My scaly, crawly, buddy

Sam Kern, Features Editor

     When people think of pets, they always think of a furry little four-legged creature that snuggles up to them on rainy days. But for me, I was excited to get a Bearded Dragon. He was a little scaly thing, the runt of the group when I went to pick him up from a friend. That made me love him so much more, though.

     I named him Loki, from the Marvel comics, because Loki means mischievous. When I brought him home, the first thing he wanted to do was scout everything out. It’s normal for any pet to understand the boundaries of their new home. But even after a few months, he was still getting into everything. He’d hide in my laundry basket and burrowed under all the clothes as Bearded Dragons are prone to burrowing.

     Around Christmas time, he crawls around my little Christmas tree decoration I have on my desk, looking for ways to crawl up into it and hide. He particularly likes my pillows. I can often find him lying underneath my fuzzy pillows. That’s normally a sign that he’s ready to go back in his tank for the warmth of his “sun.”

     Before getting a new pet, one must always do their research on the animal. You can’t just get a new animal and expect to know everything about it. I did research for months before actually getting the little guy. I wanted to know everything there was to know about having a Bearded Dragon as a pet.

     The tank set up is probably the most important. Not just what’s inside, like logs and rocks for him or her to climb on, but the light and heat settings need to be just right, too. Bearded Dragons are naturally from the desert, so hot is a must. A hundred degrees is a good place to have the heat set on for Bearded Dragons of all ages, although younger Bearded Dragons need to have the temperature a bit higher, about 110 degrees so they can digest their food better.

     The best way to ensure your Bearded Dragon is getting the proper “sunlight” is to have the lamp plugged into a timer with about 12-14 hours of daylight and 10-12 hours of nighttime. This changes when Daylight Saving time hits. The lighting should mimic when the sun comes up and when it goes down.

     In the wild, Bearded Dragons will burrow down into the moist sand and suck up the water around them. Because there is not that natural dampness in Loki’s tank, I have to give him a bath a least once a week to make sure he’s staying hydrated. If I don’t hang on to him, he splashes around until he can get a grip on something. He’s not big on swimming so his baths are normally pretty short.

     Feeding time is the best time there is. Not only does he love hunting for the live food but Loki and I get to spend some quality time together, which I probably enjoy more than he does sometimes. When Bearded Dragons are young, they need the protein from bugs in order to grow properly, with some vegetables and fruits mixed in there for vitamins and minerals. But as they get older, the protein becomes less and the fruits and vegetables become more important.

     Super worms are Loki’s favorite, but he’ll eat crickets if that’s all that’s available. Dubai Roaches are something I haven’t tried with Loki yet, mainly because they freak me out, but they are an option along with earthworms, horn worms, wax worms and meal worms. They have to be bought at a pet store or an online source. When he was younger he went through so many worms and crickets, but now that he’s almost three years old, salads are mainly what he eats.

     There are a ton of vegetables that Bearded Dragons can and cannot eat, so that’s an important fact to know. Also, just because the fruits and vegetables list is plenty, doesn’t mean the dragon will eat it. Loki loves collard greens, which is great because it’s his main staple food most days. He particularly likes carrots, which add color to his salads. Broccoli, cauliflower, red bell peppers and asparagus make up his daily meals. They have to be mixed up a little or Loki gets bored, which is normal for any pet. You wouldn’t want to eat the same thing for weeks, would you?

     Mangoes, apples, strawberries and blueberries are among the fruits a Bearded Dragon can eat, but I haven’t found Loki liking any of them. He’s a pretty picky eater when it comes to being healthy.

     Bearded Dragons go through what’s called bromating, which is basically a hibernation for Bearded Dragons. The first-time Loki went into this mode of hibernation honestly frightened me. I thought he was sick and I was going to have to find a doctor for him. And for your information, the nearest reptilian veterinarian is near Philadelphia and there’s also one in Pittsburgh.

     I did a little more research and found that this was normal for some Bearded Dragons to go through. In the wild, when food is scarce, they are able to shut down their bodies and awaken when they are ready. For Loki, this means at least three months. But I wake him up every two or three weeks to give him a bath so he stays hydrated during his slumber.

     Every Bearded Dragon is going to be different, just like humans, which is why Loki makes such a fascinating pet. He’s not furry, but he’s got four legs and he enjoys lying with me in the grass when it’s nice outside. I have to watch that he doesn’t eat the bugs because they could make him sick with all the chemicals he might ingest. He may not lick me like a dog would or cuddle with me like a cat, but I love him all the same.