You will first need to know how to sex your Bearded Dragons. There is a helpful article (with photos) here. We have discussed brumation at length in our care sheet (under the 'behaviors' section). You will want to familiarize yourself with the brumation process as you will want to allow your female to brumate prior to breeding her. This not only helps ensure the largest clutch size, but also prepares her body for breeding. Although breeding can be attempted without an initial brumation period, this will reduce the amount of offspring your female will produce.
To prepare your female's body for the demanding egg making process, you will need to provide extra protein and calcium supplementation, beginning two weeks prior to mating her, and throughout the entire breeding process. You can choose to provide a calcium dusting on her daily feeders, or provide liquid calcium via oral injection every few days.
Before even introducing your male and female beardies, you will need to make some preparations. The first thing you want to do is make sure you will be able to feed and house all those babies! A reliable supplier of crickets is a must since one baby can eat upwards of 100 crickets a day! Multiply that by the average clutch rate of 20+ eggs and you can easily go through 15,000 crickets a week! This is why a reliable (and, for your sake, cost effective!) supplier is necessary – your local pet shop will not be equipped to sell you 15,000 crickets!
In addition to feeding the babies, you will need to have adequate housing for all of them. It is generally recommended that you have no more than 5 hatchlings per bin. Keep in mind that while the plastic bins may be cheap, you will need to provide adequate light, a proper UVB source, and temperatures up to 110*F for each bin. Your first clutch alone will require 4 bins, and Bearded Dragons can lay up to 7 clutches per year with 20+ per clutch. Since it is not guaranteed that you will always be able to sell all the babies from the prior clutch before the next ones hatch, you could easily end up with much more than 4 bins to worry about at a time!
Last (but not least!) you will need an incubator for the eggs. Due to the strict temperature and humidity requirements, you will want to have this set up well in advance. You will want the incubator to remain at a steady 80*F-87*F, with a humidity level between 80-85%. You will place the eggs in containers with a 50/50 vermiculite or perlite mixture. The mixture should be damp (not wet).
Since complications can arise (such as egg binding), you will also want to have a reputable reptile vet available and let them know that you plan to breed. You may also want to get your breeding pair checked for parasites and any other issues prior to mating them since healthy dragons make healthy babies!
Before introducing them for mating, you will need to make sure they are of adequate age and size for breeding. Your male and female should be between 2-5 years of age and at least 350 grams. They should be proportionately the same in size, to avoid injuries during the mating process.
Once you are ready to begin the mating process, you will want to put the male and female together for about 2-4 hours per day for about a week. While some breeders have had success with simply leaving them together in a tank for a day or two, this can result in injuries and stress. The mating process of Bearded Dragons can appear violent. The male will usually bob his head, display his beard, flatten out, and quickly circle her. If the female submits, you will see a slow, deliberate head bob, followed by waving her arm. If this happens, she is signaling to him that she is ready to go. Sometimes, however, she will flare back at him, making him earn the right to mate with her. Eventually, the female will submit to his advances and mating begins. The male will then jump on her back and bite the back of her neck several times in order to get a good grip on her. He will then position himself partially underneath her body. Once mating has completed, the female may simply walk away, often with him still attached! At this time you will want to separate them and allow the female to rest. Since it can take more than one breeding for fertilization to occur, you may want to repeat this process daily for several days to ensure fertilization has occurred.
Signs of a gravid (egg carrying) female are swollen stomach, sometimes nearly dragging the ground. She will gain some weight during this process. Sometimes, the outline of the eggs will be visible along her lower abdomen. Sometimes, the female will stop eating right before laying. She may become less friendly and more skittish to human touch. Once she is ready to lay the eggs, she will begin frantically digging in her enclosure. When she starts this behavior, it is time to provide her with a place to lay her eggs, commonly called a lay box.
In order to set up a proper lay box, you will need the following:
a 30 gallon Rubbermaid or Sterilite tote with lid
1 bag of organic top soil or 3 bricks of Eco Earth
40 watt spotlight bulb with brooder
If you are using Eco Earth, you will want to follow the package directions for adding the appropriate amount of warm water to the bricks in order to get them to expand. If you are using organic top soil you will want to moisten it with warm water and stir it around to make sure all of it is damp (not wet). There should be no mud or standing water, just damp soil.
