There are two main environmental variables Bearded dragon keepers need to ensure (i.e. temperature and lighting), but what about the humidity? Although admittedly, often not something to worry about, incorrect humidity in an enclosed environment can lead to all sorts of problems.
What is humidity?
Humidity is basically the amount of water, in the form of vapor, in the air. In more technical terms it can be expressed as the relative humidity which is the amount of vapor in the air as a percentage of the space of air that can hold vapour. Higher percentages mean higher humidity and vice versa.
A visual example of relative humidity (RH). The area above the water source represents the air in which water can evaporate and the particles represent the water particles. Image from blog.cashins.com
Think of a Bearded dragon enclosure as a closed space of air, and the humidity as the amount of water in that space. Being enclosed, that area’s humidity will be different from the room the enclosure is situated in.
Factors affecting humidity
Apart from the size of the area for water to evaporate in (which is usually relatively small in the case of Bearded dragon enclosures), factors such as the ventilation, temperature, and the amount of water available also greatly affect the humidity.
Comparatively more ventilation, larges spaces, less water, and lower temperatures lead to lower relative humidities. The opposite is true for less ventilation, smaller spaces, more water, and higher temperatures.
In the case of pet Bearded dragons, we have the most control over the ventilation and environmental temperature.
What humidity are we talking about for keeping Bearded dragons?
Remember that the popular Inland Bearded dragon (P. vitticeps) originates from the drier and desert areas of South Australia. The outside humidity in these areas is on average about 50 – 60% – which is quite low compared to non-desert areas. Also, see Bearded dragon in the wild for more information.
Why humidity is important for keeping Bearded dragons
When the humidity is too low the risk of dehydration, overheating, and shedding problems increases. Bearded dragon owners often resort to methods to temporarily increase the environmental humidity to prevent or rectify shedding problems. Also, see how often a Bearded dragon should shed its skin and safe and effective ways to help a shedding Bearded Dragon for more information.
How will I know what the humidity is like?
The humidity can be measured with a hygrometer. By looking around, small commercial hygrometers might be available from some pet shops and on the internet. Some Bearded dragon keepers are also handy enough to make their own hygrometer.
Exo-Terra produces a very popular, small, and cost-effective reptile hygrometer. Available from Amazon.com
A hygrometer can be placed directly in the space where you want to measure the humidity. It is always a good idea to take multiple readings, for example during the day and during the evening.
So how do we approach this?
First of all, it is important to note that the humidity will vary from setup to setup, i.e. no two Bearded dragon enclosures will have exactly the same humidity.
Before changing anything, or before finalising the setup, test the humidity first. The general idea is to have an enclosure with fairly low humidity. In the case of humidities lower than 50%, it can be increased by adding a bigger water dish, moving the water dish closer to the heat source, reducing the temperatures a bit, or closing some ventilation. In the case of humidities above 60%, the opposite can be done.
How will I know the humidity is incorrect?
Often, when the humidity is too low, some Bearded dragons will spend a lot of time in the water dish and/or has shedding problems. Other signs include climbing the sides of the enclosure, open-mouth breathing, or poor appetites.