Here be dragons

27 OctCommunity / Learning and Discovery

In this post, Te Manawa live keeper Mia explains the “small but perfectly formed” thinking behind the home of Ahi, our bearded dragon.

Reptiles are very different from your average cat or dog and have different care requirements, but make great pets if you do enough research. “Beardies” like Ahi are particularly chilled out and hardy, which makes him the ideal species for KidsTM or as a first pet reptile. He has been handled throughout his life, and has spent plenty of time in the public eye so is accustomed to the attention. These lizards have clear ways of showing if they are unhappy – although Ahi has not felt the need to employ them while in our care.

We put a lot of thought and effort into making sure that Ahi has the best environment possible, to keep him happy and healthy.

ahiIn the wild Ahi would get UVA and UVB light from the sun, but Kids TM isn’t the sunniest place, so he relies on the long lightbulb in his tank to produce these wavelengths. He also has three bulbs that produce heat in two different ways; as an Australian desert species he needs temperatures of around 30ᵒc. The lamps’ arrangement within the tank creates a temperature gradient, so he can move to wherever the temperature is most comfortable for him at any given time. You may see him right up high close to his heat lamps first thing in the morning as he warms himself up for the day ahead.

Unlike we mammals, Ahi doesn’t play, but he still requires enrichment. This comes from his environment rather than play. Choice and variety are the most important sources of environmental enrichment for reptiles.

Ahi has two places he can retreat to in order to feel safe and secure. He has his hobbit hill down one end of the tank, and the cave at the other. The materials and locations of these places create slightly different temperatures inside, giving him a choice, just like the rest of his space.

The tank is highly vertical, offering climbing options from the floor all the way up to the top of his castle. On the way up he can encounter different textures: soft grass, rough rock or scratchy twigs. These variations in environment are of great value to the lizard mind and help keep Ahi happy – and when he’s shedding his skin the twigs are perfectly suited to rub against and get every little itch!

The water in his pond gives him even more variety, and it’s a place where he can grab a drink or a cooling bath too.

Finally, Ahi’s tank décor is modular. We can easily create new sections to swap in throughout his 5- to 8-year lifespan, continually changing and enriching his environment.