If you're looking for a relatively friendly and not overly large pet reptile, the bearded dragon could fill the bill. Several species of this native Australian lizard exist on their home continent, but the type most common in the pet trade is Pogona vitticeps, the inland bearded dragon. When fully grown, bearded dragons are smaller than common pet reptiles such as monitor lizards or iguanas. Well-cared-for bearded dragons can live a decade or more.
Bearded Dragon Hatchlings
Female bearded dragons lay clutches a few times a year, averaging about 20 eggs in each clutch. When the hatchlings emerge two to three months later, they are about 4 inches long and weigh less than an ounce. Within two months, they are twice their birth size. In captivity, raising hatchlings is best left to experienced breeders, as the mortality rate is relatively high.
Juvenile Bearded Dragons
During the juvenile period, before the first birthday, you might witness young males standing on three legs and "waving" one front limb in slow circles. They do that to let older, larger males know they recognize their dominance and won't challenge them. Once fully grown, male arm-waving usually stops. Adult females might wave during mating. Juveniles generally reach 10 inches in length by the age of 6 months. Growth might slow down for a few months after that, but they experience a spurt before reaching adult size.
Bearded dragons reach sexual maturity between the ages of 8 months and 18 months. Determining the gender of your bearded dragon before maturity isn't easy. When grown, males are larger than females, with notably bigger heads. In front of the animal's vents, between their hind legs, you'll notice bigger femoral pores in the males. Bearded dragons use these pores to mark territories with their scents. The males' spine-covered under-chin pouches, their namesake beards, are darker than those of the females.
Size at Maturity
When your bearded dragon reaches a length of 18 to 22 inches, he's probably full-grown. Weight at maturity varies considerably, from 10 ounces to 18 ounces. Healthy bearded dragons should not look thin, they should appear stocky -- but that doesn't mean fat. If your pet weighs more than 18 ounces, you might be overfeeding him. It's important to find a good veterinarian specializing in reptiles who can access your bearded dragon's condition during an annual checkup, or treat him for illnesses.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.