The bearded dragon is rapidly becoming one of the most popular lizards in the reptile pet trade. At one time they were high priced exotic petsthat only a few people could own. Now they are readily available, and are reasonably priced. Well…..that all depends on your definition of reasonable.
The bearded dragon’s popularity is well deserved. This animal is one of the most docile, friendly and personable reptiles out there. They even seem to enjoy being handled. Well, maybe they don’t enjoy it, but the do tolerate it rather well.
Despite reports of the opposite, they might even seem to bond with their owners. There are many dragon owners that can attest to this. While they’re not as affectionate as a dog (really what is?), they do seem to learn who their owners are.
Common Bearded Dragons
The name bearded dragon is given to more than one species of dragon. These species belong to the taxonomic genus Pogona, in the family Agamidae, which also includes water dragons and uromastyx.
The most common type of dragon in the pet trade today is the Inland Bearded Dragon or Central Bearded Dragon. This is the main dragon the average hobbyist will come across.
In the pet industry the word bearded dragon is almost synonomous with the Inland or Central dragon.
There are two other dragons you might come across also, the coastal bearded dragon and Rankins dragon. The coastal bearded dragon used to be the more common choice in the pet trade but now is almost non-existent, at least in the United States.
The Rankins dragon is continually gaining popularity, and is popping up more and more. Because of strict export laws, all bearded dragons found in the United States are captive bred.
I have also read about Vittikins dragon, which is a hybrid between Rankins dragon, and Inland bearded dragons. While I don’t know much about these yet, it sure does sound interesting. I hope to learn more on these in the future.
They Come from a Land Down Under
Bearded dragons originate from Australia, actually the taxonomic genus Pogona is reserved for Australia alone. All three can be found in differing parts of the continent. The names of the coastal and inland dragons sort of indicate where they can be found, while the Rankins dragon is found in a smaller region of Australia.
I am seeming to hear more reports of different bearded dragon breeds being found throughout Australia. Though they are almost similar to each other, there are some distinct differences. Some differences might include coloring and size. I’ll keep you up to date as I learn more about these other dragons. Though, most of them won’t find their way to the pet trade.
The Three Bearded Dragons
There are different bearded dragons that can be found in todays pet industry. These dragons vary in size, demeanor and slightly different appearance. I mention three bearded dragons, but there are more than that in the wilds of Australia. These are the three you are most likely to come across in todays pet trade.
The dragons that are found in most pet stores or other places are usually one of three types of dragons. All three dragons look similar, but each have distinct differences. All of these dragons can be branded with the term bearded dragon.
The bearded dragon is considered a mid-sized lizard. Don’t let this fool you though, they still need ample space for their housing needs.
Male dragons can get up to slightly over 2 feet long, while females will top out at 18 to 20 inches. Half of the dragon’s leangth is their tail. While dragons can reach these lengths, most of them fall short.
Bearded dragons have a rough texture on their top and sides, while their belly is fairly smooth. They also have spines that are flexible, but they become very sharp when the dragon is puffed up with air. The lifespan of these dragons in captivity can range up to and over 7 years.
The Three Dragons
Inland Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps)
This is the dragon that is most commonly found in the pet industry. When most people in the pet trade refer to the bearded dragon they are generally refering to this one. The Inland dragon is also referred to as the Central bearded dragon.
This dragon is distinguished by a pair of distinct spots at the base of their neck, which do not appear on the other species.
These dragons do well in captivity, and are not to hard to breed their as well. This explains the drop in price for them and also why they are readily available. They are also docile, very hardy and have a more friendlier disposition, making them well deserving of their popularity.
These dragons are found in Australia’s semi-arid interior. They reach the coast only in the southernmost part of their range, which consists of the eastern parts of central Australia.
Coastal Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata)
These dragons use to be the most common in the pet trade, but now they are rarely seen. They are similar in size to the Inland Dragon, but they are somewhat more darker and dull in color.
They also lack the distinct spots at the base of the neck that are found on Inland dragons. They are also more difficult to tame down than the other species. They are, however, the most resistent to cold and high humidity. These dragons can be found in the eastern and southeastern coast of Australia.
Rankin’s Dragon (Pogona rankini, a.k.a. Pogona henrylawsoni, a.k.a. Pogona brevis)
These dragons are not nearly as common as the Inland Dragon in the pet trade, although they are gaining popularity. They can be a little harder to find, though.
These dragons are popular because of their smaller size. They grow to no longer than 12 or 13 inches, staying at a size that is easier to house than their bigger cousins. Rankin’s dragons might be a better choice for the hobbyist who doesn’t have a lot of space.
They also lack the distinct inflatable beard that is now come to be associated with a bearded dragon. This species is found in western and central Queensland.
