The eggs as I started to uncover them. Fiona seemed to have forgotten about them by this time, and didn't mind me moving them!
Bearded Dragon Planned Breeding
If you are seriously thinking about breeding your bearded dragons you should ensure you have good healthy breeding stock. The male and female should be unrelated (to ensure this make sure you did not buy them from the same clutch).
Good nutrition prior to breeding is essential, particularly for the female who should have calcium rich foods and additional calcium supplementation. If you breed different colour morphs you may well find it easier to sell the juveniles. Before you start breeding do some research about what the state of the market is for bearded dragons in your locality. Are the pet shops already full to overflowing? Will pet shops take them off your hands if you cannot sell them yourself? And what is the going price for a baby bearded dragon? Look in the papers, and free ads online. If there is a glut of bearded dragons then it may be best not to breed at this time.
And remember, even with colour morphs a significant profit is unlikely, unless you are breeding exceptional and rare colours.
If you are going to breed bearded dragons you will need to plan ahead to make sure that the eggs are not going to hatch when you plan to go on holiday - which is not quite as easy as it sounds. Bearded dragons tend to lay eggs around 4 to 6 weeks after a successful mating, and the eggs can hatch anything between 50 to 100 days plus after laying. You will need to keep the hatchlings for at least 8 weeks after hatching, and maybe longer if it's difficult to find new homes for them all. The next issue is that it will be unusual if your female does not lay a second clutch of eggs 3 to 4 weeks after the first, and there may be a third, or even fourth clutch laid after that. You should therefore plan to be around for 6 to 8 months after you put your bearded dragons together to mate, which may well mean foregoing an annual holiday, or timing it until you know all potential hatchlings will have gone to their new homes.
Whilst you have hatchlings on the ground you will find a not insizeable chunk of your day will be spent preparing food for them and cleaning out the vivariums, as well as looking for potential buyers. Even if you have a number of suitable homes already sorted, a third or fourth clutch may catch you unawares.
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Breeding Bearded Dragons
A word of warning...
Breeding bearded dragons is not hard - in fact it's too easy. Put a female and male together and you'll soon be hearing the patter of lots and lots and lots of little tiny feet. And feet come attached to mouths which are very very hungry!
A bearded dragon can have multiple clutches of eggs from just one mating - two is the norm, but three or four are not unheard of. And each clutch can be twenty to thirty eggs.
Before you think about breeding think about the cost. Ideally each five babies should be housed separately so that they don't tail or toe nip - they are not vicious, but a tail disappearing behind a rock looks an awful lot like a cricket to a hungry baby.
So you'll need to buy lots of vivariums. And then there's the food - up to £50 a week for a clutch of growing bearded dragon babies! And then you will find there are so many babies being bred at the moment that unless you are breeding high end colour morphs you will end up almost giving them away - and certainly not making enough money to pay back what you spent for all the vivs and food.
This is something you do for the love of it - not the money!
Accidental Matings of Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons are notoriously difficult to sex accurately, even as adults. It is far from uncommon for people to have bought what they thought, or were told, were a pair of females, to later find that they are actually male and female, and that the female is gravid (carrying eggs). If you find that your bearded dragons have mated, then take a step back and think and the cost and time involved in raising the hatchlings before rushing about to buy an incubator. You may well find yourself looking after multiple clutches. This will involve daily cleaning of vivariums for around 3 months - or even more if the female lays three clutches.
It cannot be denied that it is a wonderful experience seeing eggs in the vivarium, and 2 months later seeing the hatchlings emerge. But this is only the start of the hard work, and then you will need to find homes them all. Selling also takes time. A wise breeder will have made sure they had a market for the young bearded dragons before allowing them to breed - with an accidental mating there will not have been time to do this.
If your bearded dragons have mated accidentally then do consider freezing the eggs as soon as they are laid. This stops any development of the embryo. Do not throw the eggs out with the rubbish as there is chance they might hatch on the rubbish heap, and then die.
Now that you know you have a male and female bearded dragon it is time to get a new vivarium and keep them separated - otherwise your female may constantly be laying eggs which will put a huge drain on her body and shorten her life.
What age can Bearded Dragons breed?
Ideally it is best to wait until the bearded dragons are about 18 months old before thinking about breeding, however if you keep a male and female together you don't have a lot of say in the matter! Bearded dragons have been known to breed from as young as eight months, size seeming to be a more important factor than age.
There is some risk to the female if she is not fully grown when trying to lay a clutch of eggs, and
The male bearded dragon is not the gentliest of courtiers. When he is ready to breed his beard will darken, and quite possibly stay dark over a number of days. The head bobbing habit demonstrated from a very young age becomes quite violent. The female may reciprocate by arm waving to show she is receptive. The male will jump onto the female and hold her in place by biting at the skin on the back of the neck. Although very rough behaviour, the female seems to tolerate it, although in some dragons the male has been known to tear the female's skin.
Mating can take place in seconds. If you let a female and male out together then you risk an accidental mating as it may happen before you can seperate them.
How do you know when a mating has been successful?
The first signs that I had that my bearded dragons had bred was that the female was putting on weight. Then she seemed to go completely off her food, and she seemed to change shape! One day I noticed that her stomach looked like it was full of marbles! Unexpected though it was, Fiona was obviously gravid, that is, pregnant and full of eggs. That explained the not eating - the eggs take up too much room in the stomach so there's no space left for food.
