Saturday, August 25, 2012

Great Classroom Pets Explained ~ Bearded Dragon Edition!

There are SO many great reasons to have a classroom pet.  Many students never get to have a pet of their own at home so this is their only 'pet' time, it builds interest in your classroom, they are great for writing about, kids learn responsibility by caring for them, develop empathy taking care of them, they get to learn about a new organism, develop their observation skills, you get additional inside jokes with your students, etc.  I have had about a dozen different species of animals in my classroom over the last few years, and I'll talk more about having a tank of fish in another post, but this post is about why you should consider getting a bearded dragon for your classroom pet!

You will love a bearded dragon. I know.  It's a lizard.  I had never had a reptile before I got my two bearded dragons for free, so I wasn't sure how I'd like them and how they would interact with my students, but I thought the worst that could happen is that they'd be lame and I'd just give them to a student.  Wrong! They are so fun!   There are some simple things to do to set up your bearded dragon system, and then they are very low maintenance and low cost.

First, you'll need a really big tank ( like 50 gallons big!) within a few years, so I suggest just starting with a large terrarium now. Check at garage sales, put an ad on Craigslist, or check goodwill if you don't want to pay around $300 for a new one. My dad found mine at a crazy Goodwill on Portland Road in Salem where they have everything in huge bins.  It was just over $20! You'll probably have to get the accessories new, unless you can get some nice Craigslist person to donate them to your class, which will run just under $100.  Beardies need a special UVA UVB light and a heat lamp(or a heating pad).  They are desert animals, so it needs to stay warm and dry in their habitat.  Putting the heating pad/heat lamp at one end of the tank is good because then they have a cool end of their terrarium to escape to if it gets too hot.  You can get climbing rocks/branches/foliage if you want.  My students love rearranging Chubb's 'furniture' in her terrarium! Get a deep bowl for the food/water that they can't tip over (mine is a cat bowl because my beardie, Chubbs, tracks her substrate (bedding) all over). Do not pay gobs of money for the stupid sand they sell at petstores, which can give them skin irritation and kill them. Just buy millet, the plain bird seed that they sell in feed stores for $5 for a gigantic bag. It looks nicer too and is easy to clean with a kitty litter scoop.


Here is a picture of my students with their candy Native American dwellings, but you can see the tank in the back of the classroom.  You have a lot of options when it comes to feeding. The colorful pellets they have at petstores are great and you can get a yogurt type food they love too. I feed ours crickets every once in a while, but they are more expensive. I usually keep the crickets in a separate terrarium and then dole them out one by one and let my little table groups come up to watch if they want to, which they all do! Feeding your beardie live crickets is the fastest you'll ever see them move! When they get big, you can feed them live mice too! I have never done this in front of the class (somehow it's okay if a lizard eats an insect, but if it eats a mammal then it's gross and cruel...).  If you want to see Chubbs eat a mouse, click this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Zb-y5PloYg  and  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=TNvYUI9rfRs  Bearded dragons do well with a variety of fruits and veggies, and you can google what's safe for them to eat. I give mine the smooth-leafed dandelion from the playground (free!) and little pieces of whatever fruit/veggie I'm having for lunch.

Bearded Dragons are low maintenance.  I do not feel like coming in every weekend to feed Chubbs, so I always give her enough pellets to last her through the weekend with some little fresh greens on top and she is as happy as can be. I do this right before I leave work in Friday as well as fill her water bowl. During the week, I have two responsible students, who applied for and got the 'zookeeper' job, feed her, once in the morning and once in the afternoon/lunch time. On Friday, they get to stay in for recess and clean her cage. The crazy thing is that they love it and all the kids want to be zookeeper so badly! This is great because then I have to do very little care for her and can just get her out to run around before school or carry her around on my shoulder (she sits on my shoulder for picture day) or whatever I feel like instead of wasting precious time caring for class pets. I usually come in once or twice for Christmas break and spring break, but that's it. They are very low maintenance!

