What Is a Bearded Dragon?

Bearded dragons—you have many people passionate about this lizard and for good reasons. Their gentle and inquisitive nature have made them popular. 

What is a bearded dragon? A bearded dragon is an agamid lizard that originates from Australia. As the name suggests, a bearded dragon possesses scales and armor like a dragon. It puffs up a spiky chin that looks like a beard every time it turns aggressive.

If you’d like to learn more about bearded dragons, keep on reading because we’ll give you more details.

Bearded Dragons: Male One Minute—Female the Next?

Did you know that a male bearded dragon can turn into a female bearded dragon? Australian researchers discovered that bearded dragons change their gender when exposed to temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Bearded dragons rely on both sex chromosomes and temperature to determine the gender during embryonic development. The sex chromosomes dictate a bearded dragon’s gender at normal temperature. A male lizard consists of ZZ chromosome. However, at high temperatures, the male chromosomes reverse and turn to ZW chromosomes. The ZW chromosomes make a female bearded dragon.

How To Tell If a Bearded Dragon is Male or Female

You can tell a bearded dragon’s gender through its hemipenal bulges. Hemipenes are internal sex organs usually found in male reptiles like snakes and lizards. Bearded dragons exhibit two hemipenal bulges in their undersides right above the base of their tails. On the other hand, female bearded dragons have a single bulge right in the center of their undersides.

When Can You Tell A Bearded Dragon’s Gender?

You can tell a bearded dragon’s gender at eight to 12 weeks. However, experts can tell as early as the first week using the following methods.

The first method is to put the lizard on top of a flat surface.

Next, lift the tail at an angle of 90 degrees and look at the vent at the tail’s side. Look for the presence of hemipenal bulges.

©Difference.Guru

A male bearded dragon (left) vs a female bearded dragon (right)

In the second method, it requires dark room conditions. Just like the first method, lift the tail at an angle of 90 degrees. Use a flashlight to look at the tail’s base. If male, the two hemipenal bulges will be seen through its flesh as two dark shades on both sides. Otherwise, it’s female.

Where Do Bearded Dragons Live?

Bearded dragons live in tropical savannas, woodlands, heathlands, coastal dunes and deserts. They like to stay on branches, logs and fences to warm themselves in the sun. These reptiles can be found across Australia, but you can find them in other countries such as the United States and United Kingdom.

What are the Different Species of Bearded Dragons?

There are eight known species of bearded dragons, each with its own characteristics.

Pogona Barbata 

©AlexandreRoux01 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Common name is known as the Eastern Bearded Dragon
  • Occupies the eastern and southern part of Australia
  • Its skin has larger spikes and a darker color than Pogona Vitticeps
  • Lives in dry scrublands and wet forests
  • Foods include insects, smaller lizards, greens, fruits and flowers

Pogona Henrylawsoni

©Dragon Files
  • Also known as Rankin’s Bearded Dragon
  • Can be found in Queensland, the northeastern part of Australia
  • Acquires a small beard and considered as one of the smaller species
  • Adapts a defense mechanism against venomous snake predators by hiding in soil cracks 

Pogona Microlepidota

  • Also known as Small-scaled Bearded Dragon
  • Can be found in a small area of Kimberly in north-western Australia
  • Lives in areas with grasses and shrubs such as an open woodland
  • Fewer spikes in the throat and back compared to other bearded dragons
  • Smaller than the Eastern Bearded Dragon

Pogona Minor Minor

©Wild Herps
  • The common name is known as Dwarf Bearded Dragon
  • Lives in central and western Australia in areas such as deserts and forests
  • Similar appearance with the Western Bearded Dragon but exhibits shorter tail and limbs

Pogona Minor Mitchelli

©Dragon Files
  • Also known as Mitchell’s Bearded Dragon
  • Can be found all over north-western Australia
  • Lives in the Great Sandy Desert
  • Measurement averages from 5.5 inches snout-vent

Pogona Minor Minima

©Boobook48 / Blogspot / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • With a common name known as Western Bearded Dragon
  • Can be found on the southwestern side of Australia
  • Habitats include arid desert, woodlands, coastal dunes and heathland
  • Have similar features to the Pogona Mitchelli but lacks its conical head spikes

Pogona Nullarbor

©Jordan Mulder / Flickr
  • Also known as Nullabor Bearded Dragon
  • Can be seen in south-central Australia 
  • Has a distinct back with white bands
  • The sides of its body contain three to seven rows of spikes

Pogona Vitticeps

©Joachim S. Müller / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Common name is known as Inland or Central Bearded Dragon
  • Can be found in the central part of Australia, along Adelaide’s south-central coast
  • Very common species in the pet trade that comes in different color morphs and sizes

What Do Bearded Dragons Do?

Bearded dragons are primarily active in the morning. Summer months keep them busy from early morning until the afternoon. They go in search of food such as fruits, beetles, ants and even other lizards.