You will need to cut a hole in the top of the lid to allow the spotlight to shine down into the bin and create warmth. You can either hang the spotlight above the bin, or set it directly on the lid itself.
Generally, once your female is placed inside the lay box, she will dig for about 2 hours before laying. Frequently, females may dig "test" holes, and even lay one or two eggs in the holes before deciding she doesn't like that spot. Once she finds the perfect spot, she will lay the remainder of her eggs and then bury them. Make sure to check all corners of the lay box when retrieving the eggs so that none are missed.
Once your female has laid the eggs, she will be exhausted. Offer her food if she will take it. She may also appreciate a nice warm soak after her ordeal (and she will likely be dirty after digging in the lay box). If you do decide to give her a soak, make sure to stay with her as she will be very tired and may fall asleep. If she falls asleep in the bath, she could drown. Watch her carefully and read her signals. Often, she will take a big drink right from the bath! When she is finished soaking, dry her off and allow her some quiet time to rest. She has been through a lot!
Now you are ready to remove the eggs from the lay box and place them into your incubator. Be very careful when retrieving the eggs so as not to turn them from the way they were when she laid them. You will want to make small indents in the vermiculite/perlite mixture with your thumb and place one egg in each. Carefully place them in your container in the same position they were in when you removed them from the lay box.
It will take approximately 60-80 days in the incubator before the babies hatch. During this time, the eggs will swell to 2-3 times their initial size.
In the meantime, continue to offer your female additional protein and calcium, as she will be laying more eggs in about a month! Remember I said that females can lay up to 7 clutches a year? Your female will need the extra protein and calcium daily during the entire process. She may appear quite thin after laying the eggs.
As the babies get ready to hatch, you may notice that the eggs appear to be collapsing. You may even notice movement at this time. It is important that you do not interfere with the hatching process! You could severely injure the babies while trying to 'help'. It is normal for them to take anywhere from 24 hours to a few days to get out of their eggs. Once they have hatched you will leave them in the incubator for an additional 12-24 hours. After this time, you will be able to move them to their temporary enclosures (the bins mentioned above).
Use damp paper towels as a substrate for the babies during the first few days. This is to prevent them catching their yolk sack on the substrate and pulling it off. After all their yolk sacks have been absorbed, you can switch to regular (dry) paper towels. Never, ever, EVER use sand or any particulate substrate for babies or juveniles!!
Now comes the hard part... feeding all those little ones! Baby beardies need to be fed 3 times a day for the first few months. They will also need a warm bath 3 times per week to prevent dehydration. This is very important as babies are more vulnerable to dehydration than adult beardies.
Please note: if you are breeding with the intent of selling the offspring (as most people do) you do not want to let them go to their new homes until they are at least 6 weeks old and 6 inches long. Make sure to provide a care sheet with each new baby you sell (feel free to just print the one available on this website, or you can make your own). Make sure new beardie parents understand their care BEFORE you allow them to leave with one of your babies! You may want to run through their set up and make sure they have everything they need to give their new baby dragon the best care.
It goes without saying that the financial implications of going through this process can be staggering. This includes the cost of the incubator and set-up of all the bins, lights and UVB, plus additional bins if the already hatched babies do not sell fast enough to make room for new ones, not to mention the rise in electricity costs to keep all of that running. Unless you are selling a special morph or particularly trendy colored babies, you will generally not make much money on the breeding process, in fact, most people lose money – and that's if everything goes to plan. If you add in extra babies to care for if they don't sell, health problems in the babies or the mating pair, egg binding or other emergencies, as well as having to separate the babies into their own bins if one becomes too aggressive (which can result in what is commonly referred to as 'nips', or injuries to your babies due to aggression and fighting – this can include anything from a missing toe to more serious injuries, such as missing limbs, tail injuries, eye injuries and even death) it can be quite costly. All of this must be taken into consideration before even thinking about allowing your male and female pair to mate. This is not meant to discourage those who are thinking of breeding, but to paint a more accurate portrait of what the entire process involves so you can make an informed decision.