Will the Real Bearded Dragon Please Stand Up
Even though there are different species that can be called bearded dragon, the only one that I’m going to concern myself with is the Inland Bearded Dragon unless otherwise noted.
When I say bearded dragon this is the one I’ll be refering to. This is also the case for most information found in books, magazines or other websites talking about dragons in the pet trade.
Bearded Dragons in the Wild
Bearded dragons make their home in Australia’s rugged outback. Besides the outback, they can also be seen around populated areas where people have invaded the bearded dragons territory.
Bearded dragons are found almost every where on the continent of Australia. They are not all Inland bearded dragons, however. There are different members of the Pogona family, and each dragon has a certain area they reside in. Sometimes these areas overlap with another dragons territory.
The natural habitat for bearded dragons in the wild varies from arid, rocky, semi-desert regions, to arid open woodlands. A dragons home is considered by some to be a very harsh land.
Perching Bearded Dragons
A bearded dragon in the wild likes to climb and can be found perching in trees and on rocky outcroppings. For this reason they are considered semi-arboreal. In areas populated by people they will even perch on fence posts, picnic tables, and mailbox posts when other materials are scarce.
Bearded dragons use perches for basking in the sun, declaring dominance and looking out for predators. The most dominate bearded dragon will usually be perched at the top of any basking area.
Bearded dragons can be aggressive towards each other and fight over territory in the wild. This lets us know that dragons need ample room in captivity if they’re being housed together, and it is also recommended not to house two males together. Aggression toward other dragons is mostly a male behavior.
Dragons are Sun Lovers
Bearded dragons are diurnal, meaning they are active in the daytime. They spend most of their day basking in the warm sun. They do this to raise their body emperature to a desired level. They will also lay on sun warmed surfaces, such as rocks or highways, to maintain an optimal body temperature.
When it gets too hot for them in the suns rays they will retreat to shade. When they cool down they will go back out into the sun and warm up again. This is called behavioral thermoregulation.
This is why it is important to set up your dragons housing with a good heat gradient so they can do what comes naturally to them.
In bad weather dragons will bury themselves in the ground or hide under rocks or logs. They will also hide out during sever winter weather.
During severe weather months a bearded dragons food intake falls to almost nothing. They will also stay dormant during bad weather. This time of semi-hibernation is refered to as brumation.
You might even notice your dragon do this in captivity. If you notice this behavior, don’t be alarmed. In the wild they start to feed again when the weather turns better. In captivity they will feed when they feel the time is right.
In the wild, bearded dragons are opportunistic feeders. This means that they will eat pretty much anything that they can find. They are considered true omnivores because they will happily eat both plant and animal matter.
There are studies that have found wild bearded dragons to be almost entirely herbivores (plant eaters) when they are adults. However, when they are young and growing fast they need the protein that is provided by animal matter.
Bearded dragons can also serve as food for other animals. Some animals that will prey on dragons are dingoes, birds of prey, domesticated cats and dogs, large spiders, scorpions, and other various snakes and lizards.
Bearded Dragon Behaviors
Bearded dragons have some distinct behaviors in the wild that are carried over to captivity. You may have seen or will see your dragon do any number of these behaviors. Here is an explanation of some of the most common bearded dragon behaviors.
This is probably the most recognizable bearded dragon behavior. The beard is an expandable pouch of skin on the under neck region that inflates with air. Both male and females have a beard, but the male will display his more frequently, especially during courtship. The beard is used for aggresion displays as well as mating. They may also open its mouth in addition to appear more intimidating.
Head-bobbing is another common behavior for bearded dragons. They will bob their head quickly up and down. This bobbing declares dominance to insubordinate males. Dragons will also do this for courtship. While males mainly do this I have seen females do it also.
Gaping when Basking
You might notice your bearded dragon sit under the basking light and open their mouths from time to time. This mouth opening releases heat and helps bearded dragons cool down. Some dragons like to remain at high body temperatures and will gape while sitting under a basking light.
Panting while Basking
This behavior goes along with mouth gaping. Panting also helps a dragon cool down. While a dragon has their mouth open they will perform throat movements which increase the flow of air in and out of the mouth. Both gaping and panting can be early signs of overheating. Make sure that you provide cool areas in your dragons cage that they can retreat to if they get too hot.
This bearded dragon behavior is a sign of alertness and is usually performed by adult dragons. Though, I have seen some juveniles curl their tails. A dragon will take a stance in which their tail is curled around pointing toward their body or head. This is a good sign to look for when determining your dragons health.
This is the last behavior I am going to talk about. A bearded dragon will stand on three legs and will wave with one of its forelimbs. This is done by juveniles, subordinate males, and females as submission to more dominant dragons. Females will also do this to ward off an unwanted courtship attempt.
These are just some of a bearded dragons behaviors. There are more that I haven’t covered here, but some of them may be hit and miss with some dragons.