The bearded dragon has become a favorite acquisition to reptile keepers around the world because of the ease in which they are kept and handled.
Today there are many species of bearded dragon available from reputable reptile breeders, with many color variations and specific genetic color forms available to collectors. These relaxed creatures with their quirky attitude are quite fascinating to observe and their behavior is constantly entertaining to reptile admirers.
Bearded dragons, like any other living creature, have their very own social behaviors, and some of their habits are quite quirky and is one of the main reasons so many people are interested in keeping bearded dragons as pets. Let’s take a look at psychological and physiological behaviors of bearded dragons.
Bearded Dragon Behaviors
From a very young age bearded dragons start showing dominance behavior such as head bobbing and tail twitching. They also have the curious habit of waving a forearm in a circular motion and then repeating with the other forearm. This is generally done when approached by another bearded dragon and it serves as a recognition sign between one another, making their presence known, and therefore also a territorial indicator. Naturally it is also a signal when approached by other animals or humans as a form of submission.
Bearded dragons have unique behaviors seeing that they are cold blooded and rely on environmental and climatic factors to regulate their metabolism and body function. This means that a bearded dragon relies on prevailing weather conditions to survive, as an example, it needs to spend time basking in the sun to absorb UV rays and heat so that it can digest and absorb the necessary nutrients from its food. The exposure to UV rays allows the lizard to absorb and make full use of minerals like calcium that are in the food they eat. This is why bearded dragons spend so much time chilling on a rock in the sun or under lights in a terrarium.
At some stage your bearded dragon will also want to cool off during the heat of the day, and will retreat to a cool sheltered spot. As much as they need the full force of the sun, this also dehydrates them and they need to take shelter to conserve moisture. So there is no need to be alarmed if your bearded dragon hides away periodically during daytime.
Dominant Bearded Dragon Behaviors like Head Bobbing
Dominance occurs across the board with bearded dragons, their instinct tells them “the fittest shall survive”, and they are wired to survive even in a captive environment. Head bobbing is a common dominant behavior between males to show strength and virility, but is also observed during the mating season when males bob their heads at females as a sign of sexual dominance.
Another dominant behavior is lying on top of one another, naturally showing submission in the lower bearded dragon.
The most common dominance behavior is bearding, that’s when a bearded dragon fluffs out the scales in the throat and neck region exposing the dark skin between the scales. This is seen in males and females, but definitely more frequently in males, and is also used to stake a claim on its territory.
Hissing is a form of aggression in bearded dragons, and is forewarning of a bite or a mock charge. Bearded dragons rarely show aggression and are generally quite peaceful but during the breeding season they may tend to be a bit aggressive thanks to mating hormones.
When your bearded dragon sits with its mouth open you might think it is a sign of aggression, however it is a completely natural habit which is used in regulating body temperature. If the bearded dragon is getting too hot it will open its mouth to allow air to circulate the moist mouth, which naturally cools the saliva. The mouth is full of blood vessels close to the surface and the blood cools the body down quickly. So mouth gaping is a natural behavior and should not be seen as something wrong with your bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons dig for various reasons, both psychological and physiological. During the shedding process they may dig which loosens the dead skin that sticks to the spiky scales; bearded dragons have also been observed digging into sand to scrape parasites of their skin. They may also want to dig during brumation if they can’t find a suitable place to take refuge while sleeping, digging beneath the sand or soil in the wild helps regulate their body temperature during this dormant period.
Gravid females that need to lay eggs will also dig in the substrate and shift objects like stones and bark around to make a suitable site to lay their eggs.
Shedding of Skin
Most reptiles need to periodically shed the older outer layer of skin that covers their scales. A snake literally slithers straight out its old skin layer because of its cylindrical form, but bearded dragons have legs with sharp claws and movable eyelids, so the skin will not shed in a single piece as with snakes, but rather it will come off bit by bit in patches over a period of a few days, very similar to human skin peeling off after a heavy sunburn. For a week or so preceding the shedding of skin, your bearded dragon will likely appear dry and dull in color as the skin starts loosening from the new layer of skin beneath it. There are a few things you can do to insure that your bearded dragon sheds its old skin comfortably, by making sure that there is suitable moisture in the environment and by misting your dragon more regularly during shedding time will keep the loosened skin flexible and soft. It is not a great idea to try and pull loose patches of skin off by hand, rather let it come off at its own time, as the new skin may still be sensitive and you may damage this fresh layer between the scales.
Shedding will be more frequent during the first year of growth while the bearded dragon outgrows its own skin regularly, mature adults will shed much less as they have stopped putting on mass, however will still shed seasonally as the old skin is renewed with a fresh layer.
Aestivation and Brumation
Bearded dragons also go through hibernation, namely brumation in winter months and aestivation during summer months. These two phases are states of dormancy that the bearded dragon enters due to climatic conditions.
In winter time when temperatures drop and it becomes too cold, the bearded dragon’s metabolism slows down to the point where it does not eat. It will seek refuge under rocks or other suitable shelter and enter a sleep like state. It will generally remain in this state of brumation until the climate becomes favourable again. This is rarely observed in a captive environment due to the optimal controlled conditions being provided in a terrarium.
Aestivation is a state of dormancy similar to brumation that occurs during the height of summer when temperatures peak and it becomes too hot for the bearded dragon. Usually in the wilderness this will be paired with lesser water supply in the summer months, and the bearded dragon needs to conserve moisture and stay hydrated. During aestivation the bearded dragon will seek refuge from the sun and usually find itself a nice cool spot and enter a sleep like state. This does happen occasionally in captivity and most first time owners are alarmed to see their bearded dragon looking ill and lethargic. This is a normal state that can last for indefinite periods, from a few days to longer periods in the wild. Fortunately with thermostatic control in a terrarium we can adjust conditions and if you keep your temperatures stable throughout the year, your bearded dragon will not go into full scale brumation or aestivation. There are many thoughts on this, as they are seasonally dependent and even if climatic conditions don’t fluctuate they still undergo a period of less activity and minimal feeding, so be sure to understand that you may observe your bearded dragon entering these states in the appropriate season, albeit mildly.
Each bearded dragon that is handled and kept in captivity will develop its own unique habits. They can sometimes do very odd things as individuals and this makes the bearded dragon a favored lizard to be kept and bonding with your bearded dragon is usually very interactive.