As cold-blooded animals, they require a warm environment, from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, to raise their body temperature. To warm themselves, they like to soak in the sun. The basking temperature is between 88 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. During extreme heat, they burrow underground to hide. 

During the winter months, they undergo brumination. Brumination means that bearded dragons only drink water occasionally. They stop eating completely. This type of hibernation occurs when the temperatures drop and the light changes during the fall and winter months.

They bob their heads and change their head color as a way to communicate. The speed of their head bobbing indicates two things. First, quick head bobbing shows dominance. Slow head bobbing, on the other hand, shows submission.

Aside from their head bobbing, using their beard is another form of communication. They puff their beard, raise their chin and open their mouth when they feel threatened. A hiss accompanies this action. Both male and female bearded dragons do this to warn the potential predator.

How Do Bearded Dragons Reproduce?

Bearded dragons start to mate when they age from eight to 18 months. From a single mate, a female bearded dragon can produce eggs between 11 to 30 in a clutch. These eggs will hatch in a matter of 55 to 75 days. 

©ShadowSylph / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It starts with their interesting way of courtship. The male bearded dragon starts by stomping the ground, waving his arms and bobbing his head to get the female’s attention. When the male bearded dragon has successfully pursued his chosen female, he will bite her neck and start to mate.

Female bearded dragons undergo five reproduction stages:

  • Brumation – During this stage, the female bearded dragon’s body is being prepared for reproduction. However, they can reproduce too without undergoing this stage.
  • Copulation – The male bearded dragon stays on top of the female while biting her neck and beard to grasp for mating.
  • Gravid – This stage characterizes a nesting behavior for female bearded dragons. She starts looking and digging for her nesting area.
  • Egg Laying – A female bearded dragon can produce 20 eggs in one mating season. 
  • Non-reproductive – Once a female bearded dragon sexually matures, nutrients deposit in the female germ cell and form egg yolks. This explains why they lay eggs without having intercourse with the male bearded dragons.

Male bearded dragons undergo reproduction stages as well:

  • Brumation  – Just like the female bearded dragons, the males’ bodies prime for the time they reproduce. 

Spermatogenesis – During this stage, the male gonad of a bearded dragon produces mature sperm cells. 

How Long Do Bearded Dragons Live?

Bearded dragons can live for eight years in the wild. However, they can live for 15 years in captivity. 

Different factors contribute to the lifespan of bearded dragons. These are the reasons why they can live longer or shorter:

  • Environment – Light, heat and substrate are crucial factors in helping the bearded dragons live longer. If the environment set up for them lacks any of these, it will decrease their lifespan.
  • Diet – Greens and vegetables such as mustard, okra, squash, mango, sweet potato and papaya make bearded dragons healthy.
  • Absence of predators – One good thing about keeping the bearded dragons captive is that they are safe from predators in the wild. 
  • Gender – Male bearded dragons live longer than females. This is because breeding decreases the female’s lifespan.
  • Size – Large bearded dragons live longer compared to the small ones especially in the wild. The larger species can defend themselves better than the smaller ones.
  • Space – More space means your dragon can do more exercise. This helps to prolong its life.
  • Breed  – Breeding reduces the lifespan of female bearded dragons. It causes loss of mass in limbs and pelvis as well as it causes abdominal enlargement. 
  • Disease – One of the most common illnesses a bearded dragon can have is Metabolic Bone Disease. It affects the function of the bones that causes bone deformations in the spine, jaw and front legs.

Are Bearded Dragons Dangerous?

Bearded dragons are harmless. They only bite when provoked. A bite from this lizard causes minor injury but beware of infection. In fact, bearded dragons nowadays are becoming popular as pets because of their calm and docile nature.

If, on rare occasion, a bearded dragon bites you, wash it right away. The bite may contain bacteria that can infect you or your loved ones. However, this animal isn’t venomous. Even kids can have them as a pet.

You may ask on what occasions a bearded dragon may bite you. It may bite you for the following reasons:

  • Mishandling – Make sure that you know how to hold a bearded dragon. You can accidentally hurt them if you have no prior experience in holding them. If hurt, they feel threatened and can bite you.
  • Hunger – When you have a hungry bearded dragon, sticking out your hand to feed it food may not be a good idea. It can mistakenly bite your finger thinking of it as food.
  • Mistreatment  – Instances like mistreatment from previous handlers can make a bearded dragon aggressive. Also, catching them from the wild has the same issue.

How do you tell when they’re about to bite you? Thanks to their beard, it gives an advance warning signal. Once you see it puff up, it indicates aggression. Keep your hands and fingers away from them for a while.

Bearded dragons don’t mind being touched or petted. They even like to stay on your shoulder or lap for hours. If you own one and are new to bearded dragons, start holding them for 15 minutes a day until they get used to it. 

To sum it up, bearded dragons belong to the reptile genus that originated from Australia. Their distinct features include their beard and rough skin like a dragon. 

Bearded dragons love to bask in the sun. They require a warm environment to survive. Contrary to its name—dragon—they are harmless. They only bite when threatened.

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