My bearded dragon is very calm (except when eating live food!) so every Friday, during our classroom meeting time when all my students are circled on the carpet, I get Chubbs out and let her walk around. Sometimes we feed her a grape or a cherry tomato. Because they roll, she chases after them, which the kids love! The general rule of thumb for feeding beardies is that the piece of food needs to be smaller than the bottom of the triangle shape on the top of their head (just before their neck). They don't really chew up their food with teeth; they just kind of mash it with the sides of their mouth (except mice they eat whole) so it's important to not feed them something that's too big that they'll choke on. They can bite, but I've only been bitten once when one of mine was a baby and she was eating off my hand, and it felt like a tiny pinch. Generally, if you don't wiggle your finger right in front of their mouth like a worm, you won't have any problems.

When I have my students pet Chubbs, I just put her on my arm and have them pet from the top of her head gently down towards her tail. Make sure to tell your students about the possibility of salmonella and have them wash their hands thoroughly after touching your beardie or its things. Make sure they know to be gentle with her, not to pull her tail, to gently touch her spikes (they all want to do this), to sit still, etc. Apparently you can take them outside if it's warm, but you have to be really careful that they don't eat any bugs or plants, because there is not a complete list for all the plants/insects that they're allergic to in a schoolyard/backyard setting. As a general rule, I do NOT let my students hold Chubbs now that she is about 2 feet long from head to tail because if she tries to wiggle free, her spikes DO hurt a little, and her tiny claws make miniscule scratches on bare skin. I just don't want to risk anything happening to my students or her, so we stick with petting and watching, and I do the picking up and holding.

Generally, the more you get your beardie out to walk around (before or after school when the students aren't there to step on her and when the floor is clear of debris is best) the better. One time, I thought I had clean floors, but then Chubbs found a red hot cinnamon candy that was underneath a bookshelf and almost ate it! I had to pry it from her little mouth! They will eat anything that looks like food/that can fit in their mouths, so you have to be careful with them. They generally chillax in their terrariums and only move a little, but they are always watching, and soon you'll notice they have their own personalities too (which I never expected from a reptile). I'm sure I'm forgetting cool things they do/important care tips, so leave a comment below to remind me.  Because they are so low maintenance, they're safe around kids, and they're fun to watch, pet, and feed, I think bearded dragons make great classroom pets!

 I also have two tanks of fish, a terrarium of crickets throughout the year, and "visiting" pets, like rough skinned newts, banana slugs, pill bugs, snails, etc that just stay for a week or two before being released into the wild again.  Do you have a classroom pet?  Which animals do you think do best as classroom pets?

20 comments:

  1. RachelV posted, "There is a grant available for teachers who have classroom pets or who would like to have classroom pets. It's called Pets in the Classroom and is available for Pre-K-8th grade teachers in the US and Canada. The grant provides up to $150 for the purpose of purchasing a new classroom pet and supplies or for supplies for your current classroom pet. It's easy to apply for and you can apply online at www.PetsintheClassroom.org. Hope you find this information helpful!" Thanks for sharing, Rachel!

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    1. Our Pre-K class just got our bearded dragon last week through Pets in the Classroom! They actually covered close to $300 of the cost of supplies and the lizard itself. Such an amazing program and we are already enjoying our pet so much! All teachers need to apply for this grant.

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  2. I am considering a bearded dragon for my 5th grade science classroom.. Thank you so much for sharing! Reading your post has made me feel more comfortable with the decision of getting a bearded dragon as a pet and has given me great ideas of how I could use the pet to interact with my students!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear that, Jennifer! Good luck with your beardie; they make fun class pets. I just had my students sing one of their math chants to our bearded dragon, and it really helped motivate them to practice it!

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  3. I have been going back and forth between buying a Crested Gecko or a Bearded Dragon for my sixth grade English classroom. My largest hang up was the feeding over weekends/weekend care. After seeing this post, I am going with the BD and will be using your feeding schedule that you have mentioned here. Do you find that your dragon does alright with the diet being left on Friday and not touched or supplemented until Monday? Just curious! Thanks so much for sharing this!!

