your new bearded dragon and you’re already in awe of just how cute and affectionate (hopefully) he or she is! You’ve set up their cage, given them their first round of crickets, and are elated to watch them begin to explore their environment.
Yet, as cute as this scenario is, things can turn deadly fast. How you ask? Well, if you’re anything like many first time owners chances are your lighting set up (UVB bulb, basking bulb) probably isn’t exactly ideal.
But fear not! Setting up your bearded dragon’s tank with the right basking and UVB bulb is actually really simple, it just takes doing a little homework to figure out what exactly you need and how to position things… cue this article!
After reading this post you should feel confident about not only what type of bulbs to use, but how to set them up, when to replace them, and so many more critical components of maintaining an optimal environment for your little scaly friend.
So, just keep reading if you’d like to learn all that you need to know about the proper bearded dragon lighting setup! OR feel free to use the Table of Contents below to navigate to a specific section!
In any tank, you’re going to want to have a heat lamp (AKA basking bulb), a UVB bulb, and a ceramic heat emitter (if it gets colder than 65 degrees Fahrenheit in your home at night) for your bearded dragon lighting setup. This is really all you need.
You’ll want to make sure that whatever bulb you use for your heat lamp emits white light… NOT colors. Regular household bulbs or halogen flood lights work fine for this! However, when it comes to the UVB bulb, the choices of what to use are way more limited, as you’ll soon discover further down in this article.
For adult bearded dragons (those 12 months and older), you’ll want an overall cage temperature of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit with basking spots topping out between 100 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and a cool side sitting around 85 degrees.
At night, you’ll want to the overall cage temperature (no need to monitor cool or hot side) to be between 65 and 80 degrees. Anything below 65 and you’ll need a Ceramic Heat Emitter (see above).
It should be noted that baby bearded dragons will like slightly warmer basking temps of 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ll want to only rely on digital or infrared thermometers as dial and stick-on types are known to be very inaccurate. The options below are great and will give you accurate temps, especially the more sophisticated thermometer gun by Equinox which gives accurate readings for body, surface, and room (i.e. tank) temperatures instantly!
If you’re wondering how many watts you need to produce the right temperature in your bearded dragon’s cage, the answer unfortunately isn’t exactly cut and dry. You see, there will be many things to consider when it comes to finding out the wattage that works best with your setup.
For starters, you’ll need to consider what the cage/tank is actually made of. For example, wooden enclosures will retain heat much better than glass terrariums and as such, won’t require bulbs with as high of wattages.
You’ll also need to consider the size of the tank itself. From personal experience, a 60-watt incandescent bulb works great in a small 20-gallon tank for a baby. For a 40-gallon breeder, I’ve had success using a 60-watt halogen bulb as well.
Halogen floodlight bulbs are much stronger than typical house bulbs and as such, you shouldn’t need as high of wattage. Had I used an incandescent bulb in my 40-gallon breeder, I might have needed a wattage of 100 to 150, as opposed to the 60-watt Halogen.
When it comes to discerning what wattage to use, you’ll also want to consider how far away the bulb will be from the dragon as well. I typically prefer stronger bulbs that sit back at least a whole foot from the enclosure as these provide a wider berth of heat and light. You don’t want a bulb that sits so close only a small area of the tank receives the heat and light.
A basking light (or heat lamp), is going to help your bearded dragon both regulate their day and night cycles and also aid in their digestion and keep their appetite up. Without heat, your dragon will become sickly and can even suffer from impaction, as food will be stuck in their system undigested.
For the basking light itself, you’ll essentially have your choice between a regular household incandescent light bulb or a halogen flood light bulb. While the incandescent bulb will need to be a higher wattage than the stronger halogen flood light, both should be mounted above and outside the enclosure, unlike the UVB which will go inside since screens can filter the UVB and keep it from reaching your beardie.
This 6 pack of 50 watt halogen light bulbs by Philips is a great option for your bearded dragon and at $13 is a total steal!
This 4 pack of infrared spot lamp bulbs by Exo Terra is a great choice for those looking for bright white incandescent light bulbs. At 100 watts each, one light bulb should be sufficient for heating any bearded dragon tank, unless extremely large in which case you would need 2 bulbs.