Fiona clearly showing eggs in her stomach
One worry is that the female may become egg bound. This can happen if the female has been mated too early and isn't big enough to pass the eggs. Bearded dragons can also become egg bound if they have nowhere appropriate to lay their eggs, and so try to hang onto them instead. Once you are certain your female is gravid then put a container into the vivarium filled with deep sand. This needs to be fairly large, and deep enough so that she can dig a tunnel in it. I used a triangular cat litter tray that fitted into the corner of the vivarium.
Dig dig dig
Fi became extremely restless, running from one end of the viv to the other, digging constantly, but in various places and never in the same place twice. The previously neatly arranged vivarium resembled a bomb site - you could barely see in the glass with all the sand she had kicked up! This was the first clutch of eggs Fiona was to lay, and I don't think she knew what she was doing. By the second clutch she was much calmer. Although the laying box was used second time around, she seemed to ignore it the first time. To ensure she had a good place to be able to dig a suitable tunnel, in the end I emptied a bag of damp sand into the vivarium, and started a tunnel off for her with my hand.
A couple more days, and I was lucky enough to see a glimmer of white in a hole. It was obviously an egg. Fi had just laid them, and was now busy burying them as deep as she could. Once all the eggs were covered she lost interest in the site and moved away. She immediately looked for something to eat! She needed feeding up, as she was by now very skinny!
A female's first clutch of eggs are often unfertilised and yellowish in colour. I was surprised to see the eggs all looked a healthy creamy white colour which gave me hope that I would have some hatchlings in due course. .
Our Homemade incubator
Not even knowing if the eggs were going to be fertile, we didn't want to spend a lot, so were grateful to the advice given by a local reptile and fishkeeping shop. They provided us (for free) with a poly box (one of the large polystryene boxes that they sell the likes of Koi carp in), and recommended filling this to a depth of six inches with water, and using an aquarium water heater/thermostat to keep it to temparature.
The eggs in the incubator - the two top left trays and the middle left are the first batch of eggs and can clearly be seen to be larger than the eggs laid the day before.
Bricks were placed in the incubator, with a grill over the top, and the eggs put in boxes safely above the water. Unlike birds eggs which need to be kept dry, reptile eggs need to be kept humid. I placed the eggs in damp vermiculite - the vermiculite should clump together when squeezed, but water shouldn't drip out. Using water water to control the temparature also helps keep a steady humidity. The main benefit of this incubation method is it is cheap to set up - the whole thing cost around £20, which, seeing as at that point I didn't know whether there would be any viable eggs to incubate, was a very good result!
It is best to get the incubator up and running before the eggs are laid as the temparature needs to stabalise at a constant 84 degrees fahrenheit (28 degrees celsius).
I used a teaspoon and a paintbrush to carefully brush away the sand from the eggs. As I lifted out each one I carefully placed it in the container in the vermiculite, making sure that I kept it the same way up as I had found it. Then on to the next and the next. It is very important that you keep the eggs in the same orientation as they were laid - turning the egg can kill the embryo inside.
There were 22 eggs in total! I placed three containers full of eggs in the incubator, and then started the long 60 day plus wait.
If the eggs were infertile they would collapse and go bad within a week - none did!
Bearded dragon eggs should be incubated at 84 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees celsius) Humidity should be kept very high. Humidity should be maintained at 70 - 90% As well as my home made version, you can also put a heat mat (attached to a thermostat) at the bottom of the polystyrene box, with a bowl of water to keep the humidity high.
Eggs should be placed in damp vermiculite - this is clean and bacteria free. Don't use damp soil as this can contain harmful bacteria.
Hatching time can be from 50 days, but anything up to 100 days or just over is normal.
Always lift the eggs gently from the laying box, keeping them in the exact orientation that they were laid. Eggs should never be turned as the embryo inside will die.
Some experts 'candle' the eggs to see the growing embryo - this means holding them up with a light behind them. I don't recommend this for beginners as it is so easy to inadvertently turn the egg over and kill the embryo inside.
You can read about the process of hatching on my Babies page, but just a quick word here about eggs that do not hatch. The eggs do not all hatch out at once, and a couple of eggs may not hatch at all. Don't be in a hurry to remove unhatched eggs - it does no harm leaving them in the incubator for a few days just to make sure. Never try and open the egg - if the baby isn't strong enough to get out itself it is nature's way of saying it won't be able to survive. Trying to cut into an egg to get the baby out is more likely to damage a baby which would otherwise be healthy.
Embryos should be kept in the incubator until they are moving around independently as they need to absorb the yolk sac.
4 weeks later Fi laid a second batch of eggs. This is perfectly normal and to be expected, as bearded dragons retain sperm. This time Fi laid 21 eggs, making a grand total of 43 in all! After another week of running about and creating havoc (but only going off her food for a couple of days this time) Fiona kindly took the hint of the hole I had started in the damp sand in laying box and laid her second clutch there.
Once the eggs were removed and put in the incubator it was clear to see how much the initial batch had grown!
In the end the first clutch of eggs took 73 days to hatch, and the second clutch started hatching on the 71st day - which was Christmas day, so a nice sight for our visitors!
This page describes and shows the hatchlings emerging from the eggs and their initial care.
Second Clutch and Hatching