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    1. Hello! Yes my bearded dragon does well with food left over the weekend. I usually fill up her food container on Friday or drop a dozen crickets in, and she is fat and happy when I come back Monday. I did decide to invest in a watering canister that makes it so she cannot go through all of her water. I always come in over long weekends, Christmas break, etc. Good uck with your new pet!

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    2. Hey! What do you do with the lamps? I know this can be a fire hazard for my school. I have a heating pad that I turn on right before I leave work. I also leave on the uva all day and night. What do you recommend I do? Thanks!

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  4. Feeding a live mouse is cruel in comparison with an insect because they experience fear. You're laughing at the suffering of a living thing, which I find repulsive. Teaches your kids empathy? That's a lesson you could do with learning yourself.

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    1. Thank you for your opinion, Lloyd. A reptile eating a mouse is part of a natural food chain. How long have you been vegan?

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  5. Thanks for your detailed blog! I am getting a beardie this week for my 4th grade class. It is small - probably the age of yours in the top picture. They pet store is telling me it may eat up to 60 crickets a day and I keep reading that I can't leave it alone on the weekends. I"m getting nervous. How many crickets did yours eat when it was small? Did you put that calcium powder on them? Did you leave it alone on the weekends even when it was small? Thanks for your help. I'm getting nervous.

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  6. My bearded dragon does well with food left over the weekend, Even when she was small. I do not invest a lot of money and live crickets, because they do just fine on the specialized bearded dragon dry food. I give her fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the week, and leave her dry food for over the weekend. You can look up what foods are safe for bearded dragons on line. I only get crickets about once a month. I usually fill up her food container on Friday or drop a dozen crickets in, and she is fat and happy when I come back Monday. I did decide to invest in a watering canister that makes it so she cannot go through all of her water. I always come in over long weekends, Christmas break, etc. Good luck with your new pet!

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  7. I am planning on getting a bearded dragon this week for our classroom. I was wondering if you use a timer for the lights over the weekend and holidays or do you just leave the lights on? Also, what exactly is a watering canister? Is this like the little waterfalls for reptiles? Thank you so much for this post. I feel much more confident about getting a beardie now!

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  8. Great article - thanks for the information!

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  9. Great article - thanks for the information!

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  10. Bearded Dragons are native to central Australia and are in large desert-dwelling lizards. There are set requirements that you need to meet in terms of Caring for your Bearded Dragon so ensure that you know what you need! This article describes info on bearded dragons covering bearded dragon habitat setup, bearded dragon lighting requirements and cage temperatures and bearded dragon care and feeding.
    bearded dragon care

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  11. Feeding bearded dragons isn't as straight forward as you may think, you need to know what food items you can feed your bearded dragon as well as what size. There are also food items that may harm your beardie, this article will make feeding your bearded dragon a lot easier. bearded dragon care

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  12. Bearded dragons make wonderful pets, but as with any animal - knowledge of the needs for health and comfort are part of responsible pet ownership. Learn more about what your bearded dragon needs to stay healthy and happy.Bearded dragon diet

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  13. I had never had a reptile before I got my two bearded dragons for free, so I wasn't sure ... bdragontank.blogspot.com

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  14. Hello, I just got a baby bearded dragon for my class about a month ago. How do you clean out the cage? I took everything out and wiped it down but it's starting to smell. I read that you can wipe it down with a bleach solution. Is this what you do? Any tips would be great! Thanks!

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  15. So great to hear your success with a bearded dragon in your classroom- I was relieved to hear you could leave your bearded dragon on the weekends. Do you know how old or big your bearded dragon was when you were able to do this? I'm received a grant from PetCo to get one for my classroom but was worried about the weekends since I am out of town occasionally. Any advise you have would be helpful !

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