If you need more than 100 watts for either a larger tank or a tank in a cold room, check out this Zacro Reptile Heat Lamp that comes in at 150 watts. This bulb even comes with a digital thermometer as well!
In terms of a fixture for either bulb, I recommend going with the Zilla Premium Reflector Dome, in either the 5.5 inch or 8.5 inch, again depending on tank size.
In addition to a heat lamp, your bearded dragon will absolutely need a UVB bulb in their setup as well. The UVB rays emitted from this bulb will help your dragon synthesize Vitamin D3, which is the vitamin necessary for proper calcium absorption. Without D3, your bearded dragon will develop Metabolic Bone Disease, which is absolutely horrific.
As aforementioned, there aren’t very many reliable and safe options on the market for UVB bulbs. Why? Well, for starters many manufactures produce UVB bulbs in the form of coil or compact bulbs which produce UVB that is too strong for your beardie and can burn them.
On top of this, other brands don’t exactly possess the best track records, with many bearded dragon owners claiming the bulbs either shorted out or didn’t put out enough UVB to begin with, leading to serious health issues.
Now, when it comes to types of UVB bulbs, you can choose either fluorescent or mercury vapor bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are more affordable and should be replaced every 6 months. On the flip side, mercury vapor bulbs are more expensive, but also last longer.
If you’re looking for an “all-in-one” kind of lighting situation, you’ll want to go with mercury vapor bulbs as they supply UVB, UVA, and heat to your bearded dragon. Naturally mercury vapor bulbs are much stronger so you’ll want to be extra diligent about measuring temps in your beardie’s cage and also making sure the lighting isn’t placed too close where it could burn your bearded dragon.
Now, onto the recommendations!
The best mercury vapor bulb is definitely going to be this one by Evergreen Pet Supplies. This UVB not only has a great track record but also lasts a really long time.
For this bulb, you’ll need a special fixture that will allow you to mount it OUTSIDE of the tank, as inside would be very dangerous for your dragon. The fixture below will work great.
The first recommendation is going to be the ReptiSun 10.0 UVB Light, which is definitely the most trusted and popular choice amongst bearded dragon owners. This option is especially ideal for owners who have a 40-gallon tank or larger.
For a fixture that works with the ReptiSun, I recommend going with the option below. It should be noted that for a fluorescent UVB bulb you’ll want to mount it inside your bearded dragon’s tank since a screen lid can block out UVB.
You’ll also want to make sure your dragon can get ample UVB while they bask, so if you have to pick a side, mount it on the side of the basking light
Not entirely necessary, a Ceramic Heat Emitter or CHE is only needed when temps drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit in a bearded dragon’s tank at night. Many people do not need to purchase a CHE and those who do, typically only set it up to run during the colder months of the year.
The Fluker’s Ceramic Heat Emitter for Reptiles is a great option for keeping your bearded dragon’s temps up at night and can be paired with the Fluker’s Clamp Lamps.
Contrary to what any rep at a pet store tries to tell you, your bearded dragon does not need lighting at night, under any circumstance. In fact, lights at night can actually be detrimental to their wellbeing!
Why? Well in the wild bearded dragons are accustomed to sleeping entirely in the dark and associate any form of light with that of the sun. When they see light, it makes them think they need to be awake, which will lead to horrible sleeping habits and potential health issues.
You’re going to want to turn your bearded dragon’s lights (UVB + basking) on for at least 10 hours a day, but ideally 12. I recommend turning the lights on about an hour before feeding in the morning so your bearded dragon can get warmed up enough to induce an appetite and properly digest their food.
Likewise, I recommend if you feed them at night, doing so at least an hour before you plan on turning the lights off. This will allow them to better digest their food.
If your bearded dragon is looking to brumate, you can help ease them into it by lessening the number of hours the lights are on per day. Consider turning the lights on for at least 8 hours but no more than 10 through the winter months to mimic their natural environment.
Having the right UVB bulb and a bright white basking bulb that puts out enough heat (but not too much) is essentially 90% of the battle. Once you have the right bulbs, it simply comes down to trial and error in terms of placement to get the right temps and UVB positioning.
I’m Stacey, the owner of this website and lifelong reptile lover, caretaker, and educator. Here you will find everything from information on how to care for reptiles, to even how to give your reptiles the best fighting chances against a range of common reptile diseases and illnesses, and everything in between!