A co-worker who also owns a beardie recently asked me about the ideal temperature for her dragon. She was concerned because she recently bought a large new tank (55 gal) and we live in an area that’s frequently very cold in the winter and stiflingly hot in the summer. In particular, she was worried because the tank, which she could never get above 90 degrees in the winter, was now passing 100 and rising, and might present an overheating hazard to her beardie.
After assuring her that 100 was not too hot for a beardie, I asked her what sort of heating system the pet store had set her up with for the new tank. She said that she had two incandescent but tube-shaped bulbs in two hoods, one on each side of the tank. The store had told her that, if she put both hoods on the same side of the tank, it might cause one to overheat the other and set the tank on fire. So, quite reasonably concerned about heating, my friend had put the lights so that they evenly covered the entire tank.
Now, I’m not sure how hot these particular lights might get, but I’ve run two mercury vapor 160W bulbs immediately next to one another, and they don’t seem to shut off any more often than when alone (the bulbs are self-ballasted and shut off when overheating). I told my friend to put both fixtures on the same side, in order to create a temperature gradient. This, ultimately, is the key that I’ve found to keeping a happy beardie.
Squirrel, our dragon, seems comfortable with temps of 110 on the hot side of the tank. He’ll sit on his rock and occasionally open his mouth, but doesn’t make a move for the cooler side of the tank, a sign to me that he’s able to properly regulate his internal temps with just his mouth. If he ever starts to move away from the heat, I turn the light off for a few minutes to allow cooling. This is why the gradient is key–if you give your beardie the ability to go away from the heat source, this is your best method of determining whether or not your tank is too hot. If your beardie, like Squirrel, is simply ‘sweating’ while basking, don’t worry. A warm beardie is, after all, usually a healthier, stronger beardie. If he or she is on the opposite side from the heat lamp, however, and still gaping, it may be time to reduce the temperature. Just remember, watching your beardie is the best way to tell how they